You’ve probably received all sorts of guidance from colleagues, recruiters and department chairs about how to approach your job search. Figure out what kind of medicine you want to practice, decide where you want to live, head online to start your search, and beef up your CV are all probably on that list of must-dos. That is good advice, certainly, when it comes to landing a job. But what do you need to do to get the job that was meant for you? How can you land at your dream practice?
The physicians and recruiters we spoke with emphasized preparation—going beyond the medical training that is required for your specialty and focusing inward on what you really want your life to be like. What kind of people do you want to work with on a daily basis? What kind of patients do you want to treat? Where do you want to be in five years? In 10?
As you ponder these big-picture questions, also pay attention to the little things. Details can make a big difference. Here are five ways you can stand out and rise above fellow job applicants.
1. Prepare and pay attention
Amy Bird, director of executive and physician recruitment at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Delaware, fills as many as 40 positions a year, so she sees a lot of CVs and meets a lot of candidates. What do the stand-outs look like? They do their homework, they ask thoughtful questions, and they demonstrate that they’ve thought about their career and how their unique qualifications relate to potential employers, she observes. More specifically, they go beyond what is generally expected during the job search.
On the first pass when reviewing CVs, Bird looks to see if a cover letter is included. If a candidate has taken the time to write a cover letter, which only “about 50 percent do,” she says, it shows that they did some research, helped connect their experience to Christiana Care, and were willing to invest a little time. Not having a cover letter won’t immediately disqualify a candidate, but the ones who provide a well-written letter stand out in a positive way, she says.
At a site visit, she looks for physicians who arrive on time, are dressed professionally, and provide thoughtful answers to questions about their background and experience and the kind of role they might play at Christiana Care. This requires preparation and shows that “they’ve thought about their qualifications and accomplishments,” she says. Those who, conversely, arrive late, dress too casually and struggle with answers—failing to connect their background with the job they are applying for—leave Bird wondering, “Are they sincerely interested in building a career here?”
After the visit, send a thank you note, she advises. “Only 25 to 30 percent of all applicants send an email thank you” after a site visit, she says, and the handwritten cards are even fewer and far between, so they stand out even more. A mailed card “isn’t necessary,” she says, “but it will help you stand out.”
In the thank you note, refer back to something you discussed with the person you are thanking, she suggests. “That shows you are interested and that you were paying attention.” It also helps jog the memory of the recipient.
By themselves, these little efforts likely won’t win you the job, but they will certainly present a positive impression that can only help get you on the short list of possible new hires.
2. Get personal: Go beyond the facts in your CV
Before you even get on-site to interview, there is work you can do to prepare for your first or next job, starting with setting some goals. Ideally, you should be doing this regularly: asking yourself if you love what you are doing, if you can see yourself doing it in 20 years, and thinking about what you can do to position yourself for a fulfilling career in medicine. “Make sure you’re honest about what you want in your job,” says Scott Kaiser, M.D., pediatric orthopedist at Children’s Hospital Oakland in Oakland, Calif. “Don’t pursue something that is not a good fit because you’re worried about getting [any] job.”
Kaiser actually started out in business, taking his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University back to San Francisco to work at Gap Inc. corporate, managing the accessories business. However, he came to realize that working in a cubicle was not what he wanted to be doing, so he began researching medical careers. He found a post-doctorate pre-med program that would only take 15 months to complete, so he registered, and then went on to complete medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. After his residency at the University of California at San Francisco, he recognized that he wanted a career in academia, so he took a fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto before beginning his job search back in San Francisco, where he wanted to practice.
The good news was that Kaiser had developed a vision early on for where he wanted to be at the end of his medical training and had taken every opportunity during residency to prepare himself for his career goal. He knew he wanted to treat children, which severely limited his career options. “There are few general orthopedists who want to treat children,” he says, and even fewer who specialize in deformity correction, as he does.
“Getting back to San Francisco was a feat,” he says, given that only one or two jobs are available in his niche each year.
Knowing upfront that he faced a challenge, Kaiser did everything possible to make sure he was well-positioned for any job that would come up, starting with revising his CV. He asked colleagues and friends outside of medicine to share their CVs and the CVs of candidates they hired. He wanted examples of CVs of candidates who got the job so he could pick and choose elements that he liked to use on his own CV.
He asked his colleagues what stood out in a good way on the CVs they shared. “What made you want to meet them?” he asked. He edited his own CV accordingly, leaving in details of his education, training and research and adding more about his life outside the hospital.
One of the biggest changes was adding an “interests” section. “I didn’t want to put an interests section on my CV, but those around me said that interests make you look well-rounded,” says Kaiser. It provides information about what you’re like outside of the hospital—“the character piece”—and helps interviewers to connect with you. “It shows that you’re more than a doctor and a researcher,” he says. It also provided a starting point for conversations, especially when there was a common interest besides medicine.
With his CV polished, Kaiser began contacting recruiters who had pediatric orthopedic openings, even in other parts of the country. He found that recruiters were sometimes aware of job openings not yet posted in the region he wanted to be in. He also networked religiously, attending local and regional professional meetings, to mix and mingle with fellow physicians. “The conversation at these meetings always goes to talking about what you’re doing, where you want to be, and the job you’re after,” he says. So there is no need to be worried about how you’ll shift the conversation your way—it will go there naturally.
His preparation paid off.
3. Start staring: be assertive in your network
Another physician who wanted to remain in the San Francisco area was Lisa Chui, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. A native San Franciscan, Chui and her husband wanted to be near family in the area after attending medical school at the University of Vermont. Because location was the most important factor for her, aside from being in primary care, Chui took every opportunity to network with local physicians, starting as early as her second year of residency at California Pacific Medical Center.
As a second-year resident, Chui routinely placed courtesy calls to the patients’ primary care doctors to keep the physicians up to date on their care. Impressed with her communication and care skills, many conversations often transitioned to Chui’s background and future career path and planning. Although at first she didn’t share much detail, thinking the other physicians were only trying to be polite, she realized that she was missing out on a great opportunity to tell them about herself. So when asked, she would tell them, “I’m graduating next year and looking to stay in San Francisco.”
That proactive response served her well. By the middle of her third year, she had three formal offers in hand and several other open-ended opportunities.
Sharing information wasn’t the only step Chui took to stand out. Having heard good things about Kaiser Permanente, Chui wanted to attend a local recruitment dinner but had a schedule conflict; she was expected to work the overnight ICU shift that evening. When a colleague urged her to do whatever was necessary to be there, she swapped schedules to give herself a small window of time to attend. Unfortunately, when she arrived, she was seated at the family medicine table instead of internal medicine. However, the seating snafu gave her a reason to introduce herself to the internal medicine department chair before having to leave and articulate her interest. To her surprise, he had already heard her name through one of his colleagues, who had encouraged him to recruit her to Kaiser. She received a formal interview invitation the next morning.
4. Set your goal: Separate needs and wants
Robbyn Upham, M.D., MSEd, an attending physician in family medicine at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, found that being honest about her interests, her situation and her career goals served her well during her search and led her to a job that was created just for her. “Being yourself can make you stand out,” she says. “Be who you are.” Only then can you be assured that the jobs you are offered are a good fit for your personality, priorities and lifestyle.
Upham knew early on that she was interested in medicine and public health, going so far as to study in Israel at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to obtain a different perspective. Back in the States, she studied family medicine and then spent an additional year at the University of Rochester Medical Center as chief resident in family medicine.
After deciding that she wanted to remain in Rochester in private practice, Upham applied to the local primary care network to see what opportunities might exist in family medicine. She included plenty of details about herself, her training and her career goals to ensure she would be found by recruiters with appropriate positions. It was important for her to find a job that was the right fit—not just any job. “There is such a shortage of primary care docs that I receive 10 to 20 offers a day from recruiters,” she says. But by limiting herself to Rochester, most of those jobs were not of interest.
While interviewing, Upham made sure to be honest about who she was and what she was after. “I didn’t hide the fact that I have three kids,” she says, and, in fact, that may have helped her develop rapport with her interviewers, who liked the fact that she had a family of her own. “People want to get to know you, to make sure you’re a good fit.” While revealing details of her family life was a personal decision and a good move within her specialty, she says that family medicine is generally supportive of this.
Discussions that resulted from her applying to the local primary care network involved exploring what she was looking for and what was available. “It was never a matter of if, it was a matter of where” she might fit, says Upham. The “where” turned out to be a new clinic location opening during the fall of 2014, which Upham had a hand in planning. “Honesty goes so far,” she says, and helped her attract a job that is the perfect fit.
5. Pick up the phone and give them a call!
Where some physicians have their pick of positions thanks to urgent demand for their specialty, their location or other factors, others have to apply at every hospital, introduce themselves to dozens of recruiters, and network, network, network in order to find a spot.
Because Alex Betech, M.D., attended medical school in Mexico City, rather than the U.S., he found himself in the latter category, spending months reaching out to nearly every person he knew to find an “in” to a position in orthopedics at a U.S. hospital. His is a story of persistence that all job-seeking physicians can learn from.
Betech was born and raised in Mexico but always wanted to live and work in the U.S. That meant finding a residency that accepted international medical training. He decided to do a first-year general surgery residency, called a “preliminary internship,” and was successful in being matched with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He then went on to do a research fellowship at the University of Texas in Houston. Next, through networking, he found out about a clinical fellow position in limb lengthening and reconstruction at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, which he took.
He then returned to Mexico City to complete his residency with a goal of ultimately returning to live and work in the U.S. To that end, during residency he applied to fellowships in America, successfully finding one at Baylor College of Medicine in pediatric orthopedics, followed by a second fellowship in joint replacement at the University of Chicago with a pioneering surgeon. While there he started looking for a job.
Betech’s process involved using Google to find websites linking doctors with physician recruiters, including PracticeLink, then following up by phone. “I called everybody,” he says.
Where emailing with questions is reactive—you send it out and wait to see if you receive a response—phone calls are proactive. You dial and either speak with the person you were trying to reach, or you leave a message requesting the information you’re after.
Betech’s final challenge was finding a way to qualify for board certification. To work in the U.S., he had essentially two options. He could work in a remote hospital that did not require board certification, or he could take the more challenging route of finding an academic hospital that would hire him. After working five years in an academic hospital, he would become board eligible. Despite being more difficult, it was Betech’s preference, so that he could eventually qualify for board certification. This search led him to Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, where he will soon begin work.
The trick to getting that job involved picking up the phone.
“Most people didn’t respond to emails or phone calls,” he says, but if you could catch someone on the phone for even a minute, they could direct you to the right person. In many cases, that is how Betech tracked down the person he needed to speak with about an opening. Betech was not content to send out an email and not receive a response. If he did not receive a response, he would follow up with a phone call until he got the information he needed.
Other physicians said much the same thing: Too few have time to read all their emails at the end of the day, but if you can catch someone for 30 seconds by phone, you can get the information you need.
Finding ways to stand out during your job search comes down to doing more than everyone else is doing—taking that extra step. Be proactive in seeking job opportunities, such as by calling instead of emailing; network to make contact with those making hiring decisions; be willing to step out of your comfort zone to introduce yourself; be honest about what you do and don’t want in a job; and remember to say thank you whenever possible. If you do all of these things, you will certainly stand out in the best way possible.
Marcia Layton Turner is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.