Leading Healthcare with Healthcare Leaders
Leading Healthcare with Healthcare Leaders

MSA Search BlogInsights from over 30 years of Healthcare Executive Search

So You Want To Be a Healthcare CEO?

by Roger Samuel, Executive Vice President & Practice Leader, MSA Executive Search

In virtually every hospital or health system CEO search that I’ve been involved with in my search work, there is either an internal candidate aspiring to advance into the top spot, or an external candidate we’re presenting who isn’t a “sitting CEO,” but in our opinion, has what it takes to become one.  If these “non-CEO” candidates make their way through the Search Committee interview process, it will inevitably result in a discussion around the Search Committee table about the risk associated in hiring a candidate who’s untested in the CEO role.  So, what is that risk?

In addition to having all of the skill sets, leadership qualities and experience necessary to serve as the institution’s top executive—meaning the leadership experience and qualities, the accounting/business/finance acumen, a solid understanding of hospital operations, an encyclopedic knowledge of the current healthcare landscape,  and a passion for great patient care—I believe there are four areas that truly distinguish an effective CEO from all other executives:

The ability to work well with a Board of Trustees:  This may seem obvious, but it’s a completely different experience to work for a diverse set of personalities than it is to be responsible to a single “boss.”  Experience that really helps the non-CEO candidates convince us that they can handle this transition is a track record of high performance in heavily matrixed environments, where the definition of success is a moving target.  In other words, we’re looking for effectiveness to “serve many masters.”

A desire to be the external face of the organization:   We’ve met many candidates over the years who absolutely love hospital operations, and are visible in every corner of the healthcare enterprise at all hours of the day and night.  But when it comes to serving on external boards, speaking to the local Rotary club, being involved in healthcare at the state and national level, and eating the proverbial rubber chicken three nights a week, no thanks.  Well, guess what?  You’re not going to enjoy being a CEO because you can’t escape—and frankly shouldn’t delegate—this vital part of the job.  There are some extremely effective “internal leaders” who are just that—invaluable resources to their organizations, known for “keeping the trains running on time.  We just don’t recommend you aspire to the CEO role if you don’t love the external part of the work as well.

The ability to deal with medical staff issues 24/7:  As anyone who works in healthcare knows, physicians have a proclivity to go to the top with their issues and concerns.  The successful CEO goes beyond just grudgingly accepting this as part of the job.  If you truly embrace your interactions with physicians—good and bad—you may just have the stuff to be a good CEO.

A “the buck stops here” mentality:  A good friend and mentor who just retired as the CEO of an academic medical center after an illustrious career once told me he was paid to make only a few decisions a year—but they were the tough ones to make.  You likely didn’t get this far in your career without developing an ability to build consensus and make good decisions.  But to this point you’ve always had the CEO to go to when called upon to make that particularly difficult or controversial decision.  In this regard, a good CEO is a bit like the 9th inning closer in baseball—it’s that “give me the ball” attitude we’re looking for!

If you ever get to the point of being in an interview for a CEO role with one of our consultants, you can expect a line of questions that tries to get to your both your readiness for and a desire to do the work articulated above.  What we want to make sure of is, do you want the work or do you want the title?


Ensure Your Resume Ends Up In The "Yes" Pile

By Roger Samuel, Executive Vice President & Practice Leader, MSA Executive Search

 As an executive recruiter, I often seen resumes whose first pages are consumed with some type of executive summary and maybe a “Career Objective.”  A little secret into what those of us who review dozens of resumes a day look for first—experience and accomplishments.  We will pretty much ignore these editorial comments you’re writing about yourself on our way to ascertaining:  what are you doing now?  How long have you been in your current role?  And, what have you accomplished in this and past  roles?  If that information peaks our interest, we’ll keep reading.

The best resumes, in my opinion, tell a story of your career progression.  What I’m looking for after that initial scan is how long a candidate has been in various roles, and just as important, with various organizations.  I highly recommend that if you’ve been promoted one or more times with a particular organization, you list the total years with that organization before articulating various roles within.  I love to see internal promotions; it tells me that you were (or are) good enough at what you do to warrant a promotion. 

I also recommend that you add a sentence or two describing the various organizations you’ve worked for.  How many beds, net revenue, and a brief descriptor of the significant moving parts of the organization (one acute care hospital, seven ambulatory sites, and a 47-provider multi-specialty practice, for example).  Again, this will end any guessing on our part as to whether or not you’ve done work at the scope necessary to succeed in the position we’re recruiting for.

One of the absolute keys to getting your resume into the “yes pile” is to focus on your accomplishments.  Even at the most senior positions, I still see resumes that are a laundry list of items taken from a job description.  Believe me, we know the key responsibilities of a CFO…or a CNO.  What we’re interested in is, what have you done to add value to the organization?  And the more specific and measurable you can be, the better.

Finally, I like to see a strong, well-written cover letter accompanying the submission of a resume.  In fact, I often counsel candidates to take the career objective paragraph out of your resume, and instead, make a strong case in a cover letter why this particular position is attractive to you, and why you feel you’re uniquely qualified for the role.  This letter accomplishes quite a few things.  First, it articulates for me why this, why now for you. Second, it helps me prepare for our initial call by covering the why this why now question.  Third, it gives me a brief example of your ability to write well and make your case. And finally, it shows me you’re doing more than just fishing your resume…that you’ve taken the time to personalize a cover letter specific to a particular position.

My final piece of advice is to ignore the old adage that your resume must be a certain length.  Face it, the longer your career, the longer your resume should be.  Tell your story!


Candidate Behavior with Executive Search Firms

Brad Veal, Senior Consultant, MSA Executive Search

The meteoric rise of social media over the past decade has dramatically altered our personal and business communication styles and methods, and forever changed how we look for new jobs and how companies acquire talent. No longer do we see a job posting in a newspaper or journal, and reply by mailing a formal cover letter and hard copy of our resume. Now timelines are compressed—everything is electronic, and face-to-face or telephone conversations are usually reserved only for top candidates.  Therefore, it is vitally important to stand out among your peers both on paper and online.

First, it is imperative that you have a professional presence on LinkedIn. This is the primary go-to resource for recruiters across most industries. If you can’t be found on LinkedIn, most won’t have the time to dig deeper to locate you. I highly recommend that you include as much information as you can regarding your career history, education, and professional skills and interests so your profile can be found running LinkedIn’s specialized filters. Also, a professional photograph is necessary and helps create a small level of familiarity in the mind of a recruiter.

Obviously, nearly everyone has some sort of personal social media presence, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, or one of the latest Silicon Valley start-ups. Personally, I consider the rise of these to be among the most significant innovations of the early 21st century. It is important to remember, however, that even though your personal updates and opinions on these platforms are often off-the-cuff or snarky comments (guilty!), they may carry with them a lifetime electronic signature. We’ve all heard the stories of someone losing a job or not being hired because of something controversial they had posted on a personal page. Also, some companies are requiring their employees to provide access to their personal social media passwords. That alone is worth a blog topic, but for right or wrong, it’s the world we live in and we must play by the rules.

So, what can we do to minimize potential problems? The most logical answer is to refrain from posting or commenting on political, religious, or other “hot button” issues. If you wouldn’t espouse your view to a total stranger, then don’t do it online. The same goes for posting “party” pictures. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see it, don’t post it. I realize, however, that we aren’t robots and the world would be a pretty bland place if this conservative thinking ruled every decision. So if your voice can’t be silenced, I highly encourage you to lock down your privacy settings so that only friends and confirmed followers can access your posts. Always remember the new take on an old adage, “Think before you post!”

The Forgotten Clients

By Denise Riebe, Business Development & Marketing Specialist, MSA Executive Search

What I’m referring to is our internal clients—our fellow employees.

This internal customer can be someone you work for as well as someone who works for you. At first, you may think that because they work for you, you might always be their internal customer. Wrong! While the support staff is dependent on the leader to get them the right information and training so they can do the best job possible, the leader is just as dependent on their support staff to assist with their responsibilities.

If we are truly committed to maintaining the highest level of external client satisfaction, people in all roles within the organization must understand how their work impacts the level of customer satisfaction. If we assist our colleagues with doing their jobs more successfully, our organization, as a whole, will be more successful.

No organization wants its employees to think that their only job is to do what others instruct them to do. Employees should be made aware of their coworkers’ and leaders’ roles, and how their own position affects the success of that role. With that knowledge, employees will have a sharper understanding of their importance to the organization and why their efforts are necessary. 

In the end, a simple, genuine "thank you" goes a long way in creating an atmosphere of team collaboration and contribution more than one could imagine. Even when an assigned duty is part of a person's role, tell them "thank you.” Let them know how much they are appreciated and how the work they do contributes to the overall success of the organization.

Social Media and Employment Matters: Developing a Positive & Professional Online Presence

By Kim Kueser, Senior Consultant, MSA Executive Search

Do potential employers make hiring decisions based on social media? How can you ensure your presence doesn’t harm your chances of landing your dream job?

Social media sites rank as the number one Internet activity worldwide. Several of the most popular social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Flickr, and YouTube. Approximately 70% of all US Internet users are active on one or more social media sites, up from a mere 8% in 2005. More than 65% of the US population uses Facebook, and Twitter is growing 80% each year.

What does this mean for you as a prospective candidate? Your potential employer is likely active on social media sites as well. Nearly 50% of recruiters state they have rejected candidates based on inappropriate content found through performing Internet research. See below for some tips on how to use this to your advantage.


  • Post inappropriate pictures or comments—This includes information regarding drinking and/or drug use, profanity, and more. Instead, present yourself in a professional manner.
  • Write negative comments about previous employers—This will portray you in a bad light to a potential employer. Instead, keep it positive.
  • Use improper grammar—Poor communication skills result in a negative impression.
  • Share your opinion on controversial subjects—Strong views on politics, religion, or discriminatory remarks are terrible ways to exclude yourself as a candidate.
  • Contradict yourself—Be honest on your resume and social networking sites such as LinkedIn.


  • Your LinkedIn profile is of the utmost importance—Make sure your online presence presents yourself as someone who is knowledgeable, and up-to-date on industry trends and topics.
  • Research—Use popular social media sites to learn more about the hiring manager, recruiter, and anyone else you may be interviewing with. This will often allow you an opportunity to discuss common interests (sports teams, alma maters, etc.) or to compliment them on an article or blog they have published.
  • Google yourself—You may be surprised by what you find. Savvy recruiters can often uncover photos and comments from years ago.

Five Key Questions Hiring Executives Should Ask When Beginning a Search

By John Lenihan, Consultant, MSA Executive Search

How can talent acquisition professionals prevent candidate misfit scenarios (refer to Common Reasons for Candidate Misfits) from happening to ensure a successful hire and long-term placement? The first step is a thorough conversation with the hiring executive to understand as much as possible at the beginning before diving into the recruitment process.

 The following are five examples of questions the hiring executive should be prepared to answer when starting a search along with a tip for each.

Question 1: Why is this position vacant?

- Tip: As obvious as this question seems, the answer is not always so simple. Whether the predecessor was terminated or voluntarily left the organization, it is important to take a step back and examine the factors that led to this vacancy in an open and honest manner. 

Question 2: Whose input is most important when describing the “ideal candidate?”

- Tip: Have conversations with stakeholders immediately to obtain their input before starting the search. Ideally, there will be consistency in the feedback, but it can also be helpful to uncover any disharmony or gaps in perception between stakeholders.  

Question 3:  What will success look like for this position?

- Tip: Identify several goals and objectives based on the areas of first-year emphasis for the position and department.

 Question 4: What are the obstacles to success for this position? 

- Tip: Determine roadblocks that may exist that would hinder the interviewee’s ability to achieve his or her goals in alignment with the identified goals and objectives. 

Question 5: What do you want to stop, start, and continue?  

- Tip: This question asks us to look at the past, present, and future of a position. Use it to identify problem areas from the predecessor—areas in which the predecessor performed well that you’d like to see the successor continue, and new strengths you’d like to see the successor acquire.

Building Physician Leadership

By Rita Johnson, Vice President, MSA Executive Search

Today, physicians are going back to school to get their MBAs, and the pool of potential leadership candidates is expanding. And while that education is absolutely valuable, especially among individuals who may have never taken a business class as an undergraduate or graduate, the MBA does not guarantee success. In fact, personality is by far the number one predictor of leadership success. So, what are the personality characteristics that best predict success? 

  • Emotional Intelligence: It doesn’t matter how bright an individual is, if they are highly emotional, rigid, or difficult to work with, they will not be considered successful. To be a viable leadership candidate, people must enjoy working with them.
  • Ability to Function Independently: A leader must be able to make decisions independently, take on and carry out various responsibilities. Most physicians are trained to follow protocols, and as such, not all may have confidence in their ability to make decisions in situations where there is no established procedure or precedent. In managing a division, a physician leader must be able to lead, by taking risks in pursuing a strategy and getting others to follow suit.
  • Perseverance: A successful leader must have perseverance and “stick to it” in the face of naysayers, as there will always be resistance to their initiatives.
  • Political and Business Acumen: Most physicians do not possess a high degree of business acumen. But with the right education, business acumen can often be learned. Political acumen, however, is a little more difficult to acquire from a class. Some people are innately attuned to certain political concerns in their environment, while others are turned off by political concerns. Ultimately, though, a successful leader must have some degree of political acumen.

How does an organization determine which physicians are best suited for a leadership role? If the physician has never served as a leader, the only reliable way to evaluate his or her predisposition to leadership is a personality assessment that looks at the characteristics previously discussed. Even if the physician has some leadership experience, however, a personality profile can still be exceedingly helpful, revealing the individual’s core leadership competencies regardless of the organizational culture.

Using LinkedIn Effectively as a Candidate

Emily Perkins, Recruiter, MSA Search

Are you actively or passively searching for a new role? LinkedIn is a great resource for candidates and recruiters, and trust me, recruiters are using it daily to source! As a candidate, LinkedIn is the perfect place to sell your talents and skills, but so many individuals don’t complete the profile or simply don’t use it at all. LinkedIn is an excellent professional resource, and you should be taking full advantage of everything it offers. Below are some tips to improve your LinkedIn page as a candidate.

  • Complete your profile. This may seem commonplace, but making sure your profile is complete is essential when trying to stand out in a competitive market--some people don’t do it! Tailor your profile to suit your needs and include how you would like to be communicated with, what you’re interested in hearing about or who you’re interested in connecting with, and don’t forget to include a picture (read Stand Out from the Crowd with Your LinkedIn Profile Picture). 
  • Write a headline and summary. This is your time to grab recruiters' attention--use keywords and tell people who you are and what you’re good at. This section will be the recruiters’ first impression of you, so take time to write it well and make it count!
  • Update your Background and Experience Section. Showcasing your experience in this section is as easy as copying and pasting information from your resume. This section is important for recruiters to be able to take a glance and get a good sense of your work experience and accomplishments. While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for a couple of recommendations--they’re nice to have.
  • Don’t be afraid to connect. LinkedIn is your platform to build relationships with colleagues across the country. Join and participate in Groups, and connect with peers, colleagues, and recruiters. Establish a relationship with a couple of recruiters, introduce yourself and get the conversation going. Even if you’re not interested in making a career move now, the perfect job might come up and the recruiter will remember you.

By making a few simple changes to your profile, you change the way recruiters and colleagues view your experience. You’ll show up in more searches, and be more attractive to recruiters and employers. Don’t forget that social media is huge in today’s world--peers and employers are looking through everything. Be sure to check your privacy settings and keep everything private instead of public; keep this in mind when posting and sharing information as everything should be considered when making sure you put your best foot forward.

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