Most people who get through college, medical school, a fellowship, and any jobs during training should know how to interview for the big, “real” job. That’s the one you have worked hard toward for 12 or more years. So it comes as a surprise to me how often I see people poorly prepared for the process––on both sides of the table. Even with a great CV, if an applicant has a poor interview, he or she is probably sunk, unless the practice is desperate, in which case the applicant shouldn’t want the job. Here are some common errors I have encountered during years of interviewing prospective faculty candidates, as well as some tips for the folks offering the position.
is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal and a Professor of
Radiology, Diagnostic Imaging Department, University of Maryland
Medical Center, Baltimore, MD.
Most people who get through college, medical school, a
fellowship, and any jobs during training should know how to
interview for the big, "real" job. That's the one you have worked
hard toward for 12 or more years. So it comes as a surprise to me
how often I see people poorly prepared for the process--on both
sides of the table. Even with a great CV, if an applicant has a
poor interview, he or she is probably sunk, unless the practice is
desperate, in which case the applicant shouldn't want the job. Here
are some common errors I have encountered during years of
interviewing prospective faculty candidates, as well as some tips
for the folks offering the position.
- The first questions should not be: "How much vacation?"
(translation: I'm most interested in not working); or, "How much
money?" (translation: I'm primarily interested in money).
- Express interest in the department/practice-ask detailed
questions about equipment, upgrades, inter- and intradepartmental
interactions, staffing support, what areas you will be covering,
etc. If you do not ask lots of questions, the interviewer will
assume you have no genuine interest. Think of the questions you
want and need to ask before you interview and be proactive; do
not wait to be prompted by the interviewer.
- Try to be yourself. Good or bad, people have the right to
know what they are getting. If you are a psychopath, let this
come through, as some groups may prefer this in a colleague.
- Be courteous. It's simple, cheap, and crucial.
- Do not talk about all the studies/procedures you can't or
won't do. On the contrary, admit your weak areas (in addition to
touting your strengths) and show a willingness to improve your
skills in those weak areas.
- Have some long-term life goals and articulate them in the
interview. People without a plan are unsteady and likely not to
stay committed for the long haul. Do
state that you do not know if you want to go into academics or
private practice (you are wasting the interviewers' time). Make a
choice, pursue it, and change it if that choice doesn't work out.
No job choice is forever, and most people don't settle forever
into their first job. (I am an exception because I am too lazy to
- If you go out to dinner with the group, be willing to take
suggestions regarding local cuisine (crab cakes in Baltimore). Do
not order the most expensive things on the menu (it makes you
look high maintenance). One cocktail will do. Too loose a tongue
can sink the best applicant.
- Your job is to genuinely impress, not to snow the applicant.
Be honest and do not show people a job that does not really
exist. Don't make promises that may not become reality.
- Always have the applicant come a second or third time after
they have thought about the job and you about them. You and they
will have honed your questions and concerns to a finer, more
insightful level and will attain more pertinent information. Make
sure you understand the applicant's family dynamics and how they
play into the job decision. An unhappy spouse is quick to sour
the job for a new hire once things don't work out as they
- Tell the applicant what's wrong with the group, the practice,
the hospital, and the community. Give them the track record of
new hires, how long they lasted, how many leave within 3 weeks or
3 months, how many get divorced in the first 2 to 3 years. People
need to know what they will be up against. Do not attempt to hide
the weird partner who talks to himself or to the films, or the
older, politically incorrect cursing professor.
- On the second visit, take the applicant on a tour of the
area, show the good and bad (you do not have to include the local
crack-house), and set the applicant and family up with a real
estate agent. Encourage them to view Web sites describing the
community. Verify or dispute any commonly held reputation about
the city or community. If the applicant has children, make sure
someone is available to discuss the pros and cons about school
systems in the area. If you create a sense of comfort and
diminish the strangeness of the place, the psychological stress
associated with the move decreases.
- If you take the applicant to dinner, do not try to get them
drunk to get the real low-down. Acquiesce to their culinary
proclivities, that is, do not force the local favorite on them.
For some people, eating steamed crabs is beyond disgusting.
- Show a willingness to be flexible and supportive.
There are plenty more things to keep in mind and most are common
sense. Initial interviews should be low-key, getting-to-know-you
events, but both parties should be sincere in their interest, so as
to not waste anyone's time or money. I hope that these few
suggestions will make the whole experience more pleasant and
valuable for all concerned.