From the moment you walk into an office for that crucial job interview, many factors beyond your skills and previous academic performance come into play.
Did you make eye contact? Did you listen? Did you answer a question clearly, or did you nervously meander into a meaningless personal story that was completely off topic?
Because first impressions are so vitally important, some extra effort preparing in advance for an interview can boost your confidence and help you appear far more at ease when you meet with potential employers for the first time.
"Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through," says physician recruiter Bobbi Brown, CMSR, of Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Ark. "Try to do homework ahead of time by learning about the practice, the facility and the community."
A candidate undergoing a fellowship or residency should start lining up interviews as soon as it’s feasible, says Daniel Goodwin, M.D., a hospitalist at the Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home. Goodwin was recruited by Brown in the summer of 2011.
"The more interviews you do, the better you will be at the whole process," Goodwin says.
Brown, too, advises candidates to get started as soon as possible on their job searches. "It takes time to locate the right practice," she says.
During his job search, Goodwin underwent other interviews before he found the perfect fit for him in Arkansas. Though interviewing early is a good idea, he advises candidates to wait until their residency is closer to completion before actually signing a contract.
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"I have known people who have signed contracts early in their residency only to find out later this was not a good fit for them," he says.
As it turned out, spending extra time to find the right position paid off for Goodwin.
During his visit to Mountain Home, he says he found the community of 12,000 very welcoming toward him, his wife and two children. He wanted to live in a family-oriented environment, and he received considerable affirmation during his interactions with local residents.
"The hospital here did a good job of making sure we got plugged in with the community early on," Goodwin says. "The people we were introduced to on the first day are still people we hang out with on a regular basis. That was very important to us. It wasn’t up to us to go out and find friends or to find out about the community. This was brought to us."
As a physician recruiter in a small community, Brown says she has observed that employers are keenly interested in candidates who plan to stay for the long-term. Also, in this environment, options for spouses might need to be evaluated to make sure they also can find the type of employment they seek.
While finishing her residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Catherine Dodds, M.D., already had targeted the city where she wanted to live and work. She signed a contract beginning this July with First Charlotte Physicians Matthews in North Carolina.
Her brother and his family live in Charlotte, N.C., and Dodds says she wanted to have that connection. During her search, she interviewed with three different practices in Charlotte.
"I used the internet to find big systems and looked at job openings. I contacted physician recruiters," Dodds says. "Most of my involvement was with the designated physician recruiter, the lead physician in the group, and with various practitioners in the group."
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Dodds says a physician recruiter who assisted her gave the very best advice, which was to make sure during interviews that your philosophy as a physician matches that of the practice.
"A lot has to do with your gut instinct," Dodds says. "This did factor into the decision-making process. I have never been a businessperson, and admit I’m not usually that business-minded. For me personally, focusing on money and business is not a selling point."
She says other physician candidates, however, understandably might be interested in focusing more on how the business can be productive and profitable.
"Practices that were much more about how we take care of patients and how we continually improve our practice for patient care - that was a much better selling angle for me," Dodds says.
During his site visits, Goodwin says he found that realtors were excellent sources if you wanted to ask questions about the community and specifics related to schools and churches.
"(Realtors) have actually been some of my best contacts in places where I had been interviewing," Goodwin says. "As far as people who will be your co-workers, do they seem happy? Do they seem glad that you are interviewing? Do they show interest? This is when things look their best. So if they don’t look good while you are interviewing, then they aren’t going to afterwards either."
In the summer of 2012, Andrew Schimel, M.D., finished his training and began working as a retina surgeon at the Center for Excellence in Eye Care in Miami. Schimel has family in Miami, and working in the vicinity of where they lived was important to him.
"I did, however, interview in a few great practices outside those locations," Schimel says. "It’s always a good idea to look around elsewhere."
He said key factors for him in finding a good fit were location, the history of the practice, and whether or not it was a multispecialty or primarily a one-field practice.
"It is critical to try to learn about a group from people who are outside of that group," Schimel says. "Great resources for this are usually people within the residency or fellowship. It is often surprising how well mentors will know specifics about particular groups in particular locations. Or they have friends who know the intimate details of particular groups."
In turn, he says, groups you are targeting also may have contacts at the place where you are undergoing your training.
"It’s important to always be professional in your interactions with any groups you might contact," Schimel says. "It’s even more important to be professional and hard-working in your fellowship or residency. There is no doubt the group will contact your residency or fellowship mentors - and even people who know you who you never even expect them to contact."
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Complete truthfulness is imperative during interviews, Schimel says. Your potential employers are likely to find out information about you from other sources anyway.
"It is my strong advice to never hide anything from any of the groups you are interviewing with," he says. "They all talk to each other, and they see each other on a regular basis especially when they are in the same cities. Oftentimes they know more about what you are doing than you do."
Schimel says you might want to view the practice and accompanying commitment almost as you would a marriage. He offered these pointers about what you might want to find out during the interview process:
• Can you get along with the people you will be working with on a daily basis?
• As an employee, will you be able to fit with the group’s philosophy?
• Can you work well within the practice flow?
• Does the group place more importance on efficiency and the bottom line or on patient care?
• What kind of career path will be available to you within the practice?
"It all comes down to personal factors," Schimel says. "I would emphasize that you want to be happy in your location and with your partners and with the style of the practice, and this is even more important than your personal income."
If you haven’t heard back from the practice where you interviewed within a week or so, Brown says you should follow up with the recruiter to see if a decision has been made or if more information is required.
"A recruiter tries to have a really good rapport with the candidate throughout the entire process," she says.
Even if a potential employer decides the candidate might not be a good fit after interviews are completed, Brown says it’s still possible to apply again at a future time.
"It’s a good idea," she says, "to ask if there is anything else that can be done or any part of the training that can be enhanced for a future opening."
As a final gesture of appreciation, Dodds recommends sending thank you notes to each recruiter and individual who participated in the interview process regardless of outcome.
Marilyn Haddrill is a freelance journalist and medical writer who lives in Las Cruces, N.M.