Resume Red Flags

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.

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,” says Kim Bell, MD, FACP, SFHM, regional medical director of the Pacific West Region for EmCare, a Dallas-based company that provides outsourced physician services to more than 500 hospitals in 40 states. “It doesn’t necessarily rule them out.”

Preempt Suspicion

For hospitalists, 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.
Everyone wants to know that you have learned from your mistakes. Try to have a demonstrated remediation of the concern and go above and beyond the minimum requirements.

—Cheryl O’Malley, MD, FACP, program director, Department of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix

When recruiters or employers notice a red flag, they look for other problems to see if patterns emerge and to discern if the applicant exhibited bad judgment, has character flaws, or shows an inability to learn from a mistake, says Jeff Kaplan, PhD, MBA, MCC, a licensed psychologist and Philadelphia-based executive coach whose clients include healthcare 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,” says Alpesh Amin, MD, MBA, FACP, SFHM, professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine and executive director of the hospitalist program at the University of California at Irvine.

By explaining the situation, Dr. Bell says, the hospitalist doesn’t give the employer a chance to guess a reason for the red flag—and potentially guess wrong.

“There’s a big difference between there’s been some sort of serious censure and they’ve been driven out, versus they thought another setting might be more interesting or they just wanted to make a geographic move,” says 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.”

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