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August 8, 2022

When is a red flag not a red flag?

Physician recruiters easily rattle off the red flags that stop their optimistic reading of a physician CV: job hopping, unexplained gaps, shoddy formatting, CVs untailored to the organization or position. Ask any physician recruiter what gives them pause, and odds are good that they’ll immediately mention these common issues.

If you’re recruiting for a sought-after job in a hot market, red flags like these can be an easy reason to shunt a CV from the "contact" folder to the "maybe" or "hold" one. After all, medical directors and administrators have also learned to be sensitive to the same issues. Avoiding raising their doubts is often the path of least resistance.

But what if your applicant pool is small, or there’s just something about the CV that attracts you, despite its deficiencies? How far should you go with a CV with obvious problems?

Sometimes, it’s worth the call anyway

"In a dream, world we would just have pipelines filled with candidates. That’s not the reality," says Liz Mahan, director of professional development & solutions for the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR). "But even when you have a pipeline that has [only] two or three candidates in it, you really want to focus your time and energy on those candidates that are the best fit for the opportunity. You only have so much time and attention, and the more interviews you ask a practice to do, the more their attention dwindles. Then they’re more likely to make a bad decision."

Though it would be better if candidates did more homework - learning, for example, to target their applications to a particular job, or to address easily explainable gaps in training in the text of their CV - if you reject near-misses out of hand, you might not soon find another candidate who is as well-qualified. Another confounding factor: Physicians, especially newly minted ones, are not always aware of how their CVs are perceived - or the importance of those perceptions.

"I like to say there are some red flags that are red herrings. They might have a really good explanation behind them," Mahan says. Sometimes it’s worth your while to invest a little bit of time to confirm which you’re seeing, especially if the rest of the CV is strong. "If it’s just one thing that made you pause or raise an eyebrow, I always think it’s worth it to have a conversation with the candidate anyway."

Mahan adds: "The more experience you get, the more you realize that sometimes they’re very easily explained in a conversation."

Dig deep to discover the true flags

Physicians are no more immune to unexpected life events than the rest of us, Mahan points out. "Life is the thing that happens when no one is planning for it. Things come up, and sometimes [training or employment] gaps can be through no fault of a candidate at all."

Even among physicians with significant experience, gaps or job jumping may have reasonable explanations. Practice closures, layoffs due to mergers and time-consuming licensing and credentialing hurdles are all reasons a physician might have an unusually short stay in a role or a gap between jobs, Mahan adds.

When to "pause, not stop"

Cathleen Biga, M.S.N., FACC, is president and CEO of Cardiovascular Management of Illinois, a member of the board of trustees of the American College of Cardiology and chair of the board of managers of MedAxiom. She personally handles almost all physician recruiting for her large regional cardiology group.

Over a 22-year career, Biga estimates she’s personally hired well over 150 physicians - and notes that she rarely contacts candidates when there are obvious CV issues. She doesn’t have the time - and often has more strong candidates than she needs to fill her open positions. But Biga adds that a cover letter can make all the difference when a CV has problems like unexplained gaps. "The cover letter is critically important. The cover letter can explain some of the CV issues."

For a medical director or hospital CEO, it simply might not be feasible to take extra steps like calling a borderline candidate who presents a CV that raises questions with no cover letter to answer them. But as a recruiter, you may find that making time for that phone call enables you to find that diamond in the rough to fill a challenging position.

"I think red flags can be discouraging for both employers and for candidates," Mahan says. "So I like to think of them as a reason to pause, but maybe not a reason to stop. You can’t learn everything from a document. We’re working with people. Everybody has their journey and everybody’s path is different."

If you rely too heavily on CVs alone, she adds, you will almost certainly lose out. "It’s a competitive market for physician talent. You don’t want to rule out a really strong candidate who’s going to be a phenomenal fit for your organization."

Read PracticeLink articles by Laurie Morgan

Laurie Morgan

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