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Entrepreneurs, and the investors who support them, will tell you that a key to success is to have an exit strategy.  It may be five, 10 or 20 years out but no one works or lives forever.  The exit plan is the strategy to capitalize on the hard work and success of the business.

Ascending the ladderIn healthcare this exit strategy rule applies to senior executives in a business where instability and transformation will reign supreme over the next 10 years.  I am not talking the end of the career exit strategy, although that is important.  I am talking about the exit strategy for your next job.

The average job tenure has been declining since the mid-1970s.  Then, if a candidate had more than a couple of job tenures of less than four to five years, they were considered a “job hopper.”  Today, based on our review of more than 400 resumes, the average tenure is between three to five years.  Instead of moving too often, there is a growing sense among some clients that if a candidate has remained in one position more than seven years, he or she has stayed too long.   While clients remain leery of candidates with short tenures, more and more they are asking for executives with a depth and breadth of experience and quantifiable accomplishments in a multiple of different organizations and cultures.  Professional/career maturity and flexibility to adapt are increasingly sought after qualities. 

So, having an exit strategy for each position, along with an overall career plan, is not a bad idea.  This is not to say that a newly employed executive should begin thinking about his/her next job on day one.  That would probably be the kind of distraction that would hasten the career transition process.  Rather, it means that in a tumultuous period of change and record levels of CEO turnover due to Baby Boomer retirements, having an exit strategy – the short-term portion of a broader career plan – is a smart move. 

At the heart of an exit strategy is a robust professional network of colleagues and other healthcare professionals who can provide actionable career management intelligence.  Unfortunately, this is where many successful healthcare executives miss the mark – badly. 

Over the last 20 years in my search practice, I have routinely asked healthcare executives what is the size of their professional network.  Thirty-five to 50, is the typical response, a nice range but woefully small to generate a critical mass of market information, specific job leads or other suggestions.

The real value is not the sheer size of the network, but the quality of its members.  If your goal is to move into a senior leadership position in a healthcare system in the U.S., having 40 or 50 software, telecommunications engineers and healthcare managers in foreign countries is not going to help that much.   You need to be thoughtful and strategic about building your network and focus on those people who can provide value for you and vice versa.  

If you take the time to build and nurture these relationships, these are the people who will assist you when it comes time to make your next career move.  I think this is the cornerstone of a personal exit strategy.