By Jessica Kunkler, MA
When interviewing for a new position, don’t forget that an interview is a two-sided exchange. “Not only is the facility interviewing you to determine if you’re a good fit for them, but as the interviewee, you should also interview them to do the same,” says Alexis Roam, MSN, RN-BC, DNS-CT, QCP, curriculum development specialist for the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN).
Here’s what every director of nursing services (DNS) should consider before interviewing for their next position.
Know what you want from a position change.
There are many moments in life when it pays to be flexible, but choosing a new workplace merits thoughtful consideration. Simply learning about what another company has to offer and thinking “that could work for me” isn’t the same as proactively finding a great fit.
Some people flourish in structured, corporate environments with clear processes and procedures. Others prefer family-owned environments, where there is less structure and support, but more empowerment and decision-making responsibilities.
“The reality is that most people don’t change jobs strictly for a salary change; you should know why you are actively pursuing new positions and what you want from the new workplace,” says Denise Winzeler, RN, BSN, LNHA, curriculum development specialist for AAPACN. She suggests preparing a list of bullet points that clarify what you want from a new position, what your deal-breakers are, and what your values are, then compare what each new position offers to make sure that the two align.
Ask nuanced questions.
Everything from processes to culture can vary greatly from facility to facility, so it is important not to make assumptions about what you think your new workplace might be like. Asking thoughtful and specific questions on the following topics during the interview process can give you greater clarity about what to expect.
Discuss management style. “Make sure to ask about management style,” Winzeler advises. “What type of management style will your supervisor specifically have? Is it ‘my way or the highway,’ or is it the type wherein they can’t make decisions and instead everything is a vote? Do they have an open-door policy? Ask candidly about your prospective manager’s leadership style and consider if you can work with it.” Winzeler adds that it’s important to explore whether your management style would be a good fit for that environment. Inquire about the ideal management style for the vacant position and reflect on how your management style would work for that team.
Get specific about available resources. “Quality is the new currency in post-acute care,” according to Roam. In order to deliver quality, you need sufficient resources. “The DNS, as the leader of clinical care, is charged with ensuring the organization can consistently produce quality outcomes. To succeed, you need to know what resources will be available to you: staffing, equipment, education, expert guidance, and so forth,” says Roam.
When it comes to available resources, Roam emphasizes it’s important to get specific. Questions that might help you better understand the staffing situation include: How many times each week are you calling people to come in? How big is your pool of nurses? Do you typically work short-staffed? Do you use agency nurses?
Don’t be shy about the predecessor’s departure. Another question that Winzeler recommends is: “Why did the previous person leave?” If the answer you receive indicates that the individual left because they didn’t have enough support, that can be a big warning sign. Explore whether the facility has corrected the situation or dedicated sufficient resources for you to address it.
Discuss the details of the mission statement. Roam strongly recommends having a conversation with the Nursing Home Administrator (NHA) about the organization’s mission. Most organizations share their mission statement, which defines why the organization exists, on their website. Before the interview, review it and consider whether the potential employer’s purpose aligns with yours. “Even more, interviewees should use their general questions about the mission as a springboard to discuss how the NHA executes the mission. The mission statement might be inspiring, but if it is not being executed, or lived out in action and deed every day, it becomes a platitude,” says Roam.
Consider key partner compatibility. “The DNS and NHA partnership is crucial to being successful as a DNS. It is imperative to have conversations with the NHA and explore what that partnership will look like before accepting the position,” says Roam. Ask if you can have a separate conversation with the NHA, perhaps during lunch, just to get to know him or her, she suggests. “Give them examples of stressful situations and ask how they would respond and what actions they would take to work with you. Discuss their leadership and management philosophy as well as their communication style. Be honest in recognizing where potential conflicts could arise between the two of you and discuss how each situation might be handled.”
Ask about expectations. If the facility has an ambitious list of goals for the new DNS, you want to know about those goals before your first day on the job. Ask questions like: What do you think is the biggest challenge for this role in this facility? What are you hoping for the DNS to accomplish in terms of improvements in the facility within the next six months? “Really try to zero in on what the facility is expecting of you,” suggests Winzeler.
The bottom line is that by asking nuanced questions early on, you can reduce surprises once you are in the position—or avoid positions that aren’t a good match.
According to Winzeler, when determining whether a potential job is a good fit, it pays to be creative. These are some strategies you might consider:
Shadow someone in the position. Shadowing can give you a better sense for interpersonal dynamics, which can help you to decide if the new position will be a positive fit.
Take the job on an interim basis. This allows you as a potential candidate to test the waters with no permanent commitment.
Ask for a contract. Getting terms in writing before starting a new role is a good idea and increasingly common. When it comes to attractive perks like tuition reimbursement and bonuses, consider formalizing them in a contract. Memorializing commitments clarifies expectations and can make it more likely the facility follows through—and if they don’t, you have clear evidence for your departure later on.
Consider a recruiter. Recruiters vet companies, coach hiring officials, and may even negotiate salaries for prospective employees. Connecting with a recruiter might take some of the legwork out of finding and landing the best-fit position.
While your next job is the next step, it is not the end of the road. Knowing your long-term personal and professional goals before you take the first available exit can help you to choose your next position so that it best aligns with your aspirations.
Don’t switch jobs impulsively. Switching jobs quickly because you think the grass must be greener on the other side is often a decision that individuals regret later. In contrast, assessing options and considering goals can help you make an informed choice.
Expand your network. Keep your ears open, keep your resume updated, and establish a presence in professional networking channels, such as LinkedIn or the AADNS Network Community. If you make yourself available for opportunities, you might be surprised by a good option that presents itself seemingly out of the blue.
Build (don’t burn) bridges. Regardless of how frustrated you might be in your current position, don’t succumb to negativity. Not only do you want to cultivate your network of people who can provide positive recommendations for you upon request, you should also want to leave a positive impression after your departure. Strive to develop a positive reputation, so that whoever your prospective manager contacts as a reference, that colleague would recommend you.
Consider your long-term vision. According to Roam, “Vision is also important, perhaps now more than ever, given the transformational changes occurring in healthcare (even before the pandemic). The vision of an organization describes its future. You need to know where the organization is headed to determine if you have the skills to help move that vision forward.” Once you understand the company’s vision, make sure that it fits with your own.
Anticipate a lengthy adjustment period.
Switching jobs can be a difficult change that takes time. Not only are the logistics challenging, from optimizing your commute to learning a new software system, the human factor can be complicated as well. “You have to adjust to your new coworkers, and they in turn have to adjust to your leadership,” underscores Winzeler.
While you might expect that day one in your new job might not go swimmingly, you should also expect that things might not be perfect on day thirty-one, or even fifty-one for that matter. “Give your new position at least six months to become acclimated. If, at the end of six months, you still aren’t happy, then start to look elsewhere,” says Winzeler.
According to Winzeler, “At the end of the day, every facility has its own culture—and whether you choose to embed yourself within that culture or implement changes to it, it will take time.”
Note: For more great tips to help you adjust to your new position, check out AADNS’s newest LTC DON Chat podcast, “Tips for the New DNS: What I Wish I Knew When I Was New with Betsy Hardy, BSN, RN, DNS-CT, DNS-MT.”
When job seeking, know specifically what you are looking for, do your research, and avoid a “grass is greener” mentality. The fact is that many facilities are stretched right now, so it is important to understand clearly the role you are considering. If you aren’t diligent as a candidate about focusing on what you want from a new position, you might find similar frustrations in a new workplace.
To find the best fit, know what that looks like for you before you go looking. After all, advance preparation will make you more confident and more likely to land the right job for you.
Are you a nurse leader looking for a new position? You can find great job opportunities through the AADNS job center.
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