Tag Archives: pleasant

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.

Why Do I Do This Blog?

Jerry feels my pain.

I was listening to The White Coat Investor’s podcast interview with Dr. Bonnie. Regarding her motivation to write a blog, she said she was “…getting tired of writing the same answers over and over again….”  This Spoke to me so strongly, it inspired me to write this entire post. THIS. This is my motivation. I want you all to Be Better, and I could only reach a handful of students at my home institution, and I got tired of giving the same advice, year after year.  These are basic, important, and fundamental principles to advancing your career. Let’s do a brief review.

1) Care about your application. THIS IS YOUR LIFE! You spent how many years and hours of sweat and tears to apply to and get through undergrad to get to vet school, and you’re just going to leave the rest to chance?  WTH? You need to care about your application for your next step at least as much as you cared about everything to GET you there! Polish your materials. Read blog posts and do your research. The amount of time you need to move from an OK application to a Good application is nominal, and I am still shocked that people don’t take this simple step.

2) Be a god-damned professional.  I didn’t think this was hard or needed to be said, but it does.  The items in the How to be Successful series are, in my mind, simple and self-evident, but I have learned this is not universally true.  If you want to get ahead, you have to be Good, not Adequate. Push ahead, never give up, and keep getting better.

3) Interview well.  I understand interviewing is challenging.  It is a rare event, so it is hard to get much skill acquisition.  There is often a lot riding on it, so it is high stakes. For these reasons, you MUST prepare and practice.  There is not an alternative if you want to advance your career.

4) Be positive. I’m not talking about bouncy-bubbly-always-on personality.  I mean: do you bring PROBLEMS or do you bring SOLUTIONS? The latter type of people get ahead, the former just makes everything worse.

I tried to think of a fifth point, and I couldn’t.  This is it. It is simple. Please, for my sake, just do a little bit of work on the culmination of your whole professional life to this point.  Help me help you.

You Must Stand Out

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

I can’t emphasize enough how much you should try to aim for zero– show up, be competent, don’t try too hard.  On the flip side, if you are forgettable, marginal, or just merely acceptable, you won’t ‘wow’ anyone and you won’t get letters of recommendation.  Obviously, you should read and adhere to all of the How to be Successful series of posts. In addition to those concepts, here are some which will help make sure you Stand Out.

1) Ask questions.  There can be a difficult balance between annoying, constantly questioning/bugging and curious, thoughtful, and engaged.  Asking thoughtful questions indicates you understand the material and are interested in learning even more. You may ask any questions you like, and this is a great way to learn, but if you haven’t done the basic reading and work to understand the foundations of the topic at hand, you probably won’t stand out when you ask your questions. Conversely, try not to ‘wow’ people with the questions you ask- esoteric data and minutia can be all well and good, but whenever a student asks me a question like this, it is obvious that they are trying to suck up or stand out.

2) Help out.  You may think faculty don’t notice all of your hard work, and maybe some of them don’t, but most of us keep a close eye on how hard working the students are.  Help your classmates out whenever they need it. Teamwork is an essential skill for veterinary medicine- demonstrate that you care more about the team than yourself.

3) Don’t be silent.  You don’t have to be the most outgoing, gregarious person but, if you are silent, you will almost surely fade into the background.  You should be engaged when things are happening and learning opportunities occur. Be prepared to answer when you are asked a question.  If you don’t know the answer for sure, you can hazard a guess. It is far preferable to make an educated guess than to be sitting in silence while the faculty waits for an answer.  Participate participate participate.

4) Be energetic.  Again, you don’t have to be an extrovert, but you DO have to look like you are happy to be working and learning.  You’re in vet school or an internship or a residency- isn’t that AWESOME?!? You can’t be excited 24/7, particularly with some of the long, mentally taxing hours we work, but you CAN do your best to express your enthusiasm as often as possible.  Students who are energetic and seem happy to be there make a far better impression than those who seem like they are just putting in their time.

5) Study.  This may seem self-evident, which is why it’s not in the How to Be Successful series, but I am often amazed when students go home and then don’t study.  Yes, you may be able to pass and do a fine job. But do you expect you will be able to excel, to stand out from the crowd? All vet students are above average and all interns much more so- if you want to stand out, you have to work, and part of this is studying when you go home or have down time.

I don’t want you to STRIVE to be outstanding or above the crowd- doing so will almost surely set you up for failure.  However, I do want you to be AWARE of what you can do to be a remarkable student/intern/resident. Find the opportunities to do these things as they arise, but don’t force it into situations.  If you had a long, tiring shift and try to force yourself to be energetic, it will come off as false and disingenuous.

These are some of the characteristics of the students whom I notice and for whom I am inclined to write positive letters of recommendation.  What are some other characteristics you believe are important?

How to be Successful: Be an RFHB

The other day I popped my head into a faculty member’s office to talk with them about their current struggles with some students.  The faculty member mentioned one student who was being needy and dramatic and problematic, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they just acted like a Reasonable Fucking Human Being?”  The faculty member laughed and loved that term, because it summarizes so many important but ineffable qualities.

I can’t remember which of my friends coined this term, but it has been one of the most useful terms in my life: Reasonable Fucking Human Being (RFHB).  This is not “an amazing person” or “an incompetent asshat.”  It is not “Spock-like emotionlessness” or “perfect in every way.”  This is the baseline level at which people should be functioning. It is not a high standard.  Yet, it is amazing how often people who should know better do not meet this simple qualification.

To be an RFHB, you need to not be dramatic.  If you can’t avoid being dramatic, you at least need to be able to calm down and speak rationally.  You need to have expectations which are fair and reasonable. You need to not expect people to read your mind.  You need to treat people with a basic level of respect, because they are also soft squishy smart monkeys trying to stimulate dopamine activity on a rocky ball hurtling through the cosmos.

To be an RFHB, you can be emotional, but you need to acknowledge your emotionality.  You need to listen. You need to not interrupt. If you do interrupt someone, you need to be aware of that and apologize.  You need to present solutions and not just gripe, unless all you want is sympathy, in which case you should make that clear.  You need to think about the future and be aware of the consequences of your decisions.

To be an RFHB, you need to be compassionate.  You need to care at least a little about your fellow human beings.  You need to try to minimize suffering- not just starving children in third world countries, but with the words you use and how you deal with the people around you.  You need to trust and accept the trust that progressively builds as you interact with others. You need to understand the rules and, if you don’t accept them, be willing to accept the consequences of breaking them.

To be an RFHB, you need to look out for the ‘little guy’.  You need to support individuals against the oppression of the majority.  You need to understand privilege and not expect others to do things the way you do them.  You need to understand the relationship between work, effort, and outcome. You need to be humble and accept responsibility for your actions and work to improve as a person.

In a word: just be cool.  OK, that’s three words. It seems really really simple to me.  Just be… reasonable. That’s it. That’s the baseline. From there, you can work on being a zero.

Would you Rather Be Smart or Have a Good Personality?

The Vetducator - Jimmy Stewart in Harvey giving advice about being pleasant over smart.

“In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I belong to a private Facebook group for those who graduated in my class in vet school.  When a discussion about grades came up, one of my classmates pointed out many internship programs select people that are easy to get along with over the ones with amazing grades.  My reply was, “Oh man, personality trumps smart every time for me.” Several of my classmates chimed in in agreement. I thought it was worthwhile to talk about.

When I go about selecting residents, I have often said, “I can TEACH them what they need to know.  But if they are difficult to work with, I can’t change that.” I want to be clear: I’m not talking personality like outgoing, bubbly, constantly cheery.  I get along great with quiet, brooding types. I mean personality in the sense that the person is humble, can deal with other human beings, and is willing to work hard.

Grades don’t necessarily indicate your intelligence- they indicate your ability to get good grades in the system we have.  Almost everyone in vet school is smart. Or at least smart ‘enough’. Those who excel have a curious mind, are willing to take feedback, and seek improvement in their lives.

I have known plenty of people who got amazing grades, but were not necessarily successful clinicians, and people who got poor grades who became amazing clinicians.  Success depends on so much more than being smart, or being highly ranked in your class. For some internship and residency programs, yes, they do look at your grades and class rank.  If you’re not near the top, that is fine- those programs wouldn’t be a good fit for you anyways.

Any program that cares that much about class rank is likely to find others who think that is important.  Some of those programs are successful, which is great. I think there are many more programs which understand that there are so many things people bring to the table and need to be good at other than their grades.

We have been talking a lot about ‘soft skills’ in veterinary medicine for the last decade, and it’s because we had been focused so much on grades and test scores up to that point.  What employers want isn’t the person who gets As, they want the person who will manage their cases effectively and keep clients happy. Doing that requires way more than medical knowledge.  It requires communication skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

Some of these you can learn and train, like communication skills.  Others may develop over the course of years. But if someone is a Negative Person, or is Arrogant, or some other major personality defect- I can’t fix that with training.  That person needs years of therapy and a strong motivation to change.

I have two major takeaways for you.  1) If you are not at the top of your class, you can excel and be successful nonetheless.  Read all the How to be Successful posts. 2) Improvements to your personality will pay much greater dividends than improvements to your knowledge.  Hiring decisions are based on how you are to work with- NOT how much you know.