Tag Archives: employment

6 Steps to Being a Professional via Email

I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine about applicants for their surgery internship program.  She told me they had three general pools- amazing, middling, and not-ranking. She emailed one applicant from each pool to set up a time to chat about the program.  Their responses fell out exactly as the group had already placed them.

The not-rankable applicant replied 4 days after the initial email, on Jan. 4th, “Hey, that sounds good.  How about 1/6 at 5pm?”

First, there was no address line.  Second, they only provided a single time.  Third, my friend had clearly instructed the applicants to schedule time the week of 1/7. Fourth, they were proposing a weekend, which is a bit of an imposition. Fifth, they only gave my friend 2 days to figure out the scheduling.  Clearly, this person does not have their act together, so will not be ranked.

The middling applicant replied within 24 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you for the offer.  I am available 1/7 at 11am or 1/8 at 12pm.”

This applicant included a form of address and provided two options during the week indicated.  A fairly reasonable response, so clearly a decent applicant. However, the applicant did not confirm the date once it was set or check in the day before. Furthermore, the applicant then did not answer the phone at the appointed time, moving them pretty close to the ‘not ranking’ pool.

The amazing applicant replied within 4 hours, “Dear Dr. X, thank you so much for the offer to talk.  I am very interested to hear about your program. I am available the following times: 1/7 11am, 1/8 12pm, 1/9 3pm.  Please let me know which works best for you, or if there is another time which would be better. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you.”

This applicant is clearly enthusiastic, appreciative, and engaged.  They had a rapid response, gave numerous options, and overall just presented a proper, professional image via email.  They also followed up 24 hours before the set time to confirm the day and time. Of COURSE they’re at the top of the applicant pile.

Responding professionally in an email does not seem particularly burdensome to me, but from this small sample, we can see that it is a skill which not everyone possesses.  And these are applicants for a surgery internship, who have done a rotating internship already, and, presumably, want an extremely exclusive position as a surgery resident.

EVERY email my surgeon friend gets from these applicants should be impeccable. How in the world do these applicants think they are ever going to get a residency position?  Okay, enough of my ranting, here’s what you have to do, Applicants of the World:

1) Respond promptly. This doesn’t necessarily mean in the same hour, but if you can respond the same day, that indicates you are enthusiastic and eager.  “But what if I’m in surgery all day!” Sure, but you do go home eventually, don’t you? When you do, send a reply.

2) Demonstrate enthusiasm.  Yes, you may be enthusiastic on the inside, but if you can’t express that, the reader does not know.  Show your enthusiasm in your word choice and what you say.

3) Be courteous. Respect the recipient’s time and energy.  If they are trying to schedule a time with you, give THEM as many options as possible and be willing to defer your time for theirs.  Don’t expect them to move their schedule for yours. Give plenty of notice.

4) Follow up.  If you have communicated about an appointment, send an email to confirm the day before.  If you have sent an email and don’t hear back, send a check-in message.

5) Use a form of address.  This one’s simple. In professional correspondence with people you do not know, address them properly in the email.  “Dear Dr. X,” or “Dear Mr./Ms. Y.” It’s not hard, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t cost any more. Why NOT do this?

6) Proofread.  Always proof your emails before sending them out.  I’d say a solid 10% of my own emails have some kind of typo I pick up after writing them which I would not have noticed if I hadn’t proofed them.

So, there you go.  Pretty simple steps to make sure your emails get perceived as professional.  Please share this around so that every email I get from now on will be wonderfully polished.

Effectively Manage the Transition Between Positions

Moving on from one step of your professional life to the next is exciting!  You’re going forward, pursuing your passion, hopefully at an institution you like.  There is invariably down time between positions and there are important Work and Life details you need to take care of.  We are in the middle of a move as I write this, which is both exciting and scary. Here are some suggestions to help you make these transitions less scary, specifically with regards to Time, Housing, Moving, Insurance, and Licenses.

Time

Between undergrad and vet school you have at least a whole summer, between vet school and internship at least a month and possibly more, between internship and residency a couple of weeks or more, and between residency and faculty position as much or as little time as you like.

Between undergrad and vet school, work or travel.  There’s not much point in trying to prepare for vet school- that’s what vet school is for.

Between vet school and internship, travel or, if they’ll have you, stay on at the institution from which you graduated.  I spent an additional 3 weeks after graduation hanging around the surgery service acting as a super senior or a junior intern, depending on your perspective.  It was a great experience and helped prepare me for my role as an intern.

Between internship and residency, study.  The more you know about your discipline before you start, the better off you will be.  Of course, they’ll teach you what you need to know during your program, but the faster you get up to speed, the more you will learn.  I read the Vet Clinics of North America issue on anesthesia as well as Physiology and Pharmacology in Anesthetic Practice and it was tremendously helpful.

Between residency and faculty, travel.  You already know enough to be an entry-level specialist, and you can’t do any meaningful work in the amount of time you have.  You will rarely be so unencumbered as you are once you finish your residency. I have _never_ been able to travel between positions and I wish that I had.

Housing

Once you know where you are going, you need to secure housing.  This can be challenging in some college towns. For example, in Athens, if you didn’t have a place secured by April, you would be getting the scraps, and people who want the best places secure their lease in February.  In contrast, in Phoenix, you can show up whenever and get almost any apartment you want. I encourage you to live within walking distance of the institution if at all possible. If you can also walk to the market and the pub, all the better.  I like using Google Maps, Apartments.com, and Zillow to find places which would be a good fit.

Hopefully the lease of your current place is ending close to when you will be moving.  If you need an extra week or two, you can always ask your landlord. In some place, such as Athens, this will be problematic- almost every lease turns over July 31st- but you can at least ask.  If you need to leave your lease early, notify them as soon as possible and just pay the fee. In the best-case scenario, your current lease ends the day after you pack everything up and move out.

Moving

Use this opportunity to REDUCE YOUR SHIT.  I am really serious about this. I showed up for my residency with two duffel bags and that is it.  When we left Athens, we gave away almost everything in our 2400-square foot house and it was WONDERFUL.  I assure you, your life will be so much better with less stuff. Particularly when you go to an internship- it’s only for a year.  Do you really want to be schlepping all of this stuff all over the country? No. Get rid of it. Donate it to friends, charity, or sell it on Craigslist.  You may NOT rent a storage unit because that is the height of ridiculousness.

Once you have less stuff, your options for moving are: DIY, hire help, or a combination of the two.  I have never heard a story of hiring a company to move things which ends well. So, in general, I would advise not hiring a moving company entirely.  To load your shipping device, you can get friends to help or hire local movers. We have had great success hiring local movers– they are relatively inexpensive, fast, and professional.

For shipping, you can rent your own truck (like a U-Haul and other competitors) or a device which someone else drives (PODS or U-Pack).  After driving a U-Haul for 2000 miles along I-40, I decided my life was worth more than I was saving by driving myself. Plus the gas cost was incredible.  Hiring U-Pack was about the same price as renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip, and was much less stressful.

Insurance

What happens if you get into a car accident when driving to your new home?  What if something catastrophic happens to your stuff in transit? How do you handle renter’s insurance?  Do you have to re-insure your car in your new state?

Let’s start with health insurance.  You should check with your current position about when your coverage ends.  Does coverage end on your last day or the end of the month? In any event, you should have an option to enroll in COBRA, which allows you to extend coverage.  This extension should be enough time to cover you until your next position coverage starts. If you can’t get COBRA, you may need to research individual coverage for the gap time.

Stuff insurance.  Why do you even have this?  Do you own something besides a house or car worth more than $1000?  Why? You already downsized your stuff, so you shouldn’t need insurance for it.  If it all goes up in a fireball, that would be sad but not catastrophic. You can pack any small, expensive items (instruments, computer, guns, etc.) in the car you personally drive.

Renter’s insurance is straight up absurd.  Why the hell should the apartment owners care if we have insurance to cover our very own stuff?  I’m not going to sue them if I get broken into. I wish I could opt out of this, but, unfortunately, in a lot of towns, this is required.  It is relatively inexpensive so, if you need to get it, find the cheapest policy that satisfies the rental company. Alternatively, several times now I have convinced the rental companies that my umbrella liability policy is sufficient.  I strongly recommend umbrella insurance for everyone so, if you have it, you may not need separate renter’s insurance.

Car insurance coverage is generally dependent on the zip code where the car is garaged.  Obviously, the insurance company doesn’t know when you move. But, if you get into an accident, they may make a fuss about it.  I would recommend talking to your insurance company/agent about this when you are researching moving.

Licenses

You will need a license to practice veterinary medicine wherever you go after graduation.  Some states have arrangements where you can get a ‘faculty license’, which has pretty minimal requirements for someone working at a university.  Many places have a single point person to help facilitate this. Figure out the license situation before you leave for your new position.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in moving to a new position.  To keep it simple, follow these rules: reduce your stuff, make a plan ahead of time, don’t leave anything to the last minute.  The sooner you figure things out, the less stressful the actual move will be.

Biggest Mistakes Made During the Faculty Search Process

Possibly due to poor preparation, possibly due to nerves, and possibly due to ignorance, people applying for and interviewing for faculty positions routinely make mistakes.  Most of them are minor, some of them are major. Here are some I have seen (and a few I’ve done myself). Hopefully, by reading this, you can avoid them.

1) Mentioning the spousal hire at any point before getting an offer in hand.  Just don’t do this. You are interviewing for a job- focus on the job. You don’t want to bias anyone by making them think you will be a more complicated or difficult hire due to a spouse.  You want them to evaluate you on your merits alone. Wait until you have an offer to mention the need for a spousal hire.

2) Aiming to be a +1 in your application materials.  As mentioned before, the point of a faculty application is to get you an interview.  You just need a decent CV, decent letter, and decent recommendations. You may be able to get a slight leg up on other applicants if you have amazing versions of any of these, but probably not.  Most of the time, if you aim to be a +1, you will fail and become a -1.

3) Phoning it in.  If your application contains spelling errors, or you seem bored during your interview, you won’t get the offer.  You need to be enthusiastic and interested from beginning to end.

4) Fleeing your current position.  No one wants to hire a jaded, bitter, and angry faculty member.  You need to be chasing something great at the place you are applying for, not fleeing something terrible.  You MAY say your current position isn’t a great fit, but you MAY NOT say it is terrible and you just want to be anywhere else.

4.5) Talking badly about colleagues.  This is often seen in conjunction with fleeing your current position.  I don’t care if your mortal enemy works where you work, you cannot talk badly about them.  This is the image you are painting of who you are as a faculty member. If you talk badly about current colleagues, that means you will talk badly of future colleagues.  You MAY say you don’t communicate well with a certain person, but you MAY NOT say they are a monster and make your life hell.

5) Giving a bad job talk.  This is separate from phoning it in, but often occurs concurrently.  You need to practice your presentation and make sure it is amazing. Most positions involve teaching, after all.  If you can’t teach, you can’t do the job.

6) Being a boor.  This covers a wide range of sins, including ordering numerous alcoholic drinks, not engaging people, being rude or dismissive, not smiling, not meeting people’s eyes, saying inappropriate things, and other unprofessional behavior.  I’m not sure what to say to get you to not do this. Practice being a better person, I suppose?

7) Not having a clue.  If you didn’t do your interview/site visit prep, or if you want a tenure-track position but are interviewing for a clinical-track position, or if you don’t know what the institution is about, you will turn people off.  Do your prep work and make sure you actually want the job.

8) Being weird.  Look, I am all for being outside of normal, but not during an interview. Dress conservatively, practice your conversation and interview skills, and don’t go off the rails in conversation topics.  I once had an applicant who OVER-prepared and wanted to show it off (aiming for a +1) and, as a consequence, we didn’t get to talk about things that were actually important for the job.

I could probably go on.  This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but to give you a general sense of how to act during a faculty interview.  You want to demonstrate that you will be a good, positive, productive colleague. No department chair wants a Project or a Problem Child.  The more you can show that you get along with people and will do a good job, the better.

The Faculty Interview

Sometimes you can feel like you are lost in the desert.

I have been putting off writing this post for a while because it’s just so overwhelming.  All of your application materials have one job: to get you the interview. The interview is the high-stakes encounter when you are applying for a faculty job.  The decision by the search committee is largely based on your performance during the interview. In addition to general interview advice and preparatory research, we have to talk about what to say, how do to a great presentation, and what to ask.  I have a separate post planned for the presentation, so let’s focus on the other two domains.

What to say

In general, you want answers to be meaningful but not expansive.  If you are giving an answer longer than 2 minutes, it’s probably too long.  You can leave them wanting more and allow them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you will always get the question, “Why this institution?”  You should be prepared for this. Instead of giving an in-depth analysis based on your extensive research which touches on all the things you know about it, you can start with a highlights reel.  “Well the faculty all seem to have a good quality of life, I hear the students are keen and engaged, and the work done in my discipline by the folks here has been notable.” Now they can ask follow-up questions if they like.

Do not give excessively short, clipped answers which leave the questioner with nowhere to go.  Faculty interviews are almost never a series-of-question rapid-fire sort of affair. They are usually casual and conversational.  If you approach it like a conversation- they ask a question, you answer, you ask a question, they answer, it will be a more natural flow.

Be positive.  For god’s sake don’t say you want the job because your current job sucks.  You must maintain a positive approach throughout. I don’t care if you are being bullied in your current position- you want to go to this new job because it is great, not because your old job is terrible.  Avoid this temptation. I understand it can be hard- I have faced it myself- but you must remain positive.

Be specific.  This is up to your preparatory research and conversations you have throughout the interview.  If you meet with someone at the beginning of day one who says something which intrigues you, such as “It’s easy to do research with undergrads here because of our undergrad research office,” bring that up in subsequent discussions.  “Well, Dr. Jones mentioned your undergrad research office, and that is a distinct interest of mine as well.” Speaking in generalities will not convince the committee that you want THIS job, just A job. You have to be SPECIFIC.

You do I do.  An easy and effective formula for any interaction is: “You do this thing well.  It matches what I do well.” For example, if they have an active learning approach (or want to start one), you can say, “I understand you are encouraging faculty to engage in active learning modalities.  I taught a course last year which was primarily a flipped classroom, from which I gained a lot of experience in how to do active learning.” Take what they give you- what are they excited about- and reflect it back with how you can enhance that.

What to ask

Remember, you are interviewing this institution as much as they are interviewing you.  The goal is to find the best fit, not necessarily the objectively “best” institution. So you need to ask some serious, incisive questions which will help you get a real sense for the place.

What are your challenges?  This can be framed a variety of ways, such as “What don’t you like about working here” and “What would you change about the job”.  The point is you want to find out what existing faculty members believe the current problems are. EVERY institution has its problems. The question isn’t “Do you have problems?”, the question is, “Are the problems you have ones I can cope with or not?”  Hopefully, you know this about yourself. If not, reflect on it more.

What do you like about working here?  This is the flip side of the first question, and hopefully elucidates the strengths of the institution.  Again, the goal isn’t to hear, “Everything is perfect!” but rather to hear what specific things the current faculty and administration like about the institution.  Do these things align with what you think is important in a job?

What is your ideal candidate?  This will help you determine if what they are looking for is what you want to do.  If they say, “Someone who will really engage with the students on a personal level” and you struggle to learn students’ names and want to spend time on research, maybe this isn’t the best fit.  Follow up/alternative: What do you want this candidate to bring to the program/institution?

What is the next step of the process?  You need to know the timeline for decision-making.  They may also tell you how many other candidates there are and where you are in the order of interviews.  This is essential information if you are interviewing at multiple institutions in the same span of time. If your top pick isn’t making a choice for 3 more months, and you get an offer before then, will you be willing to wait?

The scope of the information about the faculty interview cannot be covered in a single post or even several.  I will dedicate other posts to this topic, but I wanted to get the most important elements written before drilling down on some details or expanding on what is covered here.  What do you think needs to be brought up during the faculty interview?

Leave a Faculty Job with Class

People routinely change jobs, even in a small field like academic veterinary medicine.  Sometimes people go into private practice, or enter from private practice. Sometimes moves are necessary due to family circumstances.  In the worst case, sometimes the institution where you are working is not a good situation for you. Whatever the reason, you need to make sure to leave the job as a professional and, no matter how tempting, not burn bridges.  Here are some helpful guidelines for navigating this process.

1) Give plenty of notice.  This may differ depending on your situation and the institution.  Are you the only pathologist or one of five? If the service to which you belong is very small or you know the position will be very difficult to replace, more notice is better.  Two weeks’ notice is what is given out in the real world and is generally not looked on favorably in academia. At least one month, preferably two, and ideally up to four months is the minimum amount of time to give notice.  There may be rare exceptions to this, such as in ethically questionable or abusive situations, but if these happen it should be pretty obvious to everyone.

2) Transfer your projects and classes.  All the work you did while employed by that institution is technically owned by the institution (unless you have some separate intellectual property clause for drug development or device development or similar).  Therefore, all those PowerPoints you wrote should be transferred to your colleagues before you depart. If there are ongoing projects which you cannot supervise from afar, find another responsible faculty member who can take them over.  If there are student mentees you have, make sure someone else will help them out. Don’t leave anyone high and dry. Set your soon-to-be-former colleagues up for success. You’re a professional; act like one.

3) Be genuine.  At the same time as you don’t want to burn any bridges, I believe strongly in transparency.  If people ask why you are leaving, tell them. You can convey factual information in a considerate and professional manner.  For example, if you feel like administration didn’t give you the research support you needed, you can say that as factually and unemotionally as possible.  Try not to take things personally, as tempting as it can be when it comes to jobs and leaving them. Just state the facts and leave it at that. Don’t take out your frustration or resentment (if it exists) when someone asks why you are leaving.

4) If at all possible, time your departure for the summer.  Since most residencies and graduate programs finish in the summer, it is easier to replace you in the summer than in the middle of winter.  Many times this is not possible, but if you have that much freedom, aim for summer.

That’s all there is to it.  I encounter the most objections to #2, because people feel weird (to me) about intellectual property.  Look, those slides you did for the class are not valuable gems of amazing pedagogical perfection. Most instructors will change them or make their own up eventually.  However, that does take time. The first year they may just use your materials, and that’s OK.

You also don’t have to follow these, of course.  They aren’t written down in some secret Faculty Rules Everyone Follows book.  These are just my suggestions for making everything go well. If you don’t want to follow them, fine.  Just be aware of the potential consequences of your decision. And think about how you would want to be treated if you were one of the faculty members left behind at the institution.