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Landing a Great Job in the ‘High Tech-High Touch’ RT Field

If only employers knew what an impact your skill set and experience could make on their organization. They’d descend on you like newshounds on a recluse celebrity and beg for an exclusive. Well, they’d really want you on their team anyway.

In the real world, presenting yourself to employers with style and confidence requires the right approach. According to Kevin Shrake, chief operating officer of the AARC, the key to your approach is to sell your potential as an asset to their team by highlighting your experience in a way that communicates results.

So before you tackle that blank screen, take some advice from a pro who knows the ropes from both sides of the human resources coin.

What are some essential skills and characteristics you look for in an RT candidate?

Shrake: Respiratory care can be a life-or-death business, so a professional image is key. It puts patients at ease to feel that they’re being cared for by a professional who knows what they’re doing.

The most important thing I look for, though, is a sincere desire to help people. I can train a person to use the equipment and perform the necessary tasks of respiratory therapy, but I can’t train them to love caring for people. You either have that or you don’t.

In terms of education, how much education must an applicant have to be considered qualified?

Shrake: Obviously four years is best. I think people with four-year degrees tend to have better knowledge and more maturity. But education isn’t the only important indicator of how someone will perform on the job. I’m a firm believer that I can train the right person if they have the talent and aptitude for the work.

What’s the advantage of a four-year degree?

Shrake: The entry-level salary difference between four-year and two-year degreed RTs initially is not much. The main difference is one of potential. First of all, a Bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is an excellent stepping-stone for advancing to graduate-level degrees. This may lead to opportunities as a physician, administrator, or other profession to name a few. A four-year degree also allows you to advance more quickly through the profession of respiratory care. It opens more doors in less time in the long run.

What are some careers in which the skills built transfer well into a career in respiratory care?

Shrake: It’s a field that’s what I like to call “high tech/high touch.” So industries where one learns communication skills and technical skills are best. I’ve seen a lot of great RTs crossover from IT professions. A lot of their work involves communicating complex technical information in plain English, and there’s a lot of that involved in working as an RT. Restaurant workers also tend to make good RTs because they become comfortable communicating with customers and anticipating their needs.

For the most part, any career where you learn communication and technical skills—public relations, customer service, editorial, IT—are experiences you’ll want to be sure to highlight on your resume and in interviews when you apply for an RT position.

Speaking of resumes and interviews, what are some “do’s” for RT applicants?

Shrake: First, a resume should be two pages or less. It should always be results-oriented—a brief summary of what you accomplished or how you exceeded expectations, not a laundry list of your day-to-day tasks. Remember, your resume should demonstrate your potential, not what you used to do every day.

In an interview, it always pays to demonstrate your knowledge of the employer. Visit their website or call an old friend who works for them. Then prepare a list of questions that let the employer know that you are looking to make a contribution to their organization, and you want to know how you will fit in. Ask them about their management style, their goals, the diversity of the team. You’ll not only impress the employer by having done your homework and asking intelligent questions, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to demonstrate good listening skills, too.

Finally, you should always follow up within a week with a short note thanking the employer for their time, and possibly asking a question you’ve thought of since the interview. First of all, it’s common courtesy. Second, it’s yet another chance to make a good impression.

What are some “don’ts”?

Shrake: Don’t give the interviewer the idea that you only want to know what’s in it for you. Avoid asking questions about salary or benefits until you are certain you will have a job offer. Better yet, let the employer broach that subject. Also, don’t arrive late or inappropriately dressed. Give yourself plenty of time to find the building and the office, and always wear a suit—ties for the guys.

These things seem obvious, and that’s precisely why they’re so important. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure that what the employer remembers about you is how perfect you are for the job, not the scuffed shoes you wore or the eloquent apology you made for being late.

How can the AARC help you in your job search?

Shrake: Oh, there are so many ways, it’s mind-boggling!

The AARC is your best resource not only for RT job postings, which are updated weekly, but also for networking and information on trends in the field. When you join, you become a member of an online community that links RTs with each other to answer questions, offer support and share information—including the inside track on job openings. You can also update or sharpen your skills with our online courses and discounted educational materials. We even have videotapes of recent seminars at special rates for members. Joining the AARC is the most valuable move you can make in your career!

By focusing on how your past determines your potential tangible and intangible worth to an organization, you’ll give employers confidence in their decision to hire you.