Woody Allen once quipped, "Eighty percent of success is showing up. " Many physicians think this applies to job interviewing as well. Not so.
Effective interviewing for a job is anything but a passive process. On the contrary, because your prospective employer probably wasn't trained in interviewing, the onus may be on you to manage both sides of the process. On one hand, you must elicit the information you need to decide whether you want the job. On the other, you must provide the information the prospective employer needs to make a hiring decision. That requires planning and forethought.
Know what you're looking for. Be clear about what you want in terms of practice, location, and money. Practice issues include the setting (e.g., single- or multispecialty group, hospital staff, or HMO), the type of doctoring you want to do, the kinds of colleagues you hope to work with, the patient load you're comfortable with, the payer mix, and call and administrative duties. But they also comprise the organization's style, philosophy, and financial viability, both short- and long term.
Location issues include climate, geography, cultural and recreational opportunities, religious and educational facilities, character of the population, community size, and safety.
Among the money issues are not just how much you want to receive in salary, benefits, and incentives, but also how much the compensation package is worth in that geographic area. A salary of $190,000, for instance, goes a lot further in Minot, North Dakota, than in Marin County, California.
Write down your questions
The interviewing process can be tedious, demanding, and exhausting. It's easy to lose your train of thought and forget key questions. Many physicians believe that bringing a list into the interview will convey insecurity. It won't. Interviewers will generally view your written questions as a sign that you took the trouble to prepare and that your interest in the job is sincere.
Among the questions to ask:
- What type of person are you looking for?
- Are doctors here expected to socialize for business purposes outside of work? For example, a practice might require you to put in 12-hour days and then attend administrative meetings held informally on Saturdays.
- What's the evidence that the area needs another doctor with my particular talents and skills?
- What's your practice philosophy? What will you do-or refuse to do-for patients.
- How does the practice assign patients?
- What percentage of my patients will be managed care. Medicaid? Medicare?
- What's the typical age, education, and socio-economic level of the patients I'll see?
- How many hours per week will I be expected to spend seeing patients in the office and in the hospital? Will I have to go to satellite locations?
- How many patients will I be expected to see in a week?
- How much call will I have?
- Will the organization help my spouse find employment?
- What do you like best about working here?
- What bothers you most about the job?
- What do you do for fun?
Talk money last
You have to ask hard questions about the dollars at stake, but resist the urge to bring up the subject in the first half of the interview. It may make you seem mercenary.
Ideally, you shouldn't have to bring up money at all; that's the interviewer's job. But be prepared to take the lead. If the subject hasn't been raised by the end of the first full day of interviewing, introduce it: "Can we discuss finances? There are issues I'd like to address before I leave." Once you've broached the subject, get out your list:
- What's the starting salary?
- What's the signing bonus, if any?
- Is there a productivity bonus. How is it figured?
- Is there an income guarantee?
- What can I expect to make in, say, five years?
- What's the income-distribution formula?
- What costs will I be expected to assume? For instance, some employers won't pay individual malpractice insurance premiums. Some will, but won't cover the "tail" if the doctor leaves.
- What restrictive covenants will I be subject to?
- How soon will I be considered for partnership. What formula determines the buy-in price?
Give positive feedback. If forced to choose between two equally qualified candidates, an organization will virtually always make its offer to the one who shows the most interest in the position and who seems most likely to accept it. So a simple way to gain a competitive edge is to make your positive feelings known.
Be specific in your compliments: "Your office setup is very welcoming to patients." And if you really want the job,say so in no uncertain terms: "This seems like a wonderful place to practice. I know I'd be happy here."
Dress for success
Many physicians seem to feel that sartorial considerations shouldn't affect hiring decisions. But the doctors who meet you will draw conclusions about your clinical competence and ability to fit into the organization by how you look. The watchword is: conservative. Men should favor dark gray or blue suits or navy blazers and gray slacks. Shirts should be light blue, yellow, or white. Add a dash of pizzazz with your tie, if you like, but keep the pattern conservative. There's only one acceptable material for ties-silk. Socks should be dark, and long enough to cover your calf when you cross your legs. Shoes should be dark-and polished. Be shaved and barbered; your beard or mustache should be neatly trimmed. A ponytail or earring can give the message: I'm not going to fit in.
Likewise, women should wear conservative business attire. Shun miniskirts, spike heels, chunky jewelry, loud colors, and anything tight or revealing. Hair should be tamed; makeup, muted or absent; perfume, sparingly used. Otherwise, your fashion statement may conflict with your professional image.
Bring your spouse (if applicable to your situation)
The prospective employer should pay for your spouse to come along. If it doesn't, be leery:A major reason newly hired physicians ultimately don't work out is that their spouses were dissatisfied.
Because employers recognize that moving to another part of the country is a joint decision, they may ask your spouse to be present at some of the interviews. Your spouse should avoid taking charge and becoming an overly aggressive advocate. In one joint interview, the spouse talked too much, dominating the conversation and making the candidate seem meek and indecisive by comparison. The job went to someone else. Let common sense be your guide.
Finally, ask that the interview span one-and-a-half to two days, rather than just a few hours. You may be eager to get home the same day, but it's tough to meet a succession of key people in relaxed settings when you have a plane to catch. And unless you're already familiar with the locale, you'll want to take a leisurely tour to ensure it's where you want to live and work. If it is, your enthusiasm will reflect it; that, in the end, may seal the deal.