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Five Recommendations to Improve the Physician Interview

November 8, 2018

If you are recruiting physicians, the pervasive shortage makes it a seller’s market.  But that doesn’t mean you want to make an offer to every candidate.  In fact, we see more practices and health systems realizing that a bad hire can be a catastrophe.  If they have a few viable candidates, they want to pick the best one.  If it’s a really hard to fill spot, they want to get it right the first time.  Every physician is a big investment.  Think of the time and money you spend finding candidates, then vetting them, then investing in them before you realize it was a bad hire. 


We also wrote a popular blog from the physician’s point of view – what questions they should be asking you!

Every client can tell stories of “bad” hires – the physician who looked good on paper and even interviewed well – only to find out that they weren’t really patient and service-oriented, a good team player, didn’t fit the group’s culture – or worse – just a plain pain to deal with!

The same is true of sifting through candidates for leadership positions. Talented, skilled, physician leaders can be hard to find.  Even experienced leaders may not be suited to face today’s challenges.

Related: A Case Study on Why You Need a Physician-Specific Hiring Process

Traditionally, the physician interview was not really an interview, at all.  It was a meet and greet and a sales pitch.  The situation is basically this:

  1. You need a physician.

  2. You have a candidate interested who fits the bill – at least on paper.

  3. There is little prep for the interview – no one identifies specifically what you are looking for from the interview – What questions will be asked?  What concerns do you want to explore?  What specific behavioral competencies are you trying to evaluate?

  4. Instead, key physicians and administrators have casual conversations – perhaps over dinner – trying to use their instincts to determine whether the candidate is a good “fit.” Of course we know that this approach is completely ineffective, unreliable and invalid – but it’s what we do.

  5. Finally – everything is done to convince the candidate that they should work at an organization– even though the candidate likely doesn’t even understand what they really need to be successful or what they are looking for, other than a salary expectation and a general idea about the type of practice they’d like to have. At this point everyone (the administration, physician leaders and colleagues and, certainly, the recruiter), are evaluating success on one thing – filling the spot.

Today, though, most of our clients realize this makes no sense at all and are looking for a better approach.  They are looking for solutions but recognize that physician hiring and the physician interview are different – so they can’t just do the same thing they do with nurses or administrators.

Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  1. We’ve been teaching clients how to identify the right candidate for high value, executive level positions for decades.

  2. While most physicians are, technically, “individual contributors” in HR parlance, we need to think about them as executives. They are paid like executives.  Your success or failure is often tied to the success of this small, special group.  They often think like executives – so let’s use what we know about interviewing high value executives.

  3. At the same time, we need to understand the unique nature of the service they provide, what they value, and what will make them successful.

  4. Recognize the two-way street. The candidate is, most-assuredly, evaluating you.  You need to make a good impression while also communicating your vision, what you are looking for and gleaning useful information that will help you to understand how this individual is likely to perform in the role – essentially, what a real interview is intended to do.

  5. We can do all of these things – in a manner that accomplishes these seemingly contradictory goals.

  6. You don’t interview a physician with the same behavioral interviewing process you use for nurses and other roles where you have a more robust candidate pool, but at the same time, you see where the more common approach of making it entirely a sales pitch is getting you.

Here are some recommendations for the framework of a solid physician interviewing “program:”

  1. A clear message. Start by crafting a clear and concise message about why this position is appealing.  What is the group/hospital’s vision?  What is great about working here?  What is unique?  What are you going to do to make them successful and to develop them – supporting their growth, development, and success?  Make sure that everyone involved in the process understands and can deliver this message.

  2. Create the Vision. Be ready to provide the specifics of your operational expectations and ask about the candidate’s needs – how much Operating Room time?  Clinical support staff?  Their vision for their future?  Their interest in leadership, in certain program development initiatives, etc.? Clearly communicate that you understand and care about what it will take to make them successful and that you’ve committed the resources to making it happen.  Paint the vision for them of what their practice, and their future, could look like.

  3. Prepare your team. Too often, an ad hoc group of whomever is available, is called upon to talk to the candidate (let’s not call what happens here, an “interview”).  Define the team and educate them on the message, the process and how to interview.

  4. Create a “real,” physician-specific, behavioral interview. Identify which behavioral competencies are most important to you:  Collaboration?  Adaptability?  Business acumen?  Emotional Intelligence?  Pick just a few and craft executive-level, physician-specific, behavioral interview questions.  Do NOT use generic interview questions.  Evaluate behavioral competencies in the physician's context.  Ask about situations involving collaboration with colleagues, about handling difficult patient issues, about how they integrate the patient into the care process –  but use real interviewing techniques. Ask for specific examples, and probe the responses, but make it feel like a conversation,  not a quiz.  This is where the “art” of interviewing comes in.  Take some time to train the interviewers on interviewing basics.

  5. Gather and analyze the results. Don’t settle for “I liked him,” or “she seemed too focused on her work schedule” as the bases for evaluating the candidate.  Score the interviews and other parts of the selection process.  You should also consider short, candidate friendly, physician-specific, behavioral assessments, where they make sense.

We know this process works.  We’ve seen it work across other industries for decades.  The only thing that is different is the nature of the dialogue and the need to present the best impression you can.

To learn more, download our free white paper:  


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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.