Author: Michael J. Parshall, Michael J. Parshall Healthcare — Schwenksville, PA
Over the course of my career as a practice management consultant, I have interviewed more than 10,000 physician candidates, from freshly trained residents to seasoned physician executives. After so many interviews, several common characteristics and techniques used by successful candidates during the interview have emerged. By understanding these qualities of successful interviewees and the criteria private practices use to evaluate candidates, it is my hope you may “put your best foot forward” in your upcoming interviews.
Bear in mind, however, that this article is intended for interviews with private practices and does not apply to academic or research positions, although some advice is applicable to all settings.
Qualities of Successful Interviewees and the Criteria Used to Evaluate Candidates
Show Your Interest
The hiring practice is seeking candidates who demonstrate a sincere interest in the practice. They have little patience for window-shoppers who are “just browsing”. Private practitioners are extremely busy people and are rightfully annoyed by candidates who seem to show little regard for the time and expense incurred by the practice on frivolous interviews.
Demonstrate your interest by communicating why you are interviewing with this practice. For instance, tell the interviewer what interests you about a small (or large) practice or what you like about the area. If one or more of the physicians is well-respected, speak to the opportunity to work with and learn from someone you have admired for several years.
You should also anticipate and address any stated or probable concerns of the interviewer. For instance, if you were interviewing with a solo doctor bringing on a new partner, speak to the fears the owner is likely facing — shared decisions, another partner caring for the practice patients and so forth.
Do Your Research
Another part of conveying sincere interest is communicating your knowledge of the practice and its marketplace. Research the population demographics and growth trends, based on the practice location. Visit the practice’s Web site and learn about the services offered, the number of office locations, the doctor’s or doctors’ training and the practice’s values and marketing message to patients. Learn about all the doctors in the practice (not only those interviewing you) and study their backgrounds for common ground, if any, with your own.
Use every communicating opportunity to separate yourself from other candidates. Personalize your cover letter by incorporating the information you have discovered through your research and don’t overlook your personal connections. Perhaps one or more persons in your network will know one or more of the doctors in the prospective practice. A personal connection goes a long way.
Follow Up Promptly
How quickly you return phone calls before and after the interview is another indicator of interest. Most practices will begin the interviewing process with a phone interview. Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you some questions about the practice during the phone interview. Realize that a practice will only interview a manageable number of candidates in office, usually three to five. It is better to be over-prepared than ill-prepared for a phone interview. If you pass this test, you will be invited in for an in-person interview.
An out-of-town interview is complicated and requires a lot of planning and preparation. Don’t assume that the practice will attend to all the details, so instead offer your help in arranging transportation and lodging and in setting the agenda for your visit. You should expect the practice to cover all your travel expenses, but politely ask before you book your arrangements. While there, you should involve your spouse or significant other in your consideration of the practice and surrounding community. Make sure the locale meets his or her needs as well.
Prepare Your Answers
Successful candidates can confidently explain past decisions and communicate to the interviewer that they were based on sound reasons. Succinctly describe why you chose a career in medicine, why you selected ophthalmology and how you made other important decisions in life. These answers need to be thought out and prepared in advance of the interview, so practice your responses in mock interviews with colleagues or your significant other or spouse.
In your interview, look for opportunities to incorporate the information you have learned by visiting their Web site and conducting other research. Based on your findings, formulate specific questions to ask.
Remember first impressions. Most employers make the decision to hire or not to hire within the first 30 seconds of meeting a candidate. Arrive about 10 minutes before your interview. Make sure your suit is pressed, nails manicured and shoes polished. Your appearance sends an important message about professionalism and competence.
Practices need some reassurance patients, referring doctors and staff will like their new associate. You will make a positive impression by being polite, courteous and cheerful. If you are friendly, the interviewer will usually reciprocate. It’s also human nature to like people with whom you have common values and points of view. Look for those things that you have in common and reinforce them during the interview. Compliment the interviewer on his/her practice. Comments such as, “You must be very proud of your practice,” “Your staff really seems to enjoy working here” or “The new ASC is magnificent” go a long way toward leaving a position impression and convey your interest in pursuing things further.
Quantify Your Skills
Interviewers find it difficult to evaluate a candidate’s training and skill level, as every candidate will say he or she is prepared given the extensive training. It is the successful candidates who qualify their training in terms of cases performed, average surgical time and other objective measures. These candidates can clearly communicate their accomplishments in a succinct manner without sounding boastful. Some candidates record their cases on video while others provide case logs. Such evidence is offered with a touch of humility.
Here’s an example of how one candidate left me with a favorable impression. When I asked him about his average surgical time for an uncomplicated cataract, he replied that it usually takes him ten minutes but added that he doesn’t feel like he is rushing, and he would take longer if needed. His answer spoke to his skill and communicated his concern for the patient, yet did not come across as sounding arrogant.
Be Realistic in Your Expectations
Practices are wary of candidates who expect parity in compensation and governance after one or two years with the practice, as opposed to the five or six years that it commonly takes for an ophthalmologist to reach practice “maturity.” Ophthalmology practice requires significant investment in technology, physical plant and human resources. Practices want assurance that upon making partner, the associate is willing to invest in the practice. Successful candidates understand that their investment is needed, recognize the investment that the current owners have made in the practice and are willing to pay their fair share.
Show Your Willingness to Contribute to Practice Growth
Private practice is extremely competitive and requires a lot of effort to make it grow. Most candidates seem to focus only on what the practice will do for them in terms of patient schedules and surgical volumes, compensation and future co-ownership. Successful candidates say what they will do for the practice and express their willingness to put forth the extra effort to grow the practice’s patient and referral base. They offer to meet with referring doctors, give lectures, learn new techniques and do what it takes to grow the practice. They understand the concept of quid pro quo and demonstrate to the practice that they are willing to earn their place in the practice’s future by providing more than good clinical care.
Show Your Appreciation
It’s amazing (but sadly true) that most candidates do not show any sign of appreciation after the interview. Don’t forget to send a handwritten thank you note. Your actions will set you apart from the other candidates and will convey your “people skills” to the practice.
Table Compensation or Contract Discussion Until After An Offer is Made
Do not initiate the discussion about salary, co-ownership terms or your employment agreement. These questions should be postponed until after an offer is made. If the interviewer begins to ask you about salary, you should respond with the salary range other practices you’ve interviewed with have been offering and point out any cost-of-living differences. Be sure to make the range broad enough. You should also communicate that you understand most ophthalmologists are paid on production. That is, most practices offer a base salary and incentive bonuses; what most ophthalmologists earn is directly related to how busy they are (you should expect a smaller practices to often offer a lower base with a higher bonus potential and a larger practice to offer a higher base with a lower bonus potential). Lastly, make sure you communicate that you are evaluating the complete financial arrangements: salary, benefits and future co-ownership opportunities.
These interviews are vastly different than your medical school and residency interviews. Your choice of medical school and residency was based largely on your academic performance and standing. Test scores and GPA were a vital part of an objective evaluation process. Private-practice interviews are about impressions and feelings. Practices make offers to candidates they like and feel will fit in with the group. Successful candidates understand this fact and know that how they present themselves will influence whether the practice makes an offer or not. In the final analysis, the purpose of an interview is to get an offer, because only when an offer is made is all the information revealed (including salary, bonus, buy-in, restrictive covenant, etc.) that you need to make your decision.