Getting Your Foot in the Door

Image of a foot stepping in the door

Now that the respiratory care job market has become more competitive, new grads often feel like they are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the search for employment. After all, with little to no real experience in the field, how can they possibly stand out from the crowd?

According to respiratory care managers who weighed in on this topic from the AARC Leadership & Management Section discussion list, there are actually lots of ways new grads can separate themselves from the pack.

Getting the interview

Getting your foot in the door all starts, of course, with getting the interview. Most of the managers who offered input said they would be much more likely to bring a new grad in to interview if he had already impressed them during clinicals. Showing up on time, asking questions, and participating as an engaged member of the team were particularly valued.

“I like seeing how they interact with the other staff and patients, their preparedness and desire to learn more,” emphasizes Tina Dean-Everett, RRT, cardiopulmonary care director at Highlands Medical Center in Scottsboro, AL.

The little things count too, says Garry Michaud, BS, RRT, director of respiratory care at Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston, ME. “Our schools give students the option of whether or not to show up on a clinical day when the college has called off school secondary to the weather. Students who show up are demonstrating to us they will also come to work as employees, and this endears them to our team.”

In cases where the new grad is from a school he isn’t familiar with, Ryan Bellomy, MBA, RRT, director of respiratory therapy at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, HI, says he begins by researching the school on CoARC to find out more about it. “If the school has good metrics, I feel it is worth a conversation,” he says. He’s also impressed by resumes showing a wide range of clinical experience during school. “A resume with multiple centers and types of centers peaks my interest more than a lean clinical experience.”

Robert Wood, RRT, cardiopulmonary services manager at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital in Ridgecrest, CA, says he’ll only consider new grads from at least two year programs. “I have hired from the quick programs that resulted in poor quality RTs. I will not repeat that mistake,” says the manager. Other than that, he expects a flawless resume (no spelling or other errors) and he also wants to see the candidate’s Facebook page to make sure there are no red flags. A steady work history, other than time out for school, is important to him as well.

Active involvement in the AARC figures in too. “Seeing that a student has already contributed in the professional organization tells me that they are invested and willing to learn all sides of the profession,” says Debra Skees, MBA, RRT, CPFT, respiratory services manager at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, MN.

“I love to see that they belong to the AARC,” echoes Andrea MacDonald, RRT, respiratory supervisor at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Getting the job

Getting the interview, however, isn’t the same as getting the job. For many managers, pulling the trigger on the offer letter hinges not so much on the new grad’s knowledge and skills, but on his attitude and willingness to learn and work as part of a team.

“I interview mostly on character and fit,” says Ryan Bellomy. “I like any interviewee, especially a new grad, to have confidence and heart during an interview. If their passion shows through and I feel they are a fit for my team, I know my team can get their clinical skills developed with mentoring.”

Rich Weiler, MSA, RRT, manager of respiratory care at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland, MI, agrees. “The ability to get along with people is more important than entry-level clinical skill set. I can teach someone how to perform procedures and develop critical thinking skills. It’s way more difficult to teach someone how to be a nice person.”

Joseph McDonald, MS, RRT, CCRP, associate director of respiratory care at University Hospital in Syracuse, NY, wants someone who will stick around for a while as well. “We hire after we interview them and get the impression they will stay in the area for a few years,” he says. “We also dig in a little bit and see why they entered the field and their ability to work on a team.”

Of course, clinical skills are important too. Andrea MacDonald focuses on the basics. “Two things that make me want to hire a new grad is that they understand the COPD patient and can actually explain ‘hypoxic drive,’” she says. “And secondly if they demonstrate an understanding of respiratory meds.”

Many managers use the interview to uncover any issues that may suggest the person wouldn’t be a good fit for them as well.”I leave a lot of silent spaces to give the interviewee time to say stupid things,” says Robert Wood. “Interviewees don’t like silence. Without asking, I have had them tell me about crimes they have committed, reasons they were fired, that they are lazy, and they don’t really want to be an RT. Silence is one of my best tools.”

Garry Michaud seeks out the negatives by engaging his candidates in a more casual conversation aimed at getting them to say what may really be on their minds. “It always perks up our ears when we hear things like, ‘do we all have to work weekends and holidays?’ or ‘will I be allowed to only work in the critical care units?’” says the manager.

But sometimes sharing a negative experience can work in the new grad’s favor, particularly when it resulted in a positive outcome. “I personally want to hear how they have overcome struggles or problems they have experienced in their clinical rotations or previous employment, especially around customer dissatisfaction, patient, physician, or co-workers,” says Debra Skees.

Shortages still spell opportunity

And while it is true that the job market isn’t what it used to be, in some cases, a shortage of qualified applicants is still opening the door to new grads who are willing to show they have what it takes.

As the department manager at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa, FL, Richard Sosteri, BS, RRT, has been particularly challenged of late to find qualified neonatal therapists to staff his facility’s 64-bed, level III NICU. Last year, the leadership team decided to give new grads a shot at these jobs by bringing in second year students to rotate through the unit. He looked for high performing students who could do the job, then had one-on-one conversations with them to let them know they were being considered for employment.

Over the past year, he’s hired three new grads into the unit using that paradigm. “Each new grad comes in with a clean slate and eager to learn our way of caring for women and newborns,” says Sosteri.

Heading to the New Era

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