You have mastered the strategic planning process, developed an airtight budget, put together an IT team so solid the organization could run on its own until the next super moon in 2034. You’ve climbed every mountain you can, and decided it may be time for a career change. This is the time to start thinking about the skills that will make you an effective candidate with a potential new employer. Whether you are an internal candidate, a CIO from another health system or currently unemployed, your preparation may vary slightly, but will need to be sound.
Below are some suggestions for CIO candidates who want to stand out. Many of these are focused on in-person interviews, but can also relate to telephone calls, Skype discussions or airport interviews.
If you’re a Deputy CIO, Chief Applications Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Regional CIO or another IT executive trying to step into CIO role, you fall into this category. The goal is to show you’re ready to take the reins of the entire IT organization. You must be able to discuss your ability to develop a vision, and work with your team to execute. Remember, an effective CIO is not solely a technologist, but an executive who is as comfortable talking with Board members as they are talking shop about the hardware. The biggest mistake internal candidates make is assuming they are the heir apparent for a role. Health systems are consensus-driven institutions; you must showcase why you are the candidate of choice for the future, regardless of your past with the organization.
Candidates Who Are Current CIOs
A common mistake current CIOs make when interviewing for the same role with a different organization? Not doing their homework on the health system with whom they’re going to interview. Put in the time to get to know the organization’s history and culture; read its annual report and try to understand the organization’s goals and aspirations. How do those goals align with your own experiences and leadership initiatives? The ability to answer this question with an example that aligns closely with the organization’s needs is critical — it helps them to envision you in that role.
Currently Unemployed Candidates
Those who were dismissed as a part of a mass layoff or a leadership change fall into this category. Your interview prep will be similar to working CIO candidates with one major difference: You will need to be able to explain the transition out of your previous health system. The rule of thumb is easy — be clear, be honest, and be succinct. An explanation of your transition should not be more than a few sentences. After addressing that, move on. You need to focus on the content of your work as a health IT leader, not the reason for leaving your previous organization.
Other General Helpful Hints
Study your resume. Do you remember what you did last week? Last month? Last year? Whether you’re a middle manager looking to step into the executive ranks, or a seasoned c-suite leader, the preparation for an interview should be the same. Take some time to review the job description and review your own resume, just before the interview. It’s easy to forget the numerous initiatives and accomplishments you’ve led over the course of a career. A great way to do that is to take out pen and paper and start writing. Create categories or overarching themes from the job description and under each of them bullet a couple of your accomplishments that align. Here are a few examples:
- If you’re a #2 looking at your first CIO role, make Strategy Development and Execution a category, and then bullet out how you’ve helped craft your organization’s IT strategy and, more importantly, how you led those strategies into reality.
- If you’re a CIO looking at a role more focused on transformation, innovation may be a category. Was it a new product your team created and monetized? Did you implement a new technology that shifted the focus of primary care providers? Have examples and results!
Speaking of metrics… have them! There’s nothing worse than being able to wax poetic within an interview about your successes, but having no data that supports what you’ve laid out. As hospitals and health systems become increasingly data-driven, your interviewers want to understand how you’ve tracked your own success and how you would measure success in their organization. Saying you led a transformational initiative around patient engagement is great, but that puts you in a category with 90 percent of CIOs. Being able to define what that initiative led to in terms of improved outcomes, decreased costs, and so on is a key differentiator.
Study those people you’re meeting. This is another obvious practice many leaders forget. Always take the time to learn about those you meet with. LinkedIn, official bios and your own network are great resources.
There’s no surefire way to know you’ve aced an interview and are set to be the next hire. Every person you will interview with is different; at the executive level especially, it’s just as important for you to get to know the organization as it is for them to get to know you. But when you feel prepared and have done your homework, you are positioning yourself to be the top candidate.
Zachary Durst is an executive search senior associate in Witt/Kieffer’s IT practice. Based in Oak Brook, Ill, he is focused on searches to identify CMIOs, CIOs, and other IT leaders in healthcare organizations.
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