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Developing Your Key Interview Questions
Get the Right Job by Asking Meaningful Questions

The questions you ask employers in the interview are key to getting the best job possible. Simply pleasing interviewers may get you a job, but asking the right questions can get you the job that fits you best. Many new physicians fail to ask the necessary questions and end up in jobs where they're miserable. Don't let this happen to you.

The goal of your questions is to become well informed—to give you a clear idea of what you're getting into. Your questions should reflect your most elemental needs: having an enjoyable place to work, being part of a stable and financially strong organization, being paid adequately for your work, and balancing your work with your private life.

Settling these issues, however, often requires understanding such complicated matters as compensation formulas, health insurance, malpractice coverage, departmental budgets, and other aspects of the business of medicine. Your questions need to address these topics.

Initial Questions

Your questions start with your first phone call to an in-house recruiter. They may be very simple, such as "Can you tell me more about the job listing?" and "When do you plan to fill the job?"

If you get serious about the opportunity, you'll be having numerous conversations over the phone with the in-house recruiter as well as doctors or others in the organization. In these discussions, you will have a chance to refine your line of inquiry. Each answer will lead to new questions that could produce better insights into the job.

Preinterview Investigation

In addition to asking questions, the preinterview phase involves a fair amount of investigation. You might start by checking out employers' websites and reading online news reports about them. The first thing you should do is to go to the company website and look for basic information, such as when the company was founded and how many people work there. If that information is not available on the website, you could ask for it during the preinterview calls.

These investigations may yield insights into the organization that are more honest and useful than questions you would ask the employer, such as "Do you have a good relationship with other practices in town?" or "Why do doctors leave this organization?"

In the meantime, employers are often very happy to answer preinterview questions and even supply the documents you want. They have a stake in showing future employees that they can be transparent and cooperative.

Carefully study the documents you get. Your initial questions about them will probably focus on simply trying to figure out the dense prose. In subsequent conversations, however, you'll be able to ask the employer more substantive questions on how these documents would actually shape your work life.

Study Up on the Business of Medicine

Asking the right questions requires getting acquainted with the business side of medicine, which includes such issues as practice finances, compensation models, malpractice coverage, and health insurance payments.

Not knowing much about these topics is common for many physicians fresh out of training. In a 2015 Medscape survey of over 1600 physicians, 88% of medical residents/fellows and practicing physicians (when they began practicing) said they felt unprepared for the business aspects of medicine. A 2016 survey [1] of physician job seekers by Merritt Hawkins found that 56% had not received any instruction in the business side of medicine. What's more, 39% felt unprepared to handle the topic and only 10% felt very prepared.

Not knowing much about business topics is common for many physicians fresh out of training.

There is a cornucopia of resources about the business of medicine on the Internet, including Medscape Business of Medicine; Medscape Physician Business Academy; and the websites of your specialty or subspecialty society, your state medical society, and the American Medical Association.

You might want to ask someone with a business background to review any financial documents you get from the employer, or ask a lawyer who is expert in physician contracts to review the boilerplate contract. (You will definitely need the lawyer to review the final contract offer, so reviewing the boilerplate contract wouldn't be a waste of time.)

To get an idea of what to ask, consult lists of potential questions, many of which are included below. If you adopt some of these questions, keep in mind that you'll still need to understand the answers and ask meaningful follow-up questions. There's no avoiding a short study of the business of medicine.

Tips for Preinterview Calls

Get basic questions out of the way. Even for a preinterview call, it's wise to show that you've done some preparation.

Ask for financial data. For example, ask for the organization's operating and capital budgets. Make sure there's no excessive spending. Also ask what the practice's overhead is. Overhead rates of 50% or more are considered extreme. And ask about the overall debt of the practice. Make sure debt is not over the top.

It's possible that the interviewer will be somewhat reluctant to give you those data. If so, you might bring the subject up again at the in-person interview, when your prospect of working for that employer is further along.

Obtain the boilerplate contract. Even though the final version of the contract will be slightly rewritten for your position, the boilerplate can still tell you a lot about the job. Ask the in-house recruiter for this document. If you don't have an attorney to review it, read the boilerplate several times to really understand what it says.

Get an estimate of compensation. Ask about the base salary and the methodology used to calculate bonuses. It can be based on reimbursements, productivity, or quality. Also, try to get a clear understanding of the work schedule and on-call requirements.

Contact current or former employees on social media. On LinkedIn or other social media, check your primary and secondary contacts to find people who've worked in the organization. On online physicians' discussion forums, ask for candid assessments.

Contact doctors who have left. In advance of the interview, ask the employer for the names of any doctors who have left the organization in the past year or two, and get in touch with them. Depending upon the relationship the company has with the existing physician, they may or may not be willing to give you contact information.

Ask about the doctor you're replacing. If you are replacing a physician, ask why he or she left. Then ask about the doctor's productivity over 12 months, which is measured in work relative value units (wRVUs). You can consult Medical Group Management Association benchmark data to see whether the wRVUs were set too high.

Some Questions to Ask About the Employer

You may not get transparent answers to the following questions from the employer, so it's a good idea to ask them of doctors and others who are not part of management, or who work outside of the organization.

  • How is the practice regarded in the community?

  • Do the doctors get along?

  • Is the practice thinking of selling to a hospital or health system?

  • How are new doctors treated?

  • Was the orientation process helpful?

  • How are patients assigned to doctors?

  • What is the referral network like?

Preparing Interview Questions

When you're putting together your list of questions for the interview, be selective. There may not be much time to ask a whole lot of questions, and even if you do have the time, pages upon pages of queries can be very draining and could affect your ability to establish rapport with the interviewer.

Furthermore, if you've been asking questions throughout the preinterview process, you won't need to ask a whole lot in the interview, and many of the questions you do ask would essentially be follow-ups of what you've already discussed.

Don't fill up your interview time with factual minutiae. Instead, ask some subjective questions, such as "What do you like best about working here?" "What bothers you most about the job?" and "What do you do for fun?" These sorts of questions can reveal a lot about the organization and your interviewer, who may be your prospective boss.

Don't fill up your interview time with factual minutiae. Instead, ask some subjective questions.

Make a list of questions to bring with you, and take notes on the responses. Such prompts are necessary because it's easy to lose your train of thought and forget key questions, and your interviewers won't hold this against you.

Potential Questions, and Reasons for Asking Them

What is the onboarding process for a new physician? You need to find out what is expected of new physicians and consider whether these expectations are realistic. You might even ask to talk to someone who recently went through the hiring process.

What is your leadership style? The answer to this will help you understand whether you can work for the interviewer, assuming that he or she would be your boss.

What is a typical workday like? This is a very good way of getting a feel for the job, and you can ask a variety of follow-up questions.

How would you define success in this position? The answer ought to give you an idea of the workload and other expectations, such as taking call, weekend assignments, and working on committees.

What are the challenges this position faces? Every job has a few negatives that you'll have to weigh. It might turn out that there aren't many support staff, or you might have to work odd hours. Denying there are any problems at all should raise doubts about your interviewer's credibility.

How do you resolve physician/management conflicts? This is especially pertinent in large organizations. Ask for a recent example of a conflict, and try to get a full understanding of how the group resolved it.

How would you define your group's culture? The answer will help you decide whether you can fit in. Do doctors go home immediately after work? Do they enjoy a lot of practical joking? Do they like to talk mainly about sports?

Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications? Asking this question signals that you are confident and willing to be coached. The interviewer may bring up concerns that you can then directly address. Make sure you draw out and resolve questions about your capabilities.

What is the community like? If you're an out-of-towner, employers will probably raise this topic and may even offer to take you on a tour. Employers are usually ready to answer questions about housing, schools, cultural attractions, cost of living, and traffic.

What is the time frame for your decision? Before you leave, make sure you get this information. This question also tells the employer you're interested in the job.

During the Interview

It's customary for interviewers to go first with their questions. Holding off on your questions indicates respect and shows that you're a team player. At some point, the interviewer will ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" Then it's your turn.

Most employers regard your questions as evidence of genuine interest in the job, but some of your questions might be a little tough for your interviewer to answer. Present them tactfully, and give your interviewer a chance to respond without interruption.

To establish an amicable discussion, you might start with an easy question, such as "Tell me a little bit about the culture of this practice." This will soften the impact of tougher questions later, such as "Is the practice facing any exceptional risks?"

Keep your questions open-ended. A query that only requires a yes or a no reveals precious little about the organization. Open-ended questions include "What is a typical workday like?" and "What's your practice philosophy?"

Asking the Tough Questions

Some questions could put interviewers on the spot and should be handled tactfully. Here are some examples:

Introducing compensation. You're supposed to hold off asking how much you're going to make until late in the interview, because money shouldn't be seen as your chief priority. You might wait for interviewers to bring up the issue on their own. Be prepared for a complicated explanation of payment formulas and bonuses. This is where a brief study of the business side of medicine comes in handy.

Be prepared for a complicated explanation of payment formulas and bonuses.

Requesting special arrangements. If you want to ask for a 4-day workweek, a reduced call schedule, or not having to do a lot of driving between locations, present yourself as a team player who wants to come up with an equitable solution. For example, if you want a 4-day workweek, you might suggest scheduling three or four long workdays.

Asking about potential problems. You might ask specific questions about the practice's current overhead, income distribution, debt levels, and other financial matters. If you haven't asked these questions already in preinterview preparation, broach them late in the interview, when you have established rapport.

Bringing up your investigative work. If you uncovered allegations of high turnover, poor management, or similar problems, raise them in a friendly manner and give the interviewer a chance to present a full explanation. These problems may turn out not to be deal-breakers.

Dealing with broad claims. When an interviewer makes an unsubstantiated claim, such as "We have very good quality scores," ask for an example.

Dealing with pushback. If you encounter unwarranted resistance to your request, politely explain why this is important for you to know and rephrase the question. If you still can't get an answer, let the matter drop and consider investigating the matter with your sources afterwards. There may be nothing here, but stonewalling in itself indicates a poor management style.

What happens if you want to leave? Asking this question could be harmful to you because it suggests you're already thinking of ways to exit, and employers want doctors who will stay for the long haul. Still, the answer is important for you to know. You might want to delay this topic until contract negotiations, when it wouldn't raise eyebrows as much.

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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.