Adding Substance to Your House of Cards

July 20, 2020

Your radiology career is a perpetual cycle of gaining experience that adds to your expertise and ensures your continued professional growth.

Your radiology career is a perpetual cycle of gaining experience that adds to your expertise and ensure your continued professional growth.

In my last column, I mentioned that the past few weeks have been good ones for me. I’ve taken on some new projects and breathed new life into older ones.

One of those items was building up my LinkedIn page. Historically, I never had a use for it—seemed that anytime I got a notification that someone was looking for me there, it turned out to be spam at best -- a scam more often than not.

Nevertheless, I’d gotten an inquiry or two during the spring—real folks seeking my help/advice—and I decided it probably wasn’t a good look for people seeking me to find a blank page. So, I went ahead and fleshed it out. (My contacts list is still kind of anemic, so if any readers are in the same boat, I’m your huckleberry—give a holler.)

Completing the various fields of my profile, I was reminded of working on my CV…and my resume before I had even heard that it had a fancy academic counterpart. Pretty much anybody reading this has had the dubious fun of writing up their own and, then, revising it any number of times.

At some point, we all were too inexperienced to have anything of substance to put there. But, we had to write one up anyway if we wanted to apply for jobs or even certain courses of study. At such an early stage, it was almost like a game: You had to put on a show of being more than you were, without doing it so blatantly as to be caught lying.

More than once when thinking of people overselling themselves in such write-ups, I’ve been put in mind of Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny, talking about how an opposing lawyer is going to try to build a case when he doesn’t really have one. He likens it to building a house of cards: Might look impressive if your audience can only see the cards’ broad sides and can’t see they’re actually paper-thin.

So, young and green, we work with what we have: Played soccer? Hype the team-building experience it brought. Wrote for the school paper? Emphasize the quasi-professional relationships that were developed. Got good grades? Paint yourself as a competitive scholar.

As time moves along, especially once we’re aware that this stuff is fodder for our paper-selves, we learn to start honing what we’ve got. That soccer reference will look a heck of a lot better if we can say we were Team Captain. Ditto for editor of the student newspaper. Even our good grades can be turned up a notch—if we haven’t (yet) made valedictorian, perhaps we take on some teaching-assistant responsibilities. We also learn tricks of the trade about how to describe things—utilizing “action words” to transform what might have been humdrum credentials into powerful, interesting-sounding stuff.

Slowly but surely, the paper-thin house of cards develops depth, and we start looking out for what will be good building-materials in the future. Hey, there’s an internship available at the local clinic for students who might want to go to med school one day. That’s not a card, that’s a veritable brick. I can volunteer to head up a committee for my radiology practice -- that right there’s a potential steel I-beam. Now, I’m building a professional skyscraper.

Really, once one gets going in higher education, let alone a career, it almost becomes harder to not add substance to your house of cards. If you’re going to classes/work on a regular basis and doing what you’re supposed to, you’re gaining experience and developing a track record. Even doing nothing more than the bare minimum, a 20-year radiologist looks more accomplished than one who just came out of training.

I’ve noticed this as I’ve updated my CV over the years. Each time I go back to the thing, it’s like viewing a snapshot of where I was the last time I updated it. In addition to adding whatever new stuff I’ve got, I sometimes recognize that my older items could be portrayed in a better light. For instance, during my last update, I noticed a bit from two jobs ago where I had accurately put that I was the primary PET-reader. What I should have written (and now have) accurately states that I initiated and built up that component of the practice.

Over the years, such episodes of reviewing and updating my house of no-longer-cards have become something like time-lapse photography of my academic and professional growth. I rarely, if ever, made a move in my life thinking, “This’ll look great on my CV,” but simply pursuing ever-higher levels of expertise and developing new skills has that effect in the long run.

Standing pat might be fine for some—if you’re expecting to retire soon or if you’re partner-level in a group and can’t foresee any time when you might need to sell yourself again. I’d advise against such thinking. One never knows what the future might bring. Paraphrasing a sentiment dating back to at least Benjamin Franklin’s time: I can rest on my laurels when I’m dead.