Physician Executives: How to Be Savvy in a Leadership Interview

By Sue A. LeGrand

[The following is an excerpt from our upcoming guide, “Recruiting and Developing Physician Leaders.” This advice for physician executives is broadly applicable to other leaders.]

The demand for physician leaders remains high as institutions continue to recognize the need for individuals to guide their organizations through today’s ever-changing healthcare landscape. Despite fierce competition for qualified candidates, a strong clinical background and impressive educational resume aren’t enough to secure a position. Even the most sought-after candidates still have to shine in the interview, a setting somewhat unfamiliar to many physicians.

Sue LeGrand

Unlike the emergent situations physicians handle on a daily basis, the interview is an event that affords the luxury of preparation. In my experience, it is thorough preparation that makes the difference when candidates vie for the same position. The following is a “to-do” list for physicians who wish to be savvy interviewers.

The key thing: the interview is not all about you and your expertise. It’s about “we” and how your skills, values, and passion will align with what the organization seeks in its executives.

  1. Do your reading homework. Carefully read the information supplied by the search firm and the client to learn about the position. Then take the time to search for additional information and news about the client and the market in which they compete. As you read, begin to think about how your background and skills fit the position they are seeking to fill, and how you can help the organization meet the goals they have set and address challenges they face.
  2. Anticipate the questions you will be asked and prepare answers to those questions. In general, a concise answer is preferable to a lengthy one. Not only is a shorter answer easier for an interviewer to understand, it gives the interviewer a chance to ask follow up questions and take the conversation in the specific direction they want to go. Take the opportunity to demonstrate humility in your answers by recognizing the contributions of others in your past successes.
  3. Make a list of the questions you want to ask, about the position, the organization, the community, or anything else that you need or want to know. Your questions will demonstrate your knowledge of the organization along with a desire to learn more, as well as your interest in becoming part of the leadership team.
  4. Identify instances where you have demonstrated leadership, and be ready to talk about them. Physician leadership involves influencing, advocating, and facilitating change. The skills used to manage a patient crisis are not necessarily the skills you need to demonstrate during the interview. Most interviewers will assume that you know how to take charge and instruct in a clinical setting. They need to understand how you have been able to use “softer skills” to affect change.
  5. Know who will be interviewing you. This will allow you to make personal connections during the interview. Though you will have the chance to get to know them better in the future, showing a sincere personal interest in those interviewing you, regardless of their job title or position in the organization, will make a positive and lasting impression.
  6. Carefully evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Be ready to go beyond what appears on your resume, your degrees, and your title and describe specific examples of your leadership skills and results. Being able to recognize areas where your skills need development is not an admission of failure, but rather a sign of self-awareness.
  7. Dress the part. Dress and accessorize conservatively, and don’t overdo the scents, makeup, or styling products. Your appearance is not what you want people to remember about you.
  8. Be conservative in your behavior and comments. What you say may spread throughout the organization. It probably goes without saying, but politics, religion, and sex are not fodder for discussion on interview day.
  9. Take a deep breath, be confident – you are a strong candidate or you wouldn’t be here – and be your best self.

The interview is the chance for you to secure the offer and take the next step in your career as a physician leader. With the right preparation, that future is yours.

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