What you need to know about your contracts terms during a physician job interview.
What you need to know about your contracts terms during a physician job interview.

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How to navigate difficult contractual and legal items in an interview

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You’ve cleared the phone screen stage of the physician job interview process and now have an on-site interview invitation. Congratulations are in order; many other candidates were likely filtered out following the phone screen. But don’t get too far ahead of yourself just yet!

The employer deemed you worthy enough for an on-site interview via the contents of your CV and successful phone interview, but much more can be learned about you as a candidate—both positive and negative—through face-to-face interactions.

Contractual and legal interview items

Conversations during the phone interview are often broad; expect more detailed conversations during your on-site visit. More specifically, a few contractual or legal items will be discussed during the in-person visit, and how you address these topics could significantly affect your candidacy.

Discussing work hours and call schedule

During your physician job interview, your work expectations must be fully and clearly defined. You’ll need to understand the minimum number of hours you will be scheduled each week and if a defined weekday and weekend call schedule per month is expected. Inquiring about these expectations is perfectly reasonable.

However, this is not the ideal time to express concern or set demands or limitations on what you consider acceptable.

Even if you are not fully comfortable with the expectations that have been presented, it is in your best interest to wait until an offer has been extended before you proceed with negotiation. If your concerns or demands are too pressing, you risk losing the position before it is even offered. You will have more leverage, and the employer will be more receptive to negotiating such items, after they have chosen you as their top candidate.

Navigating compensation

Discussing compensation during an interview should also be handled delicately. In many cases, the employer will lead the discussion by asking if you have any salary requirements or expectations.

Getting the employer to come forward with the first number is preferable. When asked about your salary requirements, a good response would be something like: “Compensation is not the top priority in my job search. I’m most interested in the professional and personal fit within the organization and community. If both sides agree that it’s a good fit, then I’m sure we can come to a fair agreement on compensation.”

If that doesn’t satisfy the push for a specific number, you can rephrase it by saying: “I’m really not focused on a particular number at this time. Share with me what you had in mind.”

If this is your first employed position after residency or fellowship, your response can be expressed this way: “This is my first position out of training, and I’m not completely certain what to expect. Please share your thoughts about compensation.”

Some variation of these sample responses will typically help get the employer to respond with the compensation number or range first. Again, don’t feel the need to commit to or negotiate the number given at that moment.

Simply thank them for giving you a better idea of what to expect, then share that the information will be helpful as you look at the opportunity in its entirety. You will be in a much better position to negotiate after you have received the contract. In addition to having more leverage with the actual contract in hand, it will also give you more time to collect other offers or compensation data to strengthen your position.

Supplying information about background issues

If you have been terminated in the past, have a gap in your employment or training history, or possess an unfavorable malpractice claim on your record, be prepared to discuss these items in a manner that reduces employer concern.

First, be completely honest and don’t hide the fact that you’ve had a past issue. When addressing the subject, your goal is to remain positive and not over communicate more specifics than necessary. The more detail you share about the issue, the more concern you may create for the employer.

Be brief and succinct in your explanation while sandwiching the issue between positives. For example, if you were terminated, start by talking about what you enjoyed about the position, then briefly introduce the issue that led to your departure. Immediately follow up by sharing what you learned from the situation and why you are a better person and clinician today after going through the experience.

By presenting the situation as a “lesson learned” scenario, you can ease the concerns the employer may have about this issue arising again. Being negative or blaming former employers or colleagues is the last thing you want to do. Though everything you say may be 100 percent correct, the employer doesn’t know both sides of the story, and you may come across as someone difficult to get along with.

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Clark Jones, JD, MBA and Jeff Hinds, MHA

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