As a near or new PA graduate, it can be overwhelming to choose your first position. There is a high demand for PAs, but finding the right position can be a challenge.
PA graduates are often anxious to start working and many are facing the looming burden of student loan payments, which may lead to hasty decisions when it comes time to accept or decline a job offer.
Today, our three recent PA graduates tell us about their experiences in the job search process and how they were able to take the plunge with their first job.
If you have been following the series, you know that I work with these three new PAs. I had the opportunity to see their resumes before they were selected for interviews and was involved with the selection process in hiring them, so I will follow the interview with discussing what led us to offer them positions in our department.
We all now work together in perfect harmony at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in the outpatient clinic of GI Medical Oncology. We are joined again by our recent PA graduates:
University of Minnesota, BS in Neuroscience '11
A.T. Still University, MPAS '15
Texas A&M, BS in Allied Health '13
Pace University - Lenox Hill Hospital, MPAS '15
University of Notre Dame, BS in Science Business '11
Tufts University School of Medicine, MMS '16
All of you had well organized and concise resumes that were appropriate for a brand new PA graduate. Did you get any advice on completing your resume/CV or have someone review it before you started applying to jobs?
We had the option to through a career center, but I didn’t have them or anyone that was a part of the school look through it. We had a couple of days towards the end of the year where someone from the career center at my school come in to give presentations on what to include and what not to include and we also practiced some interview questions.
I think that was a benefit of going to a school that also had a big medical school program because they are used to providing that kind of service to students. I had some of my classmate friends who were applying for jobs at the same time look over my resume too. We kind of peer reviewed each others’ while we were looking for jobs.
I had my advisor look over it as well as some of the PAs I was working with on rotations look over it for me because I had no idea what I should be putting in there as a new grad.
My program had a business manager come in and discuss what should and should not be included in the resume of a new PA grad. He offered to look over any of our resumes, and I took him up on his offer. He decreased the content of my resume by about half, and I kept it that length when I applied to jobs.
During your search for your first PA job, were you looking for a particular specialty or more broadly?
I knew that there were things I definitely didn’t want to do, like peds or ortho. I knew it was going to be hard for me because I was out of state and still in school while I was applying. I searched through TAPA [Texas Academy of Physician Assistants] because I was searching for jobs in a particular city.
There was a small fee for students, but it gave me a lot of access to different job postings. I checked AAPA and LinkedIn as well. I was open to a variety of jobs, as long it was not in a few certain specialties. Location was important because I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere.
I wanted to work in oncology. I did my last rotation in oncology, and I applied for a job during that rotation.
And if I remember correctly, the reason your application made it through HR was because you knew one of the current PAs in our department?
Yes, so she had been in the PA class a year ahead of me in school. I emailed her when I was going to be coming for the rotation and told her I wanted to work in oncology and she told me that the department was hiring.
I knew I wanted to be in Houston, so I started looking for jobs in town. I did a rotation [in oncology] at Memorial Sloan Kettering, but it was more in surgery.
I also knew what I definitely didn’t want to do, like surgery, and I knew I preferred to work in a hospital. I really thought I should do inpatient because I thought that is how I would learn the most straight out of PA school, but looking at my rotations, the ones I really loved were more outpatient.
I applied to a few jobs, I liked peds too, and I applied to a few jobs at Texas Childrens’, but a lot of them were surgical management on the floor or having to go into surgery. I applied to the job I have now, and I liked it because it was mostly outpatient but within a hospital setting and we had the option of doing some inpatient if we wanted. I also knew that the culture was really great at MD Anderson.
How did you choose your job over another one when it came time to decide?
I had an offer from an outpatient internal medicine clinic. I really liked the doctor, he was really nice, and the practice had 4 PAs that had a lot of autonomy. I was leaning more towards it initially, but they offered no medical insurance and minimal benefits so that helped me make the decision in the end.
The schedule was a big thing for me. One of the main questions I asked during the interview what “was does my normal day look like”, and the one position I interviewed for was kind of carving out the position still.
They had similar positions that did four 10-hour shifts, but they were trying to do a later shift that might include overnight. The description was a little unsettled, they didn’t know what that position totally looked like, and it could have evolved very quickly. One of my friends took that job, and it has.
It was an easy decision for me because I really wanted to work in oncology. I heard good things about the department from the PA that was hired in the class ahead of me and I liked how well planned the training process was for new grads.
Did it matter to you if there were other PAs or how many other PAs there were with a potential employer?
Yes, I loved how many there were here.
Yes, and seeing how long a lot of the PAs had been here was huge. It was nice to meet the other PAs when interviewing and have a good sense of what the job entailed. There were other jobs that I looked at where there were high turnovers and everyone was pretty new, so it was good to find a a place that people seemed to stay around for.
I loved that at well, there were PAs in the department that were here 10+ years and that says a lot about a place. I also wanted a job where they were used to having new grads and it wasn’t their first time hiring one, which would be pretty stressful i think as a first job.
There were a couple of PAs at the other job I had considered, but there were a lot more here. It seemed like everyone really got a long well in my group interview here, so it seemed like it was a good environment for PAs and that helped my decision.
First, I will tell you that all of these ladies had very concise, relevant resumes as new graduate PAs, which can be hard to achieve as a brand new graduate.
We hired for all 3 positions within a few month period and received over a hundred resumes in that time frame. In order to sort through this volume, we eliminate most people by their resumes.
Some are easy to eliminate, like the one that stated a desire to work in surgery in her objective when applying for our outpatient medicine position. The majority are fairly middle of the road with slight formatting issues or too much detail on every aspect of every clinical rotation.
It's understood that new graduates will not have a lot of content as far as prior experience, this is the first job after all, but filling space with paragraphs for each rotation wastes the reviewer’s time and fails to demonstrate an ability to understand what is pertinent.
Because it is rare, we have an eye out for any prior oncology experience, as would many specialties hiring new grads. However, we also hire new grads who have had no prior oncology experience.
The resumes for this group that stand out are the ones that can demonstrate understanding of what an outpatient cancer medicine job might entail, like expanding the internal medicine entry to include a few aspects of the rotation that might be relevant to oncology, while other rotations that are not relevant to the position include no extra description. This simple step shows an ability to triage what is important and what is not, which a PA needs to be able to do.
Once we had narrowed down the list, we interviewed about 15 candidates before we interviewed and hired the first of this group, Irene. Irene stood out because she was very engaged in the interview and asked a lot of questions.
We don't hire people who do not ask questions at the interview, and this is pretty typical of hiring committees. First, asking questions shows you are interested in the job and have thought about what it might be like to work here. Secondly, as a job seeker, you should care what you are getting yourself into.
When someone claims that they are so excited at the prospect of a job then asks no questions about said job, it comes across as them being excited about the prospect of any job. We tend to keep around happy PAs for many years, so we are looking for someone who is scrutinizing us as much as we are scrutinizing them.
We've had a few people over the years looking specifically for a GI Medical Oncology job, but that is really rare and we know that. In fact, we would probably be a bit suspect if a new graduate came into an interview and made that claim.
Being genuine is a good thing. You do not need to pretend that a certain sub-speciality is all you ever wanted to do, particularly as a new graduate, but you can show interest in a position by preparing beforehand for the job for which you are interviewing and being ready to ask questions.
Next week, we will review some of the topics in our recent graduate interview series and see how these relate to the average PA school application and PA student.