Interview questions you should be prepared to answer

Published on: Jun 8, 2017


When medical institutions and facilities look to hire physicians, they are looking not just to fill a position but for a leader who can respond well to stress, work well with others and communicate effectively with patients and foster a patient- centric environment.

For physicians looking for or intending to look for a job, the outlook is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The job market is bullish because of the increased demand for healthcare services by the growing and aging population.

This means that your job prospects for 2017 and beyond are excellent as hospitals and group practices are recruiting physicians with a sense of urgency. However, nailing the interview requires preparation and thought.

Beyond the usual questions such as how do you think you will be able to contribute to the organization and what you are looking for in your next job, physician recruiters will ask questions that seek to consider a candidate’s past behavior. This increasingly popular technique is known as behavioral interviewing and is based on the principle that past behavior can predict future behavior.

A physician recruiter from, a healthcare staffing agency, outlines what he looks for when he brings on a new physician.

“In an ideal situation, quality is number one. I’m looking for a doctor with a strong skill set, but he (or she) also needs to communicate effectively with staff and with patients,” he said. “Today’s healthcare consumers are savvy and they want more than just a physician with good clinical skills. They want somebody who is going to listen to them, take care of them and truly understand who they are.”

In fact, according to the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters (ASPR), nearly 60% of in-house physician recruiters are using behavioral interview questions to determine factors such as:

  • Your leadership skills

  • How you handle stress in a fast-paced environment

  • Your level of empathy

  • Communication skills

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Your level of (patient) focus

To help you nail that interview, to follow are some of the top questions encountered by candidates for physician positions. This list is not exhaustive, but is a good place to start. If two candidates have matching qualifications, the one who will get the job will almost invariably be the one who displays not just strong clinical skills, but also high emotional intelligence - which is the ability to understand your own emotions as well as discern others’ emotions - and then use that information to guide your thoughts and actions.

Here’s a tip: what you say and how you say it will give interviewers an indication of how you will behave on the job.

Behavioral Questions

  1. How do you react under pressure or in an emergency?

Spend some time to think about your answer. A good way to answer this would be to show that in emergency situations, your priority is the care of the patient.

  1. Describe a time when you had a dispute with a colleague and how you handled it.

Answer this by painting the scenario and detailing the background; the action that you would take; and the outcome of the situation.

  1. Have you ever had conflict with a supervisor? Describe the situation and how you handled it.

There is no textbook answer to this question. Drawing from your history will show recruiters how you would truly behave in such a situation.

The next four questions have no right or wrong answers.

When you get open-ended questions, do include examples in your responses. Providing details and responses will enable the interviewer to see if you are a right ‘match’ for the job.

  1. What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made on the job, and what did you learn from it?

  2. Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and you demonstrated your coping skills.

  3. Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy that you did not agree with.

  4. What do you do if you disagree with a patient?

In addition to the above behavioral questions, give some thought to these standard questions:

What are your strengths?

This may not be a deciding factor as most applicants have something good to say about themselves. So, say something direct like: I have a strong work ethic, passion, compassion and can work well with others; or I am great with kids.

What are your weaknesses?

Talk about a weakness that is tolerable: something that would not seem negative to the employer. An example would be that you are an overachiever, always working too hard. Add as well, that you are continuously working to better yourself.

Another tactic is to talk about the skills you have improved upon in your previous job. Outline your initial level of functioning and how you have improved in that time. This shows the interviewer that you can take the necessary steps to improve yourself.

A word of caution - Make sure not to talk about your improving on a skill that is related to the job you are interviewing for. You don’t want the interviewer to question your ability.

Why did you choose to become a physician?

Don’t make the mistake of stating money as a key motivation; no one wants to hire a physician motivated solely by the dollar. Be genuine when you say something like “I have respect for human life; that is why I want to dedicate my life to the care and service of people.”

Why are you leaving your current job?

Again, it is going to be difficult for you to know the best answer to such a question, let alone one that would impress the interviewer. You should say things like wanting more varied duties and responsibilities or more opportunities for continuing education. Do note never to bad-mouth your current or most recent past employer.

What are your achievements so far?
List the awards you have achieved so far: Include scholarships. Highlight any seminars that you have organized or been invited to speak at. If you are a member of any professional medical association or society, highlighting these would show your dedication to the profession.

Expect Unexpected Questions

According to Bob Levoy, a well-known author of seven books on human resources and practice management topics, “The purpose of these [unexpected] questions is to ascertain if job applicants are as capable and sincere as they say they are. They're all open-ended, allowing candidates to divulge as much or as little as they want.”

How a candidate answers such questions provides recruiters an inside look at the candidate to determine if he/she will be a good fit for the job.

For example:

When we call your references, what are we likely to hear?

It is best here to detail both the positive and the negative.

Do you have any malpractice history?

Sometimes, candidates are stunned when asked this question. Remember to be up front. If you are dishonest, the truth can come back to haunt you at some point.

Paul Hannig, PhD, a psychotherapist with more than 40 years of interview training and experience says, “Expect anything and everything. There may be surprises. Prepare for unanticipated questions. The interviewers know what answers they want and the candidate may not be able to anticipate the hidden agenda of the interviewers. They will ask you questions about yourself, your philosophy, experience, and aspirations.” Express your commitment to your profession and show your passion for the work. Be prepared to answer all questions about yourself. Appear open and authentic. A good sense of humor and a smile goes a long way.”

There you have it. These questions were compiled based on experience of friends and colleagues, as well as formal and informal interactions with experienced interviewers and executives. They are guides for navigating an interview. You don’t have to be mechanical, but there is no harm in rehearsing how to respond to these questions; role-play with a friend. Most importantly, be proud of your achievements and make them a highlight of your Curriculum Vitae. And don’t forget, confidence is the key.

Good Luck! Some of the top questions encountered by candidates for physician positions.