Health Information Management

Want a new job? Plan carefully before you make the leap

JustCoding News: Inpatient, September 12, 2012

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 by Lois Mazza, CPC

Many of us are perfectly content with our present jobs. As coders, we may be thrilled to have secured a coding position that’s both challenging and satisfying. We enjoy working with our colleagues. We are content with our salaries and benefits.
Other coders may feel differently about their work. They may not feel satisfied at all. Some seasoned professionals may want a new challenge. Some may find their working conditions unacceptable. Others may see the writing on the wall as departments are downsized or outsourced. They may feel that their job isn’t secure and that a layoff may be imminent.
What should you do if you fall into the latter of these two categories?
Articulate your motivation for change.
Before deciding to change jobs, you must closely examine your feelings of dissatisfaction. Are you truly dissatisfied with your job, or is something else the actual root of your frustration? Talk through your thought process with a spouse or partner, a trusted friend, or even a professional counselor to better understand your true motives. Changing jobs can be enormously stressful, and once you set the wheels of change into motion, you often can’t turn back. Remember that all organizations operate using their own unique rules, regulations, and policies. Be prepared for a potentially significant adjustment when you work in a new environment. The decision to change jobs is definitely not one you should make on a whim.
Identify your ideal position.
Once you’ve identified a valid reason—or reasons—for changing jobs, you need to identify what type of job or job atmosphere would make you happier. Where would you rather be, and what would you rather be doing? Research different options before you send your resume. Look at employment websites that list coding jobs.
For example, the AAPC Web site includes many resources available to its members. Be sure to check out the salary survey to determine what compensation other coders receive when working in positions similar to the ones you seek. Review the job section of the site to identify potential employers and available positions. Talk to friends who are employed by other organizations to better understand the tasks they perform and under what conditions they work.
Seasoned coders may strive to move up the coding/HIM ladder and into one of the following positions:
  • Coding manager
  • Coding educator
  • Clinical documentation specialist
  • Auditor
  • Compliance officer
Some of these jobs may require certain qualifications, such as an advanced degree; however, many employers consider experience and training in the absence of such a degree. Don’t be afraid to inquire. Some employers may even be open to negotiation during which you can propose the idea of acquiring an advanced degree through an accelerated program as a condition of your employment. If you believe you possess the personal qualifications to perform the job, then, by all means, try to negotiate your way into the position.
Polish your resume.
A polished resume is paramount when searching for a new job. It’s helpful to keep an updated version of your resume on file even if you don’t intend to change jobs anytime soon. Consider the following tips:
  • Include your contact information, including your full name, phone number, and email address, at the top of the page.
  • Use an easy-to-read font.
  • Condense the information to two or fewer pages.
  • Only include information that applies to the job you seek.
  • Ensure that your resume is error-free. Employ a trusted friend or professional resume writer to proofread the document before sending it.
Write a compelling cover letter.
A strong cover letter can really command a potential employer’s attention. Likewise, a weak cover letter fraught with errors can deter someone from even considering what you may have to offer. Consider the following tips:
  • Tailor your cover letter to each position for which you’re applying. You can use an already-existing cover letter as a template; however, be sure it addresses the job that you seek.
  •  Include the name of the job and where you found the listing or heard about it.
  • Briefly—and I mean briefly—explain why you are qualified for the position. Don’t include a copious amount of details. Your resume will capture your work history and qualifications in a more detailed way. However, be sure to mention the number of years of experience you possess as well as whether you hold a specific coding certificate or credential.
  • Thank the reader for reviewing your resume, and invite him or her to interview you or follow-up with any additional questions, should he or she believe you possess the appropriate qualifications.
  •  Include your contact information (i.e., name, address, phone number, and email address) under your signature.
If you employ a professional writer to help polish your resume, negotiate a deal that includes enhancing your cover letter as well.
Prepare for your interview.
Once you’ve landed an interview, be sure to research the company and its history. The information you learn may help you shape your response to the question, ‘Why did you choose to apply to this company?’ You could cite the company’s longevity, its vision statement, or its financial viability in addition to your own personal reasons.
Next, plan what you will wear to the interview. Choose a conservative outfit in which you’ll be comfortable. Wear shoes in which you can walk easily in case there is a tour or a long walk to meet with other interviewers.
Also be prepared to provide references. Some employers may ask for references—and a completed application—immediately after the conclusion of the interview. Some may ask you to write references directly onto the application, and others may simply prefer a separate list. Be prepared for both scenarios.
Consider the following tips when compiling a list of references:
  • Ask only well-trusted friends, co-workers, or former managers to serve as references. Three references should be sufficient; however, it’s helpful to secure extra references in the event that a prospective employer asks for them.
  • Tell your references to keep all information private if you don’t want your current employer to know you are seeking a new job. Don’t assume that others know your preferences.
  • Include each reference’s name, address, job title, phone number, and email address. Confirm and verify all of this information with each reference before providing it to a prospective employer.
Plan to get plenty of rest the night before the interview. You should actually strive to get plenty of sleep for several nights in advance of your interview, in case nerves prevent you from sleeping well the night before your interview.
Take a folder and note pad so that you can take notes. Also bring extra copies of your resumes and references. Write down the names of everyone you meet. Be sure you have the email address of the person conducting the interview so that you can send a thank you email to him or her immediately after the interview.
Research directions to the company’s location, and review the directions in advance several times before you depart.
Stay calm and focused during the interview.
When you arrive at the interview, treat everyone you meet in a friendly and respectable way. You don’t know who may influence the hiring decision. Show confidence by looking people in the eye and using a firm handshake. Sit up straight and try to relax. Try to be yourself.
As the interview progresses, be sure to take a few moments to consider every question before you answer it. Also, be prepared with questions of your own to ask those who are interviewing you. You may be perceived as disinterested if you have no questions for the interviewer.
The interviewer may want to discuss salary at some point during the interview. If you’re not comfortable with that, tell him or her that you’re waiting for a job offer first. If you’re required to fill out an application that asks for your current or desired salary, you simply leave it blank or state ‘negotiable.’
Salary is usually—but not always—negotiable. If you’re offered a job for a healthcare organization, the salary may not be negotiable at all. However, if you’re offered a job by a private coding and billing company or a large corporation, you may be able to negotiate a higher wage.
Throughout the interview—and particularly as it ends—express your interest in working for the company. Make it clear that you would welcome a job offer.
Think before you respond.
Don’t jump at the first job offer you receive. Ensure that you understand—and are comfortable with—the requirements of the new job before you give up your present source of income and employment. Ask a lot of questions, particularly if the new job is quite different from the one you are leaving. Consider asking the following questions prior to accepting the position if you didn’t already pose them during the interview:
  • What are the specific requirements of the job? Can I receive a copy of the formal job description?
  • Is there a training program? If so, who will train me for the new position?
  • Who will be my supervisor? Did I already meet this individual? If not, can I meet him or her before I make a decision?
  • Does the new job require travel? If so, how often, and where will I be required to travel?
  • What will my office or work space look like? Can I see the space before I accept the job?
  • Will I ever be able to work from home?
  • Is there a probationary period? If so, how long is it?
  • What are the goals of the probationary period? What should I know when the probationary period has ended?
  • What benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement, vacation, etc.) will I receive?
Editor’s note: Lois Mazza, CPC, is a documentation specialist for a medical management group that provides management services, as well as coding and billing services, for emergency departments, hospitalist medicine, and anesthesia groups in 46 states nationwide. She is certified through the AAPC since 2004. She has 16 years of experience working in the healthcare industry. Contact her at


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