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Finding a Job: Answers to Key Questions about the Search Process

Author: Richard C. Koval, MPA, CMPE — Principal/Senior Consultant, BSM Consulting


Whether you’re a newly trained resident, fellow or have a bit of experience behind you, your prospects for finding a new job are quite positive despite national unemployment rates.

As patient and established-physician populations continue to age, demand for ophthalmologists will continue to rise, providing numerous opportunities for those physicians who are flexible and willing to try a new practice setting.

Although the job search process can seem daunting, here are some key questions that those who are looking for a new position should consider.


Where are the best places to find job opportunities?

Most doctors seeking new work opportunities regularly consult the Ophthalmology Job Center on the Academy Web site, so that’s a good place to start. The Web site contains hundreds of listings, which you can sort by subspecialty, geographic area, salary, and other variables. The majority of available practice opportunities around the country are listed here.

Positions also may be found on the Web sites of other national and state societies or within the print journals published by those societies. If you’re a subspecialist, you’ll want to check out the Web site of the professional society that serves your area of expertise. Web sites of professional recruiters may also list available jobs. The AAOE Consultant Directory includes recruiters who specialize in the ophthalmology marketplace.

Some opportunities won’t be advertised, typically because the practice isn’t quite ready to start the formal recruitment process. These potential openings are only known through word-of-mouth. If you’re interested in a specific geographic area, it may be worthwhile to contact physicians, hospital/ASC administrators and pharmaceutical representatives in that area to inquire whether any practices are rumored to be looking for a new associate Faculty members often know of current and potential academic positions, so contacting specific institutions can prove helpful if you’re interested in pursuing that course.


Should I consider working with a recruiter to help me find a job?

Recruiters are hired by practices seeking help in the recruitment process. Because they specialize in these tasks, recruiters offer a level of expertise that many smaller practices find difficult to match. Professional recruiters can be invaluable to practices with no experience in or limited time for recruitment. In situations where the characteristics of the practice or the circumstances leading to the need for a new associate make recruitment difficult, a recruiter can be essential to finding viable candidates.

The level of a recruiter’s involvement in the recruitment process depends on the relationship between the practice and the recruiter. A recruiter can help the practice to define its needs, identify competitive terms, advertise the position, locate and screen candidates, coordinate interviews and smooth the transition process. Recruiters define the services they will provide in a contract with the practice.

There are two types of recruiters: retainer based and contingency based.

  • Retainer recruiters are paid for services rendered.
  • Contingency recruiters are paid only if a candidate is placed.

For the most part, the services of a retainer-based recruiting firm are more comprehensive that those offered by a contingency-based firm. Recruiter fees are paid exclusively by the practice (not by the candidate).

If you decide to work with a recruiting firm, expect to have far more interaction with the recruiter (at least initially) than with the practice.

Clarify with the recruiter how the communication cycle will work. You should also expect to negotiate your salary/benefits with the recruiter rather than directly with the hiring practice.

Although you can likely find most opportunities without a recruiter, some jobs may be available exclusively through a recruiter. Thus your contact with the practice will be through that firm only. However, you may occasionally find that the practice and its contingency-based recruiter contact you simultaneously and independently. This can create conflicts because the recruiter’s fee is based on introducing and successfully placing candidates.

The terms of the recruiter’s contract with the practice should address how these conflicts are resolved, but you may become involved as the parties seek to confirm whether your initial contact with the practice was truly independent of the recruiter.

This makes it important to let a recruiter know if you have already established contact with a practice.

Be aware that recruiters have been known to poison a candidate’s interest in a practice over such disputes. In such situations, keep an open mind and understand the dynamics that are involved.


How do I select a practice that will be a good fit for me?

Choosing a new job involves a certain amount of emotion, and that subjectivity can sometimes cloud your judgment. Although it won’t eliminate emotion altogether, separating the evaluation process into these two steps can improve the quality of your decision.

It is likely that your criteria for evaluating employment opportunities will include many of these considerations:

  • Starting compensation: what you expect to be paid when you start practice
  • Potential compensation: what you expect to be paid once your practice approaches maturity
  • Case mix: the types of patients you wish to see (whether defined by pathology, procedure, demographics, payer type or other variables)
  • Practice resources: the proximity of the hospital/ASC, expertise of staff, adequacy of equipment and facilities, etc.
  • Compatibility: the professional and personal values you seek in colleagues.
  • Time demands: how they relate to your needs for time away from the practice for nonpractice pursuits (family, personal)
  • Location: the geographic areas where you’re willing to live and work and the quality of life they offer (commuting distance, housing affordability, school quality, social/cultural support, distance from extended family, etc.)
  • Co-ownership potential: if ownership in the practice is important to you.
  • Practice size: the intimacy of a smaller practice setting versus the scale and comprehensive resources of a larger group practice

Once you have defined your goals for a new position, you’re ready to compare potential practices and determine how closely each one fits your needs. Although each factor will carry a different weight in the evaluation process, avoid overemphasizing one at the expense of the others.

Many physicians have been overly influenced by a generous compensation offer, only to regret their decision when they find that money can’t compensate for critical deficiencies in other key aspects of the new practice.


What questions do I need to have answered as I talk with the practice?

Approach the job search process as a balanced exchange of information, in which you exert the same level of effort to find out about the practice as it exerts to find out about you. Before scheduling an on-site interview, you should have a clear understanding of each of these factors:

  • Why the practice is seeking an associate and what specific factors suggest you would be a good candidate
  • How you would fit into the practice in terms of the services you would provide, the types of patients you would see, and the patient volume you would be expected to maintain
  • The locations at which you would practice, the schedule you would be assigned, your call coverage requirements, and the caliber of nearby surgical and other facilities
  • How you would be paid and realistic estimates of the compensation you could expect during your initial years of practice
  • The fringe benefits and practice-related costs that the practice would pay
  • The expected date you could begin practice and the anticipated employment term
  • If co-ownership is possible, the time frame for eligibility, the percentage share available, the method used for pricing, the payment terms, the manner in which co-ownership compensation is determined and the procedure by which the practice would buy back shares
  • The characteristics of the local area and how compatible its characteristics are with your needs
  • When the practice plans to select the successful candidate

You can gather much of this information through telephone discussions and e-mail correspondence. The primary goal for this part of the process is to ensure that you are focusing your time and attention on opportunities that are the most likely to work well for you. There is no reason to waste your time or the practice’s money on an on-site interview that will go nowhere.


How does the interview process usually work?

Most recruitment processes involve an initial telephone interview, which is intended to identify candidates of greatest interest to the practice so that they can be invited for on-site interviews.

In effect, the telephone interview is the “qualifying round,” so you’ll want to present yourself as positively as possible.

That doesn’t mean creating an image that’s different from who you are. Rather, the telephone interview should be conducted at a time when you can focus on the conversation without distractions or interruptions. If the caller reaches you at a less-than-ideal time, ask to reschedule the call.

After the qualifying telephone interview, finalists are usually invited for one or two on-site visits at the practice location.

At least one of these visits should include your spouse or significant other, to allow her or him to assess the area and its ability to meet their needs. The costs associated with the interview (including transportation, lodging and meals) are usually paid in full by the practice — but be sure to clarify this with the practice beforehand.

These visits are designed to allow the practice to assess you face-to-face, so how you present yourself during each meeting is important. You’ll also have the opportunity to tour the practice offices and affiliated ASCs or hospitals, and possibly to explore the local area to determine its suitability for your needs and interests.

Approach the visit as an opportunity to gather information, as well as to provide it.

It’s a good idea to take notes, either during the visit or at its conclusion, summarizing your impressions, both positive and negative. These notes can keep you from confusing one interview with another, and you can use them for reference as you make your final decision.

You’ll likely meet with the key decision makers in the practice, both formally in the office and informally at dinner or in another social setting. You may also meet informally with staff such as the practice manager, techs and other members of the practice team. Although these individuals may not be physicians, many practices solicit their impressions of candidates after the visit because the new hire will likely be working closely with them.

The on-site interview process is designed to measure the quality of your interpersonal skills, allowing the practice to assess how you will likely present yourself to patients, peers and others.

The practice is essentially trying to determine whether you would be enjoyable to work with and to measure your prospects for success, although other considerations will be in play as well. Your track record and references will be used to assess your clinical and surgical competency.


If I’m offered more than one position at the same time, how do I choose which one is best?

At this point you need to compare your notes from each practice visit with the list of goals and objectives you made when you started the job search process. Those comparisons should help you to organize your thoughts and accurately rank the job offers.

Once you’ve made your decision, notify the chosen practice promptly, but don’t reject your alternative practices until you’ve signed a written contract with your preferred firm.

The terms drafted by the firm’s lawyer can sometimes differ from those promised during recruitment, so it’s a good idea to keep your options open.

In some cases, your decision among competing offers may depend on the content of the legal documents and the practice’s willingness (or lack thereof) to make changes as needed to ensure equitability. Be sure to enlist the help of an attorney or a consultant in reviewing the contract offer.

Your advisor should be able to provide helpful perspective in the selection process, assisting you in making an informed decision. But if contract negotiations with your first-choice practice are unsuccessful, you may need to consider an alternative practice. Having such options can give you valuable leverage in negotiating contract terms.

The job search process is an exciting experience, and the outcome can potentially define your degree of success and happiness for many years to come. Keeping these points in mind during the search process should help you to make a wise decision that will enhance your prospects for success.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard C. Koval, MPA, CMPE is a principal/senior consultant at BSM Consulting and a member of the AAOE Consultant Directory.