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Ask the RecruiterEarly last year, at the urging of my wife, I entered treatment for a reliance on alcohol.  It wasn’t affecting my job performance those close to me at work later said, but it was noticeable to my closest friends and family.  My board was very supportive through my leave of absence but when I returned, things had changed — those on the senior leadership team that I did not confide in were angry, and others saw my absence as an opportunity to mount a coup.  The board chair and the executive were very supportive but after a 10-year run during which we accomplished some amazing things, I left the organization.  

Today, I have stopped drinking and I feel terrific, the best I have felt in years.  I am now back in the job market.  A couple of recruiters I have known for years said they couldn’t touch me.  They didn’t say it directly, but they treated me as if I were damaged goods.  Now I am concerned about what I should disclose to recruiters, and when I should I discuss it with them?

Healthcare is a demanding profession particularly for CEOs who run major health systems, so it should not surprise people if I said this issue is not an uncommon problem.  It may not be alcohol — it may be anger management or some other form of abusive behavior — but it is there.  That said, this is truly a difficult challenge for executives who are attempting a return to the job market after counseling or other forms of treatment.

Here are some factors for you to consider:

  • You may think your situation is confidential but, face it, this is an industry that loves to gossip.  If you are a high profile leader, the word will, or probably already is, out.
  • There are way more recruiters who are scared to death of “taking a chance” with an executive who may have this type of “baggage” than not.  They will “play it safe” even if you are OK and even if it means their client will not get a chance to consider an accomplished executive who hit one of life’s career or personal speed bumps.
  • There are some recruiters who will do the right thing — if you are qualified and if you have successfully completed treatment — and explore all of the issues with you.  If you are a good fit, they will disclose the issue to the client, conduct additional vetting and include you in the panel of recommended candidates.  But not all recruiters are equal, which is to say that it is hard to know the good recruiters from those who are not.  The name of the firm is no guarantee.  This is why it is SO important to build long-term relationships with several executive recruiters.  If you are called by somebody you have not worked with in the past, the chances are good that you know someone who knows the individual leading the search.  That is probably your best bet.

If this issue comes up in your career you need to build and nurture a strong network who can help you navigate this process.