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Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians.

The Rules of the Resume Game, Part One, by William S. Frank

To begin, resumes and curricula vitae (CVs) are not the same thing. A CV, which you probably have, is a chronological listing of what you did and where and when you did it. It's a sort of professional life chart. A list of credentials. Other than portraying your educational and experience history accurately, it has no particular goal and makes no particular point. Readers make of it what they can. Physicians are familiar with this kind of document.

The Rules of the Resume Game A resume is a business document that has specific purposes and does particular things to accomplish them. It is a sales tool in a set of transactions in which you and your competencies are the product. The French root is résumé, which means summary. It's accomplishment based. It answers the employer's pointed questions, "What have you done before, and how can you help me?"

Since doctors usually hire other doctors to practice their specialties based on their experience and education, CVs often suffice, sometimes (though not often enough) followed up with reviews of their references. Many physicians have gone through both sides of those interactions, and they're old hat. Your resume is different, both in content and in the business way you have to think about it. If you've made a resume, good for you. Review this and be sure yours is tweaked and up to date. If not, here is how to get through the process.

Resume writing is like tennis in that certain rules apply. The tennis court is a specific size. The net is a standard height. You can remove the net and hit the ball, but then you're not playing tennis.

Similar conventions apply to resume writing. You can make up your own rules as you go along. For example, you can print your resume on bright red paper-and you'll have an eye-catcher all right-but, you won't have a decent resume.

Here are the features of the resume that always produces interviews and job offers in and out of medicine:

  1. It's accomplishment-oriented. Everything on the page is built around your achievements: your "triples" and "home runs." They are its only reason for being.

  2. It's organized. Things aren't dropped in helter-skelter. Information falls under easily understandable general headings, which makes it easy to find facts.

  3. It's broken down into sub-headings. No long paragraphs.

  4. It's concise, not wordy. It's written in crisp phrases, not full sentences. In resume language "K" means thousand, "M" means million, and "MM" means hundred million. Thus, $27K means 27 thousand dollars. Even in clinical medicine, you may be talking about money: how much you saved on an equipment purchase, what the volume of your last practice was, and so on. And doctors are being hired more and more by CEOs. Omit words like "a, an, and the" and "I, me and my." Otherwise, don't abbreviate. Take out the obvious. If you hit 85 home runs last season, you probably don't need to mention you also hit singles.

  5. It's written on two or three full pages, nothing else. Half-page or 1-1/2 page resumes look like you ran out of steam, or didn't plan well.

  6. It's normally limited to two pages, except for the occasional resume of an accomplished physician looking for a placement in a high-dollar, high-profile situation, often not in clinical medicine; that can go to three pages. There's a reason for that: getting it onto two pages is part of the drill.

    Tip: The first draft is often too long (say 3 pages). Keep a long version and then edit to a short 2-page version. Hence, two resumes. This will satisfy your need to "have everything in there" and the real world's requirement to "keep it to two pages." Use the short version for general mailings; use the long version only when it's specifically requested.

    Some writers insist on having lengthy resumes: five or six pages, sometimes more. Yet once they try them in the job market, they come back for a two-page version. Everyone they've met has recommended no more than two pages! If someone is interested enough in you to want more detail, he or she will ask.

    "Show me a person who can't distill a lifetime onto two pages
    and I'll show you a scatterbrain or an egomaniac."
    —Jim Kennedy, Editor, The Directory of Executive Recruiters

  7. It's packed with important details. Nothing irrelevant. No personal data are included, except when there is an important reason to do so (for example, when your personal information reflects on your qualifications, such as sports participation for a sports medicine practice). Let the resume simply show where you've been and what you've accomplished. That's its job. Don't say anything about references, age, marital status, references, sex, race, family, personal interests, political or religious affiliations-unless mentioning these things will help.

    For example, if you're an LDS job-hunter in Salt Lake City, mentioning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints could be a plus. Mentioning that in New York City might be a negative. Unless you're sure, keep quiet. Another example: if you belong to a computer user's group and you're looking for an opportunity to select, install, and in-service all of the staff in an electronic medical record system, mention the club. But the general rule is, if prospective employers want to ask you about outside activities, let them ask you face-to-face.

  8. It's word processed—never handwritten—and it's laser printed on plain white bond paper, or off-white grey or buff. Nothing else. Very clean photocopies onto good bond paper are more than adequate. No need to word-process all originals. (Key concept: You don't make a better resume by using better paper. You make a better resume by using carefully-chosen words.)

  9. It's one-of-a-kind, not canned. It's written by you, not by a paid resume service.

  10. It's conservative, because physicians, health care organizations, insurance companies, and businesspeople are conservative.

  11. It's flawlessly clean. No typos, no misspellings. No white-out. One Human Resources Manager said he trashes all letters and resumes with even one spot of white-out. Perhaps short sighted, but that's reality. Think about receiving a resume or other communication from a prospective vascular surgeon. How interested are you going to be—unless you are willing to accept absent-minded professors—if the documents that represent him or her scream inattention or sloppiness.

  12. It's interesting, provocative, and enthusiastic. Not boring.

  13. It's weighted to emphasize recent experience. As a general rule, people care most about what you've done recently, say within the last ten years. They care less about what you did earlier. (Exception: when something 10 or 15 years ago bears directly on their needs today. Example: you authored a chapter or section in an ophthalmology textbook during your retinal surgery fellowship 15 years ago.)

    So, a well-written resume looks like an inverted pyramid. Your most recent experience receives the most attention (space), and earlier things get less attention (space) as you go backwards in time.

    That way, when you get to the very beginning of your career, say 15 to 25 years ago, you may have only enough room on the page to list the names of practices and dates. That's perfectly okay, because, chances are, most of your earlier work experience was less sophisticated. As much as medicine changes, it's very likely that procedures and tests you were doing then may not even be done now, or they've evolved so much that old experience doesn't matter.

Resumes aren't used much in clinical hiring, but it would be a good idea if they were. They force clinicians to boil down what they are and what they can do that distinguishes them from other aspirants to a job. Being an interventional radiologist is something most physicians understand. There are lots of them. But developing a new catheter technique or a new piece of equipment, or simply being expert in a new therapeutic procedure, immediately makes you different from most radiologists and more marketable. A resume says that out front, at first sight. It doesn't rely on important facts' being notice among a flurry of other, less interesting information.

Even if you find you don't need it the way a CFO looking for a new position does, making a resume is a superb exercise for doctors. It makes you look at what you've done-usually more than you thought-and it make you aware of what's important and impressive about you. Your CV may do, but your well conceived resume will do better and save time. It preps you for face to face conversations, such as this:

  • "Do you do renal arterial angioplasties?"
  • "Yes, I've done 266 in the last seven years, with a complication rate of <0.5% and a restenosis rate of <2.1% at five years."
One bulleted line in a resume saves all that chat, and makes you look good before you even shake hands. It can make you the radiologist they're looking for. Next.

Continue to Part Two. Return to index of articles.


"What is written without effort is in general
read without pleasure."—Samuel Johnson

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