Ace that interview: It's all in the details
■ Preparation is key. Make sure you know all about the practice or organization -- and about yourself and your needs.
By John McCormack, amednews correspondent — Posted Nov. 12, 2007
Ever been on an interview where you get asked one of those questions that make you squirm in your chair -- "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?"
You know that you need to do more than roll your eyes and shrug it off. The problem? You can't come up with a quick answer.
If you don't prepare for a job interview, you could miss out on opportunities, receive less than the optimal compensation package and, perhaps worst of all, get stuck in a position that simply is not a good fit, says Jack Valancy, a health care consultant based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Doctors need to learn to sell themselves in job interviews -- and that means lots of preparation, says Beth Ross, PhD, a New York-based executive coach.
Valancy suggests that you zero in on the following areas and come up with a list of must-haves or must-have-nots:
- Patient cases. Will you be taking care of the types of patients that you want to take care of? Will you be getting the types of cases that you want?
- Organizational culture. Do you want to work in a fast-paced environment, a work culture that places an emphasis on research or in an entrepreneurial atmosphere?
- Location/lifestyle. Do you favor a small rural community or big-city life? If you have a family, how are the schools? Are there recreational opportunities nearby?
- Compensation. Will the salary provide you with the means to maintain or improve your lifestyle? Will the benefits meet your needs? Do you think the compensation is competitive?
Antoinette Caldwell, MD, has learned the importance of making sure she knows what she wants before taking a position. Just out of her residency about 15 months ago, she was interviewed by -- and landed a job with -- a pediatrics practice in a small Kentucky town. "I wanted to do rural medicine in a community in need," she says.
But after practicing for about a year, she realized it wasn't a good fit personally. "It was a lot harder than I imagined it to be. No movies, no restaurants, no malls," she says. "During the interview process, I was focused on the job and what I could do for the community, and I didn't even consider what I wanted for my personal life outside of work."
When Dr. Caldwell decided it was time for job No. 2, she approached the interview process a little differently. "I knew what I wanted out of the job and I knew what I wanted outside of the job. So I knew what questions to ask in the job interview."
Once you know what you want, the subsequent steps are all about making sure you know whether you're right for the job and how to sell yourself to the people responsible for giving it to you.
Experts say that before you start talking, you need to know what you can offer to the practice or organization interviewing you. Dr. Ross suggests that you write out and study the following:
- The main reason the employer would want to hire you.
- What you have to offer in the way of experience, credentials and personality.
- Two key accomplishments that support your interest in the position.
- An answer to what you think might be the main objection to you as a candidate.
- A statement of why you want to work for the organization.
Before the interview, learn as much as possible about your potential employer. Do research on the Internet, talk to colleagues, talk with friends -- and friends of friends. The more perspectives you can get, the better, says Carole Martin, principal of The Interview Coach in Burlingame, Calif., and a longtime interview expert for Monster.com.
If you are interviewing for an advertised job, read the job posting to get a handle on what the organization is looking for, Martin says. Make sure you can match your skills and experience to the qualifications requested.
And while preparation is paramount, it's also important to perform.
Ask the interviewer to tell you about their medical group or hospital. Then listen carefully. Take note of what the interviewer is talking about -- patient care, productivity, financial success or clinical research. As the interview progresses, tailor your responses to mesh with what is important to the organization, Valancy says.
Always remember that it's your show -- and keep bringing the conversation back to specific job skills and abilities that set you apart from the pack, Martin says.
How you present yourself during the interview should vary depending on who is talking to you.
When the interviewer is another physician, make sure to emphasize your medical and technical knowledge. Talk about past cases and how you were able successfully treat certain patients, Dr. Ross says.
When the interviewer is a financial executive, stress your ability as a revenue generator and cost-cutter. Talk about the services you could provide and the bottom-line results that you could bring to the organization, experts say.
When the interviewer is a practice partner -- and you are looking to join the group as a partner -- make sure to talk about all of the clinical and business experience that you can bring to the group. But it's important to emphasize that your experience will complement what already exists in the practice, Dr. Ross says.
It's also helpful to assess the interviewer's style. Many interviewers now use a "behavioral" technique that aims to determine how successful you will be based on your past.
To succeed in this type of interview, be ready to respond with very specific stories or anecdotes. "For example, if the interviewer asks you about dealing with difficult patients, offer a very specific example of what you did when an irate parent complained about the way you treated her daughter's upper respiratory infection," Martin says.
The trick is not to sound rehearsed, experts say. All the preparation you have done is to ensure that you have a bank of knowledge to draw on once you sit down with the interviewer. You won't need to use all of it. The point is to make yourself more comfortable and confident entering the interview, and to make the interview itself feel more like a conversation than a question-and-answer session.
"No matter what direction the interviewer is taking, you need to transform the interview into a true dialogue, not just a one-way interrogation," says Stephen Rosen, PhD, chair of Celia Paul Associates Inc., a New York-based career management firm that specializes in working with physicians.
Although a robust dialogue is great, you also need to know when enough is enough, according to Jackie Sill, a physician recruiter with Divine Savior Healthcare in Portage, Wis. Even though you want to establish rapport, offering too much personal information can backfire. "If you are in the midst of divorcing your spouse, you don't need to offer the personal details," Sill says.
Talking negatively about past employers or co-workers is also a real turn-off.
"During an interview, I once had a physician candidate say that she didn't like working with women," Sill says. "Things like that are a red flag."
Follow-up often clinches the deal for job candidates, experts say. Dr. Ross suggests sending a thank-you letter after the interview that emphasizes all your key strengths and overcomes any objections that might have been raised during the interview. She recommends that you bring index cards to each interview. Right after the interview -- whether you are in your car or sitting in the hospital lobby -- jot down the objections that were raised during your meeting. That way you will be able to craft a very specific letter.
No matter what stage of the interview process you are in, "it is always about trying to articulate why you are the best deal," Dr. Ross says.