Survive and Advance
Survive & Advance

Survive and Advance

If you are of a certain age, the phrase Survive and Advance may strike an immediate memory for you. It’s a phrase first made famous some 37 years ago. Survive and Advance is an integral component of a successful interview strategy. But why?

The history

In 1983 the upstart and underdog North Carolina State men’s basketball team marched their way to an improbable NCAA title. On the strength of dramatic buzzer-beaters and a historic upset, they became a modern-day sports Cinderella.

The championship play was memorable: A last-second dunk off a combination air ball/pass upset the mighty Houston Cougars in the final game. It created perhaps the most iconic visual in NCAA tournament history with a victorious head coach, Jim Valvano, racing around the court looking for somebody, anybody to hug.

The 1983 title catapulted Valvano to wide-spread fame and notoriety. A natural communicator and story-teller, Valvano’s feel-good Wolfpack became and remain the face of Tournament upsets. Talking months later to a reporter, Valvano explained his team’s winning philosophy:

“You don’t go into it thinking, ‘Well, I can win it…’ Play the game you’re playing, and if you survive that, you advance. That’s what we did last year without really having that philosophy. For NC State, it was ‘S and A, Survive and Advance, where the final score is the only statistic that counts.”

NC State’s 1983 championship spawned the phrase that is repeated today – Survive and Advance.

The interview

Survive and Advance. I often remind job seekers of it as they navigate the interview process: Your goal is to survive the interview and advance to the next round. That’s winning, one interview at a time.

But to win, you must first prepare. Perhaps the single best thing to do to prepare is to consider the person you will be interviewing with. Every interview is different and every interviewer has different motivations for the interview: Some interviewers will want to knock you out of consideration, but it’s not personal; others will root for you to win. So, consider the motivation of the interviewer. For example:

  • Human Resources: It probably will not be a technically-based interview, so don’t speak in technical jargon. Be prepared to speak about why you want to work for their organization – research awards they’ve won, the local flavor, the people. Your motivation has to be more than “I want to leave my present role.” That answer is not appropriate on its own and it still surprises me that some job seekers will come out and say that it is their primary motivation. Even if it’s true, you have to do better, you have to show thought.
  • Hospital president: Perhaps you won’t get to the presidential interview, but maybe you will get to the C-Level interview. They probably won’t focus on technical skills and they may not be focused on why you want the job. They may focus on your leadership, your fit for the organization, your interactions. A question every leader should be prepared to answer is, “what would your team say about you?” Don’t speak in generalities, be specific. “They respect me” is not enough – why do they respect you?
  • Facility staff/technically based interview: Have technical examples at the ready, but also understand that if the facility team is interviewing you, some of them may be mad that you are even there, they may be angered that the former leader is gone. And while it is certainly true you can’t make everybody happy, what you can do is not disparage prior management. Speak non-committally of the departed, do not personally disparage them. Have a successful team-building story ready to go. Most staff members during an interview are looking for their self-interest; team-builders and opportunity groomers are popular candidates. Provide examples.

Preparation helps avoid mistakes—plan for the interviewer motivations before you enter the interview arena. Research the person interviewing you on Linked In. See if there is a commonality you can speak to. Ask questions. Be proactive. Don’t be afraid. There will be curveballs, and there will be twists, prepare the best you can. Survive and Advance.

The speech

Back to NC State and Jim Valvano. If you have never seen his 11-minute speech at the 1993 ESPYs, watch it. If you have seen it, watch it again. You don’t need to be a fan of college basketball to appreciate his words.

As a human, you will connect. If you are a supervisor, you will find useful infomation. If you are looking for team meeting content, you will find a poignant reminder of why you work in healthcare.

Less than 2 months after delivering his speech, Valvano died after a battle with metastatic cancer.


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