John is an executive recruiter & speaker sharing his thoughts on healthcare, recruiting, digital technology, career management & leadership. 

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Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third WorldMichael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World Next up on my reading list. Lewis, author of Liar's Poker, The Big Short and Money B
7 November, 2011 Posted by John G. Self
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24 April, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management
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ASK THE RECRUITER: The Ethics of Calling Secondary References 

Posted April 24th, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

Q:  During an interview with a recruiter I mentioned several people I had worked with in past jobs. I made reference to these colleagues in discussing my experience and accomplishments. As part of the search process, I provided the recruiter with three Secondary Referencesreferences he requested.  But later I found out he had also called those people I mentioned in the interview.  Is this ethical?

A: Calling references not on your “official” reference list is called secondary referencing.  Yes, it is ethical as long as they do not call someone who will violate the confidentiality of your job search. This process is  becoming more common as recruiters and employers seek to gain a more complete picture of the person they plan to hire. A hiring mistake is very costly, not only to the employer but the candidate as well, so there is growing pressure, especially in the new healthcare reform environment, not pick the wrong person.

Look at it this way.  When someone agrees to be a reference, they want to be of help. You are not going to  knowingly submit references who will say bad things about you. Because they want to help, candidate submitted references almost always focus on your positive attributes.  Only rarely, perhaps one time in 50, will a reference say things that will derail a job offer.

So, recruiters and employers must dig deeper. Contacting secondary references is one of the ways recruiters can gain a better understanding of who you are, your leadership style and whether you actually accomplished all the things you claim to have done.  The days of lying on the resume with phony degrees or credentials are over.  Today the biggest risk for misrepresentation or outright lying on the resume is through the embellishment of experience and/or accomplishments.  Unfortunately, that is more common than most people think.

Good recruiters are going to be very cautious when calling secondary references because they want to protect your confidentiality in the search.  But a smart move in the interview is never to refer to anyone you currently work with and never mention the name of someone who may hold a grudge.  It is also perfectly appropriate to ask the recruiter to give you a heads up before references are called so that you can alert them.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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22 April, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Healthcare, Stories
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Why Hospitals Should NOT Fly

Posted April 22nd, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

In Why Hospitals Should Fly: The Ultimate Flight Plan to Patient Safety and Quality Care published in 2008, author John Nance makes a case that hospitals would do well to incorporate aviation’s best practices into their daily operations. Clearly he was talking about safety, not customer service.

Why Hospitals Should NOT FlyToday, airlines continue to offer travelers a safe and reliable form of transportation but beyond that, there is little that hospitals, or any other business for that matter, should apply to their daily operations, most of all  in the aforementioned category of customer service.

Airline service stinks, especially when you compare it to the 1960s and 1970s.  The nice service and gracious treatment began to change in the mid-1980s when the onslaught of low-cost carriers such as Southwest began to seriously challenge the legacy carriers which were struggling to cut their costs instead of refocusing and right sizing their businesses.  The passengers ultimately paid the price for that strategic error.  Instead of shrinking their fleets to focus on profitable routes, the legacy carriers, locked into a hub and spoke route system and continued to operate with excess capacity.  To attract passengers they had to cut prices which meant carving out expense and marginalizing their customers.

The airlines did come up with one very smart plan to hold on to their best customers.  With the help of Dallas marketing executive Hal Brierley, they hooked us to the heroin of airline miles travel rewards along with the concept of passenger “status”.

Mr. Brierley’s contribution to what seemed like a good idea at the time was not limited to American Airlines.  He also consulted on United’s MilePlus plan as well as the more customer friendly operations of Hilton Hotels and Neiman Marcus.  American Airlines under Bob Crandall’s leadership best illustrated the cost-cutting mindset by bragging about how much they saved in costs by removing olives from salads served on AA flights.  Eventually, of course, American eliminated food in coach, and to avoid the temptation to return to the wasteful expense of actually feeding passengers at meal time, removed the ovens from the coach class galleys in their domestic fleet. Less weight in the galleys meant more savings per flight.  And the cost of meals certainly went down.

The elimination of coach meals was just the tip of the all too familiar iceberg of deteriorating airline customer service.  As AA’s reasoning seemed to go, if Southwest Airlines could get away with its infamous cattle car loading process and offering only peanuts for food,  why not cut even more service and weed out even that nasty expense? AA was certainly not the only bad actor to adopt that mentality.  Flying passengers for hours on a “regional jet” so small it seems like a sewer tube with two engines but with only one bathroom, can be a bigger indignity for customers.

The real irony is that the American frequent flyer awards program, AAdvantage©, became a good defense strategy to hold on to market share as they systematically treated all their passengers, including those who paid the higher fares, poorly.  The unintended genius of their rewards program is that even as they treat their best customers badly, those same customers continue to come back like drug addicts to an edgy street corner in search of another fix.

Their best customers have too many miles and elevated status which affords them valuable perks like priority boarding or shorter lines for security screening.  It therefore does not make sense to fly with a competitor where they have no status —  where they are just another member of the unwashed herd in boarding group four or five. American’s customers, along with those of other legacy carriers, just suffer the abuse and keep flying with their abusers because they have too many miles and priority status. To date, airlines have had no incentive to do a better job, even for their most valuable customers who were addicted to their customer status and the free flights.

Except the rewards are not free. Airlines, realizing they have accrued huge contingent liabilities with these programs, are making it harder to redeem miles for flights — there are fewer and fewer flight options on the most desirable routes and more black out dates.

This peeves me no end, so instead of flying American (where I have allowed my status to drop to nothingness) back to Dallas on Saturday, or making a change of planes in Houston or Chicago on United (where I do have status), I booked on Virgin America, one of the top-rated domestic airlines, which now offers non-stop service from LaGuardia to Dallas Love Field.  They have a rewards program too and, while I do not have status with them yet, you wouldn’t know it based on the way I was treated, the way all the passengers on my flight were treated. Their planes are clean, the crews are friendly — “you are our guest” — and passengers can order food and drink on a touch screen at their seat — in coach.

I know this sounds revolutionary, but I have come to the conclusion that, in the long run, airline service might actually improve if airline rewards programs went the way of S&H Green Stamps.

Hospitals have their own very serious set of challenges.  We do not need to create a marketing gimmick that will only encourage us to not treat people better. I am grateful this is one marketing temptation we have resisted.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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20 April, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management, Recruiting
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The Risk Of Being Overly Prepared

Posted April 20th, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

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.

The problem?  They were overly prepared.  They had been given so much information that they lost their edge by the time the game started.prepared

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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