The Physician Job Interview - Essential Tips for Success

by : Andre Todd

Interviewing for physician jobs can be stressful, as your entire candidacy for what may in fact be the ideal job is on the line. Knowing that a good or bad interview can directly affect the job outcome, physicians often worry, and stress out about the interview - and understandably so! In my years as a practicing physician, as well as an administrator, I have learned a few tips I have found successful for me and those who either I have interviewed or know of as successful physicians in ideal jobs. Here are a few of my Tips for success:

1. I don't know! - yes, for those perfectionists I am going to say it again - I don't know! Seriously, physicians have much trouble with these words. However, the successful physician job seeker knows the value in being prepared to say them. It's okay, though - really! In fact, comfortableness with these words will foster more strength and self-confidence. Additionally, self-confidence will not only allow you to rest easily before the interview, it will radiate from you during the interview, and significantly enhance your visit. As an example, for those medicine and surgery folks that have ever put in a subclavian central line, the saying is "the only doctor who has not dropped a lung (caused a pneumothorax) is the one who has not done enough subclavians!" In placing a subclavian central line, there is the chance of creating a pneumo. Knowing and understanding this, and going over what you know about the procedure all help mitigate your anxiety preemptively. This is important when coping in the unfortunate event of actually creating an iatrogenic pneumothorax. Moreover, know that a pneumothorax can and will happen at some point even for the best, will instill confidence before, during, and after the procedure. This will allow you to better prepare and focus on cannulating that vein successfully, rather than anxiously, and cautiously worrying about a complication that is statistically inevitable.

The interview is the same. Know that you are going to get a question that may stump you, or cause you to stumble. Interviewers often have their one favorite tough question meant to stump you to see your response. Most physician interviewers though, greatly appreciate a physician candidate's honesty in an answer . . . the doctor that says "wow, that's a good question . . . I don't know" and then who later follows with "I would probably, etc..." This is a very good response to a tough question. The honest disclaimer is thrown out there and somewhat protects you from whatever answer you then provide. Much like the defensive flag thrown in football after the snap - it is basically a free pass and free down for the offense. This type of upfront openness and honesty will serve you well during the interview. Alternatively, if you force, fake, lie, or develop erratic behavior upon receipt of a tough question, it is likely that your actions will compromise your perceived integrity, and damage your chance of getting the job. Again, be comfortable and confident in what you know; likewise, it is okay to admit that you do not know - it is actually preferred. Let this sink in, believe and understand it. This will drastically reduce your anxiety, enable you to perform better during the interview, and allow you to present yourself as an intelligent, knowing, and honest physician candidate!

2. Presentation - judgment is quickly passed, and the dinner just about ruined when the thanksgiving turkey that is un shaven, smells, has the garnishments mismatched and thrown everywhere, that is rushed to the table late, and sizzling as if it just came out of the oven, while the cook is tucking in the foil! Well, neither do physician interviewers. Unlike responding to ER call let's say at 3:30 am, it is not okay to show up at an interview disheveled. It is imperative that the interviewee is clean, punctual, and sharp. If you have to drive hours to arrive at your interview, bring a change of clothes just to be fresh. Try to avoid the jacket with countless wrinkles, etc., unless you are prepared to wear a sign on your back asking everyone to excuse you, because you had to drive 2 hours! Now there is no need to by the Armani suit with gold cufflinks. Any suit is fine it's just that it has to be conservative, professional, clean, and pressed. Avoid having interviews on vacation with family where you are just passing through, and decided to check out an opportunity. Unless you have your interview suit, I would wait until you can return. First impressions matter, much like the thanksgiving turkey! And oh by the way, just as there is now room for excessive garlic, clove, or cumin on the turkey, it goes without saying, excessive perfumes and colognes are unacceptable, unless you know exactly what cologne or perfume your interviewer likes. In that case, spray away! If not, do not risk completely distracting or turning an interviewer off because of your strong, offensive, perfume! On the other hand, breath mints can save embarrassing post-prandial halitosis. They can even give you a lift during a long boring interview. Carry a few in your pocket.

3. Enthusiastic Engagement - you will never know the number of non-doctor personnel that hold great influence on your successful candidacy for a position. For example, the secretary and administrative assistant to the Program Chairman of 30 years; or the Directors housekeeper nicknamed "Ma"; or the security officer at the parking lot who son had the . . . etc., etc. Bottom line here is treat everyone with enthusiasm, excitement, and engagement. Look everyone in the eye, warmly shake their hand, and don't rush to look away or else risk appearing superficial or dismissive. Talk with them, ask questions to get them to talk about their hospital, or practice which they love.

As for the interviewer, show interest. Be observant to the pictures in the office, awards, objects, and ask questions. Likewise, while walking through the practice setting, do the same. You should have also done the necessary online research to learn about the interviewer and group. You must ask the appropriate questions for these will cause the interviewer to proudly talk about their accomplishments, achievements, or special interests - and everyone loves to themselves in a show and tell manner . . . even interviewers!. In doing so, you will be liked because you will appear to have similar interests, or at least an appreciation and awareness of the interviewers most proud and enjoyable memories - and you will be remembered.

Posture and positioning are both essential, and worth mention here. It is a delicate balance between respect and rigidness. Finesse must be both practiced and exercised here in order to do this properly. As an example, imagine the military officer on base. There is a time to be rigid, formal, and upright, and yet there is time and place to be at ease. On the interview, walk briskly, assertively, firm handshakes, sit upright (and not laid back legs spread) until you know it is time to do otherwise. If you are being 'cross examined' and the interviewer is walking or pacing around the room so to speak, remain upright. If the interview is in the medical staff lounge, and the interviewer takes off his lab coat, leans back on a sofa, it's time for you to do the same. All the while, maintain your enthusiastic engagement, and you will succeed.

4. Mind Your Manners - this tends to tie in with the aforementioned sections, but it deserves separate mention because so many of us doctors feel that we are above reproach. Yes we are good, yes we are the best in what we do, yes we save lives, but also, yes we all have mothers who will slap our hands and wash our mouths our with soap for misbehaving! So mind your manners on the interview - even if you don't in your daily life! Ladies first, opening doors and waiting for the trailing person to pass, not interrupting someone else talking are key. This may seem basic, but trust me, over the years, you would not believe the number of physician candidates I have encountered who didn't understand this. One does not have to be ridiculously excessive, but appropriate is ideal. Although I was never in the military, I must mention it here again. Think of the soldier in uniform . . . everyone just loves their demeanor, manners, courtesy and appropriateness. On your interview, behave like that soldier. Everyone will like you just the same as the solider. Moreover, this too will aid in attaining the best physician job.

5. Stories and Anecdotes - are often entertaining, and allow you to leave lasting impressions. When answering a question about you, your reasons for moving to this city, or joining the practice - tell a story. Importantly of course, is that you must directly answer the question. However, adding a descriptive, brief story allows for your creative, engaging, jovial, side to appear. Note that you should only do this only a few times during the interview. An excessive amount of storytelling or anecdotes will distract from the interview. You don't want to have more stories to tell than the interviewer! The other benefit to stories and anecdotes for the savvy and wise physician interviewee, it allows you to smoothly transition onto an attribute that you are waiting and hoping to discuss. For example, if you have applying for an infectious disease position, and as a child spent years in South America with your family in the military - when asked "what are your strong attributes?" consider this reply: My strong attributes in my work ethic arise from my father's military background. For many years we lived in various countries during my childhood, in South America, Latin America, etc." This should then trigger the next question from the infectious disease chairman to be one that excitedly and curiously delves into the infectious disease experiences in South America. Smoothness, and timing are key, so be on the lookout for the right time.

6. The Minor Details - cumulatively are worthy of their own section. These are important aspects of preparation and execution that help make your interview complete:

a. Bring extra, clean and unblemished copies of your CV or resume

b. NEVER bring up salary or remuneration unless directly asked of you.

c. Do not arrive on time to the interview -ARRIVE EARLY!

d. Obtain business cards at the end - useful for thank you cards later

e. Eat light when dining with interviewer, and avoid alcohol

f. Express gratitude and thanks for the interview