Consider these 2 scenarios:
Dr Get-Ahead applies for a junior faculty position at a mid-tier academic department of psychiatry. He lists 12 presentations at national conferences on his curriculum vitae. He already has 5 articles to his credit—3 published, 2 in press, and 2 of which are in prominent psychiatric journals. He has received a Teacher of the Year Award for his work with medical students. His references check out very well..
…At the interview he impresses with his energy and with his positive statements about the opportunity in general. Asked by the chairman, “Have you looked at our website?” He casually replies, “not yet.” He has yet to inquire about the city. When asked about knowledge about departmental faculty at the conclusion of the 2-day interview, he becomes confused and appears overwhelmed by the experience.
Dr Not-So-Fast provides a well-detailed CV with an accompanying letter explaining his interest in a new leadership position at this private psychiatric facility. He is engaging and asks thoughtful questions at a pre-interview phone call. He presents well on the interview day. The administrator receives several ‘hire him’ recommendations from colleagues throughout the day. In the final meeting with the hospital administrator, he reports that in 1998 he was investigated for insurance fraud and subsequently had to appear before the state medical board. He indicates that no charges were actually brought against him and his license is unblemished.
Neither guy gets the job. Why? Dr Get-Ahead is clearly bright, industrious, and “a rising star.” However, he failed to prepare specifically for that interview at that department. He conveyed the impression that he was “out fishing” and that he had little real interest in that particular position. The candidate following him a week later, while less of a rising star, had done his homework and seemed to really want the job. He got it!
Dr Not-So-Fast prepared meticulously for his interview and impressed everybody he met—until the final interview with the administrator. It wasn’t so much the historical incident itself that soured things—it was the way he left this to the end of the day to introduce this concern. Rightly or wrongly, the administrator felt that his recruitment would have proceeded successfully if he had acknowledged this information earlier on in the process. As a yet unknown quantity, the administrator was concerned about trust—a core issue.
As physicians, we have been lectured to and trained for an incredible array of medical and life circumstances. Often, however, we graduate ill-prepared to determine where and how apply all this expertise because we have received little or no guidance about how to go out and get a job. We are left to our own to prepare a CV. Although we may be meticulous in our clinical evaluations and proactive, sometimes we approach the job interview without a similar level of preparation or forethought. Moreover, it is not uncommon to come across physicians who are senior in their career who still make basic mistakes in interviewing for a job. And yet, there are a bunch of things—all incredibly straightforward—that we can do to enhance our professional presentation and performance in the interview setting.
Tips on preparing your CV
It is likely that your CV will be the first information your prospective employer will receive about you. Spending time to prepare a cogent and current CB is an important first step (Figure). Make sure you have all the basics right—contact information, training, licensure(s). No typos or cluttered outline—it will convey the impression (erroneous or not) that you might be sloppy in your work. Avoid redundant lists of presentations, especially if you are more senior in your career. (It also makes prospective bosses think that maybe you’re away lecturing all the time instead of doing your “real” job.)
Some people include a narrative about each prior employment experience—if you must, keep it brief. Community activities and leadership activities are often forgotten and left off the resume. This is a mistake as every employer appreciates somebody who will contribute to his/her community. Go light on hobby lists—after all you are applying for a job. Include an accompanying letter that also briefly describes your experience and suitability for this particular position. Generic statements, especially those that don’t really apply to the position, can be a turnoff because the employer can’t really gauge your interest. If you can, articulate in the letter the reasons why this particular job is of interest to you. Table 1 lists common mistakes in the presentation of interview materials.
Tips on preparing for an interview
On several occasions, I have observed busy doctors rush from their practice late in the afternoon, catch the last plane that evening, and arrive ill-prepared for an interview the following day. Quite apart from being rushed and unprepared, this also conveys to the prospective employer the impression that you are disorganized and a “last-minuter.” Come early—know where you are to be and when—and do not appear either rushed or anxious. Also, you have got to have your “story” clear and convincing—why it is you want this job, how your experience has all led up to this job, and how you are (without sounding arrogant) the perfect ‘fit’ for this position. If you can’t articulate these points, then how else will the employer find them out?
You also need to be able to give at least some preliminary ideas of what you think you might be able to achieve in the job—after all, you think you’re the perfect fit and so you must have some cogent thoughts on what can be accomplished. Because many of the questions that are likely to be asked of you in an interview revolve around these 2 aspects—ie, your background/potential and the job’s context/potential—it is possible to prepare and rehearse potential interview questions in advance of the interview day. This is always a good strategy, especially since it can help mitigate the interview-stress that often permeates the interview day. It helps to go over potential questions with a trusted colleague. Have a friend in the organization where you are interviewing, although one has always to be mindful not to exploit such an opportunity.
Specific recommendations on preparing for the job interview are given in Table 2. Common mistakes that can—and do—occur in the interview are highlighted in Table 3. This is all common sense. However, time and again, it’s amazing how much people underperform and do not represent themselves well when they go out on interviews.
Dr Buckley is professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia.