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Monday Sep 10, 2018

A Hiring Manager's Perspective on the Art of Interviewing

Based on her curriculum vitae, I was excited to meet the applicant. With a background in caring for underserved patients in an urban area and lots of procedural skills experience, she seemed like a great fit for our organization.

[interview in progress sign on door]

Her CV even had eye-pleasing fancy borders.

My first impression was that she was enthusiastic, made eye contact, smiled and was polished.

However, during the interview, I began to realize that the candidate was not flexible with her colleagues. Her approach to patient care was authoritarian. She refused to prescribe controlled substances. "Specialists can manage those," she told me. She responded to literally all my scenario-based questions with a canned, "That's such an interesting question," followed by, "Thanks so much for asking that."

We didn't hire her.

My experience with candidate interviews spans medical school, residency and now private practice. I previously served on the admissions committee for the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and participated in the resident selection process at my residency program. In my current role as the district medical director of a multistate primary care practice, I interview and hire candidates for our primary care physician (PCP) positions.

Granted, interviewing is a flawed art; there are countless unconscious biases that litter the process. For example, there is the first-impression bias, where we quickly judge a candidate based on something like a good or bad answer to the first question, then spend the rest of the interview attempting to validate that impression. Or the "seems like me" bias, where we favor candidates who remind us of ourselves.

Yet despite these flaws, institutions report that interviews are one of the most important factors in selecting candidates.(www.nrmp.org)

As an interviewer and hiring manager, I try to be mindful of the biases I bring to interviews and am continually thinking about ways to improve the process.

At my organization, I helped reframe our interview questions. Previously, we would ask classic questions about factors such as a candidate's strengths and areas of opportunities. However, we found little value in their responses, and they didn't correlate to future success of candidates.

As a result, our interview questions are now competency-based. We look for candidates who demonstrate talent in primary care/clinical skills, collaboration, effective communication, self-development and managing ambiguity; are patient-focused; and have self-awareness and interpersonal savvy.

In addition to these competencies (which are critical), here are things I look for in candidates and mistakes I've seen them make.

Enthusiasm About Our Organization

This seems like a no-brainer: Know the school, program or position you are interviewing for. One of the most common interview questions is, "Why are you interested in us?" It's easy to see through nonspecific answers. I look for candidates who really understand our health care model and clearly have spoken to others about us.

Bonus points to job candidates who do research about the actual interviewer. I once had a candidate read my Twitter feed, and we chatted about an article I had posted about vitamin D. It's also impressive when candidates are able to articulate what they see as needs of the organization and how they can fulfill them.

Ultimately, all schools, residencies and organizations are looking for someone who will excel and is a good match for patients, the team and the overall group.

Personal Anecdotes

Candidates often default to speaking in general terms during interviews. But we need our PCPs to be exceptional. You must stand out among a crowd of candidates.

The easiest way to stand out is to come armed with personal stories.

There are certain things you can expect to hear from most interviewers, such as situational questions and

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to come here?
  • What is your ideal setting?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What are your future goals?

Skilled candidates can weave multiple interesting anecdotes into their responses and turn the interview into a broader narrative about themselves.

There are a few things I look for when candidates share personal stories: Did they face a difficult situation and turn it around? Do they demonstrate intellectual curiosity? Did they spearhead a project or process without being asked? How do they interact with teams?

Direct Responses to Questions

Although you should prepare some personal anecdotes, it's also important to directly answer the question you are asked. I've had some candidates who remind me of politicians, dancing around questions or answering a question they had hoped I would ask instead.

Feel comfortable pausing, taking your time and collecting your thoughts before answering a question. Some candidates will launch into the first response that pops into their minds, then ramble endlessly. Not helpful.

Frankly, it's OK not to be perfectly polished or rehearsed. It's OK to show your humanity. After all, we are not hiring a résumé, we are hiring a PCP.

Optimistic Attitude

Let's face it, these are tough times in health care. Medical schools, residency programs and health care organizations are going through lots of changes. We need people who will be flexible and resilient. People should embrace change and see opportunities to thrive.

When a candidate is carrying baggage of negativity, it manifests in different ways. I've unfortunately had a number of candidates disparage their former employers during interviews. Speaking negatively about others is never a good look.

I look for candidates who are practical about the challenges in health care, but also optimistic about the future and, specifically, their role in the future of health care.

Although the interview process is flawed, it's a powerful opportunity to make connections. Even if you don't end up at the school or program where you're interviewing, the connections you make could be valuable for the rest of your career.

Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., is a board-certified family physician in Phoenix. You can follow her on Twitter @NatashaBhuyan.(twitter.com)

Posted at 04:18PM Sep 10, 2018 by Natasha Bhuyan, M.D.

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