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April 27, 2009

Advice for Entering the Workforce
By Barbara A. Rubin, MEd, RHIA, and Franklin L. Rubin
For The Record
Vol. 21 No. 9 P. 8

There is indeed life after graduation. Students spend two to four years working to make their college career a success and preparing for that day when the light at the end of the tunnel begins to come into focus.

Once a degree has been secured, the next step is to anchor a job. With competition tight and the economy strained, the battle for positions is challenging. In such an environment, it’s important for students to set themselves above the competition. There’s no better place to begin the process than with a polished résumé, a tool that should succinctly and professionally communicate your abilities to management.

If compiling the résumé yourself, Tyler’s Guide: The Healthcare Executive’s Job Search is an excellent resource. If your preference is to have it done professionally, make certain to thoroughly research the reputation of potential organizations. Recruiters are often a reliable source because they have a track record of placing candidates successfully. They can offer tips for a sharper résumé based on their insights of the job market and what employers are seeking in candidates.

Once the résumé does its job and a telephone interview is secured, be prepared to answer questions with poise. The only way students will earn a face-to-face interview is if they are adept at selling themselves and their skills. The telephone interview is as important as a final exam—the competition is great and only the most prepared candidates will receive an on-site invitation.

Surf the Internet to become familiar with typical interview questions and answers. Sites such as www.best-interview-strategies.com can be invaluable resources to get students ready for any situation.

For example, take the question, “Why should I hire you?” The easy answer is that you are the best person for the job. Don’t be afraid to say so but back it up with specifics. For example, “You should hire me because I’m the best person for the job. I realize that there are likely other candidates who also have the ability to do this job. Yet I bring an additional quality that makes me the best person for the job: my passion for excellence. I am committed to producing truly world-class results. For example …”

Thoroughly research possible questions to avoid having the answers sound like mere formalities. There is a business psychology and a purpose to employer questions, making it imperative for candidates to be prepared.

Familiarize yourself with the company ahead of time and come to the interview with at least 10 questions specific to your research. This is just as important as answering questions. When asked whether you have any questions, don’t make the fatal error of saying, “No, you have covered everything that I wanted to know” or “You have already answered my questions.” Not asking questions signifies that a candidate was either unprepared or not interested enough to research its background.

Being thoroughly prepared may not matter if you present yourself in an unfavorable light. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. A candidate’s attire plays a large role in what others think of you. With that in mind, it’s better to overdress than underdress.

Over the last couple decades, psychologists have done a considerable amount of research on what colors are best to wear to a job interview and have found a direct relationship to color being a factor in the selection process. Their findings have determined that a black suit suggests the candidate expects to be respected and is unapproachable, making it important to wear a softer color shirt or blouse to offset the black. Most government agencies and auditors (eg, FBI and IRS personnel) dress in black suits.

As determined by executive surveys and psychologists, a blue suit is usually the best choice when it comes to making a positive impression, with gray in the runner-up slot. According to the experts, gray expresses confidence without being as overpowering as black.

Brown falls next in line, while beige and tan are perceived to be worn by nonassertive and passive personalities. Stay away from white suits, say the researchers, because it is a neutral color and may suggest an inability to be firm and make decisions.

It may seem obvious, but men should wear a suit, shirt, and tie, while women should don hosiery and close-toed, closed-heeled shoes. Despite this being conventional wisdom, we once interviewed a woman for an HIM director’s job who showed up in cowboy boots, blue jeans, a tank top, a matching blue denim shirt, and spiky hair. On another occasion, a candidate wore a skirt so short that it looked like she was headed to the beach rather than a job interview.

Dress for the occasion and to impress; do not dress for the location. If the chief job market in your area involves horses and cows, that doesn’t mean candidates should dress like livestock herders. You’re seeking an HIM position—make sure your attire reflects that.

Even after you land the job, be aware that during the first few days and weeks you will be meeting coworkers and senior management. First impressions are still being calculated, and they could have a direct impact on your future success with the organization.

Upon earning the position, it’s also a good idea to have a plan for success. The responsibilities of a new position may seem overwhelming at first, making a well-conceived plan all the more handy for new graduates. Also, seek out seasoned HIM professionals for advice on tough questions and particularly challenging situations. Mentors are generally easy to find. There are many professionals who are eager and willing to help a new graduate in the field—after all, we all started at the same goal line.

Your informal mentor should be someone who has been in the field for several years—perhaps the person who worked with you during your clinical experience. If someone approaches with a difficult question, don’t be afraid to request some extra time to think about it. There is nothing wrong with wanting more time to sort through the alternatives. In this situation, contacting your informal mentor may be an option.

Finally, every task should have a plan of action. When you meet with your report line, find out the top five or 10 performance expectations and ask for a definitive ranking. List those areas in outline form and create reasonable time frames for the completion of those tasks. Keep good notes of your successes and any flaws encountered along the way. By keeping this paper trail (electronic or handwritten), it will give you a documented field of progress.

A new job can be overwhelming with numerous daily requests that can make a neophyte feel lost. A road map of your progress will provide evidence that you are still on target and moving toward your goal.

— Barbara A. Rubin, MEd, RHIA, is director of HIM/compliance at Rural Hospital Acquisitions in Oklahoma City.

— Franklin L. Rubin is manager of HIM operations and a student in the RHIT program at Southern Plains Medical Group in Oklahoma City.