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Between jobs: the search for a management position.

Between Jobs: The Search for a Management Position

In October 1988, my boss and I agreed to let my contract as medical director expire on its anniversary date. Two months later, I found myself in a peculiar limbo, with no employment in sight. My experiences may expedite the search process for others who face the same situation.

First Considerations [1,2]

When does one realize that it's time to begin the search for a new position? Probably when it's apparent that even going to work is a chore. The stress level is intolerable, the job expectations don't match yours, or, to paraphrase Churchill, you are "either worked to death, worried to death, or bored to death." It's wise to keep one's resume updated and, if your whole work environment seems unsatisfactory, to prepare a "stop loss" point beyond which you'll look for another job.

Before leaving a position, you are strongly advised to weigh many factors. Can the present situation be changed to make it satisfactory? What needs revision? Consider the ideal type of employment for you and try hard to design it. Match that design with what you have or consider what you might gain (or lose) by leaving your present post. Begin evaluating your own marketability, a process alien to most physicians. Do you have skills and accomplishments that are transferrable to another health care system or institution? If so, list them, emphasizing real benefits to your present employer that were achieved through your efforts. Be honest. Admit the possibility that you really want a career change, away from medical management.

Clearly, many health care organizations are extremely conservative, so the following are perceived as handicaps": age, limited management experience or training, or some record of adverse actions? Have you already been unemployed for more than six months? If so, some prospective employers will be reluctant to consider you, so concentrate efforts on those who do not perceive such factors as handicaps. Are you willing to market and sell yourself as if you were a commodity in order to convince someone to hire you? Be prepared for the culture shock of a "marketing campaign," as it is aptly named, and for the fact that you will be competing with your peers for any new position you seek. Finally, anticipate a search that may well take 4 to 12 months. (The usual figure is one month for each $10,000 of salary.) Can you afford it financially and emotionally?

Consider the following emotional effects of being unemployed: the empty time (both a sabbatical and a challenge), the humbling effect of standing in an unemployment line, the loss of some control over your life, "exile" from associates, existence on a tight budget, waiting for calls, following up on contacts, and the loss of the multiple insurance coverages and other benefits of your present compensation package. Unemployment tests all the resources you and your family have and is not a bad foretaste of retirement. It can also be quite depressing to exchange stress for rejection, but keeping occupied with a marketing campaign, volunteer work, part-time employment, or hobbies helps to alleviate the feelings of idleness, inadequacy, and anxiety. Alternatively, part-time employment makes a positive impression on prospective employers.

Just as important, evaluate the effect that nemployment will have on your wife and children. They must cope with having an "unemployed man around the house," while all of you face the mild stigma attached to your unemployment. Also consider the problem caused when the regular major family provider receives no pay-check or fringe benefits.

Implementing the Decision

to Leave [1]

If you definitely decide to leave, several more factors come into play. Ask yourself what type of help you need in order to find a new executive position, and understand that there are "outplacement firms" and search firms." An outplacement firm markets you, the client, while a search firm works for a hospital or system trying to match it with likely candidates. There are advantages and disadvantages to conducting your own campaign. You may save the marketing fee (several thousand dollars), but most of us don't know how to present ourselves in the best possible way, nor do we know how to tap into the "hidden market" during a search. Many job hunters lose time looking in obvious places, and most positions are quite definitely not found there. Therefore, seriously consider using an outplacement firm. Some employers, such as my last one, are willing to help pay that fee, while organizations that hire top executives may also help, provided they aren't already bearing the expense of a search firm. A good outplacement firm helps you analyze and present your accomplishments and write resumes that look and sound professional and appealing. It trains you in marketing techniques and prepares you for job interviews. I found one that guarantees to work with the client until he finds a position, and the many methods it taught me justified the cost. Such firms won't find jobs for you, because the campaign decisions are yours alone, requiring your daily effort and thought. Nor are most of them knowledgeable about the health care market.

To search while working risks discovery and having your boss terminate you. However, to leave first and look second batters the ego and strains the wallet. Ideally, one leaves after accepting another offer.

Regardless of your choices, the time for self-scrutiny has arrived. Establish carefully the design for your ideal job, required salary range, willingness to travel/move, and all the "musts" that are important to you. Write out all the accomplishments that you have achieved during your life, a process that is good for one's self-confidence at a time when it may need support. In addition, evaluate honestly the weaknesses that may have reduced your effectiveness as a physician executive. Select accomplishments that add value to you as a prospective employee, and learn to use that list constantly, adapting it to the requirements of the situations in which you find yourself. Such items enhance your resume and provide vivid examples of ways in which you have been a problem-solver.

Another key item is a personal, yet succinct, "Mission Statement" of your job experience and how it qualifies you for the career objectives you have established. Such a statement can be mailed with your resume or used in an interview, especially in reply to the loaded opening question, "Tell us about yourself."

Next there is the resume. Most physicians have experience only in writing the "obituary" resume. "Here lies Dr. X, born in...on.... He attended...and is a graduate of...." Although your background is important, and probably impressive, it will generally not be your main entree to a new position. Your new resume, prepared with the help of experts such as those in an outplacement firm, must combine your career goals with your most significant accomplishments and qualifications in order to attract favorable attention. There are good and bad ways to use the resume. The usual mistake is to send out resumes blindly to anyone who might conceivably be interested, only to have your presentation rejected, possibly even unread or ignored.

Networking

Networking is a hackneyed term, but a key concept. Most jobs are obtained through the "hidden" (unadvertised) market, and networking takes you there. Used correctly, networking involves contacting friends, associates, and relatives, because people are generous about assisting someone who seeks only the help provided by their information. To ask to be employed is to risk drying up your sources indefinitely. Initial contacts can be made by letter or phone, followed up if necessary by a call to arrange a meeting. A personal meeting is recommended, but distance may dictate a meeting by phone. The purpose of the meeting is to obtain additional background material about the organization that employs your contact or to get the names of others who may know of an opportunity for you. The desired result is contact with a hospital, company, or system by which you might wish to be employed.

In order to build a network one needs the names of systems or hospitals that are likely to want your services. Table 1, page 28, provides one such list. Contacting such sources involves an active campaign that includes writing, calling, arranging meetings, and perpetuating your visibility, not merely sending out resumes and awaiting responses. Always send a brief handwritten note of thanks very promptly to anyone who helps you. Also, maintain a log of all contacts, using a database if one is available (table 2, page 28).

Interviews

Be prepared for rejection. Fewer than half of your contacts will lead to progress. That will be no reflection on your ability, only on the realities of the market. Searches move extremely slowly. If you are invited to an interview it will be one of two general types. [3] There is the Search Interview, usually conducted by a search firm, either in person or by phone. The interviewer is a trained professional who will be probing largely to determine if there are any reasons to reject you, lest he or she present a mismatched candidate to the firm's client. The Job Interview is usually conducted by individuals or groups who are not trained in interview techniques but who are interested in determining what kind of a person you are, whether you would fit into their organization, and what distinguishes you from your competitors. Knowing the difference between these two types of interview helps you adjust your attitude in advance. Ready yourself as thoroughly as if you were going to be interviewed by a highly trained professional, and then be confident of your responses.

Key preparation techniques include developing answers to questions most commonly asked; "researching" the organization by requesting and studying copies of its bylaws, mission statement, and annual report; obtaining and memorizing the names of all those who will be interviewing you; and developing a list of pertinent questions for them. You then arrive informed about many of the organization's characteristics and able to demonstrate your interest in its operations, and you have a lead over those who haven't thought to do so. Learn about dress, body language, and protocol for business interviews. It is hardly possible to overanticipate, and you are provided the same self-assurance associated with thorough preparation for any important examination. The impression you make will improve significantly.

Answer questions positively, honestly, and concisely. Here is an opportunity to use examples of your past accomplishments to demonstrate your skill as a problem-solver and as a leader.

Fitness

Unemployment can flatten your health and your self-image. This is a time to counteract your vulnerability by making every effort to maintain your best physical and emotional conditioning. It is a time for self-analysis and also a time to evaluate every job prospect and every job offer critically, a process that will defend you against the temptation to accept your first offer out of gratitude rather than out of choice. Accepting a new position because of desperation benefits neither you nor your employer.

Negotiations [4]

Think in terms of a salary range based on research you have done on the fair market value of your services, set it firmly in advance, and discuss it initially only with search firms. Try to find out the range that your prospective boss has in mind. Never broach the subject of salary in an interview unless you are actually offered employment. Once a position is offered, establish the salary first, then the benefits. That moment is crucial. The tendency is to accept terms without negotiating. This is your best opportunity to bargain for the conditions you want and can reasonably expect to get. Request that the offer be in writing and, if possible, in the form of a contract.

Conclusions

As executives, we learn that there are times to take calculated risks. Changing jobs is one of them, but such a major decision must be considered very carefully. Start with extensive self-evaluation to determine not only your strengths and weaknesses, but those of your present position. Then rank your priorities for change. Ask, is it likely that I can accomplish the changes I seek, and am I willing to spend months working for them? Next, prepare a resume that will interest those who read it. Do thorough research on the market, and contact anyone, however remotely associated with you, in order to establish your availability and to gather the names of other contacts. Prepare for interviewing, rejection, competition, and negotiation. Finally, after you have obtained the best position for yourself, maintain a basic network of contacts, because it may eventually lead to future employment that would advance your career.

References

[1] Bolles, R. "What Is the Color of Your Parachute?" Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1990.

[2] Zey, M. "The Right Move--How to Find the Perfect Job." New York, N.Y.: Ivy Books, 1987.

[3] Medley, H. "Sweaty Palms--the Neglected Art of Being Interviewed." Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1984.

[4] Kennedy, M. "Getting the Job You Want, and the Money You're Worth." Tampa, Fla.: American College of Physician Executives, 1987.

Amory M. Sommaripa, MD, is a practicing physician in Collegeville, Pa. He remains eager to return to the medical management battlefield, meanwhile doing health care consulting on credentialing and quality assurance, both independently and for contract organizations. He is an Associate Member of the College's Forum on Quality Health Care.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:physician executives; includes list for further reading
Author:Sommaripa, Amory M.
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Words:2231
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