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Learning from Finishing Second

September 29, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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Three Important Tips to Turning a Near-Miss Into a Success at the Next Opportunity
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

It's always tough when I have to call a seasoned HCIT professional to let them know they finished second on a search assignment. Let's face it-when all is said and done, second place is still second place. Hearing the client decided to make someone else an offer is painful for the candidate and not fun for me, but it's not the end of the world, either! Candidates in this situation are being given the chance to learn and become better prepared for when the next opportunity arises. And it will.

Using disappointing news to help you benefit in future searches is simple-if you look hard enough-and great nuggets that'll have you prepared for next time are usually just a few steps away. I ask candidates to take a step backwards once their emotions have settled down and make sure they do the following:


Get Feedback: Call your search consultant or internal recruiter and ask them for honest feedback. Did you not fit the culture of the organization, or was it your experience, education, style, or references that made you less suitable? Knowing why you weren't chosen can make it easier to implement adjustments or changes in your next-at-bat. In many instances the feedback can be vague by design, but just keep digging and you'll find a way to learn from the experience. Go back over the materials you submitted to the organization and the search consultant and make sure it was truly suited for the role you were applying for. Think about everyone you met with-maybe there was someone on the interview team with whom the time just didn't go well. You usually know when that happens!

Don't Take It Personally: Since we're conditioned to win, this can be pretty hard. Most of us hate to lose something, especially once we're “all-in” emotionally. Hopefully you went in to the search committee with your best foot forward and tried your hardest to get your message across-just make sure it was the right message. Organizations make hiring decisions based on a number of factors, so don't go off the deep-end thinking it was personal. It's just business, and you win some and well…some you don't. Get over it! Get right back on that horse and keep your attitude in check. The next opportunity is likely just around the corner-just remember to project yourself in a positive light the next time your phone rings.

Send a Thank You Note: That's right. Not being selected as the candidate of choice can create stress, anxiety, and disappointment. But remember, the organization that just made an offer to another candidate probably invested a lot of time in evaluating you as a candidate. The impressions you made on each member of that search team when you interviewed could lead to a future opportunity later-it happens all the time. Send a hand-written note to let them know you appreciate the time they invested in you as a candidate. This makes you standout in many ways and shows a high degree of professionalism and grace. Let's face it-most passed-over candidates get angry, lick their wounds and move on. Show them some class and who you really are and they'll definitely know what you're made of. That will matter.

It's never over until it's over, and in today's dynamic and growing HCIT market, you'll have plenty of chances at other opportunities. And I mean plenty! Just make sure you're prepared for that next turn at bat.

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2010 October;27(10):56