“Would you mind if I bring my little dog?” the candidate asked. “She is well-behaved and can sit in my lap.” The recruiter—surprised by the request—told the candidate that the dog couldn’t attend due to health reasons at the facility. Although the physician interviewed well—without her dog—she wasn’t hired for the job.
If you are now or soon will be looking for a new practice, there are certain behaviors that could prevent you from getting hired (leave your dog at home), and others that can make you stand out as a good fit. We’ll cover interview do’s and don’ts here to help you land your dream practice.
Do be sensitive to your environment
A candidate from the big city hoped to make the transition to a quiet, rural life in cowboy country. He arrived to the interview in a fancy suit and even fancier car, and was critical of the cowboy boots and pickup trucks he saw. His recruiters had to take him aside and give him this advice: People will accept outsiders—if you’re not critical of their lifestyle.
Consider that experience as one reason that face-to-face interviews are so important. Bruce M. Guyant, DASPR, regional director of physician recruiting at LifePoint Hospitals for Colorado, Utah and Nevada, says site visits are a great way for recruiters and candidates (and their families) to evaluate if the job and community fit is right in practice, not just on paper. The last thing an employer wants is for a physician or spouse to be unhappy and request to leave shortly after being hired.
William J. Salyers, Jr., M.D., MPH, interviews residents and faculty candidates at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, where he is chief of the gastroenterology division and program director for the internal medicine residency program.
“You must fit the culture of our practice and the culture of our community,” he says. “I don’t want them looking for a new job in 18 months.” To help gauge fit, Salyers spends an entire day with candidates, including lunch and dinner.
Do your soul-searching before you go on an interview
Being confident in who you are and the direction you’d like to see your practice grow is also important.
“A candidate should come into the interview with a sense of direction as to where they want their career to go,” Salyers says. “If the person is searching and deciding what they still want, it’s difficult to know if that person will be a good fit or not. I don’t want to bring someone out to meet with us if this is the situation, because it would be difficult for them to fit in.”
Don’t make it all about you
Steve Elliott, practice manager at Ponderosa Family Physicians in Aurora, Colorado, says the best candidates are able to communicate what they are able to bring to the table and how their skills might enhance the practice. They are focused on the practice as a whole, not just what it’s able to offer them.
“Do they have an interest in understanding the long-term benefits of joining our practice, or are they only focused on the short-term benefits of first-year salary or first-year schedule?” he asks. “Do they have an appreciation for that opportunity and how they might contribute or fit in long-term? Are they focused on ‘I,’ or is there some genuine ‘we’ in there too?”
Michael Atha, M.D., is a hospitalist with Critical Care and Pulmonary Consultants, which provides hospitalists to Denver-area facilities. He hires five physicians in a typical year—but the group is expanding to cover a fourth hospital, so there will be 10 new doctors joining the practice this year.
To fill an opportunity, Atha examines CVs from 25 to 30 candidates who have already been screened by an in-house recruiter. He will speak with 15 to 20 candidates on the phone to pre-qualify them for in-person interviews. Often, he hears answers that don’t get them the in-person interview—such as answers to the question, “Why do you want to join his group?” Common no-go answers include, “I want to live in Denver,” “I like the great outdoors, so I want to work here,” and “I love to ski, so I’d love to work at your facility.” Atha expects to hear more than location as a reason for interest in joining the group. He’s impressed when a candidate has done some research on his group and about different practice models in Denver. He likes to hear that the candidate has taken the initiative to speak with other physicians in the area and learn that his group comes highly recommended.
Jake Deutsch, M.D., is the founder and clinical director of Cure Urgent Care in New York City.
He says it’s important to be prepared and know everything about the practice where you are interviewing. Know who the partners are, and come to the interview ready to ask basic questions about the company. Show your real personality so employers know what it would be like to work with you on a day-to-day basis and can determine your fit for the group.
Don’t limit yourself before learning all the details
In a typical year, Matthew Hess, human resources manager for Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago, completes face-to-face interviews with 40 physician candidates to fill 15 opportunities. Before he gets to the interview point, however, he sorts through hundreds of CVs.
One mistake Hess notices candidates make is when they articulate expected work hours that don’t line up with the facility’s needs. For example, there’s not much flexibility for a candidate who wants to work only eight hours at a time when all the immediate care clinics are 12-hour shifts. An emergency room physician who doesn’t expect to work weekends or holidays? Likely not a right fit for his facility either.
The biggest interview mistake Deutsch encounters when hiring candidates is that many don’t inquire about clinical hours or partnership tracts.
“Hours spent working on call will be one of the biggest factors in job satisfaction,” he says. “Be clear what the requirements are, and speak with other physicians in the practice to get the real story. In addition, if there is an opportunity to become an owner in the practice, get the specifics before signing on the dotted line.”
Do be concerned with first impressions
Younger physicians hail from a generation well-known to be more casual than its predecessors. But when it comes to your interview, err on the side of formal, conservative dress. Don’t be like the candidate who showed up to an interview in a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sandals, causing the hospital CEO to stop the interview and refuse to proceed.
Elliott says candidates need to be personable, pleasant and comfortable in their own skin. They need to pay attention to how they interact with every person in the office, both in person and on the phone. “We also pay attention to other interactions such as how respectful they may be to a waiter at a restaurant or other miscellaneous interactions,” he says. “We want to get a good feel for how they are going to interact with our team of physicians, our staff, our medial community and our patients.”
Do get granular
When Elliott is interviewing a physician candidate, he says it’s important for him to know how new physicians are equipped to handle the real-world pace of practice.
That means it’s up to you, the candidate, to communicate your experiences with patient volume, call volume and reviewing lab results and other documents. Share examples of how you kept pace in residency and maintained a positive attitude.
During the in-person interview, Hess also wants candidates to get specific. You may say that you saw six patients every day, but Hess wants to know more. What type of patients? What were the diagnoses? And if you’re hired, what do you want to specialize in at the hospital? “Most of them are not prepared for these questions,” he says.
Do get all your questions answered
Throughout the interview process, go into every step intending to get an offer. Get all your questions answered during the interview process, and don’t pass full judgment on the opportunity until all the facts are gathered.
Your goal should be to gather enough information to determine if you would be a good fit for both the practice and the community. Once you’ve collected all the facts, then you can make your evaluation. Not a fit? That’s OK—as long as you professionally inform the practice of your decision.
If it is a fit, make an effort to review the details of your offer and contract so that you completely understand what will be expected in your new role.
“Many doctors don’t understand the terms of the contract until it’s too late,” says Hess. “Even though the contract is spelled out for them, and we go over every detail, many of them still don’t understand this is an employment contract. They are just excited to be getting a job.”
Being concise in your answers shows knowledge and focus.
“No one wants to hire someone who is going to give you the run-around whenever you have to communicate with them,” Deutsch says. That goes for when it comes to communicating both positive and negative outcomes.
Some candidates avoid talking about bad outcomes—all the more reason to have already thought about a concise explanation. “Don’t make yourself look incompetent because you are squirming when the difficult subject is breached,” Deutsch says.
It’s also important to know the job description. When a candidate shares career goals that aren’t in tune with the opportunity, it can give the impression that the candidate is looking for a short-term position, not a long-term career.
Do be gracious even if you’re not interested
It’s important to establish a good relationship with the group that interviewed you—even if you’re not interested in the job. If you decide to take another offer, you may be asked to provide feedback on what factors you liked or didn’t like about the offer or opportunity. Do it professionally. “Don’t burn any bridges,” Atha says. “We’ve seen candidates we’ve interviewed several years ago who come back to us later at a different point in their life.”
Vicki Gerson is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.