Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Research the Industry

A lot of schools will tell you all about their coding programs, but what they may not tell you is what the local job market looks like. And as more and more distance education schools pop up, it becomes your responsibility to find out if there is a need for coders in your area. While it is true that there is a national coder shortage, there is no guarantee that coders are needed in the geographic location where you currently reside. So how badly do you want to be a coder? Are you willing to move somewhere else if there aren’t positions close to you?

Where the Job Postings Are

The initial research is simple. Check local and national job postings. This may mean going to a variety of sources, such as the local newspaper, AHIMA, AAPC, and employer job listings. Don’t expect to find a whole lot in the newspaper ads (although smaller physician practices still use newspapers to post positions), since there are many professional job listing sites and coding positions are highly technical; therefore, most employers go with the professional job listings. Some employers may not have an advertising budget, so I always recommend that you hit their job listings on their websites. For example, if you live within 20 miles of 5 hospitals, check the job listings at all five. And don’t stop there. If you are a member of AHIMA or the AAPC (or both) check their job postings for your area. Look at the national postings if you are able to travel. And also don’t forget to check job postings in industry publications (see my previous post titled “What Should you be Reading?” for details).

Pay Attention to Job Requirements

Everyone wants experienced coders, that’s a given. But they don’t always find them, so don’t stop reading once you’ve seen they are asking for someone with 2-3 years of previous experience. The important thing to note within the job requirements is this: which credentials are they looking for? If you are not certified, this will give you an idea of which credentials are in demand for the employer you want to work for. It will also clue you in to the current job market and you will know if there is more of a need for physician or hospital coders, inpatient or outpatient coders, or even if there are some nontraditional coding positions. Look for those “code” acronyms (pun intended!): ICD-9-CM, CPT, HCPCS. If the requirements to land the position include an understanding of one or more of those, then it’s a coding-related position. And even if you can’t be a “traditional” coder, being in a coding-related position is a start.


I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record about now, but I can’t stress this enough. I have known a fair share of people who were hired because they were in contact with someone who was hiring. This remains important throughout your career. This is a small industry and you will find that you continually cross paths with the same people and as you advance, you may find that employers are courting you. But until the day your name is on the tip of every hiring manager’s tongue, focus on getting your resume straight to the hiring manager and you will be more likely to get an interview or test for the position.

Know Your Stuff

Knowing people is one thing, but I personally don’t endorse or hire anyone until I can vouch for their coding abilities. I’ve never hired anyone without issuing my own coding test, so be prepared to be asked to take one. Being a novice coder is okay and a good coding test will test your skill at any level, but you do need to know at least something about coding. If you don’t know how to locate codes in the ICD-9-CM and CPT codebooks or medical terminology, it’s going to be a short interview. So make sure you at least know the basics before going in. You can further prep by attending local educational seminars and reading trade magazines, which will help educate you and introduce you to industry lingo (and there’s a lot of it). I’m sure this makes little sense right now, but the more you know as a novice, the better off you are (again, please see my post on what you should be reading). My next post will help make this clearer. After all, coding is more than just looking up a code as if it were a word in the dictionary. Stay tuned…