It's an age-old question: How does one land a job without experience? More importantly, how are job seekers expected to gain this coveted experience when nobody will hire them?
As an HIM recruiter, I review countless cover letters and resumes from new HIM graduates seeking jobs in an increasingly competitive marketplace. As an HIM professional, I know that job experience is important, but it certainly doesn't guarantee success. Employers also want to hire individuals who are passionate about HIM and who are flexible—willing to change and adapt over time. Many new graduates fit the bill and bring a wealth of knowledge to the table.
The good news is that organizations nationwide have begun to open their doors to new graduates via internal apprenticeship/mentorship programs. These programs pair new graduates with mentors who help bridge the gap between classroom learning and on-the-job HIM experience.
In addition, the AHIMA Foundation received a grant from the Employment and Training Administration of the US Department of Labor to offer a Registered Apprenticeship Program. This program will help manage the talent pipeline in HIM and put more new graduates to work. The program, which connects new grads and working learners with paid entry-level positions, specifically targets these four roles:
Following are seven other strategies that new graduates can use to land their first of many jobs in the ever-evolving field of HIM.
1. Secure your credentials immediately. Credentials can—and will—set you apart from other candidates. They also demonstrate a commitment to the profession.
2. Network with peers. The power of networking cannot be understated. That's because landing a job isn't necessarily about what you know but rather who you know. Attend the national AHIMA conference as well as local and regional meetings held on behalf of your component state association. Bring copies of your resume and a stockpile of business cards, and don't be afraid to hand them out.
These meetings provide invaluable opportunities to converse with other professionals who may hold the key to your first job or a future position down the road. It's also a great place to learn about different areas, and opportunities, in HIM.
3. Seek out employers with an internal apprenticeship/mentorship program. These programs tend to be more common in rural areas where there are coder shortages; however, they're also cropping up in urban areas as employers struggle to meet the demand for skilled professionals. In addition, look into vendor programs. Vendors have flexible staffing models and sometimes even greater resources. They often offer mentorship programs that provide incredibly valuable experience to new graduates. A number of healthcare organizations, including vendors, are participating in the AHIMA Apprenticeship Program. Look for positions advertised as 'new graduate' or 'apprentice.' Colleges and universities with HIM programs should also have a list of employers seeking these individuals.
4. Polish your cover letter. Your cover letter can make—or break—a first impression with potential employers. Ensure that it—along with your resume—sells you effectively and captures a well-worded snapshot of your professional accomplishments to date. This is very important in larger organizations.
Don't limit your work experience to full- or part-time positions that you've held. Also include academic work and relevant volunteer work. These experiences definitely count and can resonate with hiring managers.
5. Establish a professional social media presence. Even without work experience, new graduates can demonstrate their HIM expertise via social media platforms. Create a LinkedIn profile, build your connections, and share important HIM news and developments among industry groups. Join Twitter and follow industry experts and associations. Then share your thoughts among followers on important HIM topics. Employers want to hire individuals who are up-to-date on industry trends and can articulate these trends to others. Ensure your resume includes a link to your Facebook profile as well as your Twitter handle.
Your social media presence garners the attention of potential employers and recruiters with minimal work on your part. In a 2014 survey conducted by Jobvite, 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn for recruiting purposes. Sixty-six percent use Facebook. Ninety-three percent of recruiters will review a candidate's social profile before making a decision, and 55 percent of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on what they saw on social media. Recruiters also review social media profiles to determine mutual connections, or evaluate how well you write. These are good reasons to make sure you keep your public profile professional.
6. Think outside the box. This includes keeping an open mind when it comes to the following:
Location - Be willing to relocate for the right job and employer.
Setting - With an extensive arsenal of skills, HIM professionals aren't limited to hospital or physician practice settings. Many also work for payers, health information exchanges, vendors, auditors, and many other entities seeking HIM's in-demand expertise. Be open to these settings when looking for your first job.
Salary - A first job isn't typically a forever job. Don't set the expectation too high in terms of salary. With experience, your salary will naturally increase over time.
Title - Your first position is a stepping stone. Consider non-traditional HIM roles related to information governance, patient advocacy, project management, credentialing, care coordination, customer service, or collections. Refer to AHIMA's HIM Career Map to learn more about how entry-level positions can lead to more advanced and even master-level roles. Identify your ideal title, and then map out the steps (and titles) necessary to get there.
7. Work with a recruiter. Finding a job is largely about building relationships. Even if the recruiter can't place you in a position immediately, making that professional connection can help down the road. Send updated copies of your resume as you gain experience. Making this connection allows you to stay in touch throughout your career, and as new positions emerge, a good recruiter keeps you at the top of their list of potential candidates.
Don't Get Discouraged
Landing your first HIM job may take time and patience; however, know that perseverance pays off. Keep an open mind and make networking your number-one priority. In addition, build your resume by gaining hands-on HIM experience as soon as possible and ideally while you're in school. A part-time or volunteer position can provide valuable insight into classroom learning—especially when participating in an online program. This experience can also help separate you from other candidates.
Most importantly, make sure that your first HIM position gives you a solid foundation and serves as a springboard for the rest of your career. Will the job afford you to learn about various aspects of HIM? Sometimes you can't put a price on the knowledge and insight you'll gain. Have confidence in yourself, and remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Brandy Fincher: One New Grad's Journey
Finally, let's hear a story from a real new grad in the field. Brandy Fincher had worked in the medical field for most of her career; however, it wasn't until December 2014 that she obtained a formal associate's degree in applied science/health information technology from Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, AL. She went on to obtain her RHIT credential in February 2015.
While in school, Fincher had performed her clinical rotation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital (UAB). "When I graduated and obtained my RHIT, I emailed the manager of HIM at UAB and asked if there were any opportunities for employment," she says. "It took six months for the right doors to open and everything to fall into place, but in the end, I was able to start my HIM career at UAB."
Fincher began working as one of UAB's outpatient coders—a position she says ultimately paved the way for her "dream job." Her goal, she adds, "was to get my foot in the door and get experience."
When a former instructor from Wallace State Community College told her about an opportunity to work from home, she decided to look into it. The company—TruBridge—was offering an internship program designed to help new graduates gain experience. She applied for the position of coding specialist, landed the job, and hasn't looked back since.
"I feel the opportunities here at TruBridge are endless, and I'm so thankful for a company that would step out and take a chance on a new graduate," she says. "My managers at TruBridge have supported me along this journey and continue to encourage me every day to challenge myself with new opportunities."
Fincher offers the following words of advice for new graduates:
1. Highlight your academic accomplishments. "I was so honored to be nominated by my instructors at Wallace State for the AHIMA Outstanding Student Award," says Fincher. "Having this accomplishment on my resume made a huge difference in the way my prospective employers saw me as an individual."
2. Make the most of every opportunity. "While in school, if you're asked to lead a project, do it," says Fincher. "Taking on opportunities like this will open doors for you down the road."
3. Keep in touch with academic advisors. "When I graduated, I e-mailed all of my clinical instructors in the hospitals in which I completed my clinicals to let them know I was now ready for employment," she says. "You can't be afraid to let people know that you would be a great employee and that you're ready for a challenge."