Career Advancement Advice for Spine Professionals

Insights from recruitment expert Nicola Hawkinson

As a spine professional, you have a much different experience in the job market compared to those in the business world. The focus isn’t merely on your technical skills—how you interact with patients and your ability to blend with the workplace culture weigh heavily on whether you’ll get the job, and more importantly, your ultimate happiness in the role.
Photo of young businesswoman walking on the street with upward arrow and career textSelf-awareness is key to success when looking for a new opportunity, and you need to ask yourself some tough questions before submitting your CV. SpineUniverse spoke with SpineSearch founder CEO Nicola Hawkinson about these questions and how spine professionals can find a career that truly fits for the long run.

Q: I have some career goals in mind, but I’m not sure where to start. What should I do?
: Start by looking at where you want to be in the long term, and then create short-term goals to get you there. Where do you see yourself in 6 months? Where do you want to be in a year? Two years? Five years? Mapping your goals out in shorter intervals will allow you to more easily attain your five- or 10-year plan.

What all these goals come down to is knowing what you want—and that’s easily said but can be hard to nail down. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, your goals will fall short. Employers craft ideal candidate descriptions for each job posting; you, as a candidate, should be as detailed about what you want from your career and potential employer.

Ask yourself these questions: How do your personal values fit into your professional aspirations? What work style/environment works best for you? What’s most important to you—money, a flexible schedule, a collaborative environment, research freedom? Be honest about what you really want and craft your goals based on that.

Q: How do I determine the best work setting for me?
: Culture is an incredibly important and often undervalued part of a job search. You have to factor in your personality and what type of workplace you will thrive in. Some people do better in a high-energy and high-volume environment, while others are better fit for a steady and less chaotic workplace. Be honest about your strengths and preferences.

During on-site interviews, observe how the office operates. How do the staff—at all levels—interact with each other and with patients? How busy is it? Are the values of the organization actually practiced by its people? Can you see yourself there?

If you have the opportunity to sit in on patient visits as part of the interview process, take it. These are priceless experiences that allow you to envision yourself in the environment.

Q: What are the pros and cons of working in a practice versus a hospital?
: In a private practice, the physician plays an integral role in the daily operations of the practice. There is consistency with a private practice that cannot be found in a hospital setting.

However, there’s a trend of physicians leaving private practices for hospitals, as hospitals typically offer more completive salaries and health benefits. But there’s a cost to working in a hospital, as the schedules are often chaotic.  

If you’re switching work environments (that is going from a hospital to a private practice or vice versa), be prepared to answer an employer’s questions about whether you’re ready to take on the risks and rewards of the change in environment.

Q: How do I pursue an employer interested in research in my area?
: First, do your research on the employer. Learn everything you can about the employer—visit the website and make sure you truly understand the employer’s expertise. Craft some specific questions based on what you learn. If you get an interview, these questions will come in handy.

Once you’re well familiar with the employer, reach out via phone or email. Introduce yourself, and give the employer a brief background about your research and your accomplishments. Be persistent. If you do not hear back, follow-up within a week or two. 

Q: How do I approach working with a mentor?
: The most important way to approach working with a mentor is to be observant and open minded. Take as many notes as possible and ask important questions. Your mentor’s time—and yours, too—is precious, so work toward a goal. What do you want this relationship to accomplish? Make sure every interaction with your mentor brings you closer to that purpose.

Q: Why should I look beyond the area I live for job opportunities?
: You never know what opportunities could be available outside of where you live. Yes, moving is a big change, but it may be worth it if you receive better compensation and a more favorable lifestyle. Heavily populated areas are often inundated with people applying for the same job. If you are willing to look outside of a major city, you may be surprised to find opportunities that offer more autonomy, pay, and learning experiences.  

Keep in mind, though, that the greatest opportunity on earth isn’t worth it if the community doesn’t fit with your family. Make sure you involve your spouse or partner in any decisions regarding relocation, and be honest if the golden opportunity exists in a not-so-golden place. If you take a position in a place where you and your family won’t be happy, it will end up being a bad investment.

Q: What weight does a prospective employer place on the content of my CV?
: The answer is simple: a lot. But that doesn’t mean you should put a lot in it. Your CV is the first thing the employer sees, and the employer will likely pass if it’s disorganized and long-winded.

Think of your CV as a snapshot of your career, not your tell-all autobiography. Take the employer through your work experience by using three to four bullet points that explain your primary job duties and responsibilities. Getting to the heart of your experience on your CV will also ensure the document has a polished, approachable look that’s inviting to employers.

You can and should elaborate on your experience during an interview, but keep things clean and high level on your CV.

Q: How should an early-career spine specialist approach the length of their contract?
: Visualize where you want to be in 10 to 15 years and go from there. Do you see yourself in the same location? Do you ultimately want to work in a hospital or in a private practice? It’s OK if you don’t know the answers to these big-picture questions, but asking yourself them will guide you toward contract terms that work for you.

Q: What is the best way to describe my availability (schedule) to a prospective employer?
: You can discuss availability with the employer, but be realistic. Remember, the employer has a reason why the work schedule is constructed the way it is.

Respectfully express what will and won’t work for you, and inquire whether the employer is willing to work with your schedule or meet somewhere in the middle.

Q: What is a compensation formula?
: Today, most compensation models are primarily based on either a salary or a net- or gross-revenues basis, with some type of bonus or incentive component. Incentives come in all different shapes and sizes. Some employers incentivize by giving extra days off for a job well done. Other employers give monetary bonuses or tickets to an event. Incentives also come in the form of sign-on bonuses or pay-to-stay bonuses.  

Most income packages offered to new physicians are determined largely by regional market factors and compensation surveys.

Q: How do I prepare for a salary negotiation?
: First, be prepared to disclose how much money you are making at your current role. Never exaggerate how much money you make because this can cost you a job offer.

Next, determine your ideal salary expectations for the opportunity, then define the salary you won’t go below. If the job requires more hours, on-call, travel time, or relocation, then you already have a lot of room to negotiate.

Q: What sources do physicians typically use to find job opportunities?
: Physicians today have more ways to find work than ever before. While personal/professional referrals and recruiters are the top sources of job leads, social media (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) has emerged as a less traditional vehicle for connecting employers and physicians.

Other potential sources include professional associations, on-site conference recruiting, and online job boards.

Q: Why should I consider a recruiter?
: A recruiter has a relationship with the employer and can advocate for you. This rapport can end up securing a candidate more money, too, as an employer is much more likely to listen to the recruiter when it comes to salary negotiations.

A recruiter can also help the candidate avoid detrimental behaviors. Sometimes, potential employees say or do things that could lose them the job offer. The recruiter can step in to help communicate in a direct manner. A recruiter is truly a beneficial middle man for both the employer and the candidate.

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To learn about SpineSearch, click here.

Updated on: 10/17/16
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