Ready, set, visit

How to turn a site visit into the ultimate fact-finding mission.

By Debbie Swanson | Feature Articles | Summer 2020

 

“Don’t just focus on the organization wanting to hire you,” says Mark Anderson, M.D. “Be sure it’s a place you want to work.” – Photo by Michael Comulada

Just like touring colleges and universities, visiting employers is one of the best ways to evaluate your options. Of course, COVID-19 put some of those on hold; but in-person visits are sure to regain their importance. And when they do, plan for several days of interviews, meetings and extras, such as tours, meals or social gatherings. You’ll meet potential supervisors and coworkers, and you’ll have a chance to picture your future at a new place.

If things go well, you’ll finish each visit with a clearer idea of whether or not an employer is a good fit. That means you’ll be prepared to make a decision if and when you receive a letter of intent. But a successful visit depends on proper preparation. Follow these tips to make sure you get the most out of your time.

Phase one: Soak up information

The first step begins at home. Invest time researching the prospective employer, the region and the individuals you’ll be meeting. This will not only help you formulate your own opinion of the place, but also help you come across as a serious and committed applicant. The more you know about the employer, the more invested you’ll appear.

Study up on the employer

You probably have some preliminary knowledge about the organization you’re visiting, but now it’s time to learn even more. Go beyond basic facts about the practice and location. Instead, try to understand their mission, philosophy and outlook. After all, until you know what they stand for, you can’t really be sure you want to work there.

Some steps to take:

  • Review the organization’s website. Read staff bios (especially those of the people on your agenda), press releases, company history and philosophy, and anything else you find interesting.
  • Ask your recruiter for marketing material. While this information will all be framed in a positive light, it’s useful for understanding the image an organization wants to present.
  • Explore their social media presence to learn more about day-to-day affairs. See what’s being said about them.
  • Tap into your network to see if you know anyone with a connection who can tell you more via phone or email. Your professional associations or alumni organizations may be able to help.
  • “See [what] awards the organization may have been given, like best place to work or outstanding hospital or practice,” suggests J. Mark Anderson, M.D., founding partner at Executive Medicine of Texas. He adds that you should also pay attention to community ratings and reputation. “Is this place respected within a community? You can improve or devalue your future résumé by working there,” he says.
  • Take notes as you go. Everything you learn is valuable as you assess an employer. It’s also fodder for small talk during downtime on your visit.

Investigate the location

It’s likely you’ll be considering positions in a variety of locations, both familiar and unfamiliar. Local issues are often overlooked in the job search, but they can be a major factor in finding the right fit. For example, if you discover a great job in a bustling city, but the school system and crime rate aren’t ideal for raising your young kids, maybe that job isn’t so great after all.

Start by getting a clear idea of the factors that matter to you and your family, then rank the priority of each. Next, gather information about local demographics, crime rates, recreational opportunities, school systems, senior care, transportation/walkability, cost of living, etc. As you’re working, create a list of places worth visiting in person, such as places of worship, schools, recreational facilities and more.

If your spouse or significant other plans to accompany you, create a plan to make the most of the trip. Much of your time and energy will be occupied by meetings and interviews, so your companion can work through your list of places to explore or set up meetings with realtors, schools or job recruiters.

Remember to maintain an open mindset when it comes to regions, says Daniel Paull, M.D., founder and CEO of Easy Orthopedics in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Paull himself attended college in New York and medical school in Miami, so when he started looking at residencies, the Midwest wasn’t on his radar. However, he says, “When I interviewed for residency at the University of Toledo, I saw that all of the residents seemed happy.” On top of that, he discovered that Toledo had a low cost of living, very little traffic and friendly people. He never thought he’d end up there, but it turned out to be the perfect fit. That’s why he suggests: “Be flexible. Be ready to go anywhere.”

Confirm your arrangements

If you’re coming from a distance, discuss travel arrangements with your prospective employer ahead of time. Usually, your recruiter or contact person will arrange the flights, lodging and other transportation details, but don’t make assumptions. Some organizations expect you to take care of these things yourself.

Be sure to clarify:

  • Who is responsible for making your travel arrangements
  • What expenses are covered, such as flights, ground transportation or meals
  • Any monetary limits you should adhere to
  • What documentation you’ll need to provide for reimbursement and when to submit it
  • Whether you’ll have downtime in your agenda to explore the area or need to arrange that time on your own
  • Which events your travel companion (if you have one) is invited to, such as dinners or meetings with other spouses or families

It’s also wise to let your recruiter know as early as possible of any dietary needs or special requests. For example, if you want to meet with a realtor or your spouse wants to meet with a recruiter in his or her field, your contact person might be able to help.

As with any trip, you’ll need to make some arrangements on your own. Don’t forget to find a pet sitter, babysitter or anything else you need ahead of time so you won’t have any distractions while you are away.

Review your agenda

Your agenda should arrive well before your visit. Even if you’re busy with your residency program or other responsibilities, don’t wait to review it at the last minute. You might have questions you need to address with your recruiter ahead of time.

Make sure you know:

  • The location and length of any meetings on your schedule, as well as the name and contact info of the person you’re supposed to be meeting
  • The dress code for non-interview events
  • How to pronounce any difficult names listed on your schedule

The earlier you can get these details sorted out, the better. But as the date grows near, don’t forget to confirm that nothing has changed. Stay flexible if the times, locations or people on your agenda get switched around.

Daniel Paull, M.D., ended up in the Midwest for residency—a location he hadn’t expected. “Be flexible.
Be ready to go anywhere,” he says. – Photo by Brian Kwan

Get your answers ready

It’s impossible to anticipate exactly what you’ll be asked over the course of your interviews, but you can brush up on typical topics. If you don’t already have a list of common interview questions, reach out to your medical school’s career or alumni center. Remember to ask about any other information they have on best practices for interviews.

Some typical interview questions include:

  • Why did you choose this organization/region/specialty?
  • What motivates you as a physician?
  • Where do you hope to go with your career?
  • Do you have any specific jobs or experiences that shaped who you are today?
  • What special skills would you bring to this job? What do you hope to gain from it?

Spend some time formulating answers to these questions—and any others you think you might be asked. The more you practice, the more natural your responses will be. Try to bring in specific examples from your own experiences whenever possible. This creates a more memorable impression.

You should also be ready to discuss the items on your CV. Review it before the meeting to refresh your memory of all the dates, places, names and details you have listed.

Get your questions ready

You aren’t just evaluated on your answers. Interviewers also expect you to ask good questions. The more specific to the position and organization, the better. Avoid very general inquiries or any questions you could easily answer by checking their website. And save questions about benefits or compensation for later in the process.

A few great questions to ask include:

  • Who would I report to?
  • What goals would I be expected to achieve?
  • What is the organization’s plans for growth?
  • Besides clinical work, what other obligations will I be expected to meet?

“It’s also OK to ask how your performance will be assessed and what key performance indicators they usually use for physicians,” says Walter Gaman, M.D., a founder and chairman of the board at Healthcare Associates of Texas.

Phase two: It’s showtime

When the day arrives and your site visit begins, things tend to move quickly. Your planning and research will come in handy. Knowing where you need to be, who you’ll be meeting and how you’ll be getting around will raise your confidence and counteract interview jitters.

A good mindset to have is that you want to make a good impression on everyone you meet, from the person who meets you at the airport to the server at dinner and even other hotel guests. You never know who knows whom or who might report back on your behavior.

“Plan to stay in interview mode from the time you arrive until you return to the airport,” recommends Paull.

The nuts and bolts: Interviews

Interviews and meetings are the main reason for your visit, so you want to create a strong, positive impression. Plan to arrive to each appointment early. If you end up waiting, use the time to review your notes, do some valuable people watching or mentally prepare yourself. Greet everyone in the room with a firm handshake and steady eye contact, and split your time between listening and talking. Distribute your attention evenly among everyone involved. Be careful not to overlook anyone. And make sure to learn and note everyone’s names so you can follow up with questions and thank-you notes.

The important extras: Social events

A typical visit also includes informal activities. Expect to find a group meal, campus tour, local sightseeing or some other outing on your agenda. These events are an opportunity to meet and assess your potential colleagues, and they also help your interviewers evaluate how you might fit in with the group.

“There’s almost always a dinner, which is a good way to get a feel for things,” Paull says. “You can often bring your spouse or significant other, but if you aren’t sure, ask your organizer.” Even though these events are informal, you shouldn’t drop your professional demeanor. “I’ve seen situations where people drink too much, or [get carried away] dancing. That never goes well,” warns Paull.

And while a social event usually doesn’t warrant wearing a full suit, you should still lean toward a professional look. “If they say casual, make it more business casual,” explains Gaman, adding that if you have tattoos, it’s best to cover them up. When in doubt, err on the conservative side.

Remember that these events serve two purposes. You’re not just showing a prospective employer your personality; you’re also gaining valuable insights about their culture. Watch what goes on around you and trust your natural reactions. “People who are genuinely kind are kind to everyone. On the contrary, if the interviewee or interviewer is rude to the staff, that’s a potential red flag,” says Anderson. “Social gatherings are a great place for both parties to observe the other.”

And in your free time…

You’re likely to stay busy during your site visit, but don’t let that stop you from poking around on your own. For starters, talk to as many people as you can. Residents can be a good measure of an organization, according to Paull. “Would they do this program again?” he suggests asking. “They may not tell you directly, but you can probably get an idea by the way they answer you. Follow their cues. Probe a bit deeper. Make note of any strange or reluctant responses.”

You can also learn a lot from careful observation. “Pay attention to how the administration interacts with the staff and other physicians. If they smile at each other and greet each other warmly, that’s a good sign. It’s all about the body language. It will tell you what you can’t ask,” adds Gaman.

Finally, do as much exploring as you can. Take a brief walk between meetings, visit the cafeteria and gym, and accept any invitations that appeal to you. The more exposure you can get to people and places, the better you’ll understand the environment.

Phase three: Return and reflect

After a few packed days of meetings, you’ll need a breather to pause and digest the experience. While the experience is still fresh in your mind, review any materials you picked up, transcribe your notes and jot down pros and cons. If a companion traveled with you, review their notes and listen to their impressions. You may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet of relevant factors, especially if you are exploring multiple opportunities.

Get your final paperwork out of the way early. Send thank-you notes promptly, and follow up with the contacts you made. If you’ve got any outstanding questions, send them to the recruiter right away.

A site visit can be exhausting, but if you’ve planned it out, you’ll leave with the information you need to make a decision. Do your research before the visit, then make the most of the time you’re there. Give yourself time to process everything you saw, heard and felt. When it’s all over, you’ll have a better sense of whether or not you want to accept an offer.

And remember, every interview is a two-way street. It’s not just about securing a job offer. It’s about finding the right job for you.

Debbie Swanson is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.

 

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