Fifteen seconds: That’s approximately how long an employer looks at a CV. Recruiters and employers know what they want; they skim even the best resumes. They are on the lookout for applicants who meet their requirements; sometimes they’ll take a chance on a long shot whose pitch catches their eye.
Explore This IssueOctober 2012
So what happens when a resume stands out for the wrong reasons? Work histories aren’t always perfect, and recruiters and prospective employers will notice any blemishes. “The thing about red flags is they’re just an indicator that the applicant is an outlier,” said Kim Bell, MD, FACP, SFHM, regional medical director of the Pacific West Region for EmCare, a Dallas-based company that provides outsourced physician services. “It doesn’t necessarily rule them out.”
Know the Signs and Preempt Suspicion
For otolaryngologists, resume imperfections that attract attention include:
- Gaps in employment;
- Frequent changes in employment;
- Changes in residency;
- Medical board sanctions or probation;
- Failures on the board exam; and
- Forced resignations or firings.
When recruiters or employers notice a red flag, they look for other problems to find patterns and to see if the applicant exhibited bad judgment, has character flaws or shows an inability to learn from a mistake, said Jeff Kaplan, PhD, MBA, MCC, a licensed psychologist and Philadelphia-based executive coach whose clients include health care industry executives. If such signs exist, the applicant is generally eliminated from consideration. Therefore, it’s critical that applicants explain clearly and succinctly the reason for any resume shortcoming.
“A good way is to actually write a cover letter to explain some uniqueness in their CV that they want [recruiters] to understand,” said Alpesh Amin, MD, MBA, FACP, SFHM, professor and chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California at Irvine.
By explaining the situation, Dr. Bell said, the physician doesn’t give the employer a chance to guess a reason for the red flag—and potentially guess wrong.
“In the case of changes in employment, there’s a big difference between [a situation in which] there’s been some sort of serious censure and they’ve been driven out, versus [one in which] they thought another setting might be more interesting or they just wanted to make a geographic move,” said Thomas E. Thorsheim, PhD, a licensed psychologist and physician leadership coach based in Greenville, S.C. “It’s important to preempt any concerns about how reliable or stable they’re going to be.”
Applicants with resume red flags should show that they’ve taken responsibility for what happened and grown from the experience, said Dr. Thorsheim. Everyone wants to know that you have learned from your mistakes, so try to provide a demonstrated remediation of the concern.
Physicians with a resume blemish should concentrate on highlighting their strengths and “branding” themselves as a workplace contributor, said Bernadette Norz, MBA, ACC, a certified physician development coach. While this advice applies to all applicants, it is particularly critical for those with resume problems, because it will demonstrate the skills they have that set them apart from others.
“What people are really looking for is what did you do and what was the result,” Norz said. “One need not limit themselves to employed accomplishments. Things that one accomplished as a volunteer or on a committee count, too, because that’s where people gain a lot of leadership skills.”
Resumes should not be recitations of job descriptions, she advised. They should be lists of achievements described, with action verbs that give the applicant a clear identity and brand. “When you read a resume, you should walk away from it knowing who this person is,” said Dr. Kaplan. “If you don’t see that on their resume, then you’ve got to question it.”
The best applicants network. The more you can develop a relationship and rapport with peers and potential employers, the more likely it is that you will be given a greater chance to sell your strengths and explain weaknesses, said career strategist Ellen Dunagan, president of Traverse Management Solutions in Arlington, Va.
“You really want to step it up and be much more active with your own pitch,” she said. “That goes for selling yourself to a peer who’s working for Organization X and telling him exactly what you need other people to know about you in his workplace.”
But before any applicant with a resume shortcoming begins to look for a job, he or she must resolve the issue internally, Dr. Kaplan noted. Taking responsibility will allow you to speak clearly and comfortably about what happened, without negativity or blame.
“If you don’t, you will fumble,” he said. “The prospective employer will start seeing those red flags and they will ask you about it, and you thought you had your pitch ready. Then they ask you two more questions, and before you know it, they’re not going to feel a sense of transparency with you.”
More and more, what employers are looking for, regardless of the profession, is positivity, Dunagan said. It’s a trait applicants won’t have if they still harbor negative feelings toward a previous employer. “It’s just very important to be not only a team player, but to have a really good attitude,” she said. “So present yourself in the best possible light.”
Reprinted with permission from the Society of Hospital Medicine.