Updated: Jun 10, 2022
By: Tina Holder, PhD, RHIA
Adjunct Faculty, HIT/HIM Program, Northwestern College
I want to congratulate those who are graduating this year on completing a major milestone in your educational journey. Many of you will soon be taking the next step which is applying for a job where you can showcase the skills that you have acquired in the Medical Billing and Coding or HIT program.
When I graduated many many years ago, I thought that my first position was going to be the Director of Health Information Management at Cook County Hospital. I thought that with my bachelor’s degree and successfully passing the RHIA exam, that would be enough for me to land this position. Well, let me tell you, that did not happen, LOL. One of the reasons was because I did not have any experience in the field. My first position was a coder at the University of Illinois with a starting salary of $10,500. Mind you, they started me out coding mommy and baby charts, or should I say maternal and newborn charts which sounds a bit more professional. Since then, I have held several Director of HIM positions at various hospitals throughout the Chicagoland area.
I am sharing this because some of you will also encounter not having the experience necessary to acquire the positions that you initially applied for. Your next question most likely will be “Well how do I get the experience if they won’t hire me”. One way to get the experience is to volunteer your services in a HIM department or a physician’s practice. My experience has shown me that you may end up taking an entry level position in a healthcare facility which might not be the job that you had hoped for. It may also not be at the facility of your 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice, but it is a starting point and will help you acquire the experience that you need. Join a professional organization and Network, Network, Network!!!
Over the last 35 years, I have interviewed a lot of candidates for jobs within the HIM department. I would like to give you a few words of advice as you begin to seek employment opportunities. Over the last two years you have focused on technical skills which are referred to as hard skills. These are skills that you learned in the courses that you completed at Northwestern College.
Soft skills are equally important and just as necessary for you to succeed in the work place. Soft skills are a little more difficult for us professors to teach you. Soft skills consist of communication skills. Your future employers will want to know if you are polite when interacting with others, do you speak and write well. They will pay attention to the tone in which you speak to others. They will want to know if you have good work ethics, are you dependable, punctual and how many days a year do you call off from work.
They will want to know if you are a good listener and will pay attention to your non-verbal communications such as do you smile when you interact with others, do you look people in the eye when you are speaking to them or do you look down. They will want to know if you are a critical thinker and how well you deal with conflict. They want to know if you are an innovative thinker and a problem solver. Your future employers also want to see people that are energetic, cooperative, team players and have a positive attitude. So again, I want to reiterate that future employers will look at these soft skills to determine if they want to hire you as a member of their team and if they feel that you will be successful in their organization.
Last but not least I want to tell you to dress for success!!! It is not appropriate to wear your True Religion jeans or your pants suit blazoned with Gucci or Coach logos. Wear natural hair colors, which is not pink, green, blue or purple. Cover your tattoos if you have any that are visible. Turn off your cell phones. I once had an applicant whose cell phone went off during the interview and the applicant had the nerve to answer it. Well, all I can tell you is that this person did not get the job. Change your voice mails so that they do not say “Hey you have reached Miss Hot Thang or you have reached “Pretty Brown Eyes”. I once called an applicant whose voice mail said, “When you hear the beep, you know what to do.” Yeah, I knew what to do, I immediately hung up. I would also strongly suggest that you change your e-mail address so that it is also professional.
My last piece of advice is to go into that interview reflecting confidence with your head held high and let them know how great you really are!!!! I want to wish each of you the best of luck and much success as you venture into this next exciting phase in your life.