It’s a jungle out there…

One of the stereotypes of the business world is of organisations competing savagely, red in tooth and claw. Certainly, competition is very real. When it comes down to it, a business will usually be successful if it can meet the needs and wants of its customers more cost effectively than other businesses. This often means standing out from the rest in some way: for instance, by establishing a reputation for leading edge innovation, for above average reliability, for consistently low prices or for outstanding customer service.

One tip when applying for jobs in the business world is to research how your prospective employers see themselves as standing out from the crowd, and how your experience and skills will help them continue to stand out.

One perhaps surprising consequence of this competition between organisations is that people in business sometimes react by working more closely, more cooperatively and less hierarchically because this often produces better results. This can be true inside organisations and also between organisations (hence the rise of strategic partnerships).

Of course, there are some pretty scary businesses out there too, but for most employers you’ll probably need to demonstrate real team working, people and communication skills.

One possible further difference between the worlds of medicine and business is attitudes to risk. In medicine, lives may be at risk and there is the prospect of litigation if things go wrong, so it makes sense to gather all the evidence and proceed with caution. However, businesses which are too cautious may find themselves left behind or taken over. The ability to think outside the box therefore tends to be more valued in business than in medicine so it may help to find ways of demonstrating this (in your life outside medicine if that is easier).

Preparing a business CV

A business CV is very different from a medical CV. Forget about long lists of publications and the like. Employers want to know what value you’ll add to their organization and they don’t want to spend all day finding out. So, typical advice here would be:

  • Less is more – a maximum of two sides of A4
  • Give each employer what they are looking for i.e. customize your CV for each application to show you’ve got what they need
  • Focus on your key achievements, skills and competencies
  • Show passion and enthusiasm for them and their line of work (e.g. why you want to work for them, rather than why you want to leave medicine)
  • Include your education, qualifications etc. but don’t make a meal of it – concentrate on showing what you’ve achieved in your life/career so far.

If you’re not sure where to start, a quick browse through the reference/careers section of your local book store will usually provide several books advising on the finer points of CV writing.

Impressing at interview

It could just be coincidence, but the Apprentice selected by Sir Alan Sugar in one series was the person who’d read the company accounts, knew their products and knew where they were planning to go. At the very least, if you can show you’ve done this kind of research it shows you’re serious about the organization.

Most interviews are designed to find out four things about you:

Can you do the job?

Make sure you can show how your training, experience, skills and abilities are relevant to the job description and person specification.

Will you do the job?

Give examples of your high motivation and commitment in your current work, and why you’ll be even more motivated and committed working for your prospective new employer.

Will you fit in?

Be able to show how you work well with others, and research the culture of the organisation you’re applying to, even down to how casual or formal the dress code is. Turn up at interview ready to show you’re a perfect fit.

What difference will you make?

Businesses are interested in results, so show what difference you’ve been able to make in your career so far and have ideas as to what difference you could make for your prospective employer.

A few other interview tips

Remember you’ll be competing with lots of other applicants. Work out what you have to offer that’s special – your USP (Unique Selling Point). What makes you, as a doctor, potentially more attractive to employers than non-medical applicants? And what makes you, as an individual, more attractive to employers than your fellow medical applicants?

Think yourself into the post. What would you expect to have achieved after six months or a year in post, for instance?

Anticipate questions in areas where you are weaker and show either that this is really a strength or how you plan to develop a strength in this area.

Don’t rubbish your current boss or employer. It is much more impressive to focus on what you’ve learned from your time in your current post, how this is relevant to your prospective new employer and why you are particularly keen to work for them. Accentuate the positive! The problems in the NHS are common knowledge. By implication, if you can show yourself working calmly and effectively in the NHS it will have its own force, suggesting an ability to work amidst adversity.

Use your medical experience and knowledge to provide insights a non-medic might not have. For instance, think about the organisation you’re being interviewed as you might a patient. Assume they want staff who can solve problems for them and/or successfully explore new opportunities. So, for the issues they are currently facing: what are the symptoms and what are the causes? What treatment would you prescribe? Is this curative or palliative? Etc.

Assessment centres

Some employers don’t just rely on interviews – hence assessment centres, which typically have up to four components:

Psychometric testing (there are books on how to complete psychometric tests, but it is probably safer to just respond naturally)

Activities to explore how you respond in a group situation and your problem solving skills. Strategies for making a positive contribution include:

  • Using other peoples’ names whenever you can
  • Showing you’ve been listening to the other participants by summarizing what they have just been saying before launching into your own contribution
  • Carrying others with you by finding common ground to build from and explaining your reasoning before giving your conclusion
  • Where appropriate reminding the group of the aim of the exercise or any time constraints
  • Taking a lead role in the latter part of the activity (e.g. summarizing what has been agreed and/or taking responsibility for making a note of the conclusions and reporting back).

Social activities (it may sound obvious but don’t drink too much!)

One to one or panel interviews (see earlier).

Don’t burn your bridges

If you get the new career you’re looking for, it can be tempting to make your pent up frustrations known as you leave medicine.

This may be therapeutic but, just in case your new career doesn’t work out or you find yourself yearning to get back to medicine, it is probably wiser to leave on good terms and keep your options open.

Michael Baber was previously Chief Executive of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund