While the health care industry is definitely hiring, competition is fierce and out of hundreds of applicants, only a handful are getting interviews. Understanding how companies function and communicating your value in accordance with their needs can greatly increase your odds of getting noticed.

I recently interviewed representatives from Virginia Mason Medical Center and UW Medicineregarding how each company does hiring. While they share similarities in what they look for in candidates, knowing their different hiring preferences and approaches to recruiting can make the difference in getting your foot in the door for an interview.

How many jobs are available? UW Medicine has 20,000 employees in seven major units, all of which are hiring right now. There are currently 140 openings at Harborview Medical Center, 250 openings at UW Medical Center and the rest are spread among Northwest Hospital, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW School of Medicine, UW Physicians and the Airlift Northwest division. Virginia Mason has about 5,000 employees, and a quick search on its website shows a little over 100 openings.

How are the jobs advertised? Each company lists opportunities on its own website. In addition, each advertises openings on NWjobs.com. UW Medicine also leverages the Seattle Times Sunday print paper. As of early 2010, Virginia Mason has also embraced social media and is now starting to use TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook to advertise openings, as well as other major job boards likeMonster.com. “While the health care industry is behind on [the social media] concept,” says Mary Pirnke, recruiting supervisor at Virginia Mason, “we’re open to using these tools to broadcast our openings.” UW Medicine uses LinkedIn mostly for IT openings.

How to get notified of job openings and get there first: When applying to Virginia Mason, Pirnke suggests applying in the first few days that the position is advertised. Many times, it’s a first-come, first-served basis, she says. To find out about the openings automatically, you can subscribe to Virginia Mason’s listings online and get notified when there is a position that matches your background.

How much competition is there? Once a job is posted for an entry level or non-health care opening, both companies receive an average of 50-plus resumes in the first two to three days alone. In one week, Virginia Mason’s applicant tracking system will be flooded with 900 to 1,000 applications. UW Medicine, which isn’t recruiting as aggressively, will cap out around 300 resumes on average.

Regarding skilled positions, both hospitals struggle to find good talent in nursing and radiology, however, due to great supply of experienced nurses in the marketplace, neither hospital is actively recruiting new graduates. On occasion, UW Medicine might look at new graduates, says Johnese Spisso, clinical operations officer for UW Medicine Health System and vice president for medical affairs. Spisso says that, in those cases, she looks for enthusiastic graduates who can demonstrate the ability to work in a fast-paced, highly diversified environment.

What’s the best way to get noticed?
 “I advocate getting your resume noticed by networking your way into the company,” says Tony Wright, vice president of human resources at Virginia Mason. The Medical Center has a strong referral program and encourages its employees to refer candidates who are aligned with the company’s values (team work, excellence, integrity and service). In contrast, Spisso at UW suggests applying to as many openings as possible and, once you get picked up by a recruiter, telling them which ones interest you most.

To stand out, both hospitals suggest doing your research on the company and tailoring your resume specifically to its openings. Unlike UW’s approach, Virginia Mason’s Pirnke suggests applying only to positions you’re qualified for. While this makes sense, many candidates waste her team’s time by submitting multiple applications to openings where there isn’t a good fit. On top of poor submissions, both hospitals have seen sloppy resumes, misspellings, cover letters addressed to the wrong company and applications with employment dates left off. These all raise red flags, so be sure to avoid these problems.

What should you emphasize in your job application? When submitting an application, make sure to show your commitment to patients first, as well as excellent customer service skills, strong knowledge of your field, enthusiasm, initiative, experience with innovation and the ability to go above and beyond what’s required. They want to see not only what you did, but also what you achieved in your last role. Write a short and succinct cover letter for both organizations highlighting technologies you’ve used, your understanding of the values of the organization and your notable accomplishments.

What not to do when trying to get a job: While neither company talked about their blacklists, they did share some interesting stories about candidates that got the red flag. Curtis Colvin, interim recruiting manager at UW Medicine, recalls a candidate’s parent accompanying his son to an interview. Curtis also recalls a candidate mentioning during an interview that he couldn’t believe that his employer would terminate his employment due to reasons of misconduct. Mary Pirnke was recently contacted by a candidate’s spouse to check on the status of an application.

What to do when trying to get a job: While many might get a phone screen as the result of their submissions, only three individuals, on average, will get interviews per job opening. Technical skills aside, enthusiasm, great attitude and understanding of the organization are the attributes that lead to interviews for both companies.

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