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The Physician Interview is Useless

December 17, 2015

doctor_interviewHR professionals know that an unstructured interview is useless. You may as well toss a coin. A structured, behavioral interview, on the other hand, can be a useful and predictive tool in choosing the right candidate. In essence, the art and science of a well done interview explores a candidate’s past behaviors as a way to predict future behavior. This assumes a well-designed interview, targeting the right behavioral competencies, administered by a trained interviewer as part of a selection “process.”

Now think about the traditional physician selection process. It usually involves either an inside or outside physician recruiter focused, primarily, on finding someone with the right credentials and selling that person on the position. Then there is an interview – more a sales pitch than interview, conducted by not a single person trained in behavioral interviewing. In fact, senior executives and physicians are notoriously terrible interviewers.

Is it any surprise that physician turnover is on the rise, and career satisfaction is declining? Physicians often have no idea what to look for in a practice situation, and the group or hospital has only a vague idea of what they are looking for in a candidate. After a lot of time and money to find the right candidate, it’s not uncommon after only a few years for the hospital and/or physician to figure out that this simply isn’t what they had in mind.

Yet, we continue to do these interviews. An example: A community hospital was looking for a difficult to find sub-specialist. They found a candidate with the right credentials, interested in the position. He was interviewed by a few members of the system’s senior team and several key physician leaders. During the process, one of the team members heard from two former colleagues who’d worked with this candidate that, while clinically sound, he did not make much effort to connect with patients or their families. He routinely received low patient satisfaction scores, wasn’t particularly “patient-focused”, or much of a team player. Interestingly, this client is using our Select Assessment for Physicians, a 90 minute, online behavioral assessment targeting the behaviors important to physician success. This candidate scored particularly low in a few key areas, including compassion, patient-focus and collaboration.

During the interview de-brief though, one of the physicians on the team disagreed with both the reference feedback and the behavioral assessment results because 1) He had a heartfelt discussion with the candidate about their children and their church activities; and 2) the physician and candidate are both dog-lovers (true story).

This is a perfect example of the importance of interview training. The interviewing physician was making two classic interviewing errors:

  1. The “just like me” bias. He bonded with the candidate on common experiences and likes and, therefore, assumed he was similarly well-suited for the organization.
  2. He placed value on interview responses which have no correlation with the required attributes. The organization has decided that compassion, being patient-focused, and behaving in a collaborative manner, are job relevant skills. The candidate’s love for his children and his dogs and his active role in his church, have no correlation performing as a physician in this organization.

In reality, the candidate may actually have these skills, but the interview added nothing to the evaluation. It would have been ideal to use the interview to confirm, or rebut, the data from the behavioral assessment and references. Structured, behavioral questions about the candidate’s past experience and success or failures in treating patients and families with compassion, in approaching his tasks in a patient-centric manner, and in collaborating with colleagues and co-workers, would have added to the data set for the group to evaluate. Instead, the interview added nothing and, in fact, confused the matter because the interviewer was championing the candidate’s case. Even if they bring this candidate in because they need his special skills, they’d have an appreciation of potential behavioral challenges and be better positioned to address them quickly.

Physicians are trained as scientists. While interviewing and candidate selection are not as concrete as basic physiology or pharmacology, there is, certainly, a science to selection. You increase your odds by adding structure and data to the decision-making process. Yet, this happens every day – physician and executive interviewers place unwarranted value on vague interview responses to useless interview questions that have never been tied to the specific attributes we are seeking!

Yes, I realize you can’t interview a physician candidate like you do a front line staff member. These positions are often hard to fill and the entire process is, to some degree, a sales pitch, but organizations have made enough bad physician hiring decisions that it’s absurd to keep making these mistakes. You can integrate behavioral questions in to a conversation with a physician. In fact, I’ve found that candidates respond well to a frank discussion about what’s expected of them and giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their behavioral skills in a professional manner.

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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.