Where Are You In Your Career?

Early careerists, mid-careerists, and senior executives have very different needs and anticipated outcomes when attempting a career transition. This page helps answer common questions, from how to successfully market yourself to what to expect from a recruiter.

Early Careerist Questions

How should I manage the transition from being a student to being a professional if my goal is to become an administrator?

Done correctly, work toward transition would start before you complete your academic preparation. Begin by answering the following questions straightforwardly: Is being an administrator or manager the right choice for me?

If it is the right choice, how much of an administrator do I want to be?

Candid answers require self-assessment. To answer the first question, you must be clear in your understanding of “being an administrator.” You can be considered part of a management or administrative team without leading an entire organization and without being visibly responsible and accountable for its success or failure. On the other hand, you can manage the planning, quality, or information management departments and still be considered “management” even though you might not directly contribute to an organization’s bottom line.

Examining your past for examples of your management style will provide further evidence that becoming a line manager is right for you. For example, do you like being in charge and responsible for producing visible results? If so, then you should determine how much of an administrator you want to be. Do you aspire to become a CEO, or would you be deterred by the associated political risks and the potential for imbalance between work and life?

Knowing what management roles and levels suit you should enable you to put a name on the job you ultimately aspire to, such as chief operating officer, director of business development, or vice president of system integration.


Entry Positions

Once you have established your suitability for management, management style, and ultimate job title, you will face questions about where you want to work, how to package yourself as a viable candidate, and how to develop a network that will support you as you advance your career.

Knowing your ultimate job title will help you determine the setting where you want to work. Setting decisions involve healthcare sectors (such as healthcare systems, medical groups, public health organizations, associations, etc.) and geographic regions.

Determining both your ultimate job and post-graduation healthcare setting is essential to preparing and packaging yourself to compete for your entry position. Making a decision about your preferred setting early in your academic program may influence your course selection and how you fulfill assignments with exposure to the field of practice. Your objective is to develop a resume that shows you possess the competencies that will lead to your ultimate job. Competencies for healthcare leaders may involve governance, continuous quality improvement, strategic planning, physician group management, and negotiation—all of which specifically employ the ability to direct and coordinate the efforts of diverse groups and complex, multidisciplinary teams.

In your first job, however, it is more likely that you will work independently as a problem solver rather than lead complex teams. In this role, skillfully applying your technical knowledge will be crucial to succeeding. Also important will be systems thinking (which will help you develop solutions for organizations as a whole) and interpersonal skills (which will help you acquire contextual information and develop solutions through your working relationships with others).

The Importance of Networking

Recognizing that others play a role in helping you succeed is important to learn early in your career. You should avoid being a “lone ranger” if you are going to reach your fullest potential in your job and professional development. Networking is the term we apply to involving others in our accomplishments; it is about succeeding in your present role more than about finding your next job. In your first job, begin networking with people in your organization so they can help you learn how the corporate culture operates at all levels.

Others may have already experienced challenges you are facing, and their knowledge can help you avoid costly trials and errors. You should also start building your professional network beyond the organization by becoming an active member of an appropriate professional association. Other association members can provide convenient access to new technical skills and knowledge, can help you extend your networks, and when it is time to advance your career, can provide you with assets you can use to accelerate your efforts. By participating in your professional association, you will find opportunities to grow as a contributing leader. When you enjoy that reputation, desirable opportunities will find you.

Mid-Careerist Questions

What personal characteristics and professional background are needed to make a successful transition from managing in a health services organization to becoming a management consultant?

Consultants are aptly nicknamed “road warriors.” If you are considering becoming a consultant, be prepared to meet unpredictable travel demands and possibly fluctuating compensation.

What attributes characterize a candidate likely to succeed as a consultant?

A consultant should possess a special combination of competencies that frequently include the following:

  • Unique, highly valued technical competence
  • Superior capacity to multitask while filling varied roles
  • Highly honed project management skills
  • Excellence in establishing positive interpersonal relationships
  • Entrepreneurial flair for acquiring and conducting consulting engagements
  • Prospective consultants who already enjoy professional recognition and visibility will enjoy definite advantages. You can earn a respected reputation and well-connected standing in the healthcare field by getting your publications and presentations in front of potential consulting clients.
Lifestyle Adjustments

Consulting is a competitive business, both in terms of hiring and in terms of securing business. On the career ladder for consulting, research associates appear at the lowest rung. Next come entry-, mid-, and senior-level consultants. At the top are junior and senior partners. Compensation varies accordingly; therefore, career transitions from a health services organization to a consulting position may be difficult for established, mid-career healthcare executives. Changing career tracks often requires sacrificing existing salary in the short run. Unless you bring to consulting both unique expertise and a “book of business,” odds are that a salary offer—should you get one—will have to be in line with the compensation of other “minder role” consultants already in the firm.

Even if you previously were compensated at a senior executive level, you shouldn’t expect principal- or partner-level compensation in a consulting firm since you have not yet learned the business. Making the change from executive to a consultant will likely demand that you sacrifice status and compensation, at least in the short run. Beforehand, you must be certain that you really have a passion to consult and the skills and energy to succeed in this field. Researchers with Multi-Health Systems investigated the top emotional intelligence competencies that distinguish the most successful management consultants from the least successful. The top three attributes were assertiveness, emotional self-awareness, and reality testing.

Be sure that you are emotionally aware of your motivations for pursuing a switch to consulting. Deciding whether you can tolerate the changes in lifestyle, status, and compensation is a reality test you want to take before—rather than after—you change careers

Senior Executive Question

What can I expect from an executive recruiter?

Ideally, executive recruiters locate and place executives who are perfectly suited for jobs that organizations need to fill. Three parties are involved in placement: the recruiter, the employer, and the candidate. However, the recruiter is selling the actual service to the employer. The employer—not the executive seeking the job—is the recruiter’s true customer.

How Recruiters Establish Relationships

Recruiters, often called search consultants, describe what they do as a “relationship business.” Relationships between employers and recruiters typically rest on formal agreements that spell out fees and services to be provided. In contrast, job candidates should neither pay nor receive fees, resulting in a relationship between recruiters and executives that is not as easy to define.

An employer and a recruiter may start a relationship when the employer invites bids on a search or issues a request for proposals, but there is no such formal process for establishing a relationship between a recruiter and a candidate. Sometimes executives initiate the process, presenting themselves to recruiters by meeting with them in person or by submitting resumes. Other times, recruiters make the first move by posting job advertisements, cold-calling executives, or asking executives if they can provide names of network acquaintances.

How Recruiters Establish Prospective Matches

Successful recruiters are acquainted with vast numbers of executives. Most recruiters maintain a database of resumes and search it using keywords to match job requirements with potential candidate profiles. For example, an employer may want to hire an executive who has integrated organizations following a merger or an executive who has successfully led a financial turnaround. The recruiter would start a search by querying the database for resumes containing those attributes. After finding potential matches, the recruiter begins honing in on the best candidates using part intelligence, part wisdom, and part intuition.

If a resume survives the first round of screening, the recruiter will contact the candidate to establish his or her level of interest in the position. If interest is high enough, the recruiter will begin validating qualifications and checking references and then will set up a screening interview with the candidate. If an executive survives the screening interview, that candidate and approximately four other viable candidates will become the subjects of candidate reports prepared by the recruiter for presentation to the client (the employer).

The employer then decides whether to seek interviews with the candidates or to request a new batch of prospective candidates from the recruiter. Once a candidate makes it to the employer’s “short list,” the candidate can expect more frequent and substantive contact from the recruiter. The candidate should receive an in-depth assessment of the hiring organization, its leadership team, and its position in the market, as well as information about the community as a place to live. This information is intended to help the candidate prepare for what may be a series of on-site interviews. At this point, however, the recruiter is not necessarily going to advocate for one candidate over another.

Should an executive emerge as the preferred candidate, the relationship with the recruiter will enter an intense phase. Experts recommend that the recruiter be the primary representative in negotiating a mutually acceptable employment agreement and compensation package. A recruiter’s constant exposure to compensation arrangements, benefits, and separation provisions enables the recruiter to negotiate an equitable compensation package. Even so, the candidate should have an attorney examine the proposed package before accepting the offer.

Different Types of Recruiters

The process outlined above is fairly representative of working with a recruiter. However, recruiters differ in important ways, and these differences have implications for executive candidates. The most fundamental difference is whether the recruiter is retained or working on contingency.

Retained recruiters generally are the only recruiters serving an employer for a particular search. Since the recruiter is not competing with another firm to fill the job, the employer-paid recruiting fees and expenses are not at risk as long as the recruiter satisfactorily completes the assignment. Historically, retained recruiters handle more senior-level positions.

In contrast, a recruiter working on contingency typically receives a fee only if the employer hires a candidate whom the recruiter presents. Since a recruiter working on contingency does not have an “exclusive” agreement with the employer, the recruiter risks having a competing recruiter fill the job first. Contingency recruiters tend to do less exhaustive candidate screenings. They also usually provide candidates with information about potential employers.

Since contingency recruiters have the incentive to “be there first with the most,” they may handle a resume differently than a retained recruiter would. Unless a candidate carefully defines how a recruiter may distribute his resume, the candidate may discover detrimental information has been provided to individuals and organizations he would rather not have to know about his availability, possibly causing him embarrassment or jeopardizing his current employment.

Other distinctions among recruiting firms include serving clients in only one industry versus multiple industries or operating single offices versus multinational locations.

No matter what kind of firm you decide to work with, it is important to keep in mind that the employer who pays the recruiter’s fee is the real client. Consequently, you must adjust and limit your expectations of the relationship between you and the recruiter. If you wish to work with executive recruiters to make a job change, working with several will be in your best interest since a recruiter typically can only present your credentials to one client at a time and no one recruiter has access to all the opportunities that might be right for you. Finally, relying on executive recruiters should not replace your personal networking efforts. The two activities are complementary.