Job Interviews: How Doctors Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Gail Garfinkel Weiss, MSW


February 24, 2011

In This Article


You interviewed for a job, but the position went to someone else, and besides being disappointed, you're not sure what went wrong. Did you come across as overconfident? Not confident enough? Was there a problem with your clothing or body language? Were your answers to the interviewer's questions off point?

Physicians, like other accomplished professionals, might enter a job interview convinced that their education and experience say it all. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Interviewers, in addition to looking for a physician with good clinical skills, want a congenial "fit" who will enhance their hospital or practice, so certain actions, remarks, and demeanors are likely to take you out of the running.

Patrick C. Alguire, MD, the American College of Physician's (ACP) Acting Senior Vice President; Mary Barber, Vice President of the physician recruitment firm Cejka Search; and Patrice Streicher, Associate Director of VISTA Physician Search and Consulting, describe 8 ways physician job applicants might sabotage an employment interview.

Here are several interview-derailing behaviors, and what you can do to keep things on track.

1. You didn't prepare enough.

It's not enough to just read the job description, says Mary Barber. Learn as much as you can about the history, expectations, culture, and leadership of the facility you're interviewing with. Don't rely solely on the hospital or practice's Website -- look at internet search engines and databases to see if the organization participates in research or education and if it has received any grants and is affiliated with other prominent institutions, so you'll be able to discuss and inquire about those efforts.

To minimize the likelihood that you'll be groping for words, Patrick Alguire, MD, recommends rehearsing (out loud) your answers to commonly asked questions: "Why do you want to join our practice? What makes you think you'll fit in here? What experience have you had in [a research project that the practice is pursuing or an ancillary service that the practice expects to add]? What are your strengths?" and, alas, "What are your weaknesses?"

Responding to questions about one's weaknesses is always tricky, Alguire acknowledges. "The traditional, but somewhat hackneyed approach, is to turn the weakness into a strength," he says. "For example, 'I'm never satisfied with my medical knowledge, so I am constantly reading.' A response like that, while unlikely to get you into trouble, is unimaginative and often perceived as not really answering the question. An alternative is to honestly describe a weakness, one that the interviewer might identify with, and present it along with a plan. For example, 'I'm short tempered when stressed, and now I exercise during my lunch hour to reduce my stress and control my emotions.' This is riskier but more interesting and insightful than a watered down reply."

2. You were unsuitably dressed.

Patrice Streicher mentions a New York City-based physician who showed up for an interview in Pasadena, Texas, wearing a 3-piece pinstriped suit.

"He was very polished and an excellent candidate," says Streicher, "but he threw the executive team off because he gave the impression that he would be too high priced and not culturally a good fit for the practice." Contrastingly, Streicher had a candidate who left an unprofessional feel by showing up in a sundress for an interview. She explains, "The Director of Recruitment asked the candidate, who lived in the community where the practice was located, to meet her at a local coffee shop, and apparently the candidate assumed that a casual environment called for casual attire. In hindsight, she should have worn business casual clothing. This was, after all, a business meeting."

Indeed, a conservative business suit is ideal for both men and women job candidates, says Mary Barber. She adds, "Pant or skirt suits are both appropriate choices for women, assuming the skirt is at least knee-length and nylons or tights are worn. Complement your clothing with accessories that are neat -- polished shoes, crisp tie, a matching belt, and a nice watch all make you look put together. Avoid anything that is wrinkled, has stains, or appears frayed. No tattoos or piercings, except for earrings, should be visible."

If you're a flashy dresser or a dress-down sort, aim for a middle ground when interviewing for a job, especially if you don't know much about the practice's culture. Patrick Alguire warns against perfume, cologne, golf shirts, sneakers, and revealing necklines, and recommends keeping jewelry to a minimum.


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