Top 10 strategies to land your first coding or CDI job

Brian Murphy

I’m a newly-minted CPC-A, but every employer wants a CPC with a couple years of coding experience! What do I do?

I’m an RN who wants to leave the bedside and get into CDI, but everyone wants a CCDS! I’m stuck…can you help!?!

If these pleas sound familiar to you, well, it’s because they are. I read posts like these all the time, and always feel a tug at the heartstrings. 

Recently this scenario hit close to home. Just a couple weeks ago a friend’s daughter earned her CPC-A (certified professional coder-apprentice) after successfully passing the exam from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). 

I sent my heartfelt congratulations. But then came the next question: Do you know anyone who is hiring? 

Err … hmm let me think about it.

So, I did some thinking, asked around, did some research. And produced something that would be of value not just for her, but the industry at large. In a handy top 10 list, because who doesn’t like a top 10 list?

Below is a roundup of advice gleaned from my own brain, the experts at Norwood, the power of the internet, and the LinkedIn hivemind (if you contributed something I used, I gave you credit below—thank you again)! This list doesn’t include the most basic/generic, albeit important advice (have a clean, updated resume at all times, sign up for Indeed, etc.), but rather ideas that are a bit more specific to coding and CDI. 

Use this article as a jumping off point for the next time the question arises. Because it will, again and again!* Share it with others in need.

(*for the record I love these questions, because it means that we’re getting new faces and new enthusiasm into these professions).

1. Network, network, network. This one is the most important and tied to everything below. Get on LinkedIn, build your profile (see no. 7 below) and then get active on the platform. Post about you, your background, skills, your desire to work, etc. Show you are engaged, and folks will be more likely to accept your invitation to connect. When you do make a connection, send a direct message asking for a small window of time with CDI and/or coding professionals (they often find this flattering, and though busy can often set aside 15-20 minutes for a call). Don’t ask for a job, but build the relationship, and you might be someone’s next referral. LinkedIn is the start, but other places to network follow.

2. Subscribe to a couple CDI and/or coding podcasts. These are a great way to learn for free. A few that I’d recommend include:

    1. The ACDIS Podcast
    2. Coder vs. CDI
    3. Paint the Medical Picture
    4. The HIM Entourage podcast
    5. CodeCast Podcast
    6. Not Elsewhere Classified

Start with the first episode in your feed to get a feel for the host, then I’d recommend scrolling through the archives to look for episodes related to finding work, career building strategies, or learning more broadly about the profession.

3. Find your tribe on social media. There are many, many valuable coding and CDI groups on social media, and Facebook in particular. These are truly “social” groups where people are constantly asking questions, getting advice, and sparking conversations. Here’s a few I’d recommend; there are many others you can turn up with a simple search:

    1. AAPC Facebook group. With more than 47,000 members, this page has constant questions on exam taking, coding rules, and landing that first job. Join here:
    2. Clinical documentation integrity Specialists: A 3,700-member group described as for RNs, LPN/LVN, physicians, physician assistants, who are practicing CDI or interested in networking and getting into the profession: 
    3. JOBS for American Medical Coders. More than 26,000 members, exactly as it says it is. Jobs galore! Requires answering a few basic questions to join: 

4. Take an adjacent job in a medical office that might not be coding. Don’t just look for coding jobs, which typically require experience, but look at receptionist, medical records clerk, back-office assistant, scribe, telehealth coordinator, biller, and collections. These can all serve as a bridge into coding. If you are in a position to do some unpaid work, cold-call offices and volunteer to get your foot in the door (thank you Terry A. Fletcher and Robin Sewell).

5. Take advantage of free courses, training, and certificate programs. Sites like Coursera offer content relevant to coding, like A&P courses, as well as soft skills that weren’t necessarily a big focus during your coding coursework. Add your accomplishments from passing these courses to your LinkedIn profile and resumé (thank you Jean Delgado)

6. Invest in a couple paid resources/memberships. For CDI, I always recommend the ACDIS Apprenticeship and ACDIS membership. For coding, join AHIMA or the AAPC. AAPC has a Project Xtern Program, which requires membership: (Laura McNamara). You’ll learn a ton and get access to member-only online forums and membership journals, but putting your money down demonstrates commitment to a potential employer. Stick that membership in your resume and LinkedIn profile.

7. Brush up your LinkedIn profile page. Pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve taken A&P courses, list those out. Obviously include your credentials, experience, and interests and activities. Another winning tip: Get a good, professional headshot, and if you can invest in a professional photographer to do it. Start following thought-leaders in your space, too. You’ll be learning as you grow your presence.

8. Talk to a recruiter. Recruiters might not be able to offer you a job, but they can offer practical, on the ground advice learned from hundreds or thousands of conversations with candidates. And you’ll be building a relationship with someone who can take your career places in the future. Norwood is a good place to start, although I’m obviously biased.

9. Get involved with your local chapter of ACDIS, AHIMA, or the AAPC. Sometimes these require membership in national to attend, but not all do. Some require a small attendance fee, but you may be able to get that waived. These are a wonderful way to network, learn from professionals by attending educational sessions, and sometimes find jobs on the spot.

10. Be bold, patient, and optimistic. If you are a CPC-A and the job calls for experience, apply anyway. They may hire you if you’re in need, or have a related coding job that offers on the job training. Many CDI departments don’t require a CDI specific credential (CCDS, CDIP) until you’ve got your two years’ experience, then tie earning it to a bonus. A recent boom in payers using risk adjusted reimbursement methodologies is driving a need for risk-adjustment coders, many of whom can find work with just a CPC-A. Be bold, and apply. And don’t give up. Stay positive; know that hundreds of thousands have been down your path, and wondered if they’d ever land that first job. And they did, which means, so can you (thank you Vivian Lake, Corena Hall, and Charles Brown)!

So there you go, my top 10. Feel free to comment below and add to the list.

Coding and CDI are great professions and I wish you the best of luck landing that first job.

About the author  

Brian Murphy is the founder and former director of the Association of Clinical Documentation Integrity Specialists (2007-2022). In his current role as Branding Director of Norwood he enhances and elevates careers of mid-revenue cycle healthcare professionals.

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