Dream Job 101: First Steps
I’m officially two weeks into my first job out of physician assistant school and I’m so so excited to revisit the ups and downs of getting to this point. I spent the last year agonizing over where I would eventually end up, not knowing exactly what specialty I wanted, and deciding on what items were “job-makers” and “job-breakers”. After many sleepless nights and cheap Spirit Airline flights back and forth from Alabama to California, I feel like I have my thoughts in order enough to blog about my experience finding a fantastic position that makes me excited on Monday mornings. In this series of posts, it’s all about the money moves (resume, cover letters, salary negotiation, benefits, etc). I’ll talk about the physical move sometime later. I’m not ready to unpack that topic (or my apartment) just yet.
First Steps: Preparing to Search for your First Physician Assistant Job
Vocation vs Location
We were often told in PA school, “You can find a job as a physician assistant in any field you want, it just might not be where you want.”
The job hunt is easier when you choose one: city or specialty.
For me, the choice was easy. For over 6 years my partner and I have been dreaming of moving to California. Instead of focusing on a particular field, I turned my attention to job postings on the west coast in some of the most amazing cities and locations and kept an open mind. On the other hand, if you are person who went to PA school with your heart set on orthopedic surgery or dermatology, etc. apply to those positions anywhere in the country and see where it takes you! Side note: if you do decide to apply based on location, go ahead and apply for your license in the state you will be working in. I wasn’t seriously considered for any positions at all until I had an active California license.
Obviously, you need to go through your resume and make sure everything is current and reflective of the skills you gained during school. If the thought of designing your own resume on Microsoft word makes you ill (like me), there are several great resources for templates that you simply fill in with your own information. My two favorites are resumerx.com and thepalife.com. In my opinion, the small price of these premade templates is so worth it to not have to format your own word document.
I also recommend sending your resume to clinical preceptors or school faculty that know you well and can give you feedback. One of my former preceptors caught a massive error on mine that I had looked over for months! While you’re at it, ask these people if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. While job boards and recruiters rarely asked me for references, I included them anyway and they were received very positively.
Another thing to know.. your digital resume must be formatted in a way that artificial intelligence and logarithms like. It must include certain keywords and recognizable sections to get past the website’s filter and to an actual hiring manager. (I learned all of this the hard way, by the way).
Make sure your resume is ATS compliant. ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System and there are sites that will scan your document for free and make suggestions on what needs to be changed.
I used topresume.com to run a free scan of my resume and quickly realized I was getting lost in that infamous “resume black hole.” As much as it sucked to change my beautifully designed resume to plain ol’ times new roman with bullet points, it made a difference in callbacks.
Cover Letter Class
I tried to make sure my cover letters included a few key components:
A clear introduction stating who I am and expressing interest in the job title and the company name.
It’s best to use specific details instead of phrases like “the job opening” or “at your practice.”
Any additional details that my resume didn’t cover for me
For example, if you are applying to an ICU job, you’d want to talk about your personal experience with critical care and what draws you to that field, not reiterate your education and past work history
A kind, confident closure
Thank the reader for their time and consideration and offer to provide any additional info at their request. State that you look forward to speaking with them more soon.
I measured how much I really wanted the job by how willing I was to write a new cover letter from scratch. I felt that copying and pasting something old showed me that I wasn’t actually excited about the position and I didn’t want to waste their time or mine.
It will be worth it in the end to write something genuine and interesting about yourself and why you are a good fit for the particular position. I ended up writing about 40 individual cover letters to 40 different positions that I took seriously as potential jobs. It only took a few yeses (is that a word?) to change my whole life.
Where I Looked:
With my updated resume, cover letters, references, and active California license in hand, I updated my LinkedIn to reflect that I was actively searching for a job. I also created alerts on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, AAPA’s JobSource, and Glassdoor to notify me when jobs in certain locations became available. All day every day, emails advertising different opportunities flooded my inbox and voicemail. If any of the descriptions sparked my interest, I saved them to view later. I ended up finding my actual job on Indeed but all the search engines are basically the same.
Next time I post in this series, we’ll talk about working with recruiters and hiring managers, invitations to interview (video, in person, and phone), and lot’s more! If you’re out there looking for a new job as a PA (especially your FIRST job) just remember, you eat an elephant one bite at a time! If you have any questions or comments, drop em below! Follow me on Instagram or Facebook @coutureinclinic.