Journal Logo

Career Source

Are Your Ducks in a Row?

Katz, Barbara

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000359185.75606.21

    The season for job searching kicks off in late August and goes through the holidays. The next season starts in mid- to late January when everyone scrambles for the remaining jobs and takes a shot at new opportunities that have hit the market.

    There will be many employment opportunities to go around again this year, but only a small portion will be really great opportunities. If you want to be counted among the winners in that area, you need to get your ducks in a row early.

    Duck 1: Goal Setting

    If the job itself is your top priority, you will need to figure out which practice type best suits your talents and career vision. Will you consider only a private group with partnership opportunity? Will you consider an employee situation? What elements of the practice profile are most important to you? Volume and trauma level, EMS involvement, a broad range of specialty backup, ultrasound, electronic medical records, teaching, research? These are the criteria that will drive your search and eventually determine where you live and what you earn. Write a wish list with the items in order of importance. As you interview, be prepared to swap them around as you become more informed about what is available.

    Once you've determined your practice needs, it's time to think about location and lifestyle. You will need to include family members who will be affected by your move. If you have a spouse or significant other who will be looking for employment, set your priorities by which job will provide the highest wages and which will be difficult to get. Once you've evaluated them, search for the most important and difficult position first. This can be quite difficult so both sides should be prepared to sacrifice. If you are both emergency physicians, you can market yourself as a team, but don't expect to work the same shifts. Emergency physicians who play together rarely work together.

    Whatever the scenario, try to keep your geographic boundaries as broad as possible, and remember that the lifestyle you want is available in more than one place. If your location choices are based on proximity to family and history, that will be of prime interest to a potential employer. They are looking for physicians with long-term staying power, and that is most often achieved with community roots.

    If you decide that income is numero uno, it's fine to make earnings the primary goal of your search. Check out Texas, land of the big paycheck, and the Midwest, especially Wisconsin and Illinois but not Ohio or Minnesota. The lowest areas are the Pacific Northwest and the Middle Atlantic states. There is one prime directive you have to follow here: If the dollars are huge, the risk will often be as big. Know what you are getting into, and what you will get out of it before you sign on the dotted line.

    Whichever area you deem most important, understand that it will drive the other two. Most choose location and lifestyle as the primary goal. Understand that you will have to accept the practice profiles and incomes available in the locations you target, and income levels vary widely from state to state.

    Duck 2: Time Frame

    This little duck is the enemy of procrastinators everywhere. Set your time frame for interviewing and signing a contract, and do your best to stick to it. The best jobs tend to go first so you may want to shoot for a signed contract by the holidays. If you are looking at tough rotations this year, you might consider waiting till January.

    Some states take as long as six months to convey licenses, so know the time frame for licensing in the states you target. The other thing you need to consider is that you have a small window of opportunity for interviewing. If you get your CVs out in September and schedule interviews for October, be ready to make a decision by early November.

    Employers want signed contracts, not maybes. If you keep looking, so will they. Most will give you an offer with a two-week deadline. If you are planning multiple interviews, try to schedule them close together to ease the timing for decision-making.

    Duck 3: The CV

    I've written many articles on CV creation (EMN 2006;28[6]:46;, and I will be teaching a course on that again this year at ACEP's Scientific Assembly in October. Do your research, and create a winning CV that will attract potential employers.

    The most important factors of a great CV are format, content, and chronology. Never use a font smaller than 12 point, make your formatting clear and easy to read, and don't worry about the number of pages; just try to be reasonable. The average for a recent graduate is two. Make sure your dates are separated from the text, and there are no gaps. As far as content, hit the highlights, and don't sweat the small stuff. If you received awards during your training, they need to be on your CV. Your camp counselor job from your junior year in college doesn't. Don't waste space describing your residency rotations; prospective employers have been there and know the drill. If you had medical work experience prior to medical school, add it in under “Prior Work Experience.” If it's nonmedical and took place after your undergraduate years, list it under “Additional Work Experience.”

    Lots of smaller items like research and presentations posters can be lumped together under “Professional Activities.” Most doctors leave out personal information, but including it separates you from the crowd. This is an opportunity to list interests, hobbies, sports, spouse and family, and languages. Many a job has gone to the candidate who rang a bell of familiarity with a prospective employer. Chronologically, always start with most recent, and work your way back.

    Duck 4: The Cover Letter

    My guide to cover letters also can be found in the EMN archives. (2006; 28[7]:40; It is also part of the syllabus for the Scientific Assembly CV writing course, and has been a part of the workbook for my residency program seminar, “Effective Job Searching.” A strong cover letter opens many doors without stepping on toes.

    A few key items: If you are being referred to a prospective employer, have the referrer's name in the first sentence. Never open with a question; the answer could be no. Keep it short and to the point, but be target-specific so it doesn't come off like a form letter. State why you are interested in the job, why they should be interested in you, when you are available to interview, and when you intend to call them to follow up. Always leave the ball in your court.

    Once your ducks are in a row, get ready to jump into the deep water. Swim strong, and keep your head above water!

    EMN Online in Your Inbox

    Whether you like Dr. Edwin Leap's musings, Dr. Timothy Jang's case studies, or Anne Scheck's humor column, EMN now offers you exclusive content online.

    Sign up for EMN Online alerts at to get a heads-up on our newest articles.

    © 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.