By Patricia A. Hoffmeir
Senior Vice President, Tyler & Company 
610 558 6100 (T) | (E)

As published in WESH Leadership Journal (Women Executives in Science and Healthcare), Summer 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Congratulations on making it to this stage of the recruiting process. Your CV or resume, along with any pre-screening that was done, have impressed the institution enough to invite you in for a more in-depth conversation about your potential fit for the job. Now that the interview is scheduled, you need a game plan to put yourself in the best position among the candidates being considered. 

Preparation plus skill equals opportunity. 

The best interview is one for which you are over-prepared. Consider it like a first date, your goal being to not only see if the job is a fit for you, but also to see if you are a fit for the job. It is an opportunity to assess each other. If the chemistry doesn’t click, regardless of what your CV or resume says, the opportunity probably will not open for you. An interview is a very subjective process, even though many institutions have standard questions that they ask. So at this stage of the game, preparation is your best friend.  

Start by finding out as much as you can about the organization and the people with whom you’ll be interviewing. Make sure you get the interview agenda ahead of time, and then spend some time doing homework online, as well as through networking, to find out all that you can about the people you will meet. In this day and age, there is a lot of information available on the Internet. You’ll find general information about the institution and the department, as well as bios of the key players. It’s important work to do ahead of time because it helps you to understand the backgrounds of the people you’ll meet, and gives you a jump-start to break the ice with small talk. For example, “I understand you went to the University of Kentucky and graduated in 1984. A friend of mine was there and graduated that year also. Might you know Jane Smith?” 

Working with a search consultant 

If you are interviewing for a position through a search consultant, you already will have a profile of the position. We call it the “Client/Candidate Profile,” or “CCP” at Tyler & Company. Different companies call it different things. But in the body of that document, there is a lot of good information. Much of it will be duplicated by what you see on the organization’s website in terms of the specifics about the institution, the size of the department, etc. However, there is always a section called the Candidate Profile. It describes the skill sets and experiences sought for the position. If you have been screened by a search consultant, then you already will have those prerequisites. There is also a section on personal attributes (or soft skills) of the ideal candidate. For instance, they might be looking for someone who is data driven, good at building external relationships, a good institutional citizen, goal oriented, etc. 

If the institution is doing the search without a search consultant, you’ll want to have a copy of the job description. Knowing yourself, your skill sets, your accomplishments, and being able to communicate these elements effectively are crucial. 

If a search consultant is involved, there will be an interview summary and references to help the Search Committee conduct a good interview. However, some interviewers appear at the conference room having come directly from clinic and have limited time to talk with you. They may start with, “So, tell me about yourself.” Respond to this open-ended interview question with the “two-minute elevator speech,” giving a short summation of your background, experience and why you are interested in the job. Then ask questions to engage them, such as, “If I were to come on board at XYZ School of Medicine, what do you think the biggest challenge would be facing a new chair in the first year?” Get him/her to talk to you about the issues facing the institution and the department. When they do, you can apply your background and previous experience to be of value to the position. 

As a search consultant, I help candidates prepare for their interviews by sharing potential interview questions and coaching them on the best ways to answer them. I recommend you spend some time thinking about the questions you may be asked and what your answers will be. Tying your skill sets and accomplishments to the organization will demonstrate that you have the background necessary to succeed in the position. 

Dinner interviews 

Dinner interviews have their own specific challenges. A meal interview is really not an opportunity to dine; it’s another opportunity to be interviewed. Order something that is easy to eat. By the way, good manners really do matter. Remember, they are interviewing you to be a representative of their institution in the future, not just to be locked up in a lab. So watch your table manners and engage in conversation that is both work related and non-work related. They might just say, “Jane, tell me what you like to do in your spare time. We would love to make sure that your needs can be met here at XYZ Medical School.” Open up and talk about those things. 

Group interviews 

Group interviews are another animal. Their purpose is often to give the institution an opportunity to ask their questions in a time-sensitive format. However, they can be quite disarming experiences for candidates. Handle group interviews as if you were in a faculty meeting. Watch body language and facial expressions around the table. For example, if someone has a raised eyebrow, it gives you pause to say, “Do you have a question? Did I answer your question sufficiently, or did you want me to give you more detail on what I did with the faculty development plan that I established?” That way, you will be sure to answer the question that was asked or meant to be asked. 

If you are asked to make a presentation, you will probably be given 20 to 30 minutes and then Q&A time. Try to make it an interesting subject that you think will appeal to the audience. Sometimes there will be residents, medical students and/or faculty at the group interview, which is why having the agenda before you go to the interview is critical. It’ll help you prepare for that audience. 

It’s personal. 

You want the interviewer to get to know you as a person too, so avoid going into an interview overly guarded about personal information. Institutions don’t hire a CV; they hire the person behind the CV. One of the reasons those ice-breaking tips are important is for that very reason. Examples include talking with them about the fact that you went to the same school or your colleague went to the same school. Another good opening is, “So what brought you to XYZ School of Medicine? How long have you been here? Tell me what you see in your department as the greatest challenge.” Ask questions that engage, and then utilize your background to help lay the groundwork for good conversation. An interview is really just a conversation between two people that happens to be a business conversation. It is good to plug in the personal facts. 

When an institution hires a new person, a family often needs to relocate. For this reason, it is important for the people with whom you are interviewing to know the issues your family might have early in the process. For example, does your significant other work? Are your children deeply entrenched in their schools? Does anyone have special medical needs? Be open with this type of information as there are often resources available to assist with the transition.*

Slow and steady often wins the race – maintain your enthusiasm and energy level. 

As you make your way through an often arduous day, sometimes you have to answer the same question multiple times. I ask my clients to prepare an interview format with different people focusing on different things so that the candidate has an opportunity to talk about a variety of things, as opposed to just repeating the same information. But that does not always happen. So, in the course of the day when you are asked to tell your story again and again, it is hard to keep your level of interest and energy up, but it is important that you do so. 

Some institutions are very good at rolling out the red carpet and will be sure to have the conference room supplied with beverages and snacks, as well as give you breaks. If that’s not your experience, it’s OK to ask for a 5 to 10 minute break. 

Sum-up meeting 

At the end of your interview, you’ll likely be exhausted. You may have had individual interviews, group interviews and a tour of the facility. But at the end, I recommend you have a wrap-up session with whomever is in charge of the process, as well as the decision-maker. Conclude your interview by expressing your interest and asking for the next steps. 

I certainly wish you luck with your interviews and hope you will be asked to come back for another round of interviews before you have the offer. You are not in the decision-making seat until the offer is extended. So do your best to move the process forward one step at a time. Hopefully by the time the final offer is extended, it will be anticlimactic, because both you and the institution have realized you are the strongest candidate, and all that remains is to iron out the final details. 

*Q&A with the Author

Q: Leilani Doty, Associate Editor, WESH Leadership JournalI have some questions about the above [asterisked] paragraph because revealing personal information such as family needs is often the squelcher for women. When asked about these more personal, family, or partner, dual-couple issues, these issues can become part of the conversations that get transmitted to the decision-makers with negative bias. Some people in leadership suggest that this information not be communicated too early. Should the interviewee ask to speak to an off-campus person or to someone who has been assigned to handle these personal kinds of issues …. This is the area of cultural sensitivity where things can be hurtful to the “nontraditional” candidate. What are your recommendations? 

A: Patti Hoffmeir: I have been counseling and speaking to women in healthcare and medicine for years about issues related to personal lives, family needs, partner issues, etc. The take-away for me has been that we women are far more sensitive to these issues than we need to be. People do understand and accept today. Revealing personal information will be necessary at some point. If the “knock-out factor” for the candidate is, for example, schools for autistic children and none exist in the area, why go and interview? I think it’s “situational dependent” on what and when to disclose. If a search consultant is involved, they will take care of some of the issues, making it easy for the candidate. You might as well just put it out there. But at the same point, it doesn’t make it any emotionally easier for a woman to do it.