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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30 March, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Leadership, Recruiting
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Transparency Obscured Threatens Candidates, Employers

Posted March 30th, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

Transparency is a popular term in business today.  It is critical for all aspects of leadership and in compliance, but it is especially important in recruiting.

transparencyOver the years I have amassed quite a collection of stories where candidates, or organizations, were less than transparent, I am sad to report.  The consequences for such behavior can be severe.

For employers not to be transparent because they fear that disclosure will reflect badly on the company or the leadership team, or because they do not want to alienate (scare off) a prized candidate, is never appropriate.  This could do enormous harm to a candidate’s career reputation and even greatly impact his or her personal life.  Regrettably, I have heard those stories as well.

For candidates not to be forthcoming — or for the potential employer to be less than robust in their vetting process — can also cause financial harm and significant embarrassment.

A recruiter who fails to disclose a physician’s alcohol or drug addiction because of the pressure to earn a fee, or the hospital executive who turns a blind eye to the obvious warning flags because of pressure to meet budgeted revenue targets, is disturbing. When patients come to harm because of a lack of transparency, it is shameful.

Recruiting is not an open and shut process and mistakes are made, but legitimately missing something, and overtly withholding material information or failing to perform due diligence, are not even close to being the same thing.

As a recruiter, I am lucky.  People tell me things.  Perhaps it is due to interviewing skills I learned as an investigative reporter in my earlier work life.  Or it could be that I ask, straight out, is there something I need to know in order to be transparent to the candidates, or to my client.

Have I missed things in the past?  Absolutely.  You cannot work in this industry and not have an occasional mistake.  Thankfully, mine have been few and very far between, and I would like to think that I have learned from my mistakes.  That, and on the candidate side, a three-hour face-to-face interview affords ample opportunity to glean things that you simply cannot discover in telephone or videoconference interviews, or an interview over dinner.

Candidates and employers must agree that transparency is a shared responsibility.  If both sides ask the hard questions, not just the polite, politically correct ones, you have a better chance at achieving transparency.

Here are some key questions/strategies:


  • Is there anything in your background that, if it became public, would cause embarrassment for you, our organization and possibly limit your effectiveness?  (This typically opens the door and good people will usually disclose a prior DUI, treatments, or mistakes that led to termination, none of which are necessarily deal killers)
  • When we speak to former employers — former colleagues — at the appropriate time, what will they tell us about your performance?  (That is a truth alert question to the candidate:  be on notice, we may actually talk to people who are not on your reference list)
  • If there are gaps in the employment record, recruiters need to drill down on the causes.  If they are recent, they need to ask for references — peers and subordinates — who will speak to those issues
  • Employers should conduct in-depth background checks — we go back 15 years and are looking at court documents, the driving record, independently verifying employment dates, etc.  We are concerned with patterns of performance, behavior or outright deception

Executive Candidates:

  • Are the organization’s finances in stable condition?  How many days of cash on hand do you have?  Would you mind sharing year-to-day financials or the most recent audit report?
  • What is your current debt rating?  Do you anticipate any changes that could impact the organization’s access to capital?
  • Have there been any material changes in the market — physician defections, acquisitions, new competitors, etc. that would impact the organization’s performance and/or affect the performance deliverables?
  • Describe the culture of the organization in terms of what is sacred, how decisions get made, and the tone and style of the key members of the senior team.

Remember, most candidates who get the sack inside of two years were not pushed out because they lacked the credentials or experience but because they did not fit with the culture, or because they ran headlong into a major surprise — owing to a lack of transparency — that changed everything.

A final note to candidates, the longer a recruiter’s placement guarantee, the more they are invested in your success by digging deep to truly understand the employer’s culture, versus just getting enough information to close the deal.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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27 March, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management, Recruiting
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Passively, Aggressively Fired

Posted March 27th, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

Dan was pleased to get the job.  It was a promotion in title, scope of responsibility, more base salary, a larger bonus potential and much better benefits.  He began with confidence, he had all the whistles and bells his new employer was looking for, plus a solid book of experience.

FiredOn his first day, Dan was more than a little confident.

So, he was more than a little stunned when, on a Friday afternoon before he left for a long weekend, he was fired.  This train wreck, which occurred within 16 months of arriving at this wonderful new career opportunity, was pre-ordained.

That his now former employer offered him a very generous severance package, which provided for financial security was beside the point.  He felt humiliated, defeated, and so very sad.

As Dan drove home, he began to cry.  Guilt entered the calculus.

His wife had, very reluctantly, left close friends and a house she adored.  She was still having trouble connecting in her new community.  The kids still missed their friends.  Everything was going to be OK but, in retrospect, Dan had some nagging concerns.  Later he admitted that he was stunned but not completely surprised, a subtle difference lost on his wife and children.  The marriage has suffered since his termination, or at least Dan feels that it has.  Everyone is unhappy.

In truth, Dan could not have been further from what this organization was really looking for.  He read the position summary from the recruiter, he felt connected and focused during the interviews.  They complimented him on his probing questions.  But all was not right and, in retrospect, Dan had to admit he had talked himself past some serious concerns.

It was another classic example of “don’t ask, don’t tell” recruiting.  It is one of the executive search industry’s deepest and darkest secrets.

Dan just did not fit in.  Later, a team building consultancy brought in to focus on the organization’s nagging (and costly) turnover problem, found that most of the senior leadership were very similar in terms of their DiSC behavior and values profile.  For the consultant, it was no surprise that Dan did not fit in.  In technical terms, they were high C (a focus on accuracy, facts, details) and above average S (they were not overly comfortable with change management).  They were all mid-range on their D dimension.  Dan was much higher.  These dimensions reflect other aspects of compatibility, but were the key issues for Dan, a gregarious, strong personality kind of guy, and an outgoing people person who embraced change, excelled with financial and operational metrics but needed a strong assistant to help him with the details.


The executive team focused on accuracy and detail and, all things considered, would just as soon avoid any ambiguity or change.  They also were, to a person and a fault, non confrontational.  Dan’s big personality grated on the established order.

Dan was passively, aggressively, sacked.

The search firm partner did not return his calls.  The partner was in a state of high service recovery.  An associate cautioned that the partner was too angry with Dan for screwing things up.  “Don’t push it.  Maybe it will fade away,” the associate said, probably knowing better.

That is rich since it was the partner who obviously did not have a clue about the culture and the personality of the team — or if he did, did not feel it was his responsibility to share.  He was close friends with the CEO and wasn’t about to disclose anything other than what Dan later concluded was a five-star smoke-job designed to close the deal and maintain the client relationship, which can be a dangerous combination for an unsuspecting candidate.

All anyone had to do to avoid this disaster was to go beyond the “filling the order” mode and dig a little deeper to find out what type of personality could, or could not, fit in this organization.  However, many recruiters apparently do not feel that is their job. It takes too much time, it adds costs, and makes their job more complicated.  It is all so transactional.  Sort of like selling a used car.

Candidates be forewarned, if a deal sounds too good to be true — seems like the perfect fit — it may be too good to be true.  It may not be the perfect fit.

You have to ask the tough questions, not the polite, politically correct ones.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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25 March, 2015 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Healthcare, Leadership
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The Push to Improve

Posted March 25th, 2015 | Author: John G. Self

It is not what you did yesterday or today, but what you will do tomorrow.

push to improveThis is the battle cry for healthcare’s push to improve, to do it better, safer and cheaper.  Get used to it.  This will be one of many relentless pressures in the lives of healthcare executives for many years to come.

For some leaders, those who lack the patience, skill or intelligence, or those who  work for someone inflicted with these deficiencies, this will be anything but an inspirational experience.

There are far too many executives who, under the guise of being straight forward or direct, will employ a  noisy “take no prisoners” approach. All they seem to care about is hitting their budget numbers, primarily financial, not the squishy quality and safety stuff. After all, the penalties for less than stellar quality of care or patient satisfaction ratings are not so great that the Wall Street investors will even notice. At least not yet.

For years, a sizable number of healthcare executives have enjoyed reasonably long and successful careers as mediocre leaders. They have come to believe, mistakenly so, that the relentless driving of people to exceed the budget makes them a great leader.  Well, not exactly.  It may qualify them as a good CEO, but remember, that is just a title.  People do not gladly follow titles.

In years past it was easier to dictate and control our businesses than to inspire our employees but regulatory and financial reforms are changing all that. Leaders throwing people under the bus to save themselves will not produce sustainable results.

As I think about this still sizable and challenged group, I wonder: when did leadership become about self-preservation versus putting our patients, our employees and our communities ahead of our self interest?

“In tough times, I made the hard decisions!”  That is what some CEOs like to brag about when they line up for their annual bonuses after laying off employees and whipping into submission those who are left.  In many cases spreading the financial pain of necessary expense reductions among all employees, including the CEO, could have resulted in even greater savings. That sounds and feels more like true leadership to me.

It is kind of ironic that the phrase “we have to make hard choices” is the same one politicians use with their core voters when they start cutting government spending,  typically beginning with the least among us in society.

Perhaps if we made the right decisions to begin with, we wouldn’t have to make those hard decisions that hurt our people and destroy morale.

© 2015 John Gregory Self

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