Wouldn’t it be great if you could just walk on board to your perfect job? There’s just that one hurdle: the job interview. Interviews can be stressful for everyone involved, but the good news is there are steps you can take to calm your nerves and make a winning impression. From self-reflection to research and planning, the effort you invest ahead of time will pay off in the long run.
Step 1: Evaluate your priorities
Preparing for an interview isn’t just about researching an employer or rehearsing your answers. You should also walk in with a clear understanding of what you want in your career. Whether you need to take an afternoon off to do some soul searching or you’ve known your dream practice setting all your life, spelling out your and your family’s priorities is one of the best ways to guide a job search.
Define the job you want
For starters, what exactly is your vision for the future? Periodically reevaluating this vision can help you determine which job opportunities line up with your goals.
“Understand what’s important to you,” recommends Paula M. Termuhlen, M.D., Regional Campus Dean at University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus. “Once you have a good sense of [this], you can learn more about the organization.”
As you define your vision, consider the following:
- Practice setting: Do you want to work in a hospital, join a group practice or go solo?
- Future growth: Are you focused on clinical work, or do you aspire to research, teach or join academia? Do you want to become a partner or move into a leadership position eventually?
- Salary expectations: How much do you need to earn to meet your expenses? What are your financial goals for the future?
- Motivation and mission: What initially drove you to go into medicine? What experiences so far have brought you the greatest satisfaction? The least satisfaction? Do you have a personal mission?
- Location: Do you thrive in a certain climate or region? Are you up for relocating, or do you have ties to a certain place? Is there a particular patient population you’re especially interested in serving?
- Lifestyle: What type of schedule works best for you? What are your obligations outside of work? What times of day do you feel most productive?
These questions are a good starting place, but everyone’s vision includes different priorities. Take time to assess any other factors relevant to your life, your immediate needs and your long-term goals.
Consider your family
You don’t live in a vacuum. Whether you’re single and eager to explore or married with children and pets, the job you choose will influence the people in your life. It’s important to ask for their input—even if you think you already know their opinions.
“No matter where you are in the continuum of medicine, you’ll be spending a significant portion of your waking hours at work. The people important to you also need to be happy, satisfied and successful without your physical presence,” says Termuhlen. “You need the support of the people close to you.”
As you talk with family and friends, make sure to address these areas of conversation:
- Employment: Will your spouse or partner need a new job? What setting provides adequate opportunities for his or her field of work?
- Transportation: Do you need to be close to an airport or another transportation hub so you can easily travel to family back home? Does anyone in your immediate family need access to public transportation in your new city?
- Region: Do any of your family members have a strong preference for or against a certain climate or geographic region? Are any of them passionate about a sport or activity that’s only available in certain settings?
- Children: What are your children’s needs? Consider schools as well as recreation, arts and athletic programs. How might your family change in the next five to seven years?
- Family support: Do you need to consider childcare, senior resources, religious organizations or any other special circumstances?
Once you develop a list of your family’s priorities, combine it with your own and use both lists to drive your job search.
Step 2: Research the opportunity
Educating yourself about the workplace, the position and the community will not only make you look more prepared, it will also help you feel more confident. Your interviewers will appreciate the effort you’ve put in, and you’ll be more equipped with background information.
Explore the program and organization
These days, it’s easy to learn about an employer even before you’ve stepped foot in their building. “Use the organization’s web presence to find out as much as possible and ask people with whom you have connections,” suggests Termuhlen, adding that a spreadsheet can be a helpful way to track details.
Start with the basics: the organization’s history, size and specialties. Then dig deeper on their website to learn about their core values, partner organizations, charitable programs and plans for growth. You can also look at their media releases or search Google News to find out what big events or changes they’ve experienced lately.
If you speak directly to any of the organization’s employees, focus on their firsthand experience instead of facts you can easily find online. Ask about their job satisfaction, the corporate culture and what a typical workday involves, as well as what they think about the area and community.
As you collect information, make note of things that strike you as either positive or negative. These may become topics for conversation in your interview.
Get to know your interviewers
You’ll feel more comfortable if you familiarize yourself with your interviewers ahead of time. Scan your meeting agenda for each person’s name, then take a minute to look up his or her bio on the organization’s website or LinkedIn. Search online for anything they’ve published in professional journals or national publications.
When searching online, you’re likely to uncover personal details as well as professional information. Stacy Potts, M.D., associate professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School, says you should avoid paying attention to this.
“It’s nice to mention information to make a connection, but keep to what you find in professional bios, not social media,” she explains. Congratulating someone on a publicized professional accomplishment is fine, but asking about his or her eldest child who just went to college could be off-putting.
You should also try to learn name pronunciations ahead of time. If a name seems especially cryptic, ask your recruiter for help or call the physician’s office to hear the receptionist’s pronunciation.
Find out what the area offers
Whether you are flying to an unfamiliar destination or driving to a nearby city, designate some free time to explore the area. It’s not just the job that needs to be right for you and your family. The area should be a good fit, too. Don’t assume an employer will work this time into your schedule. If you have a full itinerary, consider staying an extra night or ask if your meetings can be spread out so you can explore.
“Asking that can be looked highly upon,” says Potts. “It shows that the applicant has a clear idea of what they need and a level of commitment. Also, being able to voice your own concerns is good for your future role.”
Before you go, identify what neighborhoods, schools, religious establishments, recreational areas and other sites you’d like to visit. Set up any appointments, such as a meeting with a realtor or a colleague, ahead of time.
Step 3: Prepare what you want to say and ask
The question-and-answer session makes up the bulk of any interview, and it’s also one of the easiest portions to prepare for. Don’t assume you can figure out what you’ll say on the spot. You’ll thank yourself later if you sort out your thoughts beforehand.
Rehearse your answers
Practicing your answers to interview questions can instill a sense of confidence and ensure that you communicate key points effectively. There are plenty of resources available with lists of typical questions—both those geared to general job seekers and those specific to physicians. Your alma mater’s career center is a good place to look for one of these lists, and you can also search online for similar resources.
As you read through questions, try to formulate your responses. Take into account the unique aspects of your own career and areas of interest, then think about weaving these details into your conversation. A candidate who shares a memorable story or personal experience will leave a stronger impression.
“Find out what parts of this job line up with your priorities. [Prepare to] mention those things in the interview. Also bring up past experiences that line up with these items,” Potts suggests.
In addition to preparing for standard questions, remember that your interviewers will likely want to discuss your background and application materials. Review all the information you’ve provided and refresh your memory of the dates, names and details.
“Avoid putting anything down on paper that you aren’t ready to speak eloquently about,” says Christa Zehle, M.D., interim senior associate dean for medical education and associate dean for students at the Larner College of Medicine at The University of Vermont. “For example, if you say you’ve done research, be able to provide more information.”
Create your list of questions
The interview isn’t just about your answers. You should also bring questions of your own. Employers look highly on candidates who pose thoughtful questions, and asking them will help you uncover important details about the job you’re applying for.
“Ask genuine questions. Don’t just ask for the sake of asking something. Show that you have some familiarity and you’ve done your homework,” recommends Zehle. “Ask about a unique component or something specific about the program. Avoid topics such as compensation, call schedules or salary.” While the latter may be valid questions, it’s best to save those for your recruiter or raise them later in the process.
Write your questions down and feel free to bring your list with you. “Pulling out your list of questions at the interview is fine,” says Potts. “It shows engagement—that you’re taking the experience seriously.”
Identify a mentor
The abundance of information you’ll take in during an interview would be overwhelming to anyone. It’s helpful to have a close friend or family member you can talk with about your impressions, and it’s equally important to have a seasoned medical professional who is willing to help guide you.
“Find a mentor with more experience than you. You need someone neutral to the process to guide you, a trusted friend or colleague,” says Termuhlen, adding that you can also reach out to someone who has the type of job you’d like to end up in. “Even if you don’t know them, you can introduce yourself and explain that this is the type of job you’re hoping to have someday,” she explains. “Most professionals would be receptive to this.”
Step 4: Prepare to make a good impression
Your credentials may have gotten you in the door for an interview, but once you arrive, your presentation and social skills will determine whether or not you get the thumbs up. Take some time to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
Do a practice interview
Whether you’re just starting off or relocating after 10 years of clinical work, it’s always smart to take a critical look at your interviewing habits. One of the best ways to do that is to watch yourself on tape.
“Mock interviews are invaluable for spotting things you may not realize, such as non-verbal communication or nervous habits,” says Zehle. Ask your alma mater’s career center if they offer mock interview sessions or, she suggests, “Just have a rudimentary session where a friend asks you some questions and you video your responses on your iPhone.”
As you watch your performance, you may discover areas for improvement. For example, you might notice you tend to ramble or don’t maintain eye contact. “Try to address any weak areas so that you portray confidence and carry yourself well at the interview,” Zehle suggests. “Practice your weaknesses.”
And don’t forget to notice your positive traits. If you greeted your interviewer with a warm smile or firm handshake during your practice interview, make sure to do the same when it’s the real deal.
Prepare your wardrobe
You are likely to have a few different meetings on your schedule— everything from a breakfast meet-and-greet to a facility tour to a meeting with prominent department members. Dressing appropriately for each is part of making a good impression. “Every interaction will count,” says Potts. “You should be able to appear relaxed at each kind of gathering.”
For the interview itself, you can’t go wrong with a suit: a dress shirt, slacks or a skirt, matching jacket, a tie if appropriate. Choose subtle or neutral colors. For other events—such as a tour or meal—avoid a last-minute scramble by asking about the dress code in advance. If you’re unsure, ask your recruiter or contact the restaurant directly.
Don’t forget to take weather into account. If you’ll be going in and out of a car or doing extensive walking, dress for the elements and have something in which to carry your paperwork and personal items.
Even with a less-formal gathering, don’t stray too far from professional boundaries. This isn’t the time to be flamboyant. You want people to remember your skills and personality, not what you were wearing. “Use common sense,” says Potts. “Look relaxed, but don’t go overboard.”
What you wear contributes to your confidence, so don’t take shortcuts. Select comfortable clothing that boosts your self-esteem. Avoid anything that might preoccupy you, such as a stained shirt or slacks that don’t fall right. You’ve worked too hard to get to this point to let your clothing steal your focus.
Collect your materials
Most of your paperwork will be taken care of by the time you sit down for the interview, but it doesn’t hurt to carry extras with you just in case. Use some type of portfolio case to carry a spare copy of your CV, contact information for your references and any other relevant paperwork.
Don’t forget to update your list of references and verify their contact information. “As a courtesy, let them know they may be getting a call,” Zehle says. That way, they’ll be prepared to say glowing things about you.
Step 5: Plan logistics ahead of time
As you get closer to your interview day, do everything you can ahead of time. Small steps will make the difference between arriving rested, focused and on time instead of frazzled, distracted or late.
Deal with last-minute details before the last minute
Before your meeting, consider all the logistics of the day. Figure out your transportation plan and investigate traffic patterns to decide when you need to leave. Leave plenty of extra time—even if you’re already familiar with the location. If you’ll be using a transportation service, call ahead of time to confirm their schedule. Have an alternate plan in mind, just in case.
If you have children, confirm there is a plan (and a backup plan) for their care. Be sure your family members know what hours you’ll be unavailable and, if need be, designate an alternate contact person.
Do your best to streamline your morning: gather your wardrobe, pack a light snack, tuck any needed medicine or toiletries into your bag and fill a water bottle. Anything you can do in advance is one less thing to remember on your way out the door.
By now, you probably have a handful of strategies for getting through challenging situations. An interview is just one more opportunity to put these coping skills to work, whether that means waking up early for a run or tucking a protein bar into your jacket in case you barely eat at the colleague luncheon. Now is the time to implement any habits that help you feel your best.
With an already busy lifestyle, it’s easy to procrastinate about interview preparation or assume you’ll just deal with issues when the time comes. But by getting a head start, you’ll be able to stay focused when the interview comes—and land your dream practice.