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Resume Red Flags

From: The Hospitalist, February 2012

Recognize warning signs, mitigate damage, and promote your positives

by Lisa Ryan

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.”

Applicants with resume red flags should show that they’ve taken responsibility for what happened and grown from the experience, say Dr. Thorsheim and Cheryl O’Malley, MD, FACP, program director in the department of internal medicine and pediatrics at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.

“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,” Dr. O’Malley says. “For example, if the red flag is academic concerns or not passing your board exams, then bring in documentation of your schedule for reading daily and all of the CME and MKSAP you complete. If it is interpersonal issues, then give examples of recent successes that show how you have improved.”

Brand Recognition

Physicians with a resume blemish should concentrate on highlighting their strengths and “branding” themselves as a workplace contributor, says 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, as it will demonstrate they have skills that set them apart from others.

“What people are really looking for is what did you do and what was the result,” Norz says. “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 advises. 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,” says 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 you will be given a greater chance to sell your strengths and explain weaknesses, says 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 says.

Attitude Matters

But before a hospitalist or any applicant with a resume shortcoming begins to look for a job, they must resolve the issue internally, Dr. Kaplan notes. 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 says. “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 is positivity, Dunagan says. 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 says. “So present yourself in the best possible light.”

Lisa Ryan is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

Help! My Employer Has A Bad Reputation

Your resume is free of red flags, but what do you do if your current employer isn’t well regarded in the profession? Will your employer’s reputation affect your job prospects?

“There’s no masking or disguising who you work for,” Dunagan says. “What’s most important is putting down in the most powerful way possible your achievements and your skills, using words that are as powerful as possible.”

Prospective employers might want to know what the hospitalist has learned from their experience of working for a practice that doesn’t have a good reputation, Dr. Bell says. “It doesn’t necessarily rule them out,” she says. “The question is, Do they have insight into what are the challenges in the practice?”

If a recruiter or employer directly asks an applicant why they’re working in a certain hospital or practice, it’s helpful for the applicant to have an explanation that promotes their skills and positive qualities, Dr. Thorsheim says. For example, a physician can make the case, for example, that it’s an underserved area where there’s a need for talented people who aren’t intimidated by challenges, he says.

Applicants also should avoid speaking negatively of their current employer, Dunagan cautions. “That’s a very bad thing to do, even if everybody else thinks the employer is terrible,” she says. “Throwing your employer under the bus does not show a very good trait.”


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