"Dear Sir," a job-hunting doctor once wrote to us. "Word[s] cannot express what an asset I would be to your hospital." Then he signed his name. End of letter. Not surprisingly, he never got the chance to explain what made him an asset, because we never called him for an interview.
Such carelessness just doesn't cut it in today's highly competitive physician marketplace. Groups, hospitals, and HMOs place great store in first impressions-nearly always your curriculum vitae and its cover letter. If those documents don't pass muster, few employers will invest the time and money to interview you in person.
Nor will physician recruiters do their best work for you. At any one time, they're typically job-hunting for dozens of doctors. Those with well-written electronic documents go to the top of the stack. Sloppy and ill-thought-out CVs and cover letters go in the computer’s recycling bin.
At our firm, we used to try to improve a physician's substandard documents, retyping them on our company stationery before sending them out. Not anymore. Prospective employers now want only originals, not doctored copies. So knowing how to organize and present your thoughts on paper is a must. Here's how.
Prepare a cover letter that gets attention
In a few deft brush strokes, a cover letter must convey who you are as a doctor and a person. Follow these rules:
- Keep it one to two pages-the shorter, the better
- If you must print it, use good-quality bond, not cheap photocopy paper. The color should be white or off-white
- Set the top and bottom margins at one inch, the left and right margins at an inch and a half
- Type the letter single-spaced, with double-spacing between paragraphs. Keep paragraphs short: about five or six lines each. Longer is harder to read.
- Express one thought per paragraph. Open with a general statement-for example, you're a productive physician-then cite specifics to support it. Write concisely, and you can pack a lot of information into your five-to-six-line limit.
- For the type, choose a 12-point size, and stick with black
- Address your letter to an individual by name at the prospective employer's or physician recruiter's firm. "To whom it may concern" letters are responded to last, if at all. If you don't know whom to contact, phone the organization and ask for a suggestion.
- Spell out your general employment objectives. But avoid being too specific. If your objectives seem to conflict with a prospective employer's, you won't get an interview-and the chance to discover that you're a good match after all.
- Sketch your current work environment. Include your experience, if relevant. How many health-plan patients do you now have? Are they capitated? If your productivity-as measured in patients seen per day or revenue generated-is impressive, cite those numbers.
- What's your philosophy for caring for managed-care patients. The preferred answer: You believe in a continuum of care for all patients, not just in treating disease. If you've received high scores on patient-satisfaction surveys, cite them.
- Highlight your strengths-not just your clinical skills, but also your leadership ability and people skills. Be enthusiastic. Try to convey your zest for medicine and helping patients.
- Mention personal interests and hobbies, which help to humanize you and can be used as topics of conversation during an interview. If you're drawn to the employer's locale-you love the outdoors, say, and the organization is in Wyoming-note it.
Write a CV that's clear and well-organized
Your CV should be a spare, factual presentation of your professional history and accomplishments. Unlike a business executive's résumé, which summarizes job responsibilities in detail, a CV needs to include them only if they aren't obvious. Our advice:
- It should be two to three pages, tops.
- Choose the same paper, type, and margin settings used for your cover letter.
- Center your name, address, mobile phone, and email address on top.
- List your educational chronology. Dates-from most recent to least-on the left; institutions in the center; and degrees, residencies, and fellowships; on the right.
- Give the details of your licensure and certification.
- Cite your work experience, with dates on the left; employers, positions, and special responsibilities on the right. A common mistake: noting responsibilities and skills separately at the top of the CV, then listing employers, positions, and dates later. Combine them. It's clearer.
- Fill in any gaps in your work history. We know of employers that recently interviewed two doctors with longtime gaps on their CVs. Both, it turned out, had been in federal prison-one for tax fraud, the other for murder! Be sure to account for all your time.
- If you have significant committee experience, cite committee names, dates, and goals. Briefly describe your roles.
- If you've had professional articles published, indicate the publications, and note that they're available on request. If you're trying for an academic job, list article titles, publications, and dates.
- Mention your honors and awards. If you were tapped for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society, or selected as chief resident, include it. These honors are meaningful and impressive.
- List three to four professional references: names, titles, organizations, addresses, and phone numbers. If you're a resident, best bets are your chief resident, program director, and attending physician you interact with. Fellow residents, nurses, and medical staff are considered personal, not professional, references.
- Retire the line, "References are available on request." Naming names says that those people will speak well of you. Ask their permission first, though, and get a general idea of what they'll say.
- Forget pre-written references with the general salutation, "To whom it may concern." They carry little weight.
And please, proofread your cover letter and CV carefully! Misspellings, grammatical errors, unclear language, poor organization, and formatting blunders such as misaligned columns or inconsistencies in spacing look sloppy and inevitably reflect poorly on your clinical competence