In a critical game of the season, the best team — the one with the most talent and depth, the clear favorite— lost. They were well-prepared for all possibilities but they played without inspiration.
We see a similar situation in recruiting. Here is a story that will illustrate an important point in career management:
The candidate had two or three career issues so it was not surprising that he looked extremely anxious. He was coming off a short tenure in his most recent job. His resume, through a gap in employment and several short tenures, suggested layoffs, terminations or that he was the victim of mis-hires. Enough to raise an eyebrow? Yes. Sufficient evidence to disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate from the search? No, not yet.
This otherwise good candidate was the victim of a national outplacement firm’s “too cute by half” strategy to explain away the bumps in the road of a normal career. He was so overly prepared that he came across as shallow and insincere. He was so smooth in his responses but there wasn’t a hint of conviction or authenticity in some of his answers. The explanation he offered for his most recent short tenure was so cleverly crafted that I smiled through my desire to blurt out, “Oh, El Toro poo-poo” or words to that effect. I knew the corporate circumstances from whence he came and his answer lacked any connection with the reality of that organization’s dysfunctional culture.
I dropped him from the search.
His former employer had provided him with a generous severance and a very expensive outplacement firm to help smooth the way to his next job. He did everything the consultants told him to do and say, or at least that was his explanation when, after the search was completed, he asked for and I gave him my feedback.
Here is some broader advice offered up after I critiqued his interview performance:
- Demanding Job Market – The healthcare job market is becoming more demanding. Employers want people who are intellectually robust, who know their businesses inside and out with top-of-mind-awareness and a laser-like focus on market conditions and performance metrics. Outstanding execution is not optional when it comes to job security.
- Being Fired or Pushed Out Is Not the End of the World – A prior termination or short job tenure in and of itself is not a reason to disqualify a candidate. That rests on the circumstances and the candidate’s ability to effectively convey the lessons learned with readily available examples of improvement in subsequent jobs. There are more than a few championship coaches who were fired once or twice in their careers, who learned from their mistakes, and then set about to achieve great success and financial reward. They achieved success not by trying to spin their failures or mistakes, but by owning them and profiting from those events.
- Be Honest About Your Weaknesses – A hard fact is that every successful executive has weaknesses. Trying to hide your weaknesses with answers that clearly are an effort to spin them to nothingness, or to pivot to another question, is a really bad idea unless the person interviewing you is a fool. The best strategy for answering the weakness question should not be about avoiding a potential negative but should represent a leadership skill by talking about them in honest terms with a solid explanation of how you harnessed them to help you improve performance.
The best advice is to be honest and authentic. Everyone fails. Everyone has weaknesses. The evolution of reform will be more demanding of leaders. If you have a track record as an executive who is more about struggles, mixed performances or bad choices, perhaps you should pursue a different career.
Now is the time to get out in front of what surely will be a flood of people who will leave, or be forced to leave, the healthcare industry over the next few years.