With such high demand for physicians, you might think you can do no wrong in your job search. But recruiters still find mistakes, omissions and unanswered questions in applications. And these red flags physician recruiters notice could cost you a shot at your ideal job.
Fortunately, you can turn almost any red flag green. Here are five of the most common application issues—and what you can do about them.
Leaving unexplained gaps
One universal red flag: gaps in your CV. You might have taken a break between jobs, finished training later than usual or simply had a lull for personal reasons. Whatever the case, recruiters will have questions. Any inconsistencies in your history will need to be addressed.
“Big gaps are a red flag for me,” says Cathleen Biga, MSN, FACC, president/CEO of Cardiovascular Management of Illinois, member of the board of trustees of the American College of Cardiology and chairman of the board of MedAxiom. “Especially post-fellowship gaps.”
However, Biga is quick to add that post-training gaps are more common today than in the past. Some young physicians opt to take a break or travel the world after their training. “But here’s the problem,” she says. “They won’t even have a chance to meet with me [if the reason for the gap is not explained].”
Recruiters are trained to notice gaps, according to Liz Mahan, physician recruitment adviser with the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment. “But sometimes those gaps are red flags, and sometimes they’re red herrings,” she explains.
For example, when physicians switch jobs or relocate, credentialing or licensing can take months. That leaves a hole that candidates couldn’t have prevented. In these situations, you can silence recruiters’ internal alarms with a short explanation in a CV or cover letter.
Linda Cindric, MSOL, CMSR, lead provider recruiter for Geisinger in Danville, Pennsylvania, agrees. She recommends applicants address recruiter hesitations from the get-go.
“We like to see gaps addressed on the CV,” she says. You may be uncomfortable explaining your gap in writing if it’s for a personal reason. In that case, Cindric adds, “At a minimum, be ready to talk about it during your phone screening. But I encourage addressing it on the CV [if possible] because you don’t want to be passed over.”
If the gap has a clear-cut explanation, a short note on your CV should be sufficient. If not, Cindric suggests sharing an explanation in your cover letter. This provides more space to include details.
Of course, in some instances—such as a medical or personal leave—caution is appropriate. After all, application documents could be circulated widely. And Mahan adds that you shouldn’t be expected to discuss these confidential matters in depth.
With sensitive situations, she says to explain the type of leave in short, general terms. This will help keep the door open for an interview. Then if the matter is personal, you can simply explain that. “A recruiter is not going to ask for details [of these situations],” she says. “Recruiters really just want to know that you left an opportunity in good standing and that you still have a license and can be credentialed to practice in a new organization.”
Whatever the cause of your gap, leaving it unaddressed could land your CV in the reject pile. “A recruiter will wonder if you left without a plan—or were asked to leave and so had no opportunity to plan,” Mahan says. This is especially true if you’re aiming for a highly competitive position.
“If you’re job-seeking for a smaller market with greater unmet demand in your specialty, you may not need to explain the gap in your cover letter or in the CV itself,” Biga says. But if you’re applying to prestigious organizations or in major cities, you’ll need to be more proactive. You don’t want to derail your candidacy before it starts.
“For Chicago, for instance, I just needed to hire five physicians in the last two months,” Biga adds. “All of them were my first choices. I called them, interviewed them, hired them.” Since Chicago is so popular, applications with unexplained gaps never made it out of her “hold” folder.
Above all, Biga says, it’s always best to be truthful and proactive. “I had a candidate with a weird gap,” she says. “[But] they were very upfront about the situation, and we ended up hiring them.”
Her takeaway? Get out ahead of the issue. “If something’s going to come up, do not wait for it to come up and expect me to call you [to ask about it],” she says. You may think an issue is insurmountable, but being honest gives you the best chance of landing the job anyway.
Jumping from job to job
Another red flag recruiters notice is “job jumping.” This is recruiter shorthand for changing employers frequently. This habit suggests you won’t stick with a new position for at least a few years. Switching fellowships or residency programs midstream can create the same impression.
That’s a problem for recruiters. It takes time reach full productivity in a new setting, even for experienced physicians. If you’re straight out of training, it may take several years before you create profit for an organization.
However, there are often perfectly reasonable explanations for switches. Explaining the reasons upfront can ward off damaging assumptions.
During training, for example, there’s often limited space in desirable programs. Because of this, Biga explains candidates sometimes have to switch their fellowship or train offshore. In other cases, physicians may switch because their residency program lost its accreditation. Or they might simply decide a different specialty is a better fit and make a change before they lose the opportunity.
These types of situations are rarely dealbreakers, Biga says.
Other switches happen later down the road. Once they’ve finished training, some physicians find they need fresh challenges to thrive. Unfortunately, this can lead to job jumping, which can make finding a new position difficult.
However, Mahan says not to feel bad about wanting variety and new challenges. “It’s part of what makes you you,” she explains. But variety-seeking can trigger recruiter concerns. You’ll need to be mindful of this in both your job search and your career—even if you’re just starting out.
“It’s a bit of a risky hire if it seems someone is going to leave [soon after joining],” she says. Organizations differ in their risk tolerance, but frequent job changes are many employers’ number one red flag. “Your first question as a recruiter is: ‘Why isn’t this person staying in a job?’” she explains. “Sometimes, it’s just the nature of the person.”
If this is you, Mahan says there are better ways to find variety than changing employers. She once worked with a physician who “had no grass growing under his feet.” But he didn’t quench his thirst for new challenges by looking for a new job every two years. Instead, he sought out new pet projects within the organization. He found ways to stay engaged without leaving the hospital—a win-win.
It might seem counterintuitive to let your boss know you’re getting bored in your job. But Mahan explains, “Most employers would rather keep you than have you leave.” This is both to maintain productivity and to preserve continuity of care. “If you’re contemplating leaving, have that conversation before you do,” she goes on. “I would wager a guess that most organizations would rather work with a physician to challenge them and keep them satisfied than look for someone to replace them.”
If you’re just starting out and already know you like variety, don’t worry. This is an asset to the right employer. The key is knowing your interests before interviewing, then asking the right questions. For example, if you’re applying to an academic hospital, you could ask about future research or teaching opportunities. Or if the job is with a community hospital, you could ask about leadership opportunities, new program development or community outreach.
What if you’ve already had a few job jumps? Mahan says that’s “probably something that’s better handled in a cover letter than on your CV.” This is especially true if you’ve learned you need variety and are committed to finding it in your next job.
And if you’ve got a straightforward reason for an untimely job switch, a simple statement on your CV can help. For example, if you moved because a family member needed help or your spouse changed jobs, recruiters know that’s unlikely to happen again. Explaining this in your application will keep you in the running to move to the next stage.
“It’s really about getting to that initial phone call,” Mahan adds.
Showing up to interviews unprepared
Polishing your CV and applying to jobs can be incredibly time-consuming. Once you submit your application, you may feel like accepting any job you’re offered. But simply being open to lots of positions may not work in your favor. You still need to do homework on each job. Make sure you understand how your skills and preferences match the culture and the role.
Heidi Moawad, M.D., author of “Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine,” says employers want to know that you’re interested in them specifically.
If you’re too flexible, she explains, “You could end up ruling yourself out as a candidate for anything. You can come across as sort of aimless. It can be a red flag for a recruiter because it appears you don’t really know what you’re looking for and that you might not be a good fit—even though you’re hoping to make yourself seem like a great fit.”
Moawad adds that, in most cases, physicians have many employment options. Prospective employers know this. That’s why it’s important to be clear about what you want. “Employers want to know that you’ve investigated their specific area and that you’re willing to stick around and become good at [the job],” she says.
Cindric agrees. She looks for specific reasons in a candidate’s cover letter and CV to explain their interest. “Why specifically us?” she says. “What is the attraction to Geisinger?” The more thought you’ve put into your preferences and the more specific you are, the better.
“I’ve always told residents and fellows that the interview is a two-way street,” Mahan adds. “It’s not just about the organization finding the right candidate. It’s about the candidate finding the right organization. You should be asking as many questions as you need to ask.”
Preparing good questions will help you make sure the role is a fit. It will also reassure a recruiter that you understand the job you’re applying for. This improves the odds you’ll stick around if you’re hired.
Of course, you should be ready to give answers, too. Cindric says some candidates don’t prepare for common interview questions. That’s a bad look—especially if you need to address a specific concern.
For example, even if your application acknowledges previous job jumping or an employment gap, you’ll likely be asked to elaborate. And if you’re leaving a job, you’ll need to explain why. Make sure you do so without disparaging your employer.
“If they’re talking negatively about their current employer or about administration or their colleagues, that’s a sour note,” Cindric says. “As a recruiter, I’m listening to learn whether they collaborate well.”
“It’s better not to be really critical of your current place [of employment] or previous place,” Moawad agrees. She also advises that candidates be prepared for recruiters to ask for references. You should have them ready—even if you don’t intend to provide them until an offer is pending.
“It’s perfectly OK not to include references on your résumé when you’re applying,” she says. After all, you might be concerned that your job search will get back to your current employer. In that case, Moawad suggests saying something like: “I would be happy to give you references, but I’m a little concerned about how this will come across in my current job.”
You can ask a recruiter how serious they are about you and say you prefer to provide references only when an employer is preparing an offer. “It’s very natural not to want everyone to know you’re looking,” she explains. “Knowing that the reason you’re not providing references right away isn’t because [you’re hiding] something bad—it’s because you’re concerned that your current employer doesn’t know you’re looking to leave—will reassure the recruiter.”
Bungling the basics
Another red flag recruiters see far too often? Basic, preventable errors in CVs and cover letters. Many are missing information about subspecialty qualifications, certification/licensing status or visa requirements.
“We have credentialing requirements in which the physician needs to be board-certified within a certain amount of time,” Cindric explains. “If I see a candidate that is still board-eligible and they have been out of training for some time, that’s a red flag to me. Now I’m wondering: ‘Did they take their boards and fail them? Or are they acquiring hours credited in order to be able to sit for their boards?’”
In some rare cases, mid-career physicians have accumulated hours that qualify them to be grandfathered in. If you’re in this situation, be sure to explain it in your CV to avoid recruiter confusion and hesitancy.
Biga agrees that these details are critical. If a physician submits a CV without board certification status, she’s likely to reject it out of hand. “If you’re applying for an advanced heart failure position and you’re not boarded in heart failure yet but you’re planning to sit for boards, explain that in your cover letter [or CV]. Don’t make me ask,” she says.
Physicians often focus on filling their CVs with multiple pages of published papers. But certain organizations are far more concerned with the procedures you can perform. This is why it’s crucial to target your CV to the job—and remember your audience. “The papers are great if you’re going to academia,” Biga says. But they’re much less relevant to a private practice network like the one she leads.
And if you need visa sponsorship, Cindric says it’s essential to say so and specify which type on your CV. This tells the recruiter at a glance if you’re an actual candidate. Many organizations, including Geisinger, have immigration attorneys to help new hires with visas. Omitting visa requirements from your CV just wastes everyone’s time.
“If we can’t sponsor, there’s no further action we [or any employer] can take,” Cindric explains. “It’s not something we can navigate or negotiate because it’s guided by state and federal law.”
Of course, missing information isn’t the only issue recruiters run into. Adding too much unnecessary information can create its own problems. It may make a recruiter uncomfortable circulating your documents.
“I’ve seen CVs with Social Security numbers, names of family members and even blood types on them,” Mahan says. She reminds candidates, “Your CV is a professional document. It should focus on the professional. Just like in social media, you’re putting this information out publicly.”
You’ll have to share some of this information if you’re eventually hired, but sharing it too early creates privacy risks. “What if the recipient’s email is hacked or you accidentally send your CV to the wrong person?” Mahan asks.
Other common issues include typos, formatting problems and other careless mistakes—such as not tailoring your cover letter and CV to the job. “I’ve gotten cover letters addressed to the wrong company or a different person,” Mahan says. Customizing each submission gives you one more chance to catch errors before you send.
Typos might not be dealbreakers, especially if the position you’re seeking is in high demand. Even so, sloppiness reflects poorly on candidates. Biga suggests having someone you trust, such as your program director, review your materials before you send them off. “Ask them, ‘Is this somebody you would call?’” she says.
This may help you ward off embarrassingly basic CV problems. “Sometimes I look at a CV and say, ‘You gotta be kidding me. No phone number,’” Biga laments. Your CV should make it easy for recipients to get in touch with you via their preferred channel.
“I’m not going to email them. I’m not on Twitter,” she says. “You need to give me your phone number because I’m going to text you.” She adds that the phone number and email address should be your personal ones. If you use a work number or address, your employer is more likely to find out about your search.
“Another thing recruiters look at is just the basic formatting of the CV. Is it scattered? Are there different fonts? That conveys to me that they may not have taken [enough] time and may not be serious about their presentation,” Cindric adds.
To avoid this, she recommends, “Be cognizant of a nice, clean format with consistency and good flow so that when I as a recruiter look at it, the story makes sense.” And save your documents as PDFs to ensure recipients see the right formatting.
It also helps to shorten your CV if the opportunity doesn’t require a complete bibliography. Even if an employer values a lot of publications, Moawad says too many pages can be unwieldy for readers. She suggests spotlighting a few publications and including a link to a complete list. “If you really want to show off how many you have, you can include a statement like ‘over 50 publications’ along with the link.”
Finally, Cindric says a thank-you note is a very nice touch many candidates overlook. It doesn’t just show off your good manners. It also gives you another chance to reiterate what you’re looking for and how well you fit the job.
Expecting headhunters to do all the work
Finally, recruiters may be wary if you depend too much on third-party recruiters. “If they’re a strong candidate, I’ll wonder why they’re using an external recruiter,” Biga says. These headhunters come at a high price for employers. They’d rather save that money and funnel it into hiring bonuses for applicants who contact them directly.
This is usually easy for physicians to do. You simply need to find the in-house recruiter for any organization you’re interested in. You can often find contacts by networking or searching PracticeLink.com. Or you can ask local chapters of your specialty society for help.
Contingency recruiters may simplify your search, but be careful. You may miss out on some excellent opportunities if you rely solely on them. Even if the jobs you want are mostly handled by headhunters, it’s important to stay in the driver’s seat.
“It’s up to you to take responsibility for this career transition,” Moawad says. “The recruiter is not like your personal mentor or coach. You have to show that you’re willing to meet them more than halfway.”
If a recruiter feels like you’re expecting they’ll find a job for you, that’s a red flag. It’s not their responsibility to handle your job search. If you’re too hands-off, they’ll wonder if you’re really a strong candidate worth recommending.
“Remember that the recruiter doesn’t want you to look bad,” Moawad says. “Show them you actually are going to do your part.”