CONGRATULATONS! After all those years of hard study and specialized training, you’re ready to embark on the adventure of entering the job market. You’ve searched through ads on the Internet and trade publications and have sent your CV to the physician opportunities that have met your interest. However, when that call comes for an interview, are you going to be ready? Chances are you’ve had little experience in the art of interviewing, and the medical school you attended probably didn’t teach you interviewing techniques. So how should a physician candidate prepare?
It’s important to recognize your interviewers are looking for the right fit to the physician staff at their healthcare facility. Recruiting physicians is time-consuming and expensive. Jason Ninomiya, M.D., completed his residency at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, and started his pediatric practice at Kapolei Pediatrics, LLC in Kapolei, Hawaii. He says, "They need to see if you’re a right fit. You need to determine what you want. You may want to be a stay-at-home dad and only work 20 hours a week or you may want to work a 40-hour week. The most important thing you can do is be honest. It’s best for both sides to be truthful."
Tim DeCapite, MD, is a dermatologist who recently joined a small practice, Advanced Dermatology, in northeast Maryland. He completed his residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "Do your research, think about what kind of practice you want to join, think about the location where you want to be. Narrow the job search down. That’s where you start and then you look around at practices in that area that you’d like to join," says DeCapite.
Lynne Holden, MD, also has some pre-interview recommendations. Holden attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. for undergraduate studies and Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. She completed her emergency medicine residency at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, serving as chief resident during her last year. She has practiced emergency medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx for 13 years. She says national associations and boards involving your specialty can help with job listings and may even be able to help you find a mentor at a hospital near you or one that is affiliated with a medical school.
After you’ve identified your chosen location and the type of practice you think best fits your needs, you’ll need to do your research on that specific facility. Gather the information before the interview so you’re prepared, says Judy Brown of Physician and APC Recruitment at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul. "I provide physician candidates with information - recruitment materials - that we have, but I always direct them to the website so they are better acquainted with us. It helps them get much better prepared. They have the ability to do a web search on the organization and the physicians they’re meeting with to get a broader idea," Brown says
Research the target
When doing your research, be sure to know as much about the physician opportunity as you can prior to the interview. Natan Schleider is a family practice physician who owns and founded the practice New York House Call Physicians, where he employs several physicians. Schleider interviews physician candidates and his medical director interviews ancillary staff. Schleider says, "I would be impressed by an interviewee who understood the nuances of my practice. For example, I do not offer malpractice insurance coverage or subsidization. I cannot tell you how many applicants are surprised to hear about this when we interview, even though it is stated explicitly on my website’s job candidate page."
Gail Rosseau, MD, a neurosurgeon, did her residency at the University of Pittsburgh and has spent the last 17 years with the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch Medical Group. She is also the chief of surgery at the Neurologic and Orthopedic Hospital of Chicago and is an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Rush Medical College. She recommends new candidates do both formal and informal homework before interviewing at a healthcare facility.
"Look at the way they present themselves in their community and practice, their hospital’s marketing plan, and how they market themselves. Look up the individual doctors and see what kind of activities they do. Look them up in Google and see if they do community service. That’s what I call the more formal due diligence. The informal due diligence will be to make phone calls. Don’t let that be a secret. When they call for the interview, ask if they mind you calling folks in the community," Rosseau says.
Formal and informal aside, nothing beats in-person observation, according to Holden. She says it’s much better to go to the facility. "If you could be there a couple of hours on a day prior to the interview so you can shadow or follow someone who is in that department - an attending or a fellow - then you can see what their typical day is like. Most hospitals will allow that if they know you’re coming there for a job," she says.
What would be a typical interview process? It’s not likely you would have an in-person interview immediately, especially if there’s travel involved. Most often, there will be a phone screen by a physician recruiter and perhaps one or two more phone interviews before you would have a face-to-face meeting.
Bonnie Shadix, the director of physician recruitment at Gordon Hospital in Calhoun, Georgia, says, "My initial contact is by phone. I have a scripted phone interview that prompts me so I don’t forget anything. I ask why they are looking in our area and what are they searching for. If items that are important for them are similar to what we feel is important, then we move forward. The next step would be a phone call from a physician in that practice, colleague to colleague, who would determine if the candidate was a good match. Then we would ask for references. From that point, I’m trying to find out a good date for the candidate to come and visit." Most likely, the recruiting medical facility will offer to pay for the candidate’s travel expenses, if possible.
Before you answer the phone, whether it’s just an initial call from a recruiter or an actual interview, be sure you’re ready to take the call. The conversation is too important to try to muddle through if you’re brain-dead from being on call for two nights. If you’re in the middle of something or have a screaming child in the background when you receive an unexpected call, ask the recruiter to call back. If you have a scheduled interview, make sure you won’t be distracted.
If you advance to an in-person interview, your first impression on the people you will meet is important. Even in the age of casual Fridays, how you dress will be evaluated. Lynne Peterson, the manager of physician recruitment at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis says, "This is the first impression. The interviewers are likely to be thinking that this is what candidates will look like when they see their patients. The most casual I’ve seen for a male physician candidate is a khaki pant with a button-down shirt and tie. Female candidates typically dress professionally."
Brown agrees, "You are making an impression upon many individuals in the organization. That may range from a CEO to a receptionist. The ones who dress professionally make a much better impression, but even though you should dress professionally, you still need to be comfortable. Don’t wear a suit you wore toyour interview at medical school five years ago that’s now too tight."
Who can you anticipate will be interviewing you in person? Be prepared for a number of possibilities depending on the medical facility or hospital. In all likelihood, you could expect a hospital administrator, head physician, or any number of those who work under them. You could be facing a one-on-one or there could be a panel. Shadix says, "Generally, what I set up is a meeting with the chief financial officer, the chief executive officer, the chief operating officer, the chief nursing officer, and myself. I’m there to keep things smooth and comfortable. For the most part, the physician candidate will look at me for reassurance or comfort as we’ve already established a relationship. I know what’s being said and what needs to be followed up on."
You’ve done your research about the practice and the area, so you have information going into the interview. Be prepared to answer what attracts you to this specific job and area. Beyond that, what questions should a candidate expect at an interview? Paul Hannig, PhD, is a psychotherapist with more than 40 years of interview training and experience. He says, "Expect anything and everything. There may be surprises. Prepare for unanticipated questions. The interviewers know what answers they want and the candidate may not be able to anticipate the hidden agenda of the interviewers. They will ask you questions about yourself, your philosophy, experience, and aspirations. They will also be assessing your leadership skills and your ability to work with others. Share your aspirations and what you are capable of bringing to the organization. Express your commitment to your profession and show your passion for the work. Be prepared to answer all questions about yourself. Appear open and authentic. A good sense of humor and a smile goes a long way. Try not to be defensive."
"If you advance to an in-person interview, your first impression
on the people you will meet is important. Even in the age of
casual Fridays, how you dress is evaluated."
Shadix says some of the objectives of her organization during an interview include, "We want to know who you are. Why are you here? How do you feel about working in a faith-based hospital?"
Peterson suggests candidates prepare with the following questions: "Tell us about yourself and what you are looking for? What interests you in our practice? How do you see yourself practicing if you were to join our practice? What do you feel you need to be supported in your practice? What kind of characteristics do you seek in a mentoring physician? What do you want to know about us and our practice? If I were to inquire with your program director and ask them, ’What is an area of improvement or weakness of yours, what would they say?’ "
In your interview, it’s important to be an active participant. One of the best ways to do that is to ask questions. It’s true that you’re the one being interviewed for the physician opportunity but don’t forget, you’re evaluating them as well. According to Hannig, questions you should always ask include those about the organization, the population it serves, what the job entails, and any additional duties of the physician. "Get the interviewers to talk about their experiences and what they are doing in the organization," Hannig says. "Information is power."
Peterson’s suggestions go further still. "What would a typical day look like for me here? How many patients would you expect I would see? What would my call schedule look like? Am I expected to work on committees? What’s the decision-making process for the practice? Will I have an opportunity to participate in this process in the future?"
Peterson says candidates sometimes don’t know what to ask because this will be their first job and they don’t want to be perceived as being too pushy.
Prepare for a phone interview. It’s likely you will have a phone screen prior to your in-person interview. How do you come across in this format? Paul Hannig, PhD, a psychologist with a background in interview training, suggests practice and role-playing every conceivable scenario. "Make sure your voice is strong and warm. Show your true personality and make sure your voice and style is friendly and courteous. Be a good listener and don’t over talk or monopolize the conversation. Show your confidence and your interest in the interviewer and the interviewer’s needs."
Be prepared to take notes. As a new candidate, especially if you’re interviewing elsewhere, be sure to bring a notepad. The day of the interview is overwhelming. You’re taking in a lot of information. Jotting down notes shows you’re engaged.
Use common sense. Leave the gum chewing at home. Forget smoking and turn off your cell phone.
Watch your non-verbal cues. Don’t fidget. Sit straight and lean slightly forward to show you’re interested in what the interviewer is saying. Smile as appropriate and use eye contact.
Eat as appropriate at a luncheon interview. You might be asked a lot of questions and may not have much time to eat. Take a bite or two; no one is going to mind if you eat, just don’t shovel it in and be careful about what you order. It’s not the time to order anything likely to drip or splash.
Let your nerves take over. You need to appear confident but not arrogant. Remember, they’re being interviewed by you, too. Bonnie Shadix, the director of physician recruitment at Gordon Hospital in Calhoun, Georgia, says, "One of the worst interviews I ever had was with a gentleman who was so nervous, he made me nervous. He came in to talk with my CEO, CFO and me, and his lip was quivering. I really felt bad for him."
Play games. The physician group or hospital wants to know your interest level. Be honest; don’t be afraid of hurting feelings. It’s okay to say you have other interviews planned.
Get discouraged. You may not be successful in your first interview or two. Chances are good you’re not the only candidate being considered. Jason Ninomiya, MD, a pediatrician in Hawaii, says, "You learn as you go. You may have multiple interviews, but you’ll learn what to say." Ask for feedback from your interviewer.
Burn bridges. No one knows the future, including your interviewer, so don’t burn bridges. Lynne Peterson, the manager of physician recruitment at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis, says "I’ve seen candidates not take the job but call me a couple years later. One former candidate told me he had been thinking about this opportunity over the years. It wasn’t right at the time, but it is now, and wondered if we had openings."
Be a sore loser. Hannig says, "If you don’t get the position, feeling disappointed is appropriate. It is not the end of the world and may signal other opportunities. In all likelihood, this was not an organization with which you would have done well. But if you choose to be assertive, you could always ask, ’Is it possible that I could come in for another interview?’ Do not be a sore loser and remain grateful no matter what the outcome."
For some candidates, discussing salary in a screening interview may be difficult. When is the right time to bring up salary? Shadix says it’s so important that she makes sure all of Gordon Hospital’s ads have a dollar amount mentioned. "I’m not going to play a game. I want them to know right up front this is what the offer is and where there is some flexibility and give, the sign on, medical tuition reimbursement - some of those things are up for discussion."
Dana Butterfield, former executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters, is more cautious. She doesn’t suggest candidates "jump all over salary initially, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a recruiter brought that up. Physicians would probably be asked about their salary expectations."
While industry insiders and physicians agree truthfulness is important, there is some information you probably shouldn’t share in the interview process because it could deter your chances. You might be concerned about how open you should be or which questions are illegal for potential employers to ask. Basically, anything about age, race, sexual orientation, political or religious affiliation, or your plans for children are off limits.
Brown, at Children’s Hospital, admits it’s difficult. "It’s a delicate balance for a candidate because you don’t want to offend someone and say that’s an illegal question. However, there are roundabout ways of avoiding the question or asking a question of your own. For example, if someone is anticipating having any children in the first year or two and if she’s planning on taking maternity leave, she could respond that she’s more committed to pursuing this job for the opportunities that are being presented rather than whether it’s full time or part time."
A gracious close is as important as a good first impression. Always thank the interviewers for their time and for anything you need to further evaluate the position or if there is anything else your interviewers need from you. Ask about the follow-up process and who your contact person should be. For example, "When can I expect to hear from you?" A week or two is typical.
Whether you think you hit a home run during the interview or struck out, send a thank-you note as soon as possible to everyone who was involved in the interview. Whether it’s an e-mail or handwritten note depends on the impression you want to create, Peterson says. "We get more email thank yous than handwritten notes. In terms of evaluating their interests, it doesn’t matter. However, I often think that if you take the time to write a handwritten note, it shows we’re on the candidate’s mind."
If the interview didn’t go as well as you liked, is there a way to get a second chance? Rosseau says yes. "If, for example, you made some terrible joke and they went cold when you told it, you apologize sincerely and try to work it out right there. If it went well enough but you haven’t heard from them and you followed up with your phone call and you ’re eager and they’re lukewarm, be honest about that. You could say, "In thinking about our interview last Thursday, I was not putting my best foot forward, and it was so important for me to do so because I’m so interested in this position. I hope you will recognize it wasn’t my best effort. I’d like very much to come back and talk with you, (your colleagues, your partner, your boss) again so I can present myself in the light that others normally see me.
Holden says that while it may be possible to get a second chance, there’s an equal likelihood a candidate may not. She says that if you’ve done your preparation, the presentation will fall into place. She says, "On the day of your interview, really maximize your time there. Whatever they offer to you, stay for it. The worst thing you can do is cut out early as that’s perceived as not being interested," she says. "I let them know I was interested and told them I’d like to spend some additional time there. They were more than willing to allow me to do that. I really tried to get a good look from different perspectives before I signed on the dotted line."
There is no doubt that preparation for a job interview is critical. It’s important to know as much as possible about your target position and those who will be interviewing you. Prepare your answers by recording and rehearsing them until they feel natural. Dress professionally, arrive early, and have questions prepared that you want to ask. Be yourself, follow up with a thank you, and sit back and wait for an offer. You’ve probably aced the interview.
Marcia Travelstead is a regular contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.