Guest Columns

Late-career leverage: Upheaval spells opportunity

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Adriane Willig
Adriane Willig

The current turmoil and transition within healthcare has both opened and closed doors for many executives. As new systems emerge and reform continues, new roles and opportunities are being created. Meanwhile, the job churn resulting from industry consolidation has left many experienced and still-qualified administrators and leaders out of work, on the outside of a reforming industry looking in.

In a world of mergers and acquisitions, there are typically winners and losers when it comes to executive level positions. Often, the rationale being given for layoffs is that newly created healthcare organizations want to hire “their own people.” Systems are also looking for “leaders” rather than “managers.” Some employers feel that executives who've spent their entire careers at standalone nursing homes or long-term care facilities don't have what it takes to be team players in a newly emerging partner-driven environment.

Changing One's Mindset and Message

Whatever the situation, “experienced” long-term care leaders looking for work need to understand that the landscape is different. In the prevailing market, it is possible that they will not find a similar job at a different facility. Rather, they need to strategically reposition themselves for opportunities in which the experience they bring to the table provides significant advantages over younger counterparts. These include cases in which the organization is seeking:

·      Someone with specific expertise or skill who can meet an organization's targeted leadership needs—i.e., a person who's been there and done that. 

·      A turnaround specialist who can help an organization recover from tough times.

·      A transitional executive who can lend wisdom and stability to an organization undergoing change — for example, a nursing home involved in a merger or acquisition may want a chief administrator who can serve as a bridge between eras for a set period of time.

·      A mentor—a director of nursing, for example, who can guide and help develop an organization's “high potentials” in a tight market for nursing executives.

All of the above are common situations today. Seasoned executives wanting to make a difference must then repackage themselves. The following are some suggestions for doing so:

1.    Revise your mindset. This is often the hard part. You may not be moving up or even sideways, but rather you are positioning yourself to fill an organization's immediate need. You don't have to “settle” but you may have to leave your ego at the door to find a role that best fits your skill set versus looking for that next title advancement.

2.    Revise your messaging. Approach every conversation or email with new language. Mention your ability to mentor, develop, transition, collaborate, and so forth. Make it clear that you are flexible and can evolve in a changing landscape. The words you use to describe your worth and skills send important signals (or red flags) to potential employers.

3.    Think team. If you're an experienced leader at a single facility interviewing with a large system, you'll be scrutinized for your ability to fit in. Make it clear you can be both captain and member of a team. Highlight your experiences in which you've collaborated and coordinated with others to get things done.

4.    Emphasize your maturity. No need to play up your decades of experience (abundantly clear from your resume) but rather your ability to hit the ground running with little or no training or development. Your true value to today's systems and long-term care organizations is that you don't need hand-holding if and when you're hired.

5.    Spell out your successes. Organizations looking for executives today often have very finite needs in mind — an initiative that needs a champion or a problem that needs cleaning up. Do your homework about employers, then make it clear what projects you've led and what specific storms you've weathered. Be specific in your accomplishments. 

6.    Know the competition. You may not be competing against young up-and-comers or internal candidates. You may fit a specific, unfilled niche and be competing with others whose skills and experience mirror yours.

Another option to consider as you look to make your next mark on the industry is to publish your knowledge through professional journals, blogs and social networking vehicles. Volunteer to speak at local and national professional meetings.  Step outside of your comfort zone and make yourself known for your expertise in the industry.

What's great about the industry's upheaval (coupled with a bounce back in the U.S. economy) is that it has multiplied the viable options for you to prolong your career and play a meaningful role in the transformation taking place.

Adriane Willig is a consultant for Witt/Kieffer. has over 20 years of experience in recruiting CEOs and other senior-level leaders for various healthcare organizations. She can be reached at awillig@wittkieffer.com.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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