In your career transition, you will come across many job opportunities, and an idea of what search committees are looking for can help you discern which positions are a potential fit for your experience, skills, and career ambitions. Thankfully, figuring out what search committees want isn’t rocket science. In my experience working with search committees, here are the things they are looking for:

  1. Candidates that meet at least 80% of the specs

When an organization puts a spec sheet together, it’s a wish list. Generally, they know they will have to settle on some points. In fact, if someone were to meet 100% of the position requirements, that person usually doesn’t want the job because they’re looking for something more that will allow them to expand their skills.  Experience tends to be the area where most search committees are willing to be flexible. For example, if an organization is looking for a COO for a 500-bed hospital, a search committee will interview a CEO of a 250-bed hospital, a COO of a similarly sized hospital in a larger market, or a VP of Operations from an 800-bed hospital.

Education is a more minor component in a search committee’s consideration.  In my view, while a specific field of study is not necessarily required, if you don’t have a Master’s degree, you have a notch against you. However, a doctorate, though becoming more common among healthcare executives, doesn’t necessarily give you a step up in today’s job market.

Ultimately, search committees are looking at a totality of the candidate’s qualifications. Just because the job description doesn’t match your experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw your hat in the ring. Organizations recruit based on experience, but hire based on behavioral competencies and cultural fit.

  1. A good understanding of the organization and its business

Nowadays, there is so much information available to job candidates. Not only do you have to be more prepared than you used to be going into an interview, but you have to be more prepared than anyone else interviewing for the position. You should never ask about an organization’s revenue in an interview. You should already know that number.  I just participated in a search committee meeting where every single candidate knew our business cold. They had looked at the strategic plan and financial documents, and had even talked to the CFO. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, and you need to do your homework more thoroughly than you have in past job interviews.

  1. Connection with the individual committee members

A search committee should be a group united in their vision for the position they’re hiring for, yet they are a group of individuals. You need to not only connect with their collective vision, but also with each of them on an individual level.  The person who can do this will have a leg up on all the other candidates.  There are numerous tools, including LinkedIn and Google, to see what a person is passionate about or interested in, their career paths, and their place of education. Research until you find a point of connection.

  1. No surprises

No one likes surprises—especially search committees who learn something problematic about a candidate late in the hiring process.  If there is something in your background that will raise eyebrows, bring it up at the beginning of the process. If it comes up at the end, it will likely be detrimental to your candidacy.  The search committee will doubt your honesty.  Additionally, it is always wise to look at your social media profiles from a search committee’s point of view and remove anything disqualifying, or be prepared to explain anything they might have questions about.

  1. A cultural fit

A cultural fit will matter to the search committee, but it should also be something you are actively looking for. Too often, an organization’s mission, vision, and values are just PR statements or are so broad that they’re meaningless.  Clues to what is truly central to the culture of the organization comes out in conversation. Be observant during your interviews, and ask specific questions about the culture. Ideally, you will have a good understanding of yourself, and everyone you talk to from the organization will be “on the same page of the same hymn book,” so to speak.  You want to be sure that they are aligned closely enough with your values and way of thinking that joining the organization will be a positive thing for them and for you, because it’s a tough job to change the culture once you get there.

  1. Characteristics of a great healthcare leader

When I was preparing to start a CEO search, I interviewed every member of the board, management team, and physician executive committee. I would write down traits that each person said were essential for someone in the open position, and add check marks by that trait as others named it in subsequent interviews. These are the characteristics that earn the most check marks and come up on every spec sheet:

  • Flexible and adaptable: Be ready to share stories of situations where you have had to make changes, whether to an organization’s culture, philosophy, or processes. Most search committees, if given the choice between a candidate who has been at the same organization for 30 years but isn’t particularly innovative, and a candidate who has changed jobs every five years, but has been successful, they will choose the candidate who stays a short time but is the most adaptable.
  • Financially astute: You don’t have to be a CPA, but you do need to understand how revenue is generated, how to minimize costs, how to increase revenue, etc. Even as a nurse or physician, you must understand how the numbers work in a hospital or health system.
  • Good communicator: At the executive level, you should be able to “talk on your feet,” get your point across clearly, and condense info into soundbites if you have to. This is an essential part of the job, and you need to display all those capabilities in your interview. Be careful of long winded answers. If they ask you, “What time is it?”, don’t describe how to make a clock.
  • Works well with clinicians: If you don’t like doctors, you shouldn’t be in healthcare. The people that understand physicians and the way they think will have the most success. You also need to accept that you cannot please everyone, but you should try to meet at least halfway.
  • Results-oriented: It is not enough to say that you participated. You need to communicate the results of your participation. This begins with your resume. When you list accomplishments in past positions, you need to specify: I did ____, resulting in ____, which made the organization better by ____.
  • Trustworthy: This is without a doubt the most commonly named attribute listed when talking to the organization’s leadership. Trustworthy leaders are essential for a successful organization and healthy work culture in the long-run.
Author: Larry TylerAs the founder and CEO of Tyler & Company, a leading healthcare executive search firm, he specialized in CEO searches. During his tenure he conducted approximately 185. One half of those searches involved non-profit boards, the other half were advisory boards. After the sale of Tyler & Company to Jackson Healthcare in 2013, Larry stayed on during a three-year transition, developing the Practical Governance Group which gives education and training to healthcare boards. But his passion for helping senior executives find the right role remains strong.