The Interview

By: Karen Vaniver, MD

Finally, it’s time. You feel like one of the finalists on Married by America. You will meet face to face with your potential employer or colleagues. Remember, this is not only a chance for you to show off your charm and personality. As Yogi Bera says, you can learn a lot from just looking.

Preparing for the interview

If you want to know where you will fit best, you must first know who you are. While you may want to believe you are the right person for the job and you sell yourself as being the right person, you truly may not be. Accepting a job where you really do not belong will not bring you happiness in the long run, even if the money is good.

Take the time to examine who you are and the type of position where you feel you will fit in the best. Once you are done searching yourself, research the hospital or practice where you may potentially be working. Review any informational packets sent your way and familiarize yourself with the structure of the organization. You must figure out the shape of the hole to see if your peg fits!

Have truthful answers prepared to commonly asked questions:

  • Why do you want to join our practice?
  • What can you offer us (skills, new procedures, research interests, marketing, business knowledge, talents, relationships)?
  • What experience have you had in …..?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?

Ask questions! Even if you are well informed about the practice, you can often learn more from what is not written or said. I once interviewed for a practice where all the partners competed to see who was in the hospital the longest (whether working or not), who had the nicest car and who had the most divorces (all had at least one). Be pointed, assertive, and neutral or enthusiastic in your responses.

  • What is the practice mix in terms of specialty? What expertise are you looking to add to your practice (hand/micro, breast, craniofacial, cosmetic)?
  • What will be my role in the practice?
  • What will be my responsibilities beyond patient care?
  • Will I have dedicated research/educational time?
  • What is a typical working day like?
  • Will I have block time in the operating room?
  • Will I have any input into the governance or administration of the practice?
  • Do you have satellite offices? How many hours per week will I spend at each office? Will I be sharing space with other practitioners and if so, what kind? (That same practice had a satellite shared with a pediatrician, including the waiting room!)
  • What kinds of marketing or practice-building activities do you plan for a new associate?
  • Have you had other associates? How many? How long did they stay and why did they leave?
  • How many staff members do you employ? How long has your staff been with you? What is your staff turnover? Will I have my own dedicated staff?
  • How does the practice handle call coverage? What will be my share of call? What services are provided on call? Is there a hand rotation with orthopedics or a facial rotation with ENT/OMF? What are the ER referral patterns?
  • What is your payor mix?
  • In which hospitals/ outpatient surgery centers do you practice?
  • Do you have an on-site surgical facility? Is it accredited? Who provides anesthesia?
  • What managed care panels do you participate in?
  • What are the demographics of your local population?
  • Who are your competitors and what is your relationship with them?
  • What is your overhead percentage? Can I see your financial statement (balance sheet) and operations reports?

Since you will likely be living where you work, you will want to know about the community. (I live in a community where there are less than 10 single professionals. As a single person, I have made it work for me, but very few others have stayed.) Check out the community and the quality of life. Find out about real estate. Many potential employers will arrange a visit with a real estate agent. Inquire about employment opportunities for your spouse, schools in the area and religious institutions. I met with the Jewish community in our town on my second visit, and they have provided a spiritual and social home for me since I have lived here. Ask about housing costs, cultural activities, entertainment, and proximity to metropolitan areas or to parks and outdoor recreation areas.

Write down a list of everything you need to know in order to make your decision about the position. Bring your list of questions and notes with you to the interview. Remember the three things you want to find out:

  • Would I like being part of this practice?
  • Would I fit easily into the office environment?
  • Will I be treated as a respected and valuable colleague?

Scheduling the interview

Don’t delay in scheduling an appointment for an interview. This may give the appearance that you are not interested. Do not arrange an appointment for a post-call day. Make sure you are as well rested as possible. If the interview is in a city or town you have never visited, double check the address, find out about parking or airport transportation. If the practice is offering the interview, it is considerate of them to arrange you transportation if out of town. Confirm your travel arrangements with the practice administrator/recruiter/office manager. Make certain you have left adequate time for travel delays or traffic.

Dress for success

When you look good you feel good. When you feel good, you project yourself well. No matter what the size or location of the practice or hospital, dress professionally. This is a place of business. You wish to portray confidence and professionalism. If you are a man, wear a suit and tie. If you are a woman, wear a suit or dress. Carry a briefcase containing extra copies of your CV, interview questions, papers needed for the interview and pens.

Beginning the interview

Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake. Maintain eye contact during the interview and address the interviewer by name during the conversation. Memorize the names of other associates and staff you met and use their names when appropriate. Maintain your focus. When asked a question, answer what is asked. Do not stray into unrelated areas. Concentrate on making your point. Be prepared to discuss your professional goals and interests. The interviewer has a copy of your CV, so it is not necessary to give a complete rundown on your credentials. You should be prepared to answer any questions about your CV, particularly any gaps in training or job history. Be honest! Eventually, even sins of omission will be found out. If there is a particular career highlight you would like to mention, do so, but be brief. Be prepared to sell your qualifications, expertise and strengths. Correlate your experience with the experience the practice is looking for. Point out areas of your background that will be of benefit to the practice. The interview will provide your potential employer with a sense of the kind of person you are. They want to know what you will be like to work with. They want to hire someone who wants the job. Be enthusiastic and genuinely interested in the position available.

Money talks

Should compensation come into the conversation during the first interview, don’t dwell on the subject. Contract negotiation comes later in the process.

Questions appropriate to ask in a first meeting:

  • What is the salary range?
  • Who pays the malpractice insurance? Does this include a tail?
  • The salary is guaranteed ___ years. What is my future earning potential?
  • What financial risks will I absorb in the future?

In future meetings you can explore the subject of salary and benefits with other questions:

  • What is the base salary?
  • Are there bonuses or incentives?
  • What are the terms of employment and length of contract?
  • What is required to become a partner? How many of your previous associates have become partners? How is the partnership distributed? Is there a buy-in? How is income distributed amongst the partners?
  • Is this a tenure track position? What is required to make tenure?
  • What benefits are offered? Is health insurance provided for my family and me? What are they? Do you offer disability or life insurance? In what amount? Are there costs to me?
  • How much time is allowed for continuing medical education activities? Does this include time for international volunteer work?
  • Is there financial support for such CME activities? How much? Who pays for professional membership dues and fees, publications, and subscriptions to professional journals?
  • How much vacation leave is given?
  • Will the practice provide a pager and/or cell phone?
  • Will the practice pay for relocation and moving costs?
  • Are there restrictive covenants in the employment agreement, and if so, what are they?
  • What about termination of employment? What constitutes cause for dismissal? What are the requirements to resign?

Looking around

As mentioned in the opening, you can learn a lot by just looking.

Observe the physical structure of the practice, hospital(s), offices, and surgery centers.

  • Are they clean? Are they welcoming? Do they appear safe? Do you feel comfortable?
  • Would you like to hang out in the waiting room? Is the décor in keeping with the philosophy of the practice?
  • Do physicians each have a private office or share space?
  • Do the charts appear organized? How about desktops? Are they full of unanswered messages?
  • Does the hospital have private rooms?
  • What does the preop area look like? Would you want to wait for your surgery there?
  • Is the staff pleasant and well dressed? How do the physicians treat the staff?
  • How does the staff treat each other and the patients? Do they appear a cohesive group or do you hear grumbling and complaining?

Take a look at the OR schedule.

  • Does the caseload reflect the practice balance as it was projected to you?
  • How are office hours booked? Does one surgeon have more new patients than others?
  • Do patient referrals appear to represent the practice distribution of expertise?

In a multi-person group, make sure you meet with all members. If anyone is leaving, find out privately why they are leaving, and make sure this matches what you were told. If there are any current associates, explore their satisfaction with the practice. Have promises been delivered? Do they seem miserable while they’re telling you what a great place it is to work?

If you have an opportunity to meet the OR nurses, garnish their opinion of your potential employer. They work closely with the surgeons and often have an excellent sense of their skills.

If you come in contact with competitors, observe the relationship. Is it bitter or collaborative?

If you attend a social outing (such as dinner) as part of your interview, observe whether members bring their spouse or family. How well do they get along? Do they know about each other’s lives? Do they tell you unnecessary details about each other? Note any apparent tensions. Gauge you comfort level.

Ending the interview and follow-up

At the end of the interview, establish clear communication regarding follow-up. Will you contact them if you are interested or will they contact you if they are interested? What other information does either side need? If you have not met with all members of the practice, the end of the interview is a good time to ask to meet everyone. You will see more if the practice group than you will your own family, so it’s best to meet everyone before you make a decision about joining them.

After the first interview, weigh the facts and impressions. If you felt very uncomfortable, pay attention! Even if everything else seems perfect, your gut is telling you something. If you attend a second interview, ask that your spouse or significant other be included. If you have an alternative relationship, you will have to decide whether and when to reveal this. Your philosophy will probably be healthiest if it is consistent in your life. If you sense a prejudice regarding individuals of your lifestyle, weigh that seriously!

If this position entails a move, ask if a tour of the area can be arranged for you and your spouse. You may wish to meet with members of a religious, cultural or recreational group.

Observe the second interview carefully. If a prospective employer believes that they "got you in the bag", they may let their guard down, and address certain negative factors of the practice more freely. Note how you are treated on the second interview. This may be very indicative if how your "honeymoon" period will proceed within the practice.

If you are very uncomfortable after your first interview, you may save yourself time and emotional energy by stopping the process at this point. If you have no other options, still consider the situation seriously. You may be better off floating as a free agent or starting solo practice than entering an employment relationship with serious reservations. Don’t burn bridges! Politely tell your host that you feel this is not going to work, or write them if you are more comfortable. Most employers will appreciate that you saved them time and money.

Within the next few days, follow-up with a thank you note. If you have decided to terminate the process, acknowledge your host for their hospitality. Even if the experience was a nightmare, being gracious is the best revenge.

If you are still interested in the position, a thank you note allows you to indicate your intentions. Let them know you are available to provide any additional information needed or to answer any questions that may not have come up during your visit.

The interview is a vital step in acquiring a position. You never know which job opportunity will turn out to be the best career decision you ever made! Also, never underestimate the value of contacts made on this journey. You may one day find yourself again face-to-face with a former interviewer in another capacity – as co-editors of a journal manuscript or participating together on an ASPS committee!

Good luck!