Medical Job Interviewing: How to avoid the biggest mistake made by most physicians.

Medical Job Interviewing: How to avoid the biggest mistake made by most physicians.

Interviewing for a new medical job can be a distressing experience.  You may be very excited about the new position, but at the same time job interview anxiety is very common. You may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or making a big mistake and losing the job opportunity. You may also have the fear of not being properly qualified and being seen as an “imposter” or “fraud”. Although, the experience can be nerve wracking, the purpose and process of the actual interview is often very different than you may have been led to believe.

Job Interviews are not oral exams.   As physicians or other healthcare providers, you may believe that a job interview is simply another oral exam or the same as being questioned during bed-side rounding. The events may seem quite alike- you are in a high stress environment, you are being questioned by a physician of greater rank, statue, or experience, and the stakes are high. After 4 years of medical school and several intensive years of post-graduate training, we have all become accustomed to the oral exam style. This is the biggest mistake physicians will make when preparing to interview. Approaching a medical job interview like an oral exam is a certain way to come across poorly.


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How does a job interview differ from an oral exam? Based on your previous experience with oral exams you probably have a few false beliefs about medical interviewing.

  1. There is not a standard set of questions. If you were to do a search on interviewing, you’d likely find a series of articles that list the questions you will be asked. This may give you the belief that there is a script and if you have the right answer for each question you will get the equivalent of a passing grade as a job offer. This simply isn’t true. You may see some of the same questions pop up, but most interviewers are going with the “flow” of the interview and don’t have prepared questions.
  2. There are no correct answers. The purpose of the interview is not a test with the goal of providing an acceptable response in the form of correct answers.  The interview is instead a directed conversation and learning experience. The interviewer is trying to understand your skills, expertise, desires, and goals. They are trying to determine whether your skills set and personality will fit within the organizational culture. Standard answers are obvious to the interviewer and will ultimately cause you to come across as not being genuine.
  3. There is a one-way flow of information. In an oral exam, there is one person who asks questions and another who provides answers. The person asking the question purposefully will not provide any information, as to avoid contaminating the test results. A job interview is much different. Most job interviews consist mainly of the employer providing information after asking questions from the applicant. For instance, they make ask the applicant about their experience in teaching. This may then be followed by 5-8 minutes of discussion about the interaction with residents and medical students. There is no “right” answer here. The questions are being asked to determine whether your style and goals are a proper match.
  4. There is one question you will probably be asked that may catch you by surprise. More and more applicants are being asked, “How do you handle conflict?”. This one often seems to come from way out in “left field” and can be difficult to answer. Organizations recognize that corporate culture is vital to success and that disruptive physicians are a financial and legal nightmare. If you’ve never had conflict management training, you should consider looking into a seminar developed for physicians.

What really matters in a Medical Interview? As you can see, the medical interview is very different from your previous experiences. It’s certainly not an oral exam and there are no set questions or answers. So what does matter?

Interviewers are looking for a few straightforward qualities:

  1. Expertise: Can you perform the responsibilities of the role with reliability and with an anticipated consistently high-quality manner?
  2. Brand or “fit”: Does your personality, practice style, and goals match well within the practice? Will you be effective within the corporate culture? Do you have the proper professional and business skills to succeed? Will your personality and conflict style allow you to thrive within the practice framework?
  3. Legitimacy: Legitimacy differs from expertise. Expertise and skills come from within. Legitimacy is bestowed upon you from others or by recognized organizations. You may be able to perform a certain procedure, but having a certificate or being board certified by a regulatory commission gives you legitimacy.

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Interviewing for your next medical position may be an uncertain time. Don’t make the mistake of approaching the job interview like an oral exam. There is a vast difference between a job interview and a test of your knowledge.  Emphasize your skill sets, your earned accomplishments, and be approachable and likable. Interviewing is a skill and with practice and training, you can present your “best” self with ease and confidence.

BONUS: Don’t be caught flat footed! It’s not unusual to start the salary negotiation process during the interview. Innocent sounding questions like, “what’s your current salary?” or “what compensation range are you considering?” could end up costing you $25,000 or more. Have your market value report and negotiation skill set ready before you interview.

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