What to ask during your interview

The interview is a time for you to get to know the employer as much as it is for the employer to get to know you. Here’s how to do it.

By Debbie Swanson | Feature Articles | Spring 2019

 

Looking for the real scoop on a health system you’re considering? Google it—and check social media for public opinion, says Janet Gersten, M.D. – Photo by Rodrigo Velera

There’s a lot to do when you’re preparing for an interview: research the employer, think about what you might be asked, formulate your answers and even rehearse your responses. Don’t overlook the equally important task of preparing questions of your own.

Asking the right questions shows that you’re a prepared, educated candidate. It also ensures you’ll have the information you need to evaluate the opportunity and steer your career in the right direction.

So, you might wonder, what exactly are you supposed to ask? The following guidelines will help you identify what matters to you and prepare your list. Write your questions down, prioritize them, and then on the big day, tuck the list into your pocket for a quick once-over before you head inside.

Why is this job open?

An interview is usually a good sign that an employer is doing well enough financially to take on more staff, but that’s not always the case. “[Ask] why the practice is hiring. This can give you an idea of the health of the group,” recommends Eric Rey Amador, M.D., business manager at Anesthesia Medical Group of Santa Barbara in California.

Your recruiter should be able to provide some insight prior to the interview, but it’s smart to ask in person as well. According to Amador, you want to hear positive indicators, such as “economic growth, retirement of a physician, the addition of a new line of services.”

Few companies will directly voice negative issues, so you’ll have to listen for clues: employee turnover, a lengthy recruitment process (with the exception of a highly skilled or specialized field), negative comments about past employees, recent changes in management or corporate shuffling. Trust your instincts if something seems questionable.

You should also do your own research to learn why a company is hiring. See if anyone in your network has connections with this company—and what people are saying about it online. “Google the practice and see how social media likes them,” suggests Janet Gersten, M.D., an OB-GYN with TopLine MD Health Alliance in Miami. “Nurses at the local hospitals will generally give you the established opinion.”

What kind of malpractice coverage is offered?

As a doctor, malpractice insurance is an obvious necessity. Without adequate coverage, a claim of negligence or wrongful treatment could have devastating effects on your finances and your future. But it’s not enough to make sure your employer offers it and check that question off the list. Dig deeper to find out everything you need to know.

“Many new doctors will hear that the job offers malpractice coverage, and that’s it. But ask for details: What type is it, and who is paying?” urges Adeeti Gupta, M.D., an OB-GYN and founder of Walk IN GYN Care in New York City.

There are two common types of policies: claims-made and occurrence-based. With a claims-made policy, your coverage only lasts as long as you remain with your employer. Occurrence-based policies offer coverage for any claims made against you during the covered timeframe—even after you leave the company.

“If it is just claims-made, when you leave, you have to buy tail coverage,” Gupta says. “It is costly. Some doctors get stuck with a job because they can’t afford the tail coverage, especially in OB-GYN.” Formally called an extended reporting endorsement (ERE), tail insurance is an add-on provision that extends coverage to any claims raised after you’ve left the employer.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with your prospective employer regarding tail coverage, Gupta adds. Some employers will split the cost or pay a percentage. If so, inquire carefully about the terms. Some arrangements may involve withholding your portion of payment from your final paychecks.

Malpractice insurance policies and regulations vary by state and by carrier, so do your research. Talk to seasoned colleagues before you interview to learn key factors to consider in the area.

What is required in terms of call hours?

Some type of call responsibility is part of the workload for most physician positions. But what this means varies greatly based on many factors: the type and size of practice, physician seniority, holiday schedules and more.

Understanding these factors will help ensure this job fits your vision of work/life balance. For example, if you have young children at home and live far from family, extensive call responsibilities can become a strain.

Ask questions,” recommends Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., MBA. “How often do you have to cover, including holidays? How many different locations do you have to cover? That’s particularly crucial if you may have to drive between them.”

Also ask about the logistics: Will you be required to remain on site while you’re on call or within a certain geographic radius? What is your expected response time? Are there any transportation requirements you must adhere to, particularly if you live in a big city?

How will you establish a panel?

As a new face in the crowd, it can take a little time to build up your patient base. Find out how patients are distributed. Does the organization have policies to ensure even distribution? Are you expected to attract your own patients? Are you encouraged to market your services—or prohibited from doing so?

This can also be a good question to raise with potential colleagues. Ask them how quickly their patient populations grew and whether they faced any challenges when it came to building a patient base.

How does the organization support personal growth?

Your immediate focus may be landing a job, but don’t lose sight of your future aspirations. An interview is a good opportunity to determine if the company aligns with your long-term goals.

“Get a feel for if the practice supports your individual growth,” Gupta says. “Is mentoring available? Do they support an entrepreneurial mindset? Are they welcoming of doctors bringing in new ideas or suggesting new equipment?”

Gupta suggests listening carefully to employers’ answers and evaluating their motivations: “Are they bringing you in just because they need labor, or are they genuinely interested in [your professional] growth?”

Another area to consider is continued education and training. Most organizations encourage physicians to continue learning, but not all offer financial assistance or scheduling accommodations for continuing medical education (CME), medical conferences or memberships in medical organizations and societies.

What is the company culture like?

A job is more than just a means of employment. It’s also an opportunity to form friendships and grow socially. Every company has its own culture. Your interviewers will likely give you an overview of the social atmosphere, including informal after-work gatherings, community events, annual outings or sports leagues and recreational activities. That’s good information, but you should try to learn more.

“You really should be allowed the opportunity to speak with several members of the practice privately, even if only on the phone after the interview,” says Amador. “That is the best time to ask about the culture of the group and what social aspects do or don’t exist.” He adds that if the company discourages you from speaking with current staff, it may be a red flag.

Because you’re an outsider, employers may not readily open up about the true culture of a workplace, and it can be difficult to ask directly. However, indirect questions can still shed light on the company’s true culture.

For instance, you can ask how the company celebrates employee achievements, how long most employees have been with the company, and what the company has done recently in terms of community involvements and employee events. Researching the employer online and on social media can also be helpful, as these types of events tend to attract media coverage.

How will this job impact my future employment?

In an ideal world, you’d never have to job hunt again. But even if you find a fulfilling position, it’s likely that you’ll eventually look for another job. So it’s important to understand the restrictive covenant—more commonly known as a non-compete clause.

A restrictive covenant limits where you can work after leaving your employer. For example, you may be prohibited from working at a similar type of practice within a 10-mile radius for three years after terminating your employment. Gersten recommends reviewing this carefully, saying, “[Find out] about any geographic distance or specific prohibitions with the non-compete.”

The length and geographic area will be carefully spelled out in your contract, but it’s still a good idea to discuss it ahead of time—especially if you have ties to a specific region and plan to stay there even after you leave your employer. You should also research what kind of restrictions are specific to your region, as some states enforce restrictive covenants more so than others.

Press for details when presented with an offer, encourages Adeeti Gupta, M.D. “Many new doctors will hear that the job offers malpractice coverage, and that’s it. But ask for details: What type is it, and who is paying?” – Photo by IHNY

Is partnership an option?

Traditionally, physicians in private practices aspired to become partners. But today’s changing economic trends have shifted that focus. Now many physicians avoid the cost and headaches of partnership in order to focus on clinical practice. Regardless of your future goals, you should use the interview to discuss partnership potential, as well as the duties and benefits involved.

Don’t hesitate to ask for details, says Gersten. She lists some good questions to include: “When can you become a partner? How close are some of the senior partners to retiring? What is the buy-in at that time?” Find out if anyone has ever been turned down for partnership—and if so, why.

Be sure to ask about financial arrangements and pay close attention, especially if something sound too good to be true. As with most parts of your contract, you should ask an attorney to review the details in writing.

What is the management structure?

An amicable, mutually respectful relationship with management is key to success at any job. So it’s important to understand the managerial style and hierarchy at any prospective employer. This will give you a sense of how much autonomy and influence you’ll have on decisions.

Ask some basic questions: Do managers come from a medical or business background? Are all M.D.s involved in decision-making or sitting on committees? How much interaction is there with senior management? What is the procedure for feedback—both positive and negative?

Can you assist with ______ ?

It’s best to put any important issues on the table before going too deep into the process. Whether you need special accommodations for a family member, a visa to work in the U.S., or a job for a spouse/partner, an interested employer will usually try to assist you or connect you with someone who can.

It’s no fun to waste your time or the company’s, so be honest about any obstacles you’re grappling with.

Says Paula Johnson, administrative director of physician recruitment at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri: “…We don’t want to find out when we’re making an offer that your wife is also an M.D. or is in another profession and needs a job.”

What does a typical day look like?

Don’t go home without getting a sense of your day-to-day responsibilities, patient demographics and typical case load. “You may or may not want to do certain types of cases or patients,” Amador explains. He suggests asking: “What are the types of cases I will be expected to do, and rough percentages of case type and patient type?”

This question will help you visualize yourself working for this employer. And it may also reveal less-than-favorable arrangements. “Sometimes, more interesting or lucrative opportunities [are] reserved for full or senior partners,” Amador adds, referring to a phenomenon called economic carve-outs. “An example would be a group that has a very lucrative obstetric anesthesia service where only senior partners can participate on that panel.”

What are my non-clinical duties?

From returning patient phone calls to filing paperwork to training staff, there are always non-clinical duties in a physician’s day. Be sure to understand the expectations of your time outside of the examination room. Ask for a rough breakdown of how much time you’ll spend doing what, how available administrative staff will be, and how you’ll be compensated for duties performed outside of working hours.

What’s it really like to work here?

At some point in the interviewing process, you should be able to meet with a colleague on an informal basis. This is your chance to get a realistic picture of what it’s like working for a particular practice or hospital. Are coworkers supportive or competitive? Are there opportunities to collaborate? Are employees comfortable with management?

Try to gauge the company’s emphasis on work/life balance. Does the company offer outlets for fitness, recreation and wellness? Do physicians feel they work excessive hours or have extensive call duties?

Avoid phrasing your questions in a way that leads to incomplete answers. For example, asking “Do you find it rewarding to work here?” might get you a one-word response or a vague description. Instead, try: “Can you tell me about a case you’re particularly proud of?” to encourage conversation.

What are the company’s mission and values?

An interview is a good opportunity to make sure your employer’s mission aligns with your own values.

Many times, you can find a mission statement, list of core values or faith-based affiliation online. Large groups or hospitals often display these prominently. Others may require you to do a bit of digging through their websites or marketing materials to get a sense of what they stand for.

Use whatever information you’ve found to initiate a conversation about mission and values. Ask what accomplishments they’re proud of, what plans they have for the upcoming year and what may challenge or support their efforts. And if you’ve found no information at all about the organization’s core values, feel free to ask anyway.

How does my role or specialty fit into your future?

Just as an interviewer may ask you where you see yourself in five years, you should ask where they see your career going. That way, you can make sure there’s an ongoing need for your services in their future.

“Ask about the vision for the organization and how your role or specialty fits in,” recommends Johnson. “Every organization has an idea of their plans. Of course, anything can happen, but they should be able to tell you their current plan.”

Some things better left unasked

Questions are typically welcome in an interview, but as with anything, there are a few limits. Don’t ask too much too early about perks, such as compensation, bonuses, time off or working from home. Your recruiter should provide you with information about all of these, but it’s best to wait until later in the interview process before probing for more details.

“When someone asks right away, ‘What are you going to pay?’ or how much time off they’ll get, it can be taken as a red flag. The later [in the process], the better,” says Johnson.

By law, an interviewer can’t ask about certain details, including marital status, age, religious preference, gender identity and other personal issues. Similarly, you shouldn’t ask your interviewers about these things. If family photos or college memorabilia is displayed, you can make polite conversation along the lines of “Lovely children!” or “I’m also a Bulldog!” But don’t cross the line by asking for details, like “Where is your spouse?” or “What year did you graduate?”

Wrapping up the interview

As you conclude each meeting, the interviewer will ask you if you have any final questions. Don’t hesitate to raise any lingering concerns that may have arisen along the way. It’s better to get the information than to head home with an unresolved issue marring your ability to make a decision.

If nothing is outstanding, simply ask: What is the next step? When will I hear further? Is there other information or material you need from me? This adds a note of finality and helps express your interest in the position.

Interviews can be challenging, and each meeting presents a new scenario to assess and respond to. One interviewer may be warm and inviting, while the next one’s aloof attitude may cause you to completely forgo your questions. So get your list of questions ready, but don’t worry too much about remembering every single one.

Simply identifying your areas of inquiry ahead of time is helpful. This way, you’ll not only make a good impression during the interview, but you’ll also be more likely to go home with the details you need to make the right decision.

An amicable, mutually respectful relationship with management is key to success at any job. So it’s important to understand the managerial style and hierarchy at any prospective employer.

 

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