While there are universal truths that apply to every industry when it comes to job hunting and interviewing, all industries have different expectations of what makes an ideal candidate.
For health IT professionals, matching your hard skills and experience to an organization that advances your personal goals can be difficult. Once you find an organization you want to apply to, you’ll want to make sure you are doing everything possible to present yourself well throughout the hiring process.
Two key aspects of a successful job pursuit are the first impression you make with your resume and how you are perceived during an interview. Following a recent HIMSS Early Careerist Webinar titled “Shape Your Resume and Solve Your Interview Mistakes” led by independent career consultant Bonnie Siegel, we’ve compiled some do’s and don’ts that could be the difference between success and failure in your health IT job search.
Finding Your Place in Health IT
Siegel kicked off the webinar by outlining the current health IT job landscape, which includes a diverse range of employers including hospitals and health systems, academic medical centers, consulting firms, software vendors, biotech and research companies, pharmaceutical companies, physician offices and professional associations.
“When you’re looking at where you are in your career, what you want to do is focus on what type of organization you want to go to. Are you looking for non-profit? Are you wanting a large metro area? These are things you have to keep in mind,” Siegel said, noting that job site Indeed.com currently has over 50,000 health IT jobs posted, over half of which are entry level.
“Expand your horizons. You have to be open to some serendipity and be willing to expose yourself to new areas. While doing so you need to be evaluating yourself. What are your goals and what can you handle? LinkedIn has over 6,500 health IT jobs posted, many of them with for-profit companies. What fits for you? Are you more likely to succeed in a fast-paced, cutthroat, type A, results-driven place? Or would you do better in something slower, maybe more research-based?”
Part of identifying your best fit is a candid self-assessment, evaluating both your hard and soft skills.
Hard skills, according to Siegel are “learned, innate and most often associated with experience.” From a health IT point of view, your knowledge of clinical applications, implementations, writing ability, planning skills and public speaking would all be examples of hard skills.
Soft skills, on the other hand, relate to your interpersonal style and ability to fit with a corporate culture. These traits are heavily sought out by executives and can be what gets you hired. They have the power to make or break an interview. Ideal soft skills are displayed by those that have courage, are good listeners and communicate well.
Your resume is your first opportunity to show you can express yourself clearly and concisely in a written format.
Your should have a visually attractive layout with an executive summary, conservative font style sized between 10- and 12-point while using lots of white space and margins. Don’t pick a flashy or fun font.
“Healthcare IT is a conservative industry,” Siegel said. “Play into that with your resume. Have it be interesting, but no graphics or unusual fonts. Use something like Calibri or Arial, a clean looking font. Times New Roman was fine in the past, but it’s a little bit older looking now.”
Your background, included in the executive summary, should be expressed to include keywords that will signify your experience to a health IT audience. By using words that are commonly used in job postings you can also increase your chances of getting past resume scanning systems. This doesn’t mean buzzwords, but rather things that are specific to health IT and that an employer would find attractive. Tell a quick story about yourself using no more than 3-4 sentences.
The rest of the first page can be filled with work experience. After the usual entries of company name, location and dates of employment, you should include a brief description of that employer.
“This is a great way to brand yourself,” Siegel said. “Then under that description, use bullet points with an action verb as the first word and describe your accomplishments, not your responsibilities. The resume is a marketing tool and it has to emphasize your skills and abilities through your education and experience. People turn away many great candidates because of poorly written resumes full of opinions, typos, things like that. They want clear sentences, clear spelling, no asides.”
In health IT, specific product names, vendors you have worked with and software you know well are all good things to include.
When it comes to holes in your professional timeline, do not let them go unexplained. If you took two years to pursue a dream of owning your own business, be sure to include that information. That time in your life says something about you.
“Include everything that means something to you. Treat everything in your life and career as important because it might be important to the person reading it,” Siegel said. “Someone may not want to put the first 10 years of their work experience because they think it might show their age. That’s ridiculous. You may want to compress that time period but include it.”
Your resume should conclude with education, professional certifications and special skills. One thing you should not list is personal references unless they are asked for. These will typically be requested if you proceed far enough into the interview process. Your resume by now is likely 2-3 pages long, so you don’t want to increase its length any more with references that aren’t yet needed.
Before you send your resume, have it reviewed several times by colleagues. If you are applying to a company where you know someone, have that person review it and make suggestions for how you might re-write it to better fit what that organization is looking for. Lastly, edit out any flowery language.
Sending Your Resume
Just as important as the content of the resume is how you disseminate it. Always submit a resume by email and print out copies to bring to an interview.
Try to find the name of the person responsible for hiring at the prospective employer. Avoid sending an email with a resume attached that is addressed to “To whom it may concern.”
If you must send your resume to a human resources department in general, try to find out the names of people in that department and address them directly.
You’ve probably had at least a few job interviews in your time, so you should already know that you’ll want to have your appearance in order, stay off your phone, practice a firm handshake and make eye contact when you speak. But as you aim to make a lasting impression, there are other factors to take into consideration.
“Be prepared for any question,” Siegel said. “Know your accomplishments and be able to speak to situations, tasks, actions you’ve taken and results you’ve achieved. When you’re talking to someone, it should be you talking less than them. Take a small amount of time to answer, not five minutes.”
Asking questions is also important. It’s not only an opportunity to address any concerns you may have, it’s also a way of showing your interest in the company and engaging the interviewer further.
“If you have questions at the end, take some time with them and ask as many 10-15 questions.” said Siegel.
Follow up the interview by sending an email or even a handwritten note. If they don’t get back to you right away, don’t panic or get discouraged. You’ll want to follow up again as persistence shows your interest. Just don’t be so persistent that you become a nuisance to the potential employer.