Your communication skills showcase your ability to organize, reason, handle technology and interact with staff. Employers know that the way you handle administrative tasks during recruitment is a harbinger of how you will handle administrative tasks in employment.
Plus, error-free communications keep you at the top of the candidate slate. In a competitive job market, missed communications give time for another equally qualified candidate to grab the employer’s attention while you’re trying to reschedule or reconnect.
Here are some practical tips for staying on top of your communication game.
Is your voicemail message professional but engaging? Is your name clearly enunciated? If not, the managing partner trying to call you may not know if she’s reached you. She may leave a message, she may not. She may be thinking, This can’t be the right number. A physician looking for a job would never leave a generic outgoing message on the phone number he gives to employers.
Is it one you actually check? If not, Murphy’s Law dictates that it will be the address that will actually be emailed. We’ve also had candidates miss emails because they used their training program email addresses to pose questions but expect the answers in their personal email inboxes. For the duration of the job search, set your email application default to show "all incoming mail" so you don’t miss any crucial job search communications.
When you call a recruiter, don’t say "Hi, how are you today?" That’s how salespeople and outside search firms open a conversation. You, the physician, are our top priority, so your strongest open is "Hi, this is Dr. Smith." Don’t say, "I’m calling about the internal medicine ad - is that job still available?" Recruiters are working on anywhere from 15 to 50 jobs at a time, and we need more information to answer you best.
Instead, say: "Hi, this is Jenny Smith, and I’m a third-year internal medicine resident at the University of St. Louis. I’m calling about your ad on PracticeLink for intensivists for Presbyterian/St. Luke’s in Denver." The same goes for voicemails. A succinct, informative intro gets you what you need from us as quickly as possible.
If an employer asks you a question via email and has other email addresses on the Cc line, use "reply all." Cc is an abbreviation for "carbon copy." It means the sender intended for a third party to see the email and implies that the sender also wants that recipient to see your response. If you ignore this, you are depending wholly on the initial sender not only to notice that you didn’t copy the other person but also to relay your response.
Recruiters receive up to 400 emails a day, and the only way to prioritize is by subject line. Use that line to convey urgency, and even use the urgent flag when warranted. "No location yet for Friday lunch" is going to get a recruiter or practice administrator’s attention immediately. An email with subject line "Update" is not - it doesn’t convey that an urgent reply is needed.
Texting is the best thing since sliced bread, but make sure you identify yourself in the initial text. "This is Dr. Jenny Smith checking to see if the group was able to move the dinner to Thursday. I have to give final dates to my program by EOB today." We have wonderful applicant tracking systems that recognize names, email addresses and phone numbers in emails. But on a smart phone, all we see is a phone number if you are not stored as a known contact.
We know, we know - many physicians under 35 simply don’t do voicemail. When the recipient sees a missed call, he should simply return the call, right? But recruiters and practices receive a lot of calls from vendors. We return messages, but we won’t redial every incoming call. Leave a message!
Verify the time zone. Try to click or dial in early to allow time to troubleshoot. If you can’t get in, or nobody is on the line after the scheduled time, email or text the organizer. If you are all alone on a conference call and someone is trying to call you, hit "hold and accept" to see if it’s the organizer. It’s not uncommon to have technical problems, and recruiters may be trying to reach everyone with a new number or to reschedule. Once on a call, don’t ever put the call on hold - just mute the call if you need to answer a page. (Hold means we all hear your hospital’s hold music and can’t talk among ourselves!) Also use the mute button if you need to sneeze, cough or hiss "Can’t you see I’m on the phone?!" at someone.
Even if you are closely connected to a practice you are joining, the employer has to comply with HR protocol and document that they have checked references. Give us the right numbers and email addresses upfront!
Employers forward your thank you note to others on the decision team. Of course there is going to be some commonality, but try to think of something relevant to that interviewer’s conversation with you. It’s painfully obvious when we all get exactly the same three sentences. Conversely, there are a lot of virtual oohs and ahs when we see thoughtful and original thank you messages.
If an employer sends you a form to complete or asks for an updated copy of your CV, pause before hitting save. Every day we receive CVs with crazy names like "Ryan Resume - v 8 with research obj statement" or "St. Mary’s document." The candidate who puts her first and last name and the title of the document in the file name is telling me that she is detail-oriented. She is thinking about what might be helpful to us in storing documents related to her prospective employment with us.
Even if you’re not taking the job, close the loop with an email or phone call. I hear excuses like "They’ll just know when I stop responding" or "I didn’t want to respond because I hadn’t actually signed yet." Once you have negotiated the key terms of your contract, it’s time to tell the unsuccessful suitors so they can move on to other candidates. Don’t end things on a sour note by going dark in a misguided attempt to preserve options. Wish the employer the best of luck with their search. It’s a small world, and you want to be remembered as a terrific candidate who acted with class and manners throughout the recruitment dance!
Therese Karsten, MBA, CMSR, FASPR is the director of physician recruitment for HCA Physician Services Group.