Landing Your First Job
While health information is a rapidly growing field, finding the right entry-level position can be a challenge in any profession. The difficulty often lies not in acquiring the necessary skills or credentials, but rather integrating yourself into the professional community. To become a health information management (HIM) or health informatics professional, you’ll have to think like one, and work with the collaborative nature of the industry.
Volunteer at a hospital, physician’s office, or other facility where you'd like to work. Think of volunteering as a way to help patients and demonstrate your commitment to health information in a low-pressure environment. By volunteering, you’ll build your network from within, and will increase your chances of being notified about job vacancies.
HIM curricula and internships are designed to expose students to a range of opportunities and job settings. Even through internships, it can be difficult to understand what a practitioner’s roles and responsibilities are. Once you’ve established a professional relationship with someone in health information, ask to shadow them for a day. Gain a perspective that can’t be taught in a classroom or through intern experience. As a natural next step after an informational interview, job shadowing can be a great way to observe intangibles, like culture.
Join a Professional Association
Joining AHIMA's professional association automatically extends your potential network by the thousands. By attending local chapter meetings, students can have several informal “interviews” with established professionals and recent grads. Associations like AHIMA offer students the resources to turn knowledge and connections into opportunities. Best of all, most professional associations extend discounted membership offers to students.
Estimates reveal that 70 to 80 percent of jobs are obtained through networking. Networking does not involve directly asking for a job, but rather developing a broad list of contacts and professional relationships within a given occupation.
In most areas, health information is a tight-knit field. Ask your professors, friends, or mentors if they can introduce you to someone in your area of interest. Most are happy to oblige and genuinely want to see students succeed.
Find others with similar career goals online through AHIMA’s Communities of Practice or sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. Offline, attend professional association meetings to stay current and become a true part of the health information sphere.
Cast a Wide Net
Since employers prefer to hire from within, don’t rely exclusively on Internet job postings. Find industry-specific job boards (such as AHIMA’s Career Assist: Job Bank). Work with a healthcare recruiter, leverage your network, and attend virtual and real-world job fairs. By spending too much time on any job search method, you’ll miss valuable opportunities.
Translate Prior Experience
Past experience is as relevant as you make it. Just as health information bridges departments and professions, entry-level job seekers should illustrate the connection between past experience and future performance. If you worked in a retail store as a student, for example, you likely learned problem-solving and attention to detail. Playing on a sports team or leading a club requires flexibility, leadership, and listening skills. Make the connection for employers and professionals, carving out a niche and defining your potential role at an organization.
Show your Personality and Passion
Don’t be afraid to convey what sets you apart, either in person or through your resume and cover letter. If you have a compelling story concerning why you chose health information or internship experience, share it when speaking with professionals or during interviews. Demonstrate your passion for health information by joining the conversation and treating your job search as seriously as you would your future job.