How to prepare for your physician job search at every stage of the journey
With the end of her training in sight, Courtney Palguta, D.O., was looking for a practice. But she wasn’t looking just anywhere - she wanted to work in a specific region.
"I trained in Michigan but knew I wanted to move to the Southeast to practice," Palguta says. "I knew I had better start my job search early if I were to find a hospital in the Lexington area." So the Kentucky hospitalist searched online job boards and sent CVs out in July 2014, a year before she finished training.
Applying early has its rewards. Securing a job before your training is complete is satisfying, especially if it meets your preferences. But the job search starts long before you fill out your first application. To apply early, you’ve also got to prepare early.
"Timing is key in the job search process," says Donna Newman, corporate director of physician recruiting for OhioHealth. "The better prepared you are, the better organized and less pressured you are, and that results in a better impression at an interview."
So when should you start? The answer varies.
"Ask that question, and you’ll get 10 different answers," says Jay Woody, M.D., cofounder and chief medical officer of Legacy ER & Urgent Care in Texas. The right timing depends on your priorities, he says.
Talbot McCormick, M.D., president and CEO of Eagle Hospital Physicians in Georgia, offers this general rule of thumb: "By the time you’re in your second year of residency, you should earnestly start your job search. …If you’re in a subspecialty that’s not in demand, you may want to start earlier."
The right timeline varies depending on your specialty, location and preferences, but this general overview will help.
Job search tasks during medical school
Build your CV with activities
You’ll need to show potential employers that you have more than medical skills. You’ll also need to show that you have initiative, according to Yvonne Braver, M.D., program director of internal medicine for Brandon Regional Hospital in Florida.
"I suggest residents take part in as many activities as they can, beginning the first day of residency," she says. "Participate in the recruitment season, write a journal article, get extra certification, attend a training conference, give grand rounds." When you do, add that activity to your CV.
Said Awad, M.D., now in his first year of an internal medicine residency at Brandon Regional Hospital, started building his CV while he was in med school. He found time to join a committee of his national specialty association and even created his own mini-internship by volunteering as an observer for a researcher in his field.
"Any time you can take a leadership position, you are building your résumé in a positive direction," says Newman.
And it’s never too early to start.
Pull your CV together
As you build your list of accomplishments and activities, make sure you track everything so your CV will be ready to go when you need it.
Woody suggests keeping your CV up to date at all times. Waiting to put it together until you’re in full job-search mode means you might forget important updates or miss out on an opportunity you weren’t expecting to become available. Review your CV every few months to make it a more manageable task.
Watch your social media activity
Be especially careful about what you post on social media. Right or wrong, society holds physicians to a higher standard than those in other professions. Anything that seems offbeat or off-color may keep you from the job you want.
For this reason, some physicians choose not to use social media at all. "I deleted my Facebook account as soon as I entered medical school," says Awad. And David Sypert, D.O., chief resident for OhioHealth’s Riverside Methodist Hospital’s internal medicine program, says he’s never had social media accounts.
If you do use social media, be careful what you post and how you manage your privacy settings. Palguta says she’s careful about whom she selects as friends. "And I have every firewall setting turned on," she adds.
"We do take a look at what’s on social networking sites," says Newman. She explains that most physicians network through LinkedIn since it’s considered more professional than social. But even there, evaluate your posts carefully.
"Think twice before posting photos," warns Braver. And don’t post anything that tears down past or present employers, colleagues or teachers. As Braver explains, "You don’t want to burn bridges."
"Any goofy thing you post online can be viewed by a hiring authority," says Tim Mulvaney, recruitment director for the Oregon-based recruiting firm UHC Solutions. "One off-the-cuff comment interpreted the wrong way will cost you the job you want."
Job search tasks during residency years 1-3
Gather recommendation letters and references
"Line up your references a year in advance," suggests Newman. A letter from your program director is a must. Newman also suggests stepping outside the box and seeking references from head nurses.
Ask for letters as you go. If you don’t think to ask at the time of rotation, Braver warns, "You may be chasing your tail when you need them." Or worse, you may be unable to locate your reference in time.
Sypert did things differently. He cultivated long-term relationships before asking for letters. He explains, "I had in mind who I wanted to get letters from." But he waited until he was in his third year before approaching them. "I’d rather have developed a three-year relationship with them than a few months," he says.
No matter when you decide to collect letters - or from whom - choose your references wisely. It’s not just a formality - your references will be called.
"Employers will contact them and may even send a list of questions for them to answer," Braver says. If you’re unsure how a potential reference might respond, you may not want to add his or her letter to your packet.
Now is the time to network, says Tim Lary, vice president of physician staffing for IPC Healthcare. In addition to building relationships with attending physicians and mentors, he suggests that residents go to medical and specialty society meetings. "It’s affordable and gives you an opportunity to meet a wide range of people," Lary says.
Already have an idea of where you want to work? Touch base with the employer or in-house recruiter as an information-gathering or networking activity. "You’re not asking for a job at that time," says Woody. "You’re just putting yourself on their radar."
Newman recalls one physician who contacted her while he was in his second year of training. "He told me he wanted to work here when he was finished with his residency, and he continued to keep in touch every few months." He wasn’t calling to find out about jobs. He would simply make conversation on a few topics, keeping in touch like a friend. It made an impression. Newman hired him following his residency.
Newman suggests another way to put yourself out there is to moonlight at the practice or facility where you wish to work.
Job search tasks during residency years 2-3
Set your job priorities
Before you start looking for work, take time to determine exactly what it is you want to do. "Don’t accept a job just for the money," says Braver. "Consider if you really want to work there, if it’s the kind of culture where you can thrive."
Base your decisions not only on the type of practice, but where and how you want to work - and live. All of those factors will help guide your search.
"There are four pieces to the employment puzzle: geographic location, the practice you want, the finances you need and quality of life," Lary explains. "Everybody’s pieces look different. You have to decide what puzzle pieces to put first."
Discuss decisions with your family
Many physicians aren’t making these decisions alone. "If you have a spouse or family, the most important thing you can do is sit down with them and discuss what you want to do and where you want to go," says Newman. "Get their input before deciding where to apply."
As an in-house recruiter, Newman has hired applicants who were disappointed to learn their spouses didn’t want to move. "Discuss your plans with everyone who may be involved," she says. Once everyone is on board, then you can begin your job search.
"We used to interview spouses when we interviewed the applicant," Lary says. "It’s that important for everyone to be on the same page." And as more physician-couples emerge on the scene, there’s extra pressure to make employment decisions together, not as independent individuals.
Start researching opportunities
Once you and your family have discussed priorities and locations, start researching jobs.
Start your search on PracticeLink.com for opportunities by profession, specialty and geographic interest area. Create a profile there to create, store and send your CV and receive alerts of new jobs that match your preferences.
Also check in with colleagues, mentors or other professional contacts who work at the places you want to work. "They may know of opportunities through the grapevine," says Andrew Murphy, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist and medical director of Legacy ER & Urgent Care who took time after residency to earn his MBA. "You can also call the in-house recruiter there and ask what kind of opportunities might be available by the time you leave training," he adds.
Another option is to network with potential employers at your specialty’s conference. Murphy says employers and recruiters sometimes go to these conferences to find physicians to hire. Sypert has found job fairs and recruiting events organized by local hospital systems a good avenue for finding openings. "I plan to stay in the area, so I’m looking at local opportunities," he says.
Consider your schedule
Try to schedule some flexible rotations in the fall so you’ll have time to travel and meet with potential employers.
"That’s not always easy to do," says Murphy. "Residency is pretty demanding, but you might be able to find someone who will work your shift for you. It’s easier if you plan to stay in the area; you can schedule an interview on your day off. If you have to travel for interviews, that can be harder. I know residents who were looking for work in another area, and they scheduled as many interviews as possible in the time they had."
If you’re planning a vacation, you might visit the area where you’re looking for work. While Murphy was vacationing in Florida, he took time to do some interviews. "I’m from that area and thought I might look around and see what’s there," he says. He called various facilities ahead of time and scheduled tours, which became impromptu interviews. Although he decided to stay in Texas, he did receive offers in Florida.
Job search tasks during residency year 3
Tasks for July
Send out your CV. You’ve done your research, you’ve made connections and you know where the jobs are. Around July in the final year of your residency, you can start sending your CV to the potential employers on your list.
Contact recruiters and potential employers. Once you’ve sent your CV, it’s your job as the candidate to keep the lines of communication open. "Find time to meet with the recruiter, and be honest when answering questions," Mulvaney advises.
Don’t forget to follow up with them. "That was the most surprising part of the job-search process," says Palguta. "I sent résumés, and I heard from one recruiter right away. But a couple of others didn’t respond at all. I had to call them to see if they received my résumé."
But don’t stalk your recruiter. "They’re doing the best they can to find you the position you want," Mulvaney says. "It doesn’t help if you’re contacting them several times a day."
Generally, it’s appropriate to reach out if you haven’t heard back within a week or two after sending your CV.
Prepare for interviews. While you wait to hear about opportunities, use your free time to prepare for interviews. "Research the company, and be able to tell them of any difficulties they’re experiencing and how you can be part of the solution," Mulvaney suggests.
Practice is also key. "We went through mock interviews during training," Sypert says. "It taught us how to present ourselves and our best qualities."
Tasks for September and October
Interview. "Make the time to present yourself professionally," Woody says. Look the part - there is such a thing as too casual.
"When I was touring facilities in Florida, I heard people tell me, ’I don’t feel like I need to interview you because you look like you’re serious about a job,’" Murphy says. "I showed up in a suit and polished my shoes. That’s all it took."
Interviews also provide an opportunity to experience workplace culture and see how you’ll fit in, says Palguta. "Make sure it’s a good fit for you before you move on with the process," she suggests.
But don’t approach interviews with the wrong attitude. Lary says, "We want people who come here for the opportunity, not to see if they want the job." And Woody advises, "Don’t appear overconfident."
Follow up after interviews. Send a thank-you note after each interview. "It should reflect the conversation you had and that you’re grateful for the opportunity," says Braver.
Braver says that an email note will do, but Murphy and Sypert say they always handwrite a message. "I think it’s appreciated because most people these days don’t take the time to send handwritten notes," says Murphy.
Awad suggests waiting two weeks before contacting the employer for their decision, and Murphy and Palguta say they would likely contact an employer after a week. However, Sypert says he never needed to do any follow-ups. "The employer did a good job providing a general timeline regarding the interview process," he says.
Newman says applicants should ask at the interview when they can expect to hear from the employer. "If you didn’t ask, and you haven’t heard from the employer after two weeks, then call and ask if you’re still being considered for the job," she says.
Tasks for November and December
Inform your potential employers of your decision. Just as you don’t want an employer to delay the hiring decision, your employer doesn’t want you to delay yours. "Let the employer know within a few weeks of a job offer," advises Newman. "You don’t want to leave the organization hanging."
And you don’t want to miss out on a job opportunity, says Woody, even if you’re considering more than one offer. "If you play hard to get, you don’t get gotten," adds Mulvaney. "You may miss an opportunity because the interviewer thinks you don’t want the job."
But before you can accept a job, you have to get one. This timeline should help. As most experts and newly employed physicians will tell you, jumpstarting your job search is a good idea.
"If you delay the process, it could delay your license, your start date, and a first paycheck," says Palguta. "Having a gap between your residency and your first job might work for some. …But if you need a paycheck when you’re through training, you need to start your job search early."