Editorial: The interview: A few suggestions

By Stuart E. Mirvis, MD, FACR
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Dr. Mirvis 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.

Job applicant

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Be courteous. It's simple, cheap, and crucial.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 not 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 move.)
  7. 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.

Interviewers

  1. 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.
  2. 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 expect.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Editorial: The interview: A few suggestions.  Appl Radiol. 

August 04, 2005
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