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Working Effectively With Recruiters
Are Recruiters an Ally or Hindrance to Your Job Search?

Some physician recruiters may send you multiple emails, call you at work at inconvenient times, and bombard you with job possibilities that don't quite fit. But if you select the right recruiters, they can do a lot of legwork for you that can be very helpful in your job search.

The first thing to understand is that the term "recruiter" actually refers to two very different kinds of services:

Physician search firms. These agents work in independent companies of all sizes—from tiny firms to publicly traded companies—and contract with different employers. They can help you find job openings by consulting a variety of lists, including their own.

In-house physician recruiters. These agents work for a particular employer. You would contact them when you've already targeted the employer and want more information about the job, the organization, and the community. Unlike search firms, in-house recruiters cannot find you jobs outside their organization.

Both categories of recruiter are paid by the employer, not by you.

There are also two types of search firms, based on how they're paid. Retained firms are paid on the basis of the time they spend helping you, but contingent firms are paid only if you take the position. A contingent firm can be more aggressive, because if they can't place you, they don't get paid.

How Effective Are Recruiters?

Recruiters are one of the most widely used methods for finding physician jobs, but they are not necessarily considered the most effective. Job seekers typically say that the most effective way to find a job is through word of mouth.

Job seekers typically say that the most effective way to find a job is through word of mouth.

In a 2013 survey [1] of former job seekers by AMN Healthcare, recruiters were the number one way they looked for jobs, cited by 64% of them. But in a 2011 survey [2] of former job seekers by the NEJM CareerCenter, the most effective search method was personal referrals. These were endorsed by 79% of respondents as "very effective."

Respondents to the latter survey also markedly preferred in-house recruiters to search firms, with 40% citing in-house recruiters as "very effective" versus 28% for physician search firms. Why the large gap?

Physicians judge search firms by the number of high-quality job openings they can find, but they immediately start at a disadvantage. The entire universe of job listings available to them—their own leads, leads from other search firms, and other posted positions—has been estimated to be no more than 20% of all available physician jobs. The rest of the jobs can only be gotten through word of mouth. A search firm may root out some of these leads, but it will miss many of them.

In-house recruiters, on the other hand, are judged by how much they can help you with positions you already know about. Their job is to fill in the holes about the position and tell you about the employer and the community at large, such as referral patterns and the real estate market.

What Search Firms Can Offer

Insights into employers. Good search firms can provide information on large employers' workplace culture, typical work hours, and benefits.

Narrowing a geographic area. Search firms are especially useful for physicians who haven't been able to zero in on a particular geographic area. They will often try to steer you to hard-to-fill openings in small cities or rural areas, because this is what they're usually hired to do. These jobs can be great choices, but they're very plentiful, and you probably don't need a search firm to find them.

Compensation data. Some search firms may provide compensation benchmarks used to negotiate your reimbursement, such as data from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). It is useful to get this information from search firms, because the MGMA data, for example, are behind a paywall. The data are useful because they cover geographic areas and specialties and are broken down into percentiles.

CV and contract review. Some search firms offer to edit and rewrite your CV or help review the employer's contract. Although you may choose to use their services, you can also get CV review from firms that specialize in this service. Even if the search firm you're working with gives you some pointers on your contract, you still need to hire a specialized attorney to do the heavy lifting. It's not in the interest of your recruiter, who is paid by the employer, to point out flaws in the employer's contract.

Other services. Search firms may also help you with licensing, credentialing, and privileging; preparing for the upcoming interview; or booking flights, hotels, and rental cars for the interview. In-house recruiters may offer these services as well.

Help in competitive markets. This is one area where search firms may not be of much help. Where job seekers really need the help of a search firm is in very competitive markets, such as big metro areas. However, these positions are very easy to fill, so employers don't need to hire search firms. Because search firms rarely get paid for filling these jobs, they have little incentive to find them for you.

Choosing a Search Firm

If you're working with an in-house recruiter, there's no choice to be made, because there's only one set of them per employer. But you will have to choose a search firm.

Search firms often advise you not to choose more than two of them. That's because employers generally won't pay for more than two search firms advising the same physician, and in a contingency arrangement, they'll pay only for one.

This concern won't affect you, however, so technically, you are free to hire as many firms as you want. But keep in mind that having to deal with a lot of search firms would take up more of your time and could be confusing.

Some firms may ask you to sign an agreement giving them the exclusive right to represent you; these arrangements are not in your interest.

You're probably already getting lots of emails from search firms asking you to choose them and fill out their response cards. What kind of firm should you pick?

Having expertise on your particular medical specialty is a big plus. Should you pick small search firms or large ones? It depends. Small firms can offer personal attention, but large ones have more resources.

Small firms can offer personal attention, but large ones have more resources.

Pick a search firm that has enough resources to be selective. They should be sending you just a handful of job offerings that truly meet all your criteria, and they shouldn't be bothering you with the near-misses, as some of them do. And with each offering, they should provide extra details and give you advice about assessing the job, such as dealing with complicated compensation formulas.

Have Search Firms Audition for You

One easy way to choose a recruiter is to put everyone who contacts you through a simple audition. Fill out and return all the response cards. You will probably get a flood of replies. Provide each with a short wish list about the kind of job you want—including practice type, climate, city size, recreational and cultural opportunities, and salary range.

One young doctor who used this method said about 90% of the search firms provided responses that did not answer his concerns. He asked these firms to remove him from their lists, explaining that he had made other arrangements. He then reviewed the half dozen remaining responses and chose two of them. They both recommended the same job, which was the one he chose.

Alternatively, you could ask colleagues to recommend a search firm, though you should keep in mind that recruiters who helped other specialties or worked on another location might not fit your specialty or location. You could also get a list of recruiters from the National Association of Physician Recruiters (NAPR;

Ways to Evaluate Search Firms

In addition to the audition strategy used above, here are some other ways to evaluate search firms:

Require at least 5 years of experience. Make sure those years were specifically in physician recruiting, not just any recruiting.

Consult their list of clients. Many firms usually display this on their website. However, one or two assignments from a particular employer do not necessarily connote an endorsement.

Ask whether they are NAPR members. NAPR does not certify its members, but it does have a code of ethics and says it investigates complaints against members.

Assess their skills in a brief conversation. Are they listening to your needs? The recruiter shouldn't be doing all the talking. Do they understand healthcare terms? Do they have any knowledge about the particular client that you are interested in?

Avoid overloaded recruiters. An individual recruiter can handle six to eight searches at one time. Higher volume means they may not be able to give you the attention you need.

Continue Searching on Your Own

Even if you use a search firm, you should continue searching on your own. This will improve your chances of success. Search firms only fill 20% of available jobs, and that number is even lower among practices, which are less likely to use recruiters.

Looking for a job on your own works best when you have a location in mind. If you are considering large organizations, contact their in-house recruiters to get more details about the opening. They can also help you assess the community.

Looking for a job on your own works best when you have a location in mind.

Because they are part of the organization, in-house recruiters have a stake in making sure you will fit into the job in the long term. In-house recruiters are more likely to be concerned with retention of physicians, so they are likely to be better matchmakers than someone without long-term ties to the employer.

If you don't use an outside search firm to get your job, some employers will pay you a larger signing bonus, reflecting part of their savings from not having to pay the search firm. Search firms may charge the employer $20,000 or more for their services.

In some cases, you may select an employer who also has a contract with your search firm. The generally agreed-upon rule is that if you made the first contact on your own, the recruiter is not eligible for payment. However, it's a good idea to ask the search firm what their expectation is.

Potential Difficulties When Working With Job Search Firms

Most physician search firms are hardworking and upstanding, but there are some bad apples. Watch out for these issues, which were brought up by former job seekers:

You are flooded with weak job leads. The search firm should send you no more than three or four well-researched opportunities. Getting swamped by leads that don't meet your criteria doesn't help you in the least.

Your recruiter calls you a lot at work. He or she calls your office and has you paged for routine matters that could be addressed in an email or text message.

The disappearing job description. The search firm posts an ideal job description without the employer's name. You have to contact the firm to get it, but when you do, the offering is replaced by a couple of less interesting jobs. Was the original offering for real? Who knows, but the recruiter has succeeded in getting your attention.

Your recruiter shops your CV around. Good recruiters don't send résumés to anyone without your permission. You don't want to get a call from an employer out of the blue for a job you had no idea you were applying for.

Good recruiters don't send résumés to anyone without your permission.

The search firm wants payment from you. In rare cases, payment is made by the job seeker rather than the employer, but in these cases, the firms provide specialized services. Normally, you shouldn't pay recruiters anything.

You're asked to sign an exclusive agreement. Such an arrangement, sometimes called "right to represent," makes the recruiter your exclusive agent for a specific position or for all positions. These agreements are not in your interest.

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Koushik Shaw, MD

| Disclosures | January 01, 2017

Authors and Disclosures


Koushik Shaw, MD

Urologist, Austin Urology Institute, Austin, Texas; Author, The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Job After Residency (McGraw-Hill Education, 2005)

Disclosure: Koushik Shaw, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.