The Importance of Having a Network

I’m back, and here to tell you about the second (and happier) part of my journey of getting a job as a new Physician Assistant (PA) graduate.

To those of you who read part one about my experience with the Career Start Grant, and have been anxiously awaiting the rest of my story, I apologize for the anxiety! But at the same time, I did end it that way on purpose, so that you might have some idea how I (and some of classmates) might have been feeling at the time. I’m hoping that it provides some encouragement to prevent this from happening to you in the future. I’m sure some currently practicing PAs have been in a similar position at some point in their careers – to you, all I can say is that I understand, and that we should help each other to not go through it again!

To those of you who haven’t read part one – read it! Or not… I’m just words on a website, you don’t have to listen to me. But seriously, check it out: it provides some context to what you’re about to read, and also offers some helpful career-building tips.

As you might have already guessed, this post is going to focus on what things you can do to find a job as a new PA graduate outside of the Career Start Grant (Grant/Program). The advice here isn’t meant to be taken instead of avenues provided through the Grant, but in addition to Grant-funded opportunities. And for non-new graduates, I think you’ll find this part a bit more relevant.

During the second round of Grant postings, I saw a job posting on Facebook (CAPA/ACAM or Ontario Physician Assistants & Students, I can’t remember which, either way: join both of these groups!). It was a part-time position, within a reasonable commuting distance. It was also with a clinic at which I had previously done a placement in first year. I had really enjoyed the placement, knew the PAs working there, and that their role was respected, appreciated, and integral to the clinic.

I took a chance, and applied; 10 hours per week was better than no hours. At this point, finances weren’t my biggest concern (most new graduates are not that fortunate), but a large gap of unemployment on my resume was.

I was successful (and overjoyed) in getting the position! Progress! I think my success wasn’t just because of my resume, but also because I was a known commodity to the clinic. So, PA students, please remember what I said before about every placement being a potential job interview.

It was at this point I decided to embrace the idea of working multiple part-time jobs. I thought this could be a good way to build up my network and skillsets at the same time. I liked the idea of variety, and honestly, found the idea of being a ‘gun-for-hire’ exciting!

I applied to several additional part-time job postings in the Hamilton and GTA. Some were from email lists sent around by my PA program (there appeared to be a second wave of employment opportunities in November/December). Others were found with the help of CAPA (job listings and my Chapter President).

I also attended a Local PA Networking Group meeting, where I was able to describe my experience with the Grant process. Everyone was very supportive, and asked what fields of medicine I was interested in, and where I would be willing to go, when I mentioned that I was looking for employment. Over Christmas, a contact from the meeting let me know about an upcoming full-time opportunity in downtown Toronto in a field of interest. The heads up let me jump on the posting as soon as it came up on the institution’s careers website.

Throughout December and January, my efforts began to pay off. I received interview invitations for 4 part-time opportunities, and for the full-time posting. Over the span of two weeks in January, I had done 4 interviews, including 2 on the same day.

After my interviews, I received 3 confirmed job offers – 2 part-time, 1 full-time –  and 1 conditional part-time offer. * happy dance *

Before moving on to the happy ending you’re anticipating, I want to highlight a few things from this process. (1) I never hid my intentions from my current employer. I was open with them about applying for additional work, and provided assurances that my goal was to work around my commitment to them. (2) I never hid my applications to other places, or my current employment situation, from prospective employers. I felt being honest about my situation would be more helpful, particularly when trying to negotiate clinic hours (some prospective employers were very willing to change hours to accommodate my schedule), and juggling multiple job offers.

I ended up accepting the full-time position, with the goal of being able to schedule around my existing part-time commitment. I had been open about my intentions with both parties from the beginning, and was now committing with their support and understanding. For positions I turned down, I offered to put them in contact with other PAs I thought would be interested. By this time, unfortunately, several of the Grant-funded new graduates were having issues with their positions, and were now where I was just a month previously.

What can you do?

It’s time to get a job – any job. Try the following to increase your opportunities:

  1. Apply to part-time and temporary positions. Having part-time work is better than no work. Getting paid is important, but so is keeping clinical skills sharp and building your network.
  2. Apply broadly, negotiate. Consider positions a bit farther away; commuting on a part-time basis is more manageable. Consider positions with conflicting clinic days; there may be flexibility in the days posted.
  3. Work multiple part-time jobs. Build up your hours and your network at the same time.
  4. Ask about more opportunities. Let them know you’re interested in more hours, and meeting with colleagues who might like to take on a PA.
  5. Keep up your references. Let them know you’re job hunting, and where you’re applying. Check in once a month to make sure they’re still willing/available.

I went from being the only unemployed new graduate to having two positions in fields I love, geographically close to me, working with amazing teams who understand and respect the PA role.

While I like to think this was all due to my perseverance and credentials, luck definitely played a role (there could just have easily been no postings). More importantly, I think my network played a huge part behind the scenes. We’re a small community, and I have a hunch that word about me had spread (presumably good things!). I also received feedback from all prospective employers that my references spoke very highly of me, which highlighted the importance of keeping up these contacts.

There’s the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” when it comes to finding a job. I would disagree with the first part.  It’s definitely important to have a solid knowledge foundation and skillset.  But the second part couldn’t be truer. I would rephrase the saying to: “It’s not just what you know, but also who you know.” So please keep that network strong – you’ll get as much out of it as you put into it.

What can you do?

So you’ve got a job (congrats!!) – now what?

  1. Be respectful when turning down offers. Hopefully you were open about applying elsewhere, so it doesn’t shock them. Be gracious: you may need to reach out in the future. If you know someone who applied to the position, and you feel they would do well, put in a good word for that person. It doesn’t harm you, and helps them.
  2. Make job recommendations. Give colleagues a heads up for upcoming job postings. Or suggest a candidate for job if asked by employers. People are doing (or did) this for you – do it for them.
  3. Appreciate your references. THANK THEM PROFUSELY when you get a position; they were probably pretty instrumental in this, and will be happy for you!

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