Did you Leave your Career DNA Behind?

Originally posted on Healthcare Informatics

No, it’s not a question for another True Crimes episode, but I hope the title of this post makes you stop and think about the little things you leave behind when you change jobs. I recently completed an assignment for a client in New York and took some time over the holidays to reach out and talk with this candidate’s previous co-workers and supervisor. It wasn’t going to be a typical 10-15 minute ‘reference check’ type-call. I asked my questions and while the SVP was kind enough to respond to each inquiry with favorable answers, I wanted more – much more – than just short sound-bites.

I often talk about moving the needle and making an impact wherever your career takes you, and I like to know the how, when, and where of exactly what a candidate accomplishes along the way. 99% of the time I get all the details I’m looking for, but it’s that 1% that drives me to dig a bit deeper. This holiday check was going to be one of those dig deeper, have-shovel-will-travel kind of calls. The reference was polite and to the point, but I just could not tie down the specifics from his answers. What had my candidate actually accomplished? The conversation had to take a path less traveled – so I went in a different direction with my questions.

I asked if his former director had done anything that’d had lasting impact on the organization. He thought for a moment… “well actually, he made a huge impact on our customer delivery process”. Now we were getting somewhere. He went on to tell me about a process my candidate had implemented several years ago that’s still being used today and explained what it means to the way they support their customers. This process – designed and implemented by the candidate we placed – was apparently a game changer for the organization and five years later, the process is still being used today. It didn’t exist before he made it happen, and now it’s associated with my candidate and has a name that is well known by everyone in the department. Now this is what matters to me and to my clients.

I want the where, what and when of what you did: that’s what matters. The ‘where’ and ‘when’ of the reference is almost always on the resume – in black and white. It’s the ‘what’ that you did during your stay that matters most.

Some people leave their DNA and make a lasting impression wherever their career takes them. Others appear to just be passing through. How about you?

Burying the Hatchet

Originally posted on Healthcare Informatics

I received a call from a really stellar candidate we placed a few years ago. Like most employees in this marketplace – she had a story. I really like her style, experience and her knowledge of all facets of healthcare IT. She is sharp! The problem, a new leader took the helm a year or so ago and their relationship was…well like oil and water. Not a good mix. It was a death sentence from the moment they started working together one-on-one.

One thing led to another and before long they both reached the realization that one of them had to go. Guess who won? The CEO did and they always do. In this case this candidate had a strong track record, great tenure during her career and multiple career high points she could take to a new employer and make a real impact. Well – not so fast. As most C level executives in HCIT already know, there are no six degrees of separation. Maybe two. Worst case three. This cottage industry leaves most of us in a situation that somebody knows somebody that knows you. That’s a reality. Getting a (decent) reference from a boss you parted ways with is important.

She called me for advice and to help her find a new home. As I listened to her tell me her story I really wanted to help her. She had (GREAT) talent and was a good person. Without finding a way to bury the hatchet with her former CEO her reference review had all kinds of challenges. My suggestion: Call the CEO and invite him to lunch to “clear the air”. Talk about what happened and be honest and open and let him know while things did not play out as planned – you did offer the organization many years of good service and hard work and ask for a reference for your next job. Some may think its a odd to ask a favor from leader you did not see eye-to-eye with. I disagree. I think it’s a good offensive strategy. It’s also smart.

What do you have to lose? A lot if you don’t bury the hatchet and move on.

Getting “Burned” by a Great Reference…

Pardon my absence from the blog as I have been dealing with the meltdown in the economy, moving my daughter back to Atlanta and… busy with a few search assignments that have kept me up at night. While many of you are attending the CHIME conference in Las
Vegas, I’m here at my desk working!

This past week I’ve been working on references for a CIO for one of my search assignments, and as usual, it has taken days to get all of the references to return my many phone calls and voice mail messages… In my practice, I give my clients (and encourage them too!) the option to contact some of the references on their own as I think it is a very good practice to do so. It gives the client the change to talk openly with a former colleague, hiring manager or CEO to get a different perspective on how the individual performed in their previous role. A dangerous option to give clients by some standards (and some competitors) – but my clients’ actually appreciate the openness of the process.

During this reference check in which the candidate provided their “great references” my client got an “earful” and it was not “pretty”. My client instantly built a rapport with the reference and the flood-gates opened with honest candor about this candidate. OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! Now what? The only thing I could do at this point was to coach the candidate to call each reference and find out if they had heard from my client and to discuss how the call went. Unless the client is willing (and they usually are not) to divulge where the bad reference came from – it sort of it what it is.

Moral of the story: If you plan to use the same set of references during your career you are playing Russian roulette with the outcome. You may not even know where your reference is working as you may only have their cell number or home number. What if they are working for a competitor? What if something negative happened after you stopped working with that individual and somehow you were blamed for it and thrown under the bus and didn’t even know it?

I recommend you know your references- and I mean know them well. If they are a solid reference and you plan to use them during your career – you should stay in touch ….even when you don’t need to use them in a job search. Know where they work, what they are doing these days and make darn sure you call them and discuss the fact that you will be using them in your search. Tell them the kind of role you are in search of (you don’t have to tell them the name of the prospective company yet) and why you feel you are best suited for the role. Ask them if there is anything about being a reference for you that might make them feel uncomfortable. Dig, dig, dig and dig some more. Thank them for being your reference and once you land in your new role send them a hand written thank you note and your new business card so they can stay in touch.

Bottom Line: Know your references and know them well!