Before You Apply, Read Between the Lines


When it comes to salary and location, what you read in a recruiting ad should be taken with a dose of Marketing 101

Wanted: EM Physician – Located in an isolated community, this position offers middling compensation and few benefits. There is limited specialty back-up and constant shortages, but essentially pleasant and competent support staff. Enjoy advantages, such as good parking.

You likely will never see such an ad, yet in reality it describes at least some of the emergency medicine opportunities out there. It has always been a marketing staple to cast reality in the best possible light, leaving the intended audience the challenge of reading between the lines to decipher what is actually being offered. But with a quick lesson – and a good pocket translator – you can easily cut through the spin and hone in on the actual offerings.


Think of reading recruitment ads as similar to grocery shopping. Once you understand the alternate definitions it is really quite simple. Suppose you plan to buy eggs. If you want medium eggs, you buy the large size since, as everyone knows, eggs labeled medium are actually small. If you actually want large eggs, you’ve got to pick “Jumbo.”

In terms of reading between the lines in an emergency medicine job ad, here are a few basics to get you started. Location terms are among the easiest to follow:

Charming = Small


Quaint = Old

Great cost-of-living = No one wants to live here

Exciting urban location = Be careful after dark

(When it comes to small towns there is actually a four-point scale)


Picturesque = Rural

Great outdoor recreation = Very rural

Nestled = Remote

Peaceful = Middle of nowhere

Another important component of recruitment advertising deals with compensation terminology. The egg analogy is quite helpful here.

Competitive = Average

Generous = Slightly above average

Excellent = Good

Outstanding = Excellent

There need not be a term for compensation that is actually outstanding. In that case, there is simply a number. Also, be mindful of ads where only the benefits are touted. In general, “Good benefits” means “Compensation is lousy.”

When dealing with the actual work environment, the decoding can be a bit more challenging. A few basic descriptions worth memorizing include:

Dynamic = You will never be able to sit down

Autonomous work environment = You are all alone

Customer service-oriented = Your bonus will depend on Press-Ganey statistical noise

Opportunity for academic advancement = You will have assistant director, director, department head, department chair, dean, provost all breathing down your neck.

Flexible scheduling = We’re short- handed so you’ll have to be flexible.

Part-time or full time positions available = We’re desperate. Any warm body will do.

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, consider yourself ready to deconstruct the most challenging of job ads. And before you are too hard on the advertisers, take another look at your own cover letter. You aren’t the only one who can read between the lines. You may describe yourself as eager, meticulous and self-directed…but then who is going to refer to themselves as an inexperienced control freak?


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