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What to ask when recruiters come calling


Choose a headhunter carefully, if you don't want to sidetrack your career.


What to ask when recruiters come calling

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Choose article section... How long has your firm been in business? Who pays for your services? How long do physicians stay with the practices you place them in? How much do you know about the practices you recommend? What's your experience with my specialty and the geographic area I want? What's your policy on submitting CVs? How often can I expect to hear from you? What do you consider my family's role in the process?

Choose a headhunter carefully, if you don't want to sidetrack your career.

By Dorothy L. Pennachio
Senior Editor

Getting blitzed on a daily basis with letters, calls, and e-mails from recruiters? You may well be if you're a resident or thinking about a midcareer change. FP Terry Mills, for instance, is still getting letters from recruiters, even though he accepted a job three years ago at the Wichita (KS) Clinic without the help of a search firm. "While you're being headhunted, you get two or three letters a day," he says. "They start in the second year of residency. Recruiters don't wait until you graduate."

Although one of these recruiters may prove your ticket to a successful job, others could waste your time or—worse—set you up in the job from hell. But telling a reputable firm from a sleazy one involves a bit of digging on your part.

Experts recommend that you choose no more than two or three recruiters to represent you in the marketplace. "If you work with every recruiter you talk to, it can get messy. This is a commission-based industry, and recruiters can get aggressive and start tripping over one another," says Rich Cornell, president of the National Association of Physician Recruiters (NAPR).

So how do you select a recruiter? "You can't tell by a piece of mail how established or successful a company is," says Mills. "Anyone can produce snazzy mail in this day of desktop publishing." So you can't rely on first impressions. Before you put your career in a recruiter's hands, ask him the following questions:

How long has your firm been in business?

Experience is essential in this field. Limit yourself to companies with a minimum of five years' experience—and that should be in physician recruiting, not in placing allied health care personnel. Also ask how long the particular recruiter has been in the business. Have him or her provide references who'll vouch for the company's good business practices. Ask how many physicians the firm places each year.

Who pays for your services?

Never work with a firm that charges you. Recruiters are supposed to charge the employer-client, not the applicant.

You might also ask if the firm is a member of NAPR. True, the association has no real enforcement teeth; there's no credentialing arm, and it isn't an industry watchdog. Still, the NAPR has a code of ethics and an arbitration process for resolving disputes. Plus, it monitors members' activities once a complaint has been lodged. If a member commits any acts that aren't up to NAPR standards, the firm can be disciplined and recruiters asked to take educational courses.

How long do physicians stay with the practices you place them in?

If they don't stay long, that's a tip-off that there's been a bad fit. "We have to find the right physician for the right client—it must be a good marriage. We call it the 'fit factor,'" says Geoff Staub, director of marketing at Cejka & Co., in St. Louis.

"The good recruiter should spend time at the front end finding out just what the physician wants, and then provide no more than three or four opportunities that are on target," agrees Don DeCamp, COO of CompHealth, a recruitment firm in Salt Lake City. Avoid any recruiter who keeps calling with jobs that just don't meet your needs.

How much do you know about the practices you recommend?

"Some firms check out only the candidate side of the equation," notes DeCamp. "They should do some probing into the client side, too. What may be a plus for one candidate may be a minus for another. Recruiters have an obligation to get to know the ins and outs of their clients so they can fit them to applicants' needs and wants."

They also have an obligation to know about their clients' financial health. You don't want to be lured into taking a job with an organization that's about to go belly up.

What's your experience with my specialty and the geographic area I want?

Effective recruiting firms have knowledgeable consultants dedicated to each major specialty. Some companies even have entire divisions that deal only with particular specialty areas.

"Watch out for companies that bait and switch—they draw you in by telling you about a couple of opportunities that seem perfect for you, then try to interest you in something else, probably because that original opportunity never existed," warns DeCamp. "A physician can waste a lot of time if he's talked into going on interviews that are outside the geographic region in which he's expressed interest, or for other reasons are not right for him."

What's your policy on submitting CVs?

Some firms broadcast a physician's CV to dozens of clients without the applicant's knowledge. Jeff Sisk, owner of Physician Work, says "flinging CVs" is especially easy today with e-mail.

"Don't ever allow recruiters to send out your CV without your express permission," he says. "Instruct any recruiter to contact you first and tell you about a position rather than the other way round."

"A good recruiter will call the physician, give him the specifics of the community and the practice, and then allow the physician to decide whether he wants his CV submitted," says Cornell.

Indiscriminately disseminating CVs is unprofessional and wastes time for both the applicant and the hiring organization. A prospective employer who's received a spammed CV from one of these less than reputable firms might go ahead and call the applicant directly. The doctor won't be familiar with the job in question, and that can be embarrassing for both parties.

"I'd heard about recruiting firms posting CVs on Web sites, spamming them, or faxing them to 400 practices," says Kansas FP Terry Mills. Even though Mills knew to provide his CV only to reputable recruiters, the clinic where he now works received his spammed CV a week after he interviewed. "It meant no difference to anyone here," he says, "but spamming can hurt an applicant because it can make you look like you needed a lot of help to get a job."

How often can I expect to hear from you?

You're looking for a balance between respect for your time and proof that they're working. "Firms do sometimes contact their applicants too often out of fear they'll lose them otherwise," says Cornell.

Over the 18 months Mills worked with recruiters, one rep called him once a month through the hospital or clinic operator, and even had him paged. "A remarkable number of times, the recruiter got through to me under false pretenses," says Mills. "He would tell the operator it was a personal call and imply that he was a family member. I'll never deal with those recruiters again."

What do you consider my family's role in the process?

Recruiters should understand that a large part of a doctor's decision about where he'll practice is based on family needs. So the people who share the applicant's life must be involved in the recruitment process.

"Often a physician will fall in love with an opportunity, but the husband or wife objects," says Cornell. "A good recruiter anticipates this and suggests that he have a chance to speak with the spouse."

Mills says the recruiters he worked with did ask about his spouse and family situation. "The recruiters asked what my wife did and if she was willing to leave her present job."

Asking these questions can help narrow the field, but don't forget that a good relationship with a recruiter requires that you provide candid information about yourself, too.

Give your recruiter a list of those things that you absolutely must have, even if you think they might break a deal. Your recruiter needs to know about things like special interests and areas where you absolutely can't compromise. It's far better to tell a recruiter about these issues before you take a job than to complain to him about them afterwards.


Dorothy Pennachio. What to ask when recruiters come calling. Medical Economics 2002;17:89.

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