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The candidate's perspective.

If you're a physician executive who's experienced, accomplished, and visible within the health care management profession, chances are fairly good that you'll receive many calls form executive search firms in the course of your career. Knowing how to respond to these calls will help you make the most of your relationships with executive search firms and with the consultants who represent them.

There are several reasons why physician executives should know the ins and outs of executive search.

* Physician Executive as Candidate. You may be at a point in your career when you're ready to investigate a new professional opportunity. No matter what your present set of circumstances, you may one day find yourself wanting to quietly and deliberately look for a new position.

* Physician Executive as Resource. You may want to help other physician executives who are looking for new professional opportunities. Through a process known as sourcing, executive search consultants often call executives to obtain the names of colleagues or contacts who could fill the needs and position specifications of their clients. In the process, the executive search consultant often asks about your interests, priorities, skills, and areas of expertise. The result is a contact that could eventually result in a new professional opportunity. Even if you have no interest in relocation, executive search consultants can be valuable partners in your career, providing feedback on market conditions and advice on how to best achieve your professional goals.

* Physician Executive as Client. As you progress in your career, it's increasingly likely that you'll turn to a search firm to fill executive vacancies and other positions within your organization. Knowing how executive search firms work and how to evaluate their credentials will help you achieve the best possible results for your financial investment.

Myths and Realities

Working with an executive search consultant as a candidate or resource demands that you come to grips with some common myths and realities.

Myth: "All search firms are alike."

The reality is that all search firms have one goal: They want to match executives with employers. However, the ways in which they approach this goal vary dramatically. Retained search firms typically handle searches above the $70,000 salary level and are hired by an organization to conduct a search on an exclusive basis. As the executive search firm's client, the organization pays the firm a fee (typically one third of the first year's compensation) to conduct a search until it's brought to a successful conclusion. A contingency firm, in contrast, receives its fee only if one of the candidates it recommends is hired and performs in the position for an agreed-upon period. A contingency firm often works on a nonexclusive basis with no guarantee.

Often confused with executive search firms are outplacement and career counseling firms. Mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, bankruptcies, and downsizing have caused a growing number of organizations to refer terminated senior executives to outplacement or career counseling firms and consultants. These professionals help executives to evaluate their knowledge and skills, prepare personal career marketing plans, and obtain interviews leading to job offers. Outplacement fees are generally paid by the organization that terminated the executive. Although outplacement firms may be aware of job leads and available positions, they're not in the business of making matches between organizations and executives.

The primary objective of a search firm is not to find you a new management position. While the executive search consultant will try to accommodate your needs and interests, the consultant's overriding goal is to find a qualified candidate for the client organization.

Myth: "A search consultant almost always fills a search with candidates who are already in the firm's files."

The reality is that the majority of searches are filled with professionals who aren't yet in the executive search firm's files when the search commences. As noted, most reputable executive search firms rely heavily on a process known as "sourcing," whereby the search consultant telephones contacts to seek referrals for the position. In most cases, these contacts are people with whom the search consultant has come into contact or who are widely known in the industry because of their organization's prominence or their visibility in local, regional, or national organizations or in the trade press. Research departments within search firms continually review trade publications for rising stars within the health care field.

Turnover is another factor that makes ongoing research essential. In an increasingly volatile job market, a search firm's internal files become dated quickly. Although turnover within the ranks of senior health care executives has decreased slightly in recent years, executives continue to change jobs. In light of these realities, the executive search firm must fulfill its obligation to the client by searching for candidates who are not only interested and available to relocate, but also represent the best possible match between the client's specifications and the candidate's background and expertise.

Myth: "A search firm ought to be able to give me a yes or a no."

In some situations, an executive search consultant will be able to give you immediate feedback on your appropriateness for a certain position. In other situations, only the client can make that decision. Most executive search firms in the health care field invest 10 weeks in a process that involves organizational assessment, sourcing and research of potential candidates, and personal, face-to-face interviews with qualified candidates. At that point, the executive search consultant returns to the client organization and presents the resumes of six to eight qualified candidates--all of whom the consultant has personally interviewed and evaluated. The client selects a smaller number of candidates to interview on site. Ultimately, the client is the only person who can say "yes" or "no" to a candidate.

Myth: When you get a call from a recruiter, the most important thing is to present yourself in the most positive light. It's OK to gloss over details or stretch the truth a little."

The reality is that honesty is essential. Executive search firms typically verify the information on resumes at two junctures: Prior to presenting your resume with those of other candidates to the client organization for an initial review, and after face-toface interviews with the client organization. The second verification of information is typically more thorough than the first, and often involves extensive background and character checks.

In most cases, search firms verify start and end dates of employment, licensure, board certification, reporting relationships, reasons for leaving, and educational degrees. In addition, they validate a candidate's key professional accomplishments and obtain a reading on your strengths, weaknesses, and skills. For example, if a search is being conducted for a high-level executive, such as a CEO or a CO0, the firm looks for solid assurance that the candidate has strong communication skills, gets along well with others, and can make decisions quickly. Among the typical questions:

* Under what circumstances did the person leave?

* What are the person's key strengths and weaknesses? In what areas did he or she receive high ratings on performance reviews?

* What insight can you give me into this individual's personal life?

Although search consultants are legally prohibited from asking questions related to age, race, children and child care arrangements, religion, health status, spouse employment, personal habits, sexual orientation, national origin, and other factors, they will use discretion to identify factors that might interfere with job performance. In some cases, interviews will circumvent sensitive issues by simply asking, "Are there any variables in the candidate's personal and family life that might interfere with job performance?"

Some client organizations ask for financial background checks through credit bureaus or agencies such as Dun and Bradstreet. Many organizations are understandably reluctant to hire executives who recently went through personal or business bankruptcy for positions that have fiduciary responsibilities.

The consequences of having an executive search firm discover that a candidate has lied--e|ther through misrepresentation on the resume or by communicating false details in an interview--are serious and permanent. Just as cheating on a math test would earn you a zero in the classroom and possible suspension or expulsion from school, so lying within the search process usually knocks you out of consideration for a position. No organization wants to hire a liar or a person who feels comfortable in bending the truth.

Clear, specific, direct, and honest communication between candidate and executive search consultant is essential. Misrepresentations raise red flags. The executive search firm begins to wonder: Is this an isolated incident or is it a pattern? In almost every case, the executive search consultant will conclude that the client is unwilling to assume the risk or to invest the time to find out the truth.

When to Contact a Search Consultant

How do you attract the attention of an executive search consultant? While almost all executive search firms discourage off the street visits, they vary in their reaction to calls from potential candidates versus having candidates send a cover letter and resume followed by a phone call. In most cases, health care executives find it useful to send an executive search firm a cover letter and resume.

When you send your resume to an executive search firm, include a cover letter in which you describe the preferred type and size of organization, geographic limitations, type of position, and scope of responsibilities. You need not always address your cover letter to a specific search consultant, but it sometimes helps. If you've met with or know a consultant within the firm, or if you can obtain a personal referral from an executive whom the search consultant has placed, you may have an edge. In most cases, your success in getting a personal response from the executive search consultant depends on several variables: the quality of your resume, the probability of a match between your qualifications and a current assignment, and whether the search consultant is pursuing a search that's relevant to your needs at that time.

What goes into a resume and cover letter? Following are the critical criteria:

* Does the cover letter state who you are, what you do, and how your skills and experience could be of benefit to the search consultant?

* Is the letter originally typed and addressed to a specific person within the firm?

* Does the resume present your background, achievements, and goals positively? Does it reflect your most recent accomplishments?

* Does the resume testify to your commitment to the industry and your profession, your problem-solving ability, and your enthusiasm?

* Is the resume written in dear, concise language and reproduced on high-quality paper?

When the Search Consultant Calls

If you receive a call from an executive search consultant, view it as an opportunity to share ideas and resources and to develop a new contact. In some cases, the executive search consultant is looking for referrals. In other cases, the consultant may have you in mind as a potential candidate and is looking for such basic information as career history, education, and level of interest in the position. If you don't know the executive search consultant or are unfamiliar with the firm, you should ask for information on it and its clients, on its confidentiality policy, and on whether its searches are retained or contingency.

If the position seems interesting, tell the executive search consultant. However, if you have no interest in the position, be candid with the search consultant. Extend your appreciation for the telephone call and the opportunity to discuss the position. If the firm maintains a computerized file of candidates, ask that your background be included in the file and that you be contacted about future assignments that fit your preferences.

If the executive search consultant sees a potential match between your background and the client's expectations, the possibility of a face-to-face meeting will be raised. This initial meeting gives the search consultant the opportunity to reveal the identity of the client and to develop a more exhaustive profile of you as a candidate. In the process, the consultant will also evaluate the elusive variable of chemistry that often leads to the client's acceptance or rejection of a candidate.

Following are some of the criteria used by consultants:

* Does your career demonstrate solid, upward progression?

* Are you willing to relocate and adapt to a new organization, community, and environment?

* Do your skills, talents, and background fit the position specification as described by the client?

* What is your philosophy and style of management?

* Will your management and interpersonal style fit within the client's organization? For example, executives with autocratic management style fit within some organizations, while those with strong team skills fit within others. Some organizations request a highly involved, roll-up-your-sleeves executive, while others want someone who will direct people and process from a distance.

* What have you accomplished in previous positions that testifies to your ability to produce similar results in a new position and environment?

You should also ask the consultant several questions:

* What is the organization's style and culture?

* What are the specific responsibilities of this job? What do the board and chief executive officer expect within the first year? Within five years?

* What are the positive and negative variables within this organization?

* What is the position's authority level? What are the pros and cons of the reporting relationship?

* What are the opportunities for advancement?

* What is the total compensation package?

Even if you sense a fit between your qualifications and the position, try to be realistic. If you're not invited by the search consultant for an second interview or by the organization for a personal interview, don't take it personally or interpret it as an indictment of your professional competence. In most cases, there are other individuals who fit the client's specifications more closely or who are better matches on the elusive variables of chemistry and fit. If you've been positive and candid about your career experience and professional contributions, the chances are good that the executive search consultant will call you when a more appropriate position becomes available.

If you're invited by the client organization for an on-site interview, you can expect to spend one to two days. If the organization is seriously interested in your candidacy, it will invite you back for a second interview, for which your spouse may be asked to join you. At this point, the executive search consultant will conduct indepth reference checks before moving toward negotiations and the final offer.

Even after you accept an offer and move to a new position, you can still expect to hear from the executive search consultant. A reputable search consultant will follow up with clients for a period of six to 12 months after making a placement to ensure that the needs of client and candidate have been met. Many executive search firms offer guarantees whereby they promise to repeat a search at no cost to the client if the candidate fails to perform for a designated period-usually one year.

Thinking Long-Term

How can physician executives make the most of their relationships with executive search consultants?

* Develop a multifaceted search and career-building strategy. Although executive search firms are valuable for finding opportunities within the executive management ranks, they are far from the only vehicle available to you. Many executives find new opportunities through networking within professional societies and trade associations and among friends and colleagues. Others volunteer to serve on highly visible committees or to write articles for newsletters, journals, and magazines.

* Try to give back what you get. The relationship that exists among the executive search consultant, the client, and the candidate is reciprocal. An executive search consultant who once helped you in a job search appreciates referrals and serious consideration as the firm that might conduct a search within your organization. Even if the executive search consultant has never placed you in a new opportunity, take care not to ignore subsequent phone calls. Instead, be positive and do your best to identify colleagues who could meet a position's specifications.

* Regard the professional search consultant as a colleague. Although search consultants are retained by health care organizations, their dual goal is to help health care organizations and the executives who manage them be more effective and successful. The more you view and treat them as competent professionals, the greater the opportunities for enhancing your career.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Recruitment; Working with an Executive Search Firm, part 1
Author:Doody, Michael
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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