Tips for the First Interview

by Cynthia Smith, MD, FACP
Director, Clinical Program Development

The interview is an opportunity to "sell" yourself and learn about the practice. It's a crucial step in acquiring a position, and one of the best opportunities to determine if you are making the best, or worst, decision of your career.

First, some general rules for the interview. You'll need to dress and act in a manner that exudes confidence and professionalism. Arrive rested and leave plenty of time to get to the interview; never schedule an interview after you have been on call. Dress professionally preferably in a clean, pressed suit. Avoid using overpowering perfumes or colognes. Bring extra copies of your CV, carrying it and your other papers in a folder or briefcase; leave the backpack at home.

Prepare yourself for the interview ahead of time. Take the time to do background research about the practice, its affiliated hospitals and the providers you may be working with. Prepare a list of answers to questions you might be asked. Increase the aura of confidence about you by having well thought-out answers to commonly asked questions. Anticipate inquiries like "Why do you want to join our practice? What makes you think you'll fit in here? What experience have you had in...? Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?" Responding to questions about one's weaknesses is always tricky. Our advice is to be honest and select a real weakness you have but be prepared to discuss your plan to overcome the weakness. Remember everyone has areas of strength and weakness and being able to identify and address weak areas is an essential skill for a clinician.

Be prepared to ask questions. Despite the fact you may be very well informed about the practice from previous phone conversations, internet research, correspondence, and personal knowledge, asking intelligent questions denotes interest and enthusiasm. Generally speaking, unless brought up by the interviewer, the first interview is not the time to discuss salary, benefits and working hours. Your job at this interview is twofold: make them want to hire you and determine if you will like working with the group. Carefully consider your ability to fit comfortably into their style of practice, and if you'll be treated as a valued and valuable colleague. Additionally, you'll need to collect enough information to determine if this opportunity has a high probability of providing career satisfaction.

Organize your thoughts into a systematic review of information you need to answer these questions. Don't hesitate to write your questions down, and bring the list with you to the interview. You may wish to gather information about practice philosophy, a typical working day, anticipated responsibilities, medical student and resident teaching, and opportunities for practice growth. You may wish to learn about your expected role in the practice, and what will be done by the practice to help make you successful. Getting an idea of staff, including physician, turnover, and length of employment can reveal much about the workplace atmosphere. If physicians have recently left the practice, try to find out why and make an effort to speak to them directly about their experience.

Before starting the interview, place your cell phone and pager on silent mode. At the beginning of the interview, greet the interviewer with a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, and use the interviewer's name early and frequently. Memorize the names of the other associates and staff you have met or communicated with, and use their names during the conversation. Maintain your focus. When asked a question, despite the fact you have previously thought out answers to common questions, answer what is asked without digressing into areas unrelated to the question. Concentrate on making your points concisely and coherently. Be careful not to talk too much or dominate the conversation. If you think you are talking too much you probably are.

By the end of the interview day, make sure you have met all members of the practice. If you have not, insist, politely but firmly, that you need to meet with the remaining members at some time in the near future. Be polite and professional with all of the practice staff and ask if any of them might be interested in meeting with you. Before you leave, establish a clear understanding of follow-up expectations. If you have a timeline by which you need to make a decision or another offer that is pending be sure to communicate the information directly. Will you contact them if you remain interested, or will they contact you? If they will contact you, determine when that will happen. What more information do they need from you, or you need from them? How and when will this information be forthcoming?

Finally, the first interview should include some information about the surrounding area. Many practices can provide you with information about housing costs, school systems, cultural activities, and entertainment. A short tour of the area can be included, if you ask. If you are invited back for a second interview, ask that your spouse or significant other be invited. Most practices will support this additional expense.