It's a question directors and trustees ask when faced with a late-career executive vying for a CEO job among a field of eager younger candidates. How soon will the search to fill the top office begin again?
Or, put another way, just when might a veteran executive, once hired, retire? It's a safe bet the board doesn't want to see its choice step down in less time than it takes to hire a replacement.
In an era when directors and trustees are personally on the line for every dollar spent on a CEO, choosing a top officer feels like an increasingly high-stakes gamble.
The public, shareholders and regulators expect leadership, value and a tangible public benefit from healthcare companies. Governing boards want a return on their investment. When considering CEO candidates, they'll weigh the options very carefully.
J. Larry Tyler, president of the Atlanta-based recruiting firm Tyler & Co., calls this cost-benefit calculation the "juice-squeeze coefficient." Executives in their mid-50s and early 60s bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to an organization, but doubts about energy and staying power can critically undermine job bids.
So, just how much juice have you got? Consider a few pointers from the experts.
Matching your values
Avoid companies that don't share your organizational values, says Diane Barowsky, president of Barowsky Search Partners in Beverly Shores, Ind.
With years, if not decades, of experience, 50-plus executives should be able to identify which corporate cultures or values match their own priorities. That self-awareness, confidence and affinity for a potential employer are strong assets for mid- to-late-career CEO candidates, she says.
Jack Buckley, chief executive officer for St. Joseph Regional Health Center and executive vice president for St. Joseph Health System in Bryan, Texas, agrees. The 60-year-old urges job seekers to "look hard and look long and make a careful choice." Buckley, who briefly worked as an interim executive, won the job at St. Joseph in December after a five-month search for a CEO.
Buckley says his age didn't matter to the board, but his expected retirement date did. "I've been around and they can see the gray hair I've accumulated," he says.
Buckley considered his lengthy career an asset. His pledge not to retire for eight to 10 years quashed concerns his tenure at St. Joseph would be short, he says.
A late-career executive with plans to retire sooner rather than later should try to carve out a position as a mentor able to groom up-and-coming leaders to assume control, Tyler says.
It's important to convey excitement about the job, Barowsky and Tyler say. Expect search committees to cool if you're hesitant to relocate or you're happy with your current job.
If you've been a bit of a slouch lately, it's time to get fit. Your desire to impress prospective employers should spill over to your exercise and nutrition habits. You'll have more energy-and it will show, Barowsky and Tyler say. (Nobody needs to tell you this has the added benefit of improving your physical and mental health.)
Acing the interview isn't just about what you know-it's about style and chemistry. How well do you communicate? Do you listen? Do you care about this hospital, this community?
Running a hospital is akin, in many ways, to overseeing a school district or holding elected office, Barowsky says. It's political. Everybody has a stake-and therefore demands a say-in the hospi-tal's operation.
Can you effectively court and work with doctors, unions, senior citizens and patients, not to mention your boss and the board of directors, she asks.
Barowsky instructs search committees to imagine how a candidate would deliver bad news. "Picture them in a worst-case scenario," she advises, then imagine how a candidate would handle a more run-of-the-mill, but important, communication such as a lunch at the senior center or an address to the Kiwanis Club.
Tyler asks an off-the-wall question or two of candidates to see how they handle surprise or discomfort. He's asked candidates to add one face to Mount Rushmore.
He's also made candidates squirm by asking them to name the South Dakota monument's existing presidential line-up and home state. He's slightly interested in the answer-but more interested in what it reveals about a candidate's ability to think fast and to reason.
To prepare, do your homework. It doesn't hurt to tour the hospital, or a neighboring competitor, before an interview takes place, Barowsky says.
She also suggests conducting an informal public opinion poll among taxi drivers, hotel clerks and waiters to see what you learn about the hospital's reputation.
Get out the video camera
Practice interviewing before a video camera. This will let you see and weed out nervous ticks, unconscious habits or uncomfortable pauses before heading into an interview, Tyler says.
If, while convincing others you're the best person to juggle healthcare's multiple crises-too few nurses, too many uninsured, not enough pay from insurers-you talk yourself out of the job, don't worry.
You're not alone.
Veteran workers are itching to make a career switch, says the AARP. The not-for-profit's 2003 survey of 50- to 70-year-olds found that more than one in four suffers from a professional wanderlust.
Twenty-seven percent expect to go back to work after "retiring," according to the survey, but in an "entirely different" job.
* Be brief and direct. Avoid long narratives, even if you can't contain your resume to one page.
* Keep it simple. Highlight your experience without a dizzying array of font sizes, typefaces or other embellishments.
* Demonstrate your grasp of the English language. Proofread your resume to weed out any errors. When outlining your accomplishments, avoid the passive voice. Use active verbs, but don't go overboard.
* Be specific. Don't gloss over your employment history or accomplishments. Use dates and figures to give the reader a comprehensive picture of your career.
* Update your online profile frequently to keep it fresh.
* Consider asking for help. If you're struggling, consider hiring a professional.
Source: Della Giles, director of BlueSteps, the Association of Executive Search Consultants' career management service