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Acing the Interview

Welcome! This article is part of a Medscape Physician Business Academy course, . Visit the Course Page to take the full course and receive a certificate.

The Interview Cuts Both Ways

Interviewing with prospective employers is really a two-way street. While you need to provide the information employers want, you also need to get meaningful information from them so that you can decide whether you want to work for them.

Each side is trying to evaluate the other, and this makes the interview a complicated dance at times.

You have to anticipate employers' questions and look your best. However, you don't want to get so focused on ingratiating yourself with them that you don't pursue your other goal—to play detective and ferret out key information that employers may not want to reveal. (This will be the subject of chapter 6.)

The Preliminary Phone Call

Often, your first conversation with the prospective employer is by phone. A recruiter or practice manager at the organization may call you once or twice by phone—or even Skype you—before deciding to invite you to an on-site interview. In fact, there may be several of these conversations before a decision is made to meet in person.

Many candidates make the mistake of not taking the preliminary interview seriously. First, rather than just trying to impress your interviewer, also use the preliminary interview to decide whether the job is a good fit for you. But keep in mind that the employer representative is still evaluating you. Any misstep on your part could put you out of the running for the job.

Any misstep on your part could put you out of the running for the job.

Tips for the Preliminary Phone Call

Have a clear idea of the job. Before you agree to the interview, make sure the particulars of the job are at the top of your mind. You should have already researched the organization. Have a prepared list of questions you'd like to ask, as well as your answers to possible questions from the employer.

Postpone if you're not ready. If you haven't prepared for the interview yet or are overwhelmed with work when the call comes in, ask whether you could talk later on. Pick a time when you can be at your best.

Keep the exchange simple. Don't feel you need to delve deeply into issues. This is just a preliminary conversation that usually takes 15-20 minutes. Employers have seen your accomplishments on your CV, so the main aim of calling you is to get an idea of your personality and see whether it would mesh well with the organization.

Don't talk salary yet. Such questions might imply that you're more interested in making money than becoming a part of the organization. Salary should usually first come up at the on-site interview.

Express thanks at the end. Before hanging up, make sure to express gratitude for the opportunity to be considered for the job.

Accepting an Interview

It's tempting to accept every interview that you're offered, but you need to be selective. Unless the job is local, traveling to interview sites is time-consuming. Take a little time to make sure the opportunity is a good fit for you.

At this point in your job search, you should have narrowed down your choices on the type of practice, location, and income level you're looking for. Alternatively, you should have come up with a few clear alternatives. You might already have one solid preference, but it's still worthwhile to interview two to four different institutions before making your final decision.

Having multiple interviews not only gives you a backup in case your top choice falls through, but also helps you compare opportunities on a very tangible level. Face-to-face, on-site visits give you insights that you can't possibly get through Internet searches, emails, and phone conversations. You might even be surprised at how the interviews change your preferences.

One note: It's OK to cancel upcoming interviews if you know what you are looking for in a job and you find it after just a few interviews.

Scheduling the Interview

It's a good idea to schedule your interviews close together—over one 2-month period, let's say—so that you can negotiate with all of your job prospects at roughly the same time. Having to put off a decision on a job offer from one employer while you wait for your last interview to be completed can put you in a bind.

You will have to spend a day or two at each interview site. This will take time away from your work duties, but it's time well spent. The need to set aside time for these visits is one of the reasons why you were advised to start your job search as early as possible. It's easier to make time for interviews if your search is not crammed into a 6-month period.

The employer pays the airfare and hotel room for you and possibly your spouse. Book a rental car; have a reliable GPS; and plan to arrive at the interview half an hour before the stated time, in case something goes wrong. It's wise to accept the travel offered, rather than asking for special arrangements or particular accommodations.

Plan on spending a full day on site, including one or more interviews, a tour of the facility, and some time to look around the area. You might even want to spend an extra day to independently interview local doctors about the job, talk with a local realtor, and check out schools.

If you pass the initial interview, the employer may bring you back for a second interview.

Tips on Preparing for the Interview

You should set aside time to prepare for an interview. Even if you have terrific social skills, it's not something that you should try to do spontaneously. Human resource departments and employers in general often have key questions that they ask most job candidates, and the way you handle the answer—as well as the answer itself—can be a strong factor in your favor, or against it.

Rehearse your answers. Rehearse with some commonly asked questions (noted later in this chapter). As a resident, you can ask your hospital's human resources department to help you practice for an interview.

Prepare for unanticipated questions. Come up with a wide-ranging list of what they might ask about your life and work experiences, philosophy of care, aspirations, leadership skills, and ability to work with others.

Rehearse again just before the interview. A day or two before the interview, review what you know about the employer, such as its founding members, culture, and mission.

Dress conservatively. A surprising number of physicians dress casually for interviews—wearing jeans, cut-offs, or revealing blouses. Although casual clothing is more acceptable in more situations than in the past, this in effect tells the employer that you do not take the job very seriously. Men should wear dark suits or navy blazers and gray slacks. Women should wear modest-looking dresses, longish skirts, or pantsuits.

Get a good night's sleep before the interview. Arrange a flight that arrives the day before a morning interview, so that you can be well rested and ready to go.

What the Interview Will Be Like

Interview formats vary. You could have just one interview or a series of interviews. The interview could be a one-on-one talk, or you could face a panel of people. For a job at a hospital organization, for example, there might be one or more hospital administrators, the head physician, and the organization's recruiter.

Bring notes with you. Don't be embarrassed about bringing some notes on possible answers to interviewers' questions. Taking notes also shows that you're engaged and helps you remember what has been said, such as assurances made about the job that may need to be stated in the contract.

Don’t be embarrassed about bringing some notes on possible answers to interviewers' questions.

Be ready to tour the facility. As you walk around, take note of your surroundings. Does the place look neat and clean? Do people seem friendly and relaxed? Or do they seem tense and unhappy? These conditions are hard to cover up.

Pointers for the Interview

Be upbeat. Use empowering phrases like "I can," "I will," and "I know." Let people know what makes you unique. Use strong descriptions of your assets, such as "I have great patience," "I learn quickly," or "I'm great with kids." List the qualities you will bring to the organization.

Mind your body language. Sit up, lean slightly forward, and don't fidget. Make eye contact, smile when appropriate, and look engaged. When sitting, fold your hands loosely in your lap, and when standing keep them by your sides.

Show your enthusiasm for the job. All other things being equal, the employer will pick the candidate who is most enthusiastic about the position. A smile and a good sense of humor go a long way.

Present yourself as a team player. One of the key attributes that employers are looking for is working well with others, particularly in these days of care coordination and team care. You might mention participation in team sports, clubs, or societies. Conversely, interviewers will also be on the lookout for prickly personality traits.

Be friendly to everyone you meet. They may be asked to comment on you later. Try not to interrupt people, and wait for the trailing person to pass when you're walking around. Send thank-you notes to interviewers afterward.

Be honest. If there are any blemishes in your record, address them forthrightly. Interviewers may ask you about gaps in your training, dropping out of a degree program, or even a drunk driving citation. It doesn't help to obfuscate.

Don't diss past worksites. Employers may assume that if you're negative about those worksites, you'll be negative about the new worksite.

Answering Specific Questions

Here are a few commonly asked questions asked in physician employment interviews. You can add more questions to the list. Develop two or three talking points for each question.

What attracts you to this position? This is a frequent starting question. Talk about why you want to be in that city or town and what you like about the facility. Employers reason that if you're attracted to the organization or the locality, you're more likely to stay.

Tell me about yourself. This is not an opportunity to tell your life story, so keep your answer fairly short. Make a few points about your training experience, your future plans, and any personal ties you have with the location or institution.

Why are you a good match for us? You might state that you're especially adept with certain types of cases or procedures. Nonclinical skills may also give you an edge.

Why did you go into medicine? You might mention helping patients or providing superior medical care, but never mention money. Employers don't want physicians who put earnings first.

What would you bring to the practice? Without sounding conceited, highlight such skills as a strong work ethic, being a team player, or providing quality care.

How do you react under pressure? This is not the time to admit that you have any problems at all when you're under pressure. Give an example or two of how you dealt with a very tough situation.

This is not the time to admit that you have any problems at all when you’re under pressure.

What are your goals and objectives? Make sure your objectives align well with those of the employer, such as wanting to be part of a team, providing quality care, or improving patient safety. If you have plans to reevaluate the job after 3 years, this is not the time to raise them.

What kind of salary are you looking for? This can put you in a quandary. Quoting too high a salary might take you out of the running, whereas quoting too low a salary might lock you into that amount. It might be useful to turn the question around and ask them to quote what they're willing to offer. The good news is that this question provides an opening to talk about salary.

What's your greatest weakness? Interviewers are already onto the old trick of citing a supposed weakness that's really a strength, such as "I'm never satisfied with my medical knowledge, so I am constantly reading." Instead, you might confess to a real weakness but use it to show professional growth. For example, if you admit to having trouble delegating tasks, you might say that you've come to see that teamwork is effective.

What are your greatest strengths? Your answers don't have to be long. Some strengths are a strong work ethic, honesty, compassion, patience, superior training, the ability to learn quickly, or working well with others. You may provide an example or two.

What other institutions are you visiting? You need to be honest and admit that you are considering other places, but emphasize how important visiting this institution has been. And if it's at the top of your list, by all means say so.

Why should we hire you? This question can come at the end of the interview, and it often suggests strong interest in you. Explain in your own words why you would be the best candidate. Be careful not to overstate your abilities, such as saying "...and I also speak Spanish fluently" when, actually, you took 3 years of it in high school. If you were hired, you would be up against expectations that you couldn't fulfill.

After the Interview

Inquire about the next step. Ask your interviewers what the next steps in the hiring process are. Who will contact you, and when? What will you be expected to do next?

Write down your thoughts. Take time to write down your thoughts, experiences, emotions, reactions, and other content of the visit. It's much easier to refer back to your notes than to try to piece together the experience later on.

Follow up with your own interviews. You might want to get in touch with one or more doctors who currently work at the organization or used to work there and ask them to provide their views on the organization.

Learn from your mistakes. You may not be successful in your first interview, or even the next one. Take missteps not as defeats, but as lessons for the future.

Getting an Offer

Getting a job offer is a great ego boost, even when you've already decided to turn down the job. But even if you don't want the job, still do your best in the interview.

The job may be offered in the interview. Even if you're inclined to accept it, thank your interviewers and tell them you'll think about it and get back to them. No one expects you to accept the job before you leave the interview.

As you think about whether to accept, you should try to sum up everything you have learned. Ask yourself big-picture questions. Did you get a good feeling from the physicians you met? Do you like the way the organization is run? Do you like the duties you would be taking on? What do you think of the community?

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Welcome! This article is part of a Medscape Physician Business Academy course, . Visit the Course Page to take the full course and receive a certificate.


Koushik Shaw, MD

| Disclosures | January 01, 2017

Authors and Disclosures


Koushik Shaw, MD

Urologist, Austin Urology Institute, Austin, Texas; Author, The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Right Job After Residency (McGraw-Hill Education, 2005)

Disclosure: Koushik Shaw, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.