I’ve had several conversations with former co-residents in training who are now in their fellowship year, and current residents where I work, who are starting to think about their career goals, the jobs they may want and lifestyle after training is over. This conversation has also extended to my non-medical friends. A common problem is that many don’t know WHAT to take into consideration during their job hunt. Unfortunately, I feel that many people go into this life phase without real guidance.
So doing what I do, I compiled a list of job search advice I wish I had been given when I was trying to find my first job 🙂
Before you begin your job hunt, it is important to decide where you would like to live, as it can change what options are available to you. If you don’t have one particular spot in mind, then choose your top three and go from there.
Of the places you look into, check out the cost of living and demographics. What will it cost to rent versus buy? If you have a family, is it a family-friendly area with good schools? In regards to housing you can afford in a particular area, what will your commute look like? Etc etc.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Totally cliché question, but think about it. Are you the boss? Are you at an academic institution? Do you have an interest in research? Are you interested in pursuing administrative roles and titles? Do you like teaching? Do you crave the pace of private practice? Picture in your head what your daily life would look like as well.
Figuring this out will help you largely narrow your search and zero your focus in on the jobs that will be the best fit for you.
Anyone with student loans (aka almost all graduate students) will tell you this is a priority consideration. This, however, also goes hand in hand with location and career goals.
My advice: don’t let this trump the other two during your job hunt. While loan payments and maintaining a certain standard of living for yourself is essential, the mental happiness and satisfaction you would get from pursuing a career in line with your vision or living in a city you love is priceless. (That being said, when you find a job you want, don’t be afraid to negotiate higher pay if you think its warranted.)
How many weekends will you need to work? How many hours per week is your required commitment? Are you easily able to take vacation or time off for conferences (should you desire)? What is your call requirement? What are the policies on maternity/paternity leave?
While there will be aspects of every job that are less than desirable, you want the overall life you lead, and the schedule you adhere to, to also be amenable to actually living, spending time with family and friends, and pursuing outside interests.
Things to Do Before You Apply
Once you have your goals in place, now you have to do a few things to get ready for the job hunt.
Resume and Cover Letter
First and foremost, you must update your resume and write a cover letter. Your resume can look different and highlight different accomplishments depending on the job you’re applying for and the job description of the position. I’d first recommend you update it based on your strengths and then tweak it depending on the qualifications required. I’m not saying to lie or fib, but you want to make sure your resume reflects not only what you can do, and your experiences but the value add that you would bring to an organization.
Be sure to remove anything from your resume that is no longer relevant to your career (e.g., volunteer work you did back in high school).
In the same way, you have to do this for a cover letter.
As always, you should be careful what you post on social media. If you haven’t yet or are unsure of how you may come across, consider making all of your accounts private. You can bet that every potential employer is doing a Google search on job applicants.
In addition, create a positive and professional online presence. For instance, create a LinkedIn profile. For anyone unfamiliar, LinkedIn is a website specifically for professionals. Your profile is all about your accomplishments, your research, and your career interests. In addition, you can follow academic leaders, and institutions, and take part in professional groups. On top of all that, it functions as a job search site. I’ve also been contacted by physician recruiters. It’s also a great place to network and connect with people of similar interests.
What’s also great about it is you can scroll through job postings yourself. In doing so, I’ve discovered many opportunities and companies that I never knew existed. You can also apply for jobs through LinkedIn itself.
Prep for Your Interviews
Every place will ask you standard questions about you, your training, your goals. In addition, especially if you have research activities, they may ask about that, so brush up on what you did.
In addition, do your due diligence and note down some questions you have for THEM. See if you can talk to other people outside of those interviewing you. The more prepared you are, the more likely the interviewers will do everything possible to get you the answers you need.
Hopefully, this is already understood, but just to be thorough, please have a professional outfit ready to go.
Friendly Job Hunt Reminders:
You Don’t Have to Stay at the First Job You Choose
The job hunt can be daunting, and the fear of making a mistake when choosing your first one, or of something not working out is very real. However, don’t let that stop you from making a choice. Remember, nothing is permanent; even if you think you’ve found your dream job, your priorities and dreams may change soon after you begin. In fact, most people end up not staying at their first jobs because the reality of what they thought they would like is very different from what they actually experienced.
Alternatively, I’ve known friends to take on jobs they did NOT want, but did so for the sake of breaking into a certain market or having the opportunity to move to a city where job availability is otherwise rare. They stayed at those posts for a certain contractual period and then made a lateral shift elsewhere to a job that they DID want.
Do Your Research & Make The Best Decision For You
Wherever you interview, either for your first job or to find a new job, keep all of these things in mind. Question everyone you meet regarding their job satisfaction, what they wish they knew beforehand, and what they would change about their work environment. Try to get some honest feedback about the work-life balance of the employees at that organization.
If you’re a woman, try to understand how women are treated there. Are there females in position of authority or power? Are they allowed to climb the ranks? What’s the stance on women with families and maternity leave?
No one can tell you if a job will be the right fit. Even you won’t be able to get a full sense of a place sometimes. All you can do is make a decision with the information you ARE able to get. And again, remember, nothing is permanent!
If You Can’t Figure It Out, There are Alternative Paths
If you’re unable to decide what to do or where to go, then don’t panic; it’s OK. So you can’t find an institution or city to settle in? Fine. Do locums (where you as needed); try per diem or part-time; go abroad for a little while with a volunteer organization. Activate your job search networking skills and reach out to people you know to see if you can get an introduction and foot in the door.
You have options. Don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled…it may lead you to exactly where you want to be. Everything happens for a reason, and life has a way of working things out…sometimes better than you imagined.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you and makes you happy.
Last Bits of Advice
What you think may have been successful job interviews may not pan out to anything, and vice versa. So don’t get disheartened, don’t give up, and don’t lose sight of those life and career goals that are important to you.
If you find something that works, and they give you a sign-on bonus, I caution against spending it immediately. Many places require that, to keep the bonus, you need to stay for a contractual period. For instance, if you end up hating the job after a year, you’d have to pay the entire bonus back (most places require that you stay on for at least 3 years). If you do end up spending it, say to pay back student loans, then make sure you immediately start saving up that exact amount because that will be your exit ticket (should you need it). It’s always nice to have a backup plan.
And lastly, don’t be afraid to negotiate your contractual start date and salary. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.