Interviewing Skills for Job-Seeking Physicians

Career Resources articles posted on NEJM CareerCenter are produced by freelance health care writers as an advertising service of the publishing division of the Massachusetts Medical Society and should not be construed as coming from the New England Journal of Medicine, nor do they represent the views of the New England Journal of Medicine or the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Career Resources Editor’s Note: Job seeking physicians’ interviewing skills can compliment the introductory letter, curriculum vitae, and preliminary telephonic communication with prospective employers. Preparation in terms of clearly defining professional goals, personal interests, and professional demeanor can be enhanced by practicing with a trusted colleague.
— John A. Fromson, MD 

How to Conduct Yourself Before, During and After the Interview 
By Robert Kuramoto, MD, Assistant Medical Director, Christie Clinic, Champaign, Illinois

Your impressive, well-organized curriculum vitae (CV) and intelligent cover letter got your foot in the door. Or, perhaps it was through a networking contact. In any case, you’ve made it to the interview process. Now what?

While you may be excited, and maybe even a bit anxious over an impending interview, it is critical that you be prepared to take your appointment for employment seriously. The following is designed to help you during the interview process — including how to prepare beforehand, how to conduct yourself in the actual interview and what appropriate follow-up steps should be taken after your visit.

Research the Practice or Hospital
Research on the place where you potentially will be working is imperative. Never walk into an interview without doing your homework. Find out as much as possible about the hospital or practice. The Internet is a valuable tool in researching any practice or firm, however, most hospitals and practices will send you a packet of information prior to your interview. Call and request one if you don’t receive anything. And, of course, there’s always the tried and true method of asking someone who already works there.

How can you answer the inevitable “What can you offer us?” if you don’t know exactly what it is they do and how they do it? Find out how the organization is structured and if they have affiliations with other hospitals and health systems and medical schools. What is the ratio of primary care physicians to specialists on staff? Be ready to put your research to work for you. You need to show how your skills match existing programs, but also should be able to illustrate how your skill set and expertise might add something their current program is lacking.

Be Ready to Discuss Your Professional Goals and Personal Interests
Interviewers don’t want to listen to a complete rundown on your credentials. That’s what your CV is for. However, if you are particularly proud of something you accomplished, or had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary people in your field, you may want to mention that briefly as one of your major achievements or career highlights. Don’t assume that the interviewer is completely familiar with your CV. Often the interviewer is not the same person who initially received your resume, be prepared to summarize key points.

Interviewers want to know what kind of person you are — what you care about, what your interests are. In many cases, the people interviewing you are potential co-workers, and they want to know what it will be like to work with you. In discussing non-business issues, stay away from religion and politics — no need to offend anyone. Talking about things you care about — your daughter’s soccer team, your work in a local clinic for the needy, your passion for fly fishing — is always a safe bet.

Be Ready to Sell Yourself
Without being pompous, be prepared to sell your qualifications, expertise, and strengths. Also be prepared to answer any questions that may arise regarding your CV, particularly any gaps in training or job history, switch of residency programs or questions about where you attended medical school. Depending on your answers, some of these could be red flags to interviewers. However, often times there are perfectly legitimate — even admirable — explanations. For example, one young resident had a year-long gap between medical school and residency because he took that year to attend theological school in hopes of being better prepared to serve his patients.

Remember when selling yourself, that there’s a fine line between being confident and obnoxious — don’t cross it. As the owner of a practice or the head of a department, your interviewer is looking for someone who will be a positive reflection of his or her office. Often interviewers will even ask themselves, “Would I want this person treating my friends, family or even my children?”

Act Like This Is the Only Interview That Matters
Playing hard to get has no place in an interview setting. This doesn’t mean you should hint at an offer in the first five minutes, but it does mean you should act enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the position. Few things will turn an interviewer off more than a feeling that you are not at all interested in this job and that you are wasting his or her time. Interviewers are not likely to hire someone they believe is not enthused about their practice. People want to hire people who want the job. Never go into an interview confident that you already have the job — that attitude almost always results in a non-offer.

Prepare a Comprehensive List of Questions
One of the best ways to appear enthusiastic about the opening is to ask questions. Many recruitment specialists say the questions you ask (rather than the answers you give) are the key to a good interview. Before you go into an interview, write down a list of everything you need to know in order to make a decision about a job. Of course, you’ll want to know about the practice but don’t forget to ask about the community and quality of life in the area as well. Find out about employment opportunities for your spouse, schools in the area, and religious institutions. Often, practices will arrange tours of local schools, churches, synagogues, and other places of worship, as well as higher education institutions if you inquire prior to the interview.

Speak Positively about Your Experiences and Don’t Disparage Former Employers
It doesn’t matter how bad they were to you, do not, under any circumstances, speak ill of former employers or managers in an interview. It will make you — not them — look bad.

Review Your Travel Itinerary to Ensure Punctuality
This may sound like a no-brainer, but hospitals and strange towns can be confusing places. If you are driving to the interview, check out the address and parking availability prior to your interview. Or, if air travel or trains are a part of your itinerary, confirm your travel arrangements with the recruiter’s coordinator and make sure you allow extra time for unexpected travel delays or traffic.

Dress Professionally
Even if you’re interviewing with a small-town practice that has a fairly casual atmosphere, dress for success. No matter what the size or location of the practice or hospital, this is a place of business. Present yourself as if you understand that.

Bring Your Spouse, if Invited
If you are married, a spouse can be an important part of the interview mix. Your first job after residency often entails a move. Employers know that a spouse can play a key role in the decision-making process and often will help in finding employment, schools, etc. Just a note: if your spouse tends to dominate conversations, be sure to talk with him or her prior to the interview. Remind your spouse that this is your interview and that you need to do the majority of the talking.

Don’t Avoid the Subject of Money, But Don’t Dwell on it Either
In a first interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to inquire about money, although it is often recommended that you reserve this discussion for the end of your session. This is not the time for hard-core negotiation, but here are some questions deemed appropriate for your first meeting.

  • What is the salary range?
  • I have a guaranteed salary for the first two years, but what is my future earning potential once I go off the guarantee?
  • What might I be at risk for in the future?

These questions should give you an indication of whether the compensation for the job falls within your acceptable range. You can delve deeper into the money topic in subsequent meetings with questions such as:

  •  What are the benefits and perks?
  •  What are the patient demographics?
  •  What will my responsibilities be beyond patient care?
  •  How will my performance be measured and rewarded?

Schedule Strategically
Don’t put off scheduling the interview. It looks like you’re not interested and sends a bad message before you even have a chance to visit. Try to avoid Monday appointments, as they are often too hectic for everyone involved. Late afternoon interviews may also not be the best time, as people tend to be more fatigued toward the end of the day, and you will want to make sure you have the interviewer’s full attention.

Send a Thank-You Note after the Interview
In a world full of e-mail and faxes, the handwritten thank-you note is in danger of becoming a lost art. Never underestimate the power of a brief, handwritten note. It shows you care enough about the position and the interviewer(s) to send a personalized thank you. Take the time to get the correct titles and spellings of the names of people you met — attention to detail will be noticed. Also, let it be known you are available to provide any additional information required or to answer any questions that may not have come up during your visit.

The bottom line is this: every new job is an important step in your career. Take your job search seriously. Never take any job for granted or discount an opportunity before you’ve fully explored it. At any interview, be sure to act as though the open position is the job for you. You never know, it just might be.


Back to listing