New Skills Needed for Difficult Lab Job Market

As job market for pathologists and lab execs tightens, some are developing promotional skills

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CEO SUMMARY: Across the nation, a small but growing number of pathologists and lab directors has begun to engage career coaches and management recruiters specifically to sharpen their interviewing and career development skills, even though they are still employed. One expert says this trend reflects today’s tougher job market and recognition that career advancement requires supplementing scientific expertise with polished skills in management and personal development.

THERE’S AN INTERESTING PHENOMENON surfacing that involves a small but growing number of pathologists and clinical laboratory directors. They are seeking out career development consultants to help them sharpen their interviewing and promotional skills.

“What is different today than in past years is that a larger proportion of our new clients are pathologists and medical directors with solid jobs, but who have decided that it is smart to acquire these skills in order to improve their prospects for advancement in their existing lab organization,” observed Peggy McKee, a career coach specializing in healthcare and clinical lab workers.

“Each of our new clients share the same problem: They have spent so much time becoming good at their jobs and understanding modern clinical laboratory medicine that they have had no time for self promotion,” explained McKee, who is Founder and CEO of PHC Consulting and Career Confidential in Celina, Texas. “Today, these individuals are watching their hospitals and labs squeeze down costs, including the number of physicians and staff. These changes motivate them to learn and master the skills used by effective leaders, which include effective self promotion.”

McKee was careful to define what she meant by self promotion. “One thing that is common in the careers of all successful physicians, managers, and executives is the talent for working within the organization in such a manner that co-workers recognize the consistency of their contributions toward meeting organizational goals, taking initiative to move projects forward, and fostering a positive working environment,” she noted.

Examples of Key Producers

“We all know who these individuals are within our own companies and healthcare organizations,” continued McKee. “At the same time, each of us also has examples of key producers who work off the radar screen of senior leadership. The primary difference between those who are recognized and those who are not is that the former apply specific skills and techniques that anyone can learn and use.”

Another trend is driving pathologists to learn how to make their accomplishments more visible to those inside and outside their hospitals, laboratories, or pathology groups. “Gen Y and Gen X physicians are online constantly interacting for professional purposes,” said McKee. “Just as they use Facebook.com to stay engaged socially, they use LinkedIn.com, GooglePlus.com, and the websites of their professional societies to interact professionally.

“So much professional activity now takes place on the Internet that companies looking to hire—and management recruiters looking for candidates to offer their clients—regularly cruise the Internet when seeking to fill executive positions and management jobs,” she continued. “Consider this fact in tandem with the trend I mentioned earlier—about the downsizing happening with many healthcare providers—and it is only natural that some pathologists and lab directors recognize the value of raising their visibility and accomplishments, both inside and outside their organization.”

Professional Expertise

McKee believes that it is essential to elevate the visibility of one’s professional expertise and accomplishments. “In an increasingly competitive environment where it is very difficult to be heard above the noise, medical doctors, PhDs, senior executives, managers, and med techs in clinical laboratories all need to spend at least some percentage of their time—even if it’s just 1% to 2% of every week or month—making sure they are packaging themselves for the benefit of their own companies and for themselves long term,” she recommended.

“This is a small investment that pays big dividends,” added McKee. “After all, so many executives and physicians at all levels in all fields spent thousands of dollars and untold hours earning advanced degrees and certifications. But, until now, they haven’t put time or money into the one product they sell regularly: themselves!”

Advice for All Professionals

McKee’s advice also applies to those who are not necessarily looking to change jobs. Any clinical laboratory professional could benefit in two ways. “First, it is always helpful to have a more substantial presence in the laboratory testing industry,” commented McKee. “Outside recognition of an individual’s skills and accomplishments is often a factor in annual performance reviews, as well as those times when that person is a candidate for an internal promotion.

“Second, a lab professional who is comfortable and competent at talking about his or her skills gains recognition as an effective clinical team leader and manager,” she added.

“However, by the time most of our new clients get to us, they have already tried and failed to find a job because they had no idea about how to promote themselves,” observed McKee. “Or, they are worried about their present job and want to find something that pays more or is more stable, but again have no idea how to proceed.

“There is one more reason why clients come to us: They have failed to move beyond where they are despite months or years of trying,” explained McKee. “That’s because, when it comes time to find their next job internally or externally, most clinicians and laboratory management professionals have not realized that their approach is almost always wrong.

Three Recommended Steps

“We tell our clients they need to do these three steps and if they do them well, they will find a more satisfying job that also pays better,” noted McKee. “The secret is that each of these three steps involves self promotion. If you can’t promote yourself, you may be stuck in your current position for a long while. (See sidebar below.)

“That’s not to say that you won’t get lucky and be promoted from within tomorrow,” she said. “Anything is possible. But it is most unlikely that an employer looking to fill a position that requires the same skills that you possess is likely to find you if you are not promoting yourself in a professional way. If the company looking to fill your dream job can’t find you, then you are likely to stay right where you are.”

McKee’s observations about the job market involving clinical labs and pathology groups are significant. She describes a trend where the job market is tightening. This is useful early evidence that many labs are seeking to reduce staff in order to cut costs. Pathologists planning a career move will want to stay ahead of this trend.

Career Coach Lays Out Three Essential Steps to Make Career Contributions More Visible

AS A CAREER COACH and management recruiter, Peggy McKee has 15 years of experience in working with professionals in a variety of fields, with a particular focus on the clinical laboratory industry. She has coached everyone from entry-level staff to chief executives about how to package themselves for what’s next in their careers. Usually her clients are applying for jobs or are facing some career crisis such as a layoff.

McKee, Founder and CEO of PHC Consulting and Career Confidential, recommends that any professional wanting to support their career growth by developing more visibility for their expertise and accomplishments needs to take three steps.

“Step number one is to create a strong online presence,” said McKee. “This is the foundation that enables your career to advance in today’s networked business environment.

“Whether it is a website your company puts up for you or a website you build for yourself, a strong online presence is essential to your career growth,” she added. “You have the option to build your own website or use sites like LinkedIn, FaceBook, Google Plus, and even YouTube that make it simple for you to create your own site to which you can easily add information and content.

“At the very least, you need your photo and a list of the articles you’ve published to go onto your site,” said McKee. “Pathologists and Ph.D.s have curriculum vitae and this document is a good resource from which to pull information when building your website.

“Step two is to always have an up-to-date resume on hand in case someone asks for it immediately,” said McKee. “One common trait for people whose careers move forward at a steady pace is that, if some company unexpectedly pops up with an attractive job offer, they are prepared.

“The third step is to be able to define yourself succinctly,” she noted. “This step may be the most difficult of the three because professionals generally don’t know where to start. Often, they talk about what they’ve done rather than who they are.

Describe What You Will Do

“You need to develop the ability to describe what you will do for the lab you want to work for,” she continued. “Know and describe the specific steps you would take to bring this lab from what it is to where you believe it should be. And you need to describe how your back- ground—whatever that may be—has enabled you to be uniquely suited to do the job.

“Keep in mind that you are not a list of accomplishments and you are not a list of job titles,” advised McKee. “Instead, you are a capable, professional, results-driven manager who knows how to get done what lab owners want and need. If the hiring person needs someone to steer a foundering ship through troubled waters, you should be able to describe yourself confidently as that very person.”

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