Address These Potential Errors

In today's show, John describes why a nonclinical job search is so frustrating and unproductive at times. And he suggests ways to overcome those frustrations. 

It can feel like we’re bogged down and not making any progress once we’ve decided to pursue that first nonclinical position.

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Why Your Job Search Is So Frustrating

Part of the explanation is that we may be expecting too much. When making such a drastic move the path is often not as straightforward as we’re expecting. And we must learn a whole new set of skills.

Common frustrations result from NOT doing the following:

  1. Fully committing to the process,
  2. Addressing your self-limiting beliefs,
  3. Devoting insufficient time to the process,
  4. Narrowing our search to one specific job,
  5. Obtaining new skills to demonstrate your commitment,
  6. Finding and engaging a mentor or two,
  7. Growing your network and finding a sponsor at each company,
  8. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile, and,
  9. Converting your CV to a winning resumé.

Reflect on These Possible Barriers

If you're months into your job search and have submitted hundreds of resumés online with no response, you may have glossed over one of the above steps. And you'll find your job search is so frustrating at times.

Consider each step and determine which one might be undermining your efforts. The ones that I see limiting forward progress most often are not focusing like a laser on one specific job, and failing to identify a sponsor at each company that interests you.


Pursuing a first nonclinical job requires a number of new skills. Consider each step carefully since a weak link in the process of identifying, pursuing, and landing that first job can undermine the whole process.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode. 

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 290

Why Your Nonclinical Job Search Is So Frustrating and Unproductive

John: Let's talk about the content of today's episode. Let's say you've made a decision to leave clinical practice, and you've taken the steps necessary to identify some possible jobs, narrow them down, search through a variety of job listings, and submitted your resume to accompany your recruiter's website.

But in spite of submitting dozens of resumes, it's just crickets. No response other than an occasional acknowledgement that the resume was received. But no one is offering you an interview, even a screening interview. So, let's talk today about why that might be.

But I want to set the stage a little bit more tightly here in the sense that we're talking about leaving clinical medicine or nursing or another clinical field for a job that does not include direct patient care. That's what we're talking about in terms of a nonclinical or non-traditional job. But we're not talking about those of you who are starting your own freelance consulting, medical writing, or coaching business. I'm talking about the situation where you're looking for a nonclinical position in which you're employed by usually a medium to large size corporation, such as an insurance company, hospital or hospital system, a pharma company, a contract research organization, or even a consulting firm, or a large publishing company.

This is the formal process of finding a job and trying to apply and then get your first interview. That's the timeframe we're talking about. And I have talked to several people, many people who have gone through that process for month after month, have submitted dozens if not hundreds of resumes, and have received no kind of follow up other than an acknowledgement. So, what the heck could be going wrong in that situation? Because it just sounds like you're just spinning your wheels.

So, let's start at the very beginning. Things that might be going on that are keeping you from moving forward. Now, there's this whole category of mindset. Do you have the commitment? Have you already addressed the self-limiting beliefs? Have you gone through and convinced yourself that some of the myths around nonclinical jobs are false?

I'll talk about the myths related to physicians, which we've done an entire episode on before. But again, just quickly, it's things like the fact that there's no jobs out there. I don't have enough education. I need another degree. I'm going to be abandoning my patients. I can't make enough to pay my bills in a nonclinical job, or my gravitas or my reputation will be adversely affected. I won't be a doctor anymore.

Well, we've already dispelled all of those in past episodes. There are plenty of jobs. You have 70 to 80% of the necessary skills you need to become a medical director or physician advisor, or a chief medical officer or chief medical information officer or chief quality officer. You have to get past these mindset issues, and we've talked about that before.

And the other thing is, you really have to make that commitment. There's a difference between being upset, being burnt out, being dissatisfied, but at some point, you've got to say, "Okay, I've had enough and I'm going to keep working. I'm not going to burn my bridges, but I'm going to set time aside to really work on this problem." You can't do this spending a few minutes a week or an hour every two weeks trying to do some research, pick a job, do your application. It takes more time than that.

That's what I mean by commitments. It's the mental commitment and it's the actual time commitment. So you have to block time out. It could be two hours a week, it could be 30 minutes a day, but there's a lot of steps you have to go through before you can really make this process move forward. Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels.

So, how much time can you set aside and can you put that on your calendar? Now, if you're working a full-time job and you're working 40, 50, 60 hours a week, it's going to be difficult. But you might have to just take part of Saturday or Sunday when you're hopefully not on call or whatever day during the week that you have off and not really be doing your charts and things like that. And really set this time aside to do some of the other things I'm going to be talking about in the next 15 minutes.

The other part of that commitment is if you're really committed. You have to see if maybe you can carve out some time in your current job. Go to your boss, go to your manager and say, "Look, I signed up to work 40, 50 hours a week. I am spending 65, 70 hours a week with all the charting I have to do and the meetings and other things that are going on. That's not really fair. So, I need to pull back, but still within my contract so that I can free up time to do other things that I need to do, that I want to do."

And so, you just need to have a, a, a conversation with that person that's responsible for your schedule, if it's not you and carve out some extra time. Full-time job should not take 80 hours or 70 hours a week. It just shouldn't. Now, if you're in private practice and you run the practice and you're the owner of the practice, that's going to be tough, but I think you're going to have to say, "Look it, we're closing on Friday afternoons. We're not going to be open every week."

Now, what are you going to do at that time once you've made the commitment and you've convinced yourself it's doable and it can happen, and that you have the requisite skills? Well, there's some things you need to look at. You need to do some research early on, and this is not to just find the jobs that you are going to apply to. In other words, you're not just looking "Okay, I'm going to find them. That sounds really good, and I'm going to apply." No, you need to do significant research during that time that you've blocked out.

That research needs to be, "What do these jobs entail?" You have to get it called down to a small number of possible jobs. You have to read about these jobs online. Go to Facebook groups, get a book on nonclinical career careers, or at least five or six really good books. Talk to your friends and find out what the jobs entail, and then narrow it down to two or three.

And before you get real serious for applying this one job we're talking about, you got to get it down to one. So, let's say you want to try medical science liaison or another pharma job, or maybe a job in the hospital setting. What jobs are available? You look up physician advisor in a hospital, you look up medical director, you look up a medical director and pharma, and try and look at those job descriptions, not because you're looking for the one you want to apply for now, it's because you want to see what the keywords in those jobs are and what does the job entail. Can I work four days a week? Can I do it from home, or do I have to travel? And that kind of thing.

And so, get a sense of what's out there, and then try and narrow it down. And then once you narrow it down, do some other things. If you've got to narrow it down to one job, let's say you want to become an MSL. I'll use it as an example, because we talk about that all the time. We've done several podcasts on that. Then you need to find an MSL or two to be a mentor. And then you might consider looking at a professional organization that serves MSLs. And there's a good one that actually will teach you how to become an MSL. And there are books on becoming an MSL.

And this is true as a medical writer for a CRO or a pharma company. This is true if you're a medical director for a hospital. There are resources to learn what the job entails. And once you've got a sense that, okay, it's in person and it's 09:00 to 05:00 five days a week, that's one thing. If it's remote, it's at home on my own time, that's another thing. If I'm going to be traveling, that's another thing. How much travel is required? Try to get those things down path and your understanding and really pick the one to go for.

Now, it may not be the one you ultimately choose to take, and maybe once you get into the process, you're going to have to reassess and then shift gears and go to another job. But you only want to go after one at a time. So, now while you're in the process of doing that, you need to find that mentor that's going to tell you more about the job, how they got their job, pitfalls to avoid and so forth.

If you haven't done that and you don't have a mentor, then you're really going to be going into it blind. So, definitely you need a mentor. Maybe you found out that you need a certificate or some additional training. It can just be classes, it can be courses through the AAPL, it can be courses through a professional society, or it can actually be a bona fide, let's say 10 hour course with a certificate exam at the end, something like that. And this all can add to your resume. So you got to think about that.

And then get that additional experience and training while you're going through this process by either volunteering on a nonprofit or volunteering on committees so that you can get some experience, whether it's with quality on a quality committee, whether it's about policies and procedures, whether it is something about project planning on a committee that's putting in a new service line or something like that in the hospital. Or even on a nonprofit they'll have some project planning committees that you may be able to function on and learn from. You're doing all these things simultaneously. And that's where you're saying aside the five hours every two weeks or two or three hours a week to really do your research, find out what's out there, and then narrow in.

Now while you're doing all that and you're working with your mentor, once it's down to one area, now you need to go back and look at those job descriptions again, only this time for the specific position you want to apply for. If it's a remote position, it could be anywhere in the country. If it's in person, then you're going to need to find something either close to where you live or you're going to have to think about relocating if it's worth doing.

Most medical communication companies, for example, are in larger metropolitan areas. So if you're out in the country, you might have to move closer to city like New York, LA, Chicago, or even any big city. It doesn't have to be a multi-million-person city, but a metropolitan area. It could be Austin, it could be anything. The capital of most states are pretty big, but you want to see if they have one of those companies located there because you got to make some plans about actually moving.

Once you've resolved that issue, you should already be working on setting up your LinkedIn profile.

And you want a profile that's complete. And if it's not, and if it doesn't include some kind of description of what you're looking for, that's the first place someone is going to go to look if they're serious about hiring you. They may not look up every applicant on LinkedIn, but at some point they're going to actually probably look you up on lots of social media to see if you've done anything stupid, to see if maybe there's something out there that's embarrassing or shows something that might be alarming to an employer.

I won't get into the details of that, but look at all those sites and then make sure that your LinkedIn profile is 100% complete, has some of those keywords and a good description of what you're looking for. Unless your current employer might see that, in which case you might have to be a little bit more subtle about your profile on LinkedIn.

Then the next thing. Now you're looking for jobs, you've identified the type of job that you want and you've identified the region of the country you might need to work in. And then you're looking at the specific job listings, and you're really going to look to see if this is a job that you want to pursue. And when you do that, figure out the company.

And now you have to do more networking, your own network, the networks of your network contacts, first degree, secondary, third degree. It's just like in LinkedIn. You've got your first degree, and your second degree, and that's how you extend your network. You want to meet new people doing that job or having something to do with that job and whatever industry you're looking for. And then you have to reach out to some of them to see, "Okay, what's going on at that company? I've looked at this job description, I'm kind of interested. I see that you work there. I wonder if we could get on the phone or even just chat by email for a few minutes so I can get a little more information."

And somehow what you want to do ideally is to find a sponsor. I use that word for different things. If you're employed, let's say in a hospital and you want to move up the ranks into management, then you need a sponsor within that hospital or any other company that will help get the word out inside the organization that you're available, that you're interested, that you're capable, and those sorts of things. That's what we call a sponsor within a company.

But a sponsor when you're trying to break into a company is someone in that company who is either involved directly with the HR department, the hiring manager, or something like that, or even another person who's currently working in that company that can help be your sponsor, say, "Hey, I've got this colleague, I've got this friend, I've got this, cousin. I've got this associate that I know is really good at what they do. They're thinking of moving into this. In fact, they've committed themselves to moving into this particular industry. They've looked at a couple of our jobs, and I wonder, can I make sure that you get this colleague of mine, their resume? Can I make sure that you've at least looked at it? Is there something I need to do? Is there someone else I can send my friend or my colleague to learn more about this job?" And that's your internal company sponsor in that firm where you are now actively applying.

So, you definitely don't want to just start shoveling resumes into 5, 10, 20 companies, even a hundred companies. That's happened. I've talked to people that have done that and expect that somehow you're going to float to the top because your resume is probably going to look like a lot of other resumes. You want to follow a proper way of doing a resume no longer than two pages.

You want to make sure that you put in your resume the skills that you have as evidenced by things that you have accomplished, preferably those that are measurable. So, it could be something as simple as "I led a team that put together this service line in this hospital. Or in my clinic of 30 physicians, I led a team that created this new product, or this new initiative." That doesn't have a measurement, but it's a plus minus, it's an all or none. So, you went from not having that service to having it. Or I was working on the committee and became the chair of the committee that oversaw the quality for such and such, and we improved the number of complications in the surgery department by 10% or 30%. We eliminated never events. We did these measurable outcomes. That should all be on the front page.

And then after that, you'll have your listing of where you did your residency, your fellowship, your education, college. Other experiences that will demonstrate your transferable skills such as chairing a committee at a hospital, chairing a committee at a nonprofit, and being the president of the board of a nonprofit, things like that. Volunteering for something, and then the fact that there was something accomplished.

If you're not doing all of those things, there's a pretty good chance that your resume will not make it through the first or second screening where someone's actually looking at it, assessing it, trying to decide whether you can do the job that they're looking for. Now, remember, what is it that is going on here when you're looking for these kinds of jobs? You're back in the regular job market now. It's not like in medical school and residency where you're looking at grades and GPA and scores on certain exams and just checking off all those boxes.

The person who's hiring you for a nonclinical job, whether it's a utilization management, physician advisor or a medical director is "Can that person deliver to me what I need?" And in many of these jobs, you have to have a lot of initiative and leadership because as you get into more management jobs, they're going to need to see evidence that you were able to accomplish things on a team. But again, measurable outcomes.

My examples. Let's say for my time as a CMO, if I was applying for another job as a CMO, I would say, "Look, we put in a brand new comprehensive case management system, with different staffing and formal protocols, and we were able to get the length of stay down for the medical patients on any given unit or what have you, or even for the whole hospital by half a day or a full day. Or we reduce the mortality rate for heart disease or let's say acute MI or heart failure by such and such percent." What they want to see is that you can accomplish the goals of their department or the organization that they're hiring you too. And if you can't demonstrate on your resume and you can't verbalize it when you do get the interview, it's going to be hard to get that job.

I guess I would stop there because the other things I would mention that might be interfering might be things that have to do with the interview itself or the things that happen after the interview. Maybe I'll spend a little more time on that on another episode. But for now, those are the things that I would focus on. You need to be committed. You need to carve out time every week or every other week to focus on this. Some of that time needs to be spent doing your research to find out what you really want to do.

You have to spend some time narrowing it down to one particular type of job, customizing your resume, and customizing your LinkedIn profile. Find a mentor or two to help you and do your networking, and grow your network. Make as many contacts as you can that might help you get into one of those jobs. You might need a contact at multiple different companies if you're applying at multiple different companies. That's where your sponsor comes in and gets someone to look at that resume.

And then by doing that, you'll be in a much better position to have someone actually send you an email, pick up the phone and say, "Hey, we've looked things over. I have a few questions for you, but if this goes well, then we're going to set up an interview, a series of interviews, really. Maybe the first one will be a remote online interview, and then hopefully after that, potentially even a live interview face-to-face."

All right. Well, that's all that I wanted to say today about why your job search is so frustrating and unproductive. And by addressing these things that maybe have not been addressed in a really consistent way, you can overcome some of that frustration and the lack of progress.

One other thing to consider that might be adding to the frustration that doesn't really have to do directly with the process is having the right expectations. Sometimes in these job searches, it's going to take a while. It's something new, you haven't done it before, and you're going to need to learn the whole process. You're going to get better at the process. Every step of the process takes practice. And the other thing is that you're going to have to send in a lot of resumes and do a lot of digging before you're going to get that first interview. That's normal. And also chances are you're going to have to do multiple interviews before you get that first job offer. Because doing an interview is a skill that takes a little bit of practice. You can do role-playing. Other things that we'll talk about another time.


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