By the time you’ve completed interviews for medical school, residency and maybe a fellowship, the whole job interview process may seem old hat. But there’s a difference between early medical school interviews and job interviews: Your livelihood is now on the line.
Matthew Palmer, D.O., FACOOG, an OB/Gyn now practicing in Crystal, Minnesota, says he first noticed the interviewing difference with his fellowship in Detroit at Henry Ford Health System. “You start to get a sense that you are bringing a lot to the table,” he says. It’s no longer about pleasing someone. Instead, he says, “You are just trying to make sure [the position] is a good fit for you.”
Adam Ylitalo, D.O., who recently obtained his first job with Hillcrest Urology in Waco, Texas, after completing his residency at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, had a similar realization. “I felt I had to prove something in my medical school and residency interviews,” he says. “But when it came to a job interview, it was more about the group proving to me that it was the right fit.”
Indeed, what many physicians discover during their first job interviews is that things have evolved. “It feels less like an exam and more like a conversation between two potential colleagues,” Palmer says.
Getting that first job after residency
Physicians will likely go through many different interviews post residency. For some like Palmer, who wanted to practice back in his home state of Minnesota after his residency, searching for a job in one state while living in another can be a challenge. To maintain self-assurance, preparation is key.
He advises, “Get involved in the medical association of the city in which you want to live.” Those associations and their respective conferences, Palmer says, allow new physicians a way to rub elbows with like-minded professionals. Those connections can provide a confidence boost and can lead to your first job.
Ylitalo says that finding a good time for interviews, juggling communication with recruiters and physicians in different time zones, and the amount of time spent traveling on airplanes can also be a strain. “However,” he says, “that seemed to be a minimal disturbance in an otherwise fun and exciting process.”
By starting early, Ylitalo had a contract in place almost a year in advance, which gave him plenty of time to weigh his options.
Bridget Bailey, D.O., an anesthesiologist with Greater Colorado Anesthesia, says that new physicians are more likely to get the job they want if they get hyper-specific in three areas: “You must first define what you want, the lifestyle you desire and where you want to live,” she says.
Once a physician moves beyond the “just any job” mentality to pinpointing exactly why a specific position is a good match for their long-term career objectives, the process gets a little clearer and confidence levels increase.
Articulating your strengths on an early CV
For physicians just out of residency, the short-form curriculum vitae (CV) remains key to unlocking gates guarded by recruiters, who can open the doors to group physician interviews.
Based on the CV information that outlines a physician’s training experience, education, licenses and affiliations, recruiters can quickly evaluate a physicians’ outlined skills and qualifications against the needs of the hiring practice or hospital.
“That CV evaluation will take place in 30 seconds or less, so pick a form and stick with it,” says Chad Anson, who has spent the last four years in recruiting and is currently the vice president of physician recruitment in the San Antonio division of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).
For physicians entering the job market for the first time, Anson also stresses the importance of using the short-form CV. “Once a doctor has a body of published work, the long-form CV then becomes appropriate,” he says.
Bailey suggests highlighting research projects on your CV in lieu of published work. “Those [research projects] can put a physician in prime position for group practice interviews,” she says.
For physicians who are making the transition from training to private practice or from one practice to another, author Alan Kronhaus, M.D., says in his book Choosing Your Practice that “doctors should provide a narrative/preamble or cover letter which articulates the candidate’s interest and strengths.”
As CEO and cofounder of Doctors Making Housecalls, Kronhaus says his company remains in constant hiring mode and his team vigorously searches for the physicians who can accurately articulate their specific strengths by way of their CV, as well as in the interview.
When physicians use the CV or cover letter to identify what is unique about their credentials or themselves, recruiters and physician groups take note. Palmer, who interviews many residents for his group practice at Oakdale Obstetrics & Gynecology, says, “We want to see a description of what sets the candidate apart, instead of a laundry list of accomplishments; our group wants to see a physician’s ‘M.O.’ [modus operandi].”
Maintaining confidence when job descriptions aren’t an exact match
Nothing can be more disappointing than finding the perfect job in the perfect location—then discovering that the job description requires a particular skill, qualification or certification that you lack. Though physician groups and hospital employers hope to find an exact match for every position, that rarely happens.
“I don’t think even in the senior-level positions that I ever found a candidate that fit every unique job qualification,” says Anson. “I always encourage job applicants to be tenacious; you really have to go after what you want.”
Of course, physicians right out of residency won’t have the clinical experience of those who have been in practice. But Anson still encourages you not to discount recent training.
“Residents have been exposed to the newest research compared to someone trained 10 years ago,” he says. “They know the new elements of the specialty.“
Ylitalo agrees that lack of experience doesn’t necessarily translate into being considered a less-desirable candidate. “Those fresh out of residency have enormous strengths, including familiarity with EMRs and new technology, high levels of energy and a very long career potential in a single location,” he says.
If the job sounds like a good opportunity, inquire to find out if your skills are a close enough match. Even if it is a no-go, with a certain level of training and skills, Ylitalo says, “the recruiter, group or practice may know of another opportunity that you did not already know about that might be perfect.”
In the past three jobs that Bailey has worked since completing her residency, she found groups and practices willing to teach the skill sets that a young physician might lack, as long as they had the core qualifications important to the group.
At other times, physicians make the short list and then find out the position isn’t a great fit—but learn something about themselves in the interview process.
“When we interview applicants, we have them get dressed in scrubs and require that they go to several different locations. We want the applicant to see what kind of anesthesiology group it is,” Bailey says. “Sometimes it is a great fit, but other times applicants say it just isn’t right for them.”
Considering the profession and the take-charge attitude that most physicians must possess to perform within the medical field, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that most doctors feel similar to Palmer: “I’m a ‘jump-first, figure-it-out-later’ type of person. If I see something that I want, I go for it.” However, Palmer says physicians new to their field must balance being aggressive with being humble and willing to learn new things. “Don’t get in over your head,” he warns.
Palmer issues a fair warning. As Bailey says, “From a clinical standpoint, applicants can get themselves in trouble when they aren’t up to the task.” In that particular instance, overconfidence can be a problem.
“A prospective employer will find out soon enough if a candidate’s description of who they are and what they can contribute is accurate or absurd. If it’s the latter, candidates may find themselves in a situation for which they are decidedly ill-suited. Under those circumstances, the employment relationship is doomed,” writes Kronhaus.
Professional references: The good, bad and necessary
To get your dream practice, in the dream location, doing the work you have always dreamed of doing, you must be prepared. That preparation goes beyond superior education, exemplary training and possession of the skills and certifications necessary for the position. You must also have medical professionals readily available to write positive letters of reference and to speak on your behalf.
Your references will be called. Anson says, “You will not be hired in an employment model or income-guaranteed model without references being checked.” Quite often, the group to which you apply may personally know at least one of your listed references.
“It all goes back to being connected,” says Palmer, who made it a point to use references that personally knew physicians within the group to which he applied.
Some physicians, like Adam Ylitalo, D.O. say that references are not terribly important in the decision to hire—but, he says, “Those references were all asked about me.”
What recruiters want to see in a reference
Before officially presenting a job offer, the employer or group will contact your professional references. These reference checks are evaluated in different ways. Anson says some employers personally interview the reference, while others may fill in a form while the reference recounts the details of the applicants’ training. Yet another follow-up tactic frequently used is to send a form to the reference to be completed about the applicant.
Being selective in your reference choices is imperative. For mid-career physicians, colleagues can be great references; for a physician straight out of training, a residency director could be a good choice.
What those references ultimately relay to the hiring group about you can give sway to whether an offer will be coming.
To highlight the importance of selectivity in choosing a reference, Anson says, “We grade on a letter scale. You would need all A’s for both clinical ability and interpersonal skills; if there are any B’s at all, that indicates a big red flag.”
How can you tell what references might say?
The “reference check” phase of the hiring process can produce as much anxiety as the nail-biting personal interview. Yet speaking about yourself is a bit more calming than having someone else speak about your training, qualifications and skill level. So how can you tell what a reference will say? There is only one way: Ask them.
Ylitalo says this discussion with a potential reference provides two things: it allows you to know beforehand what potential interview questions may arise; and it gives you the opportunity to see firsthand how you may be perceived by colleagues.
When it comes to providing quality references, four steps must take place:
1. Ask for references from professionals who have had a close working relationship with you.
2. Make sure those colleagues know they are being used as references.
3. Have a discussion with references to give them insight about the position you’ve applied for and your specific strengths for that job.
4. Collect all pertinent contact information for your references, including their full names, titles, phone numbers, organization addresses and email addresses.
“The more proactive candidates will prepare reference letters ahead of time, and they’ll attach those to the emails with their cover letters,” Anson says. He notes, however, that the tactic is rare.
Seek career mentors for added confidence
Mentors can help at any point along a physician’s career path but can become especially crucial during a job search. Having a professional confidant who can add insight into topics like potential colleagues, salary expectations, contract review and unstated benefits can buoy your confidence. This is especially important in areas that may not have been previously considered, including potential sources of frustration that might be found with the position or particular group.
Getting to the next step in a job search is easier with the help of a mentor who can provide guidance and reassurance during an exciting yet challenging time. Mentors can come from anywhere within your network, including colleagues or friends who’ve only had a few years of additional experience.
Mentors can be extremely helpful after you’ve secured a job, too. “Before our group brings someone on, we give them a mentor,” Bailey says. “We are all clinically competent, but it’s the day-to-day things that you have to quickly learn. A mentor can help in those circumstances, like they can before you get the job.”
Your confidence can plunge from high to low after just one employer turns you down. By taking proactive steps and prepping your references to attest to your strengths you can move quickly through the interview process and on to a lifelong rewarding career.
Conduct a confident phone interview
More often than not, candidates discover that phone screenings are a prerequisite to face-to-face interviews. A misstep during the phone screening can mean the difference between an open gate to the targeted job interview and a closed door.
Whether your next step is a phone or in-person interview, do the following to put your best stethoscope forward.
- Eliminate distractions prior to phone interviews. You’ll feel rushed if you have not set aside at least 10 to 15 minutes for an initial phone screen.
- Speak to your acquired experience related to the job. Know the job description inside and out and how your experience can be translated to that job.
- Ask the recruiters questions. Obtain details about the call schedule and inquire as to whether the job is an employed position, revenue-based model or some other type of position.
- Stay calm instead of rattling off qualifications. Recruiters have already seen your CV; that’s what got you to the phone screening
in the first place. Now is the time to stay calm and let your interpersonal skills shine.
- Be enthusiastic about the job. Show recruiters that you are excited about the position and want the job. During the in-person interview, physician recruiter Chad Anson says exceptional candidates ask to speak with the CEO or chief medical officer. By making that simple request, Anson says, “I know those are the ones that really want to be a part of the practice and build it.”