What do employers really want?

When Linda Welniak, M.D., left residency, she went to work at a family medicine practice in Milwaukee, where she happily worked for the next 15 years. When the economy tanked a few years ago, however, the small group she worked for had to downsize. "I was let go, and for the first time since residency, I had to look for work," she says.

Not only did Welniak face contractual restrictions, but she found herself competing for jobs with younger physicians. "It wasn’t easy," she says.

Downsizing, a competitive specialty, a spouse relocation, a move closer to family, completion of training, or other circumstances may have you, like Welniak, joining the ranks of job-seeking physicians. And when that happens, you’ll want to be ready.

But let’s face it. There is a physician shortage today, and just about any resident will tell you they spend almost as much time fielding job offers as diagnosing patients.

However, when you’ve got your eye on a particular location, employer or experience, you’ll want to set yourself apart from the competition. That’s when it pays the most to consider the small details that can make a big difference in hiring decisions.

Here’s what employers really want.

Candidates who know what they’re looking for

Lara Pierce, M.D., left some old but relevant information on her CV to show potential employers that she had ties to the area. Local ties can move your CV to the top of the stack.
Lara Pierce, M.D., left some old but relevant information on her CV to show potential employers that she had ties to the area. Local ties can move your CV to the top of the stack.

Before starting your search, the first thing you should do is sit down - with a significant other if you have one - and determine what kind of job you want and what kind of place you want to work in, says Patrice Streicher, an associate director with Vista Staffing Solutions.

"Assess what you want, then you can better target your search," she says.

What you should look for is a cultural fit with your personality. Just knowing if a place is right for you, she says, will affect the way you approach the interview and ultimately the job.

Lara Pierce, M.D., a third-year family practice chief resident at Clarkson Family Medicine in Omaha, made location her first job-search priority. She knew she wanted to return to her home state of Texas, in a rural practice close to the Fort Worth area. She also knew she wanted to do obstetrics. Determining all that ahead of her job search was helpful, she says. "It helps you weed through the phone calls and emails you receive once you begin residency," she says. "I called clinics and hospitals in the area where I wanted to move and asked if they would have positions opening soon."

Well-organized documents

Once you’ve decided what you want, your next step is to polish your résumé or CV. A résumé is not a curriculum vitae, although most physicians and recruiters use the term interchangeably. The résumé is a short, one- to two-page listing of skills, experience and education.

The CV is a summary of educational and academic backgrounds, teaching and/or research experience, publications, presentations, honors, awards, affiliations, etc.

"If this is your initial contact with the employer, use a résumé," says Streicher. "Then follow up with a CV."

Before sending a résumé or CV, Eric Dickerson, managing director for Academic Physician Recruiting Practice, suggests having others review it first. "You’re more likely to catch typos and spelling errors, which can turn off prospective employers," he says.

Another turn-off is a disorganized CV.

Debbie Gleason, in-house recruiter for The Nebraska Medical Center
Debbie Gleason, in-house recruiter for The Nebraska Medical Center

Debbie Gleason, in-house recruiter for The Nebraska Medical Center, suggests listing work positions in reverse chronological order so your current position is at the top. Put your training in sequence as well so your medical school training doesn’t suddenly appear in the middle of your residency.

"You don’t want an employer to pull out a sheet of paper to figure out your CV," says Gleason.

Related: Is your CV helping you? ow.ly/aPnGH

Candidates with ties to the area

If you really want to make an impression, add what recruiters refer to as "BLT" to your CV or cover letter.

"It stands for born, licensed, trained," says Scott Manning, director of provider recruiting at District Medical Group in Phoenix.

If you’re looking for a position in a certain area, list any of the BLTs you may have in that community. Manning says your résumé will move to the top, as most recruiters are looking for long-term employees and a tie to the area reassures them you’re likely to stay.

When Pierce went looking for her job in Texas, for example, she deliberately left some old but relevant information on her CV. "My husband and I had both worked for an ambulance company in the area," she says. "I thought it would show I knew the area and had worked with some of the doctors there."

Of course, such information could also be included in a cover letter or the email you send introducing yourself and telling why you’re interested in the position.

Writing a cover letter will also force you to take that initial soul-searching step, says Ronald Kanner, M.D., residency training director at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center. "In it, state why you’re seeking the position and what you can bring to the table," he says.

"List a BLT or if you know someone who works here - that can mean a lot too," says Manning about a cover letter.

Don’t think you have a connection? "Check professional networking sites to see if you know someone who works in the place where you’re seeking a job," suggests Streicher.

Instead of relying strictly on the interview process, consider moonlighting at the place you’d like to work like Nate Alvis, D.O., did.
Instead of relying strictly on the interview process, consider moonlighting at the place you’d like to work like Nate Alvis, D.O., did. "It turned into a working interview," he says.

Nate Alvis, D.O., a family medicine resident who will soon practice in Iowa, did just that. "I called a local doctor I knew who worked at the place I wanted to work," he says. But rather than ask him for a recommendation, Alvis let his colleague know he’d like to moonlight there. "It turned into a working interview," he says.

Welniak did something similar. She had been turned down - twice - by a place she wanted to work. So when a recruiter called and told her about a locum tenens position there, she took it. "Within a few weeks, they were asking me to stay," she says.

By then, she had accepted another position, so when the locum position ended, she left. "If you can let the employer see what you can do and how you interact with the staff, it might lead to a permanent job," she says.

Related: Create a free physician profile at PracticeLink.com/Physicians to connect with recruiters at 5,000 facilities.

Excellent references

"References are important and have to be impeccable," says Sally Mounts, president of Auctus Consulting Group. "Just be sure you approach people with good verbal and writing skills and the enthusiasm to recommend you."

Reference letters can come from someone in your current practice’s leadership, a peer you’ve worked with, and maybe a subordinate.

It’s called 360-degree feedback. "And it’s increasingly important in business today," says Mounts. "Employers want to know you’re a team player and that you work well with everyone."

When you ask someone to be a reference, help them out by reminding them of when and how long they’ve worked with you, why you’re currently looking for a job, and why the employers you’re considering are attractive to you. That information will be helpful whether they’re writing a letter or simply speaking with your potential employer on the phone.

Manning doesn’t put much stock in reference letters. "Did you ever see a bad one?" he asks. "They’re helpful and I’m happy to take them, but I’ll still want to call your referrals so the responses aren’t so crafted."

"I didn’t gather referral letters," says Ariz Anklesaria, D.O., chief resident at Wright State University Department of Psychiatry in Dayton, Ohio. "But I did ask people if I could use them as references. I think it’s a good idea to tell them what aspects of yourself you’d like them to ’sell’ during a call."

RELATED: Will you do me the honor? How to get the best references: ow.ly/aPo3R

Sometimes, those making the recommendations will ask you what they should say. "When I asked physicians if I could use them as referrals, they asked me about the kind of work I was looking for," says Pierce. She told them she wanted work in a rural practice - so when a small Texas community called, her references knew what to say.

If you ask others to serve as referrals for you, remember to ask the person first. It’s more than good manners - it’s one of those small details that can make a difference.

"I once called someone who didn’t know they were listed as this applicant’s reference," says Gleason. "It didn’t make a good impression."

Candidates who have done their homework

Once you’ve landed an interview, your work has just started. Remember, it’s the small details that will move you ahead of your competition, so go online and learn everything you can about the organization, the staff and the community.

"It’s unacceptable today to know nothing about the organization to which you’re applying," says Manning. "Go through every piece on the Web site about the organization."

You should know the size of the hospital, the makeup of its staff, and what procedures they do and don’t do.

Daniel Ahoubim, M.D., a chief resident who will soon serve a sleep medicine fellowship in Miami, goes a step further. He says he makes a point to read research papers written by medical staff before the interview. "It shows you’re interested," he says.

In addition to online research, Dickerson suggests applicants put together a list of 15 to 20 quality questions to ask at the interview.

Remember that an interview is as much a fact-finding mission for you as it is for the employer. Determine what you need to know before going in for an interview, and don’t leave until you have the answers to those questions.

Anklesaria says he puts together a template for each place he interviews. On it he lists salary, location, the number of patients he’ll be expected to see, etc. If those points aren’t raised during the interview, he’ll ask about them. "I then create a table for comparison purposes," he says.

The last bit of prep work to consider is rehearsing answers to what are typical interview questions. "Practice them," says Kanner, "But don’t recite them like they’ve been memorized."

Marissa Oller-Cramsie, D.O., a chief resident in neurology at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital, says her mother and her husband both give her practice interview questions before an interview. "My mother interviews at her job, so she asks some pretty good questions," she says.

Professionalism and honesty

"The moment you close your car door in the parking lot, you’re interviewing," says Streicher. That means being professional with everyone from the valet to the front office staff.

You might even be careful en route to an interview. You never know if the person sitting behind you on a flight, for example, is connected to the hiring organization.

In addition to acting professionally, arrive early. "Today’s hospitals can be like labyrinths," says Dickerson, "So arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes early. It may take that long to find where you need to be."

If you’re serious about the position, you’ve arrived well-groomed and conservatively dressed. You’ll turn down the alcohol at dinner - or stick to just one drink, and only then if everyone else ordered one before you. When it comes to the interview, make eye contact with the interviewer and offer a firm handshake to continue the process on a positive note, says Mounts. "These may be small details, but they can make a difference."

"During the interview," Mounts continues, "be positive, outgoing and interactive."

Lean forward when you respond to questions, suggests Kanner, and of course, "Answer every question truthfully and honestly."

RELATED: Questions to ask during the interview process: ow.ly/aPr2V

That’s especially true if you have red flags somewhere in your background. If you’ve been sued for malpractice, or your license has been placed on probation, you can be sure the recruiter will eventually find out.

"It’s always better to hear that information from you. Don’t let us drag it out of you," says Manning.

"Be open, honest and transparent when addressing red flags," says Dickerson.

Mention them early in the interview process - preferably during a pre-screening phone call, says Gleason.

Also remember, patient satisfaction is important today - as is marketing and awareness of how your practice habits can affect an employer’s bottom line. Give the interviewer the impression that you understand these areas and you know how to be a team player, says Gleason.

Arrogance, nonchalance, anger and any signs of disrespecting another’s time and position are examples of interview turn-offs to avoid.

"For me, the deal-breaker is disrespecting a patient," says Kanner.

Thoughtful interview follow-up

In most cases, interviewers will end the interview. At that point, thank them for their time, and if you know, tell them you’re interested in the job. "Don’t leave me wondering if you want the position or not," says Gleason. Again, a small detail that’s too often overlooked.

If you haven’t received an interviewer’s business card yet, now’s the time to ask. And don’t leave until you’ve also asked, "What’s the next step?"

"You want to have another encounter scheduled before you leave," says Streicher. "If not, you won’t know what to do next."

If the interviewer gives you a timeline for a decision - two weeks, for example - and you haven’t heard anything by then, it’s all right to call or email to ask if a decision has been made.

"Two weeks can become four weeks in a busy place," says Gleason. Welniak agrees. "Hearing back from an interviewer often took time," she says. When she did check in, though, she says she was more likely to receive responses to emails than phone calls.

After the interview, send a thank-you card or email. If you are rejected for a job, accept it graciously. "You might ask what deficiencies precluded you from the position," says Dickerson. Or you can simply ask the interviewer if it’s acceptable to stay in touch.

"You don’t know what position might come up in the future, so it helps to stay on that person’s radar screen," says Mounts. Don’t be a pest about it, she warns, but a quarterly follow-up should be fine. And it will give you a jump over any potential competition.

Finally, when it comes to a job search and the small details that will land you the position of your dreams, there are really only two pieces of advice to remember, says Streicher: Be yourself - "That way you’re comfortable with every part of the process," she says - and know yourself. "A sure way to succeed in a job search," says Streicher, "is to apply only for those jobs in which you’re interested and for which you’re best suited."

Karen Edwards is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine (PracticeLink.com/Magazine).