Strategies to survive the screening process

Strategies to survive the screening process

What kinds of questions should you expect to answer?

August 2017

YOU’VE FOUND A JOB that looks good to you, and the recruiter is definitely interested. But before the practice will bring you out for a site visit and in-person interview, that recruiter wants to conduct a screening interview by phone.

A phone-based screening interview is pretty standard these days, according to veteran health care recruiter Don Rainwater. But for young physicians interviewing for their first job, it can be a nerve-wracking affair.

What kinds of questions can you expect to answer? To find out, we asked Mr. Rainwater, who has interviewed hundreds of physicians during his career as a recruitment consultant with the Veterans Health Administration. Here are the strategies he offered during a conversation with Today’s Physician.

How should physicians prepare for a screening interview via phone?
First, find a place where you can focus on the questions, where you are not being distracted by people coming in and out of the room. When I’m talking to a physician who is obviously sitting in a lunchroom and people are walking around, there’s a lot of background noise.

“If the recruiter doesn’t bring up compensation, I don’t think the physician should.”

~ Don Rainwater
Veterans Health Administration

Here’s what I tell practicing physicians: If you have a private office where you can take the call, great. If not, maybe you can tell your office manager, “Please don’t interrupt me, I’m on a conference call.” If you don’t do that, the recruiter might walk away with the sense that you’re not really taking this seriously.

When can physicians expect the call to take place?
Some physicians assume that recruiters are willing to talk at 8 or 9 at night, and that’s not usually the case. I’m adamant about controlling my time, so the way I frame these discussions is to say, “I know your time with your family is valuable to you, and mine is valuable to me. Let’s find a time, even if it’s during your lunch hour. I’ll take my lunch hour to talk to you, if you’re willing to do the same.” Or I’ll say, “I’m willing to talk with you first thing in the morning before you get started with patients.” I would suggest that physicians show the same flexibility.

What kinds of questions can physicians expect?
I usually ask detailed questions to gain some insight into how physicians practice. One question might be “How would you describe your practice style?” Questions about strengths and weaknesses are also popular. And I will usually ask physicians what they found interesting about our organization.

How should physicians answer a question about strengths and weaknesses?
The worst thing is when somebody starts talking about their weaknesses and they go on and on and on. There have been times when I’ve said, “Just one or two is fine.” And if physicians don’t offer it themselves, I’ll usually ask, “What steps have you taken to improve on that?” or “What did you do to correct that?”

What about answering the question, “Why do you want to work here?”
As a recruiter, I’m looking for candidates who come into the screening call with a sense of preparation. If you can tell that physicians aren’t prepared to answer that question, it might be a clue about how they approach things in general.

Physicians need to find out as much about the organization as they can. It’s important to do your homework ahead of time, not only before the screening interview, but also to prepare for a potential site visit. Doing a little research will help you feel more comfortable because you’ll have a pretty good sense of the organization. Think about what you saw in the job posting or the opportunity that caught your attention. You might say something like, “I know that your organization has research and teaching opportunities, and that’s something I want to be able to do.”

Do new physicians put too much emphasis on location?
Often, when I ask why a physician is interested in an opportunity, the answer is location. I hear, “My family’s from here,” or “my wife’s family lives here and we’re about to have our first child and we want to be near the grandparents.” While that’s a legitimate reason, some physicians can be so focused on location that they overlook problems with a practice. They think that the location will make up for anything they may not like about that group. But they may be so focused on one small aspect of job satisfaction—like location—that they later regret taking the job.

What other questions can physicians expect?
Another question I like to ask is whether physicians are looking at other opportunities, and where in the process they are with that. Are they in a general job search and looking at three or four other opportunities? I want to know about their availability and what impact that might have on site visits and potentially a job offer.

Is it OK for physicians to bring up compensation in the screening interview?
If the recruiter doesn’t bring up compensation, I don’t think the physician should. You might send a message—rightly or wrongly— that money is a top-driving factor. If recruiters get the sense that you are all about how much money you can make, you’re not going to get very far in the interview process. While health care organizations are very attuned to offering competitive compensation, they want someone who is interested in them for all the right reasons, not just one.

If you choose to talk about compensation, what information are you looking for?
I generally ask for a range that physicians are looking for. Candidates should have a realistic idea of what physicians are making in an area, which is very easy to do with online sources. Have a bottom line when it comes to compensation, but don’t ask for the moon. And do your research before you apply for a job in a particular area. You don’t want to look at compensation in an area and discover that you can’t afford to live there.

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