Thought Leadership


Deffet Group’s thought leaders regularly produce educational content, keeping our firm current on industry trends and research in aging services, human services, and best practices in not-for-profit executive search. Our senior leaders participate as regular attendees and presenters at national and state-level LeadingAge and other not-for-profit association conferences. To discuss how our firm can provide your organization with personalized educational sessions for board members and senior leadership teams, please contact Elizabeth Feltner at


You've Found the Candidate You Want: But Will They Want You? Planning Successful Site Visits

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D.

Consider this: When guests arrive for a gathering at your home, they are immediately greeted with a warm welcome and introduced to others present in order to create comfortable, enjoyable interactions for all. You make every effort to present an atmosphere of attentiveness, courtesy, and appreciation for their presence. You wouldn’t leave guests hungry or thirsty, or send them off to the least inviting area of your home. We don’t hesitate to put our best foot forward in social settings. Oftentimes, however, our expertise at managing social interactions in our personal lives doesn’t translate to the same level of effort in our professional lives, especially when it comes to hiring and recruitment. While candidate site visits aren’t parties, they are events that require you, the host, to call upon those social skills you’ve honed so well in your personal life—at least, if you think you’d like your candidates to come back, anyway.

By the time you are ready to schedule candidate visits, you have spent a considerable amount of time, energy, and financial resources arriving at this stage in the executive search process. You have already narrowed the pool to the point where any one of the people who you schedule for an interview may be the person you would most like to see join your team. You already know recruiting top talent is critical to your organization’s success, maybe even more so in these difficult economic times. While the current economy may be lagging in most areas, in 2010, executive searches rose 33%, and health care was cited as one of the top three industries wooing executives the hardest (Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2010). Making the interview visit a positive experience is just one of several steps in the critical recruitment process, but unfortunately, it is the one which is often overlooked by many organizations. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’ve chosen “the one” you most desire to put the special touches into your interaction with your potential new leader—you don’t know yet which person that is! Going the extra mile to ensure that each candidate’s visit is a pleasant, positive experience could very well be the deciding factor in selling the individual on your organization, and, if re-locating, on your community.

According to a study reported in “Job Candidates’ View of Site Visits” (Journal of Career Planning and Employment 54), after 76.8 % of site visits, most had changed their perception of a likelihood of being offered a position based on their interpretations of how they were treated during the site visits. Obviously, this visit plays a huge role in how candidates think you feel about them, and conversely, how they will feel about you. Ultimately, all candidates are simply human beings who wish to feel wanted and treated with respect—without that, the likelihood of them being excited to join your team is pretty slim. How well you schedule and arrange their visit also reflects the overall importance your organization places on people: you are making an important statement about your organization’s culture and integrity. The high demand for today’s best leaders means that top healthcare executives looking to make a career move may well have many opportunities, and candidates often are considering more than one position at the time of a site visit. Remember: every site visit is a two-way assessment. While you’re deciding why you should choose them, don’t forget that they are also asking themselves, why should they choose you?

Do your research in advance and involve all affected parties.

The best site visit begins well before the candidate arrives on your campus and it continues well after he or she leaves. Once you have determined whom you are going to invite for a visit, it is time to ask yourself: How well do you know your candidates? What are their interests and hobbies? Where will they want to spend their time when not at work? If they will be relocating to your area, put together a folder “marketing” your community, highlighting key attractions and interests, and draw their attention to those most geared to their favorite activities. Oftentimes, a candidate’s greatest hesitancy in accepting an offer is not related to your organization, but is about relocating to an area with which he or she is not familiar. Securing genuine enthusiasm for your community could be key to securing an individual’s acceptance of the position. In addition, you may want to consider inviting spouses/significant others. They are key players in the decision-making process to change jobs and move to a new location. Have someone show them around the area and keep them engaged while the candidate is interviewing. While this may seem like an unnecessary expense, it is a small investment in terms of the potential payoff of having the family on-board when it comes time to make a decision about accepting an offer. If it simply isn’t financially feasible to invite spouses, send a packet addressed directly to them detailing the positive features of your community and include a personal note inviting them to contact you with any questions they may have.

Plan their travel arrangements and meet them upon arrival.

If candidates are coming from out of town, take responsibility for arranging all travel and/or lodging during their stay. Choose hotel accommodations wisely—again, where you have people stay during their visit reflects the value you place on them as individuals. While it doesn’t have to be a four-star hotel, it certainly should be a clean, comfortable room in an inviting area of town. Make sure someone is there to greet them at the airport, and if they are driving, at the door of your organization from the moment they arrive. Have a comfortable room or office they can use while waiting for the interview, and offer them a beverage or light snack. A welcome basket placed in this room or the hotel room if spending the night is another way to provide a personal touch that the candidate is sure to appreciate, and likely to remember.

Designate one key individual to be responsible for planning, organizing, and running the visit and conducting the follow-up.

You should always have a designated person who is responsible for planning, organizing, and running the visit and conducting the follow-up. Again, this is a way to humanize the experience for the candidate. We all know how frustrated we get when we are handed from one individual to another in a customer service situation, and we have to answer the same questions over and over again. Make sure your candidate has a personal contact with whom to speak through every stage of the process, and who has strong enough interpersonal skills to establish a rapport. This pivotal person takes overall responsibility of the visit from beginning to end, and the candidate knows he or she is the ‘go-to’ person for any questions or difficulties encountered.

Determine who the crucial decision makers are and set a date that works for most, if not all of them.

Potential candidates want and need to meet the person(s) they will report to. If the chemistry is not right with this individual, chances are high that this will result in an unsuccessful hire. Meeting other individuals, no matter how well they get along, will not improve the odds of working there successfully. Therefore, it is important to have as many of the key stakeholders present for the visit as possible. Also, their presence reflects the importance of the individual to the organization. Ideally, all people involved in the hiring process should be present. However, you don’t want to risk losing a great candidate by waiting until everyone can participate if there are several board members, etc., and their schedules are difficult to fully coordinate. You are better off scheduling a visit when at least the majority can be present, and a phone interview for the one or two missing will usually suffice. Additionally, candidates should have an opportunity to meet future peers, who can paint a picture of the work environment and culture of the organization.

Be open and honest about your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

While you want to be as appealing to prospective candidates as possible, it is never wise to “over-sell” your organization to a candidate. Every organization and leadership position has both strengths and challenges that should be equally addressed. Make sure you articulate those clearly and honestly in the context of the organization’s goals, values, mission, and culture. Don’t over-emphasize in either direction—a balance of the positives and challenges should always be presented.

Summarize the visit results and decide on a follow-up plan and the next steps.

While not technically part of the visit, a post visit debrief of all parties involved is essential to not only assure that all are on the same page, but to reinforce that the time vested in the interview process is valued. The worst thing you can do is to leave a great candidate hanging, so regardless of the outcome of the interview, make sure you have your key individual follow up within two to four days. It is also crucial at this point to get feedback from the candidate. In short, you must display continued interest in the professional you want to hire from the moment they walk out the door.

Avoid the following missteps:

  • Scheduling a site visit last minute or without key players present. This says “You are not important to us” right at the outset, which is never a message you want to send.
  • An overly demanding schedule or grueling, complex questions that feel like an endurance test. If the process is unduly tedious, disjointed, or confrontational and tense, a candidate can easily come away feeling like a punching bag.
  • Making candidates wait for long periods of time with no interaction/being “off-schedule.” Make sure they know that you recognize them and their time as valuable.
  • Too many interviewers. Too many words and faces simply overwhelm and alienate a candidate.
  • Believing that a site visit resulting in a ‘no hire’ is a negative result. This is your opportunity to make a better decision, by watching and listening in an up-close and personal manner. You should view each candidate’s visit, regardless of outcome, as a positive experience bringing you one step closer to your ultimate goal: the best hire.

In summary, your goal is to have the “option to hire” from a list of qualified candidates who are a cultural fit for your organization. This is much more likely to happen when the site visit is well run and organized in such a way to retain the candidate’s full interest in becoming part of your executive leadership team. While you may not want to think of yourself as in a marketing/selling position when it comes to hiring today’s best leaders, the “war for talent” often referred to in major newspapers and professional journals—particularly in the health care industry—is very real. A site visit is an important investment of time and money for your organization and for the candidate. Obviously, not every visit results in a new hire, but don’t you want to be the one in the position to make that decision? You are much more likely to be able to do that if you add these “human touches” that tell the candidate you do wish to select that he or she will be joining a world-class organization in an outstanding city.

About the Author
Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D. photo

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D., is Vice President of Deffet Group, Inc. She works collaboratively with clients nationwide to identify and retain executive leaders and advance organizational success. An accomplished public speaker for employers and national conferences, frequent topics include succession planning, on-boarding, and leadership development.