Tested Tips for Interviewing

March 23, 2011

There's nothing more disruptive than hiring someone who doesn't work out. Here are some tried-and-true tips to head off disaster.

There's nothing more disruptive and costly than hiring someone who, for one reason or another, doesn't work out - and is either let go or leaves on his own shortly after being hired (and trained). The problem actually starts with the initial interview: The interviewer often fails to assess correctly whether the applicant is a good fit for the job. The reason in many cases? Standard interview questions to which rehearsed answers are given.

As a result, I've asked countless physicians, practice administrators, and office managers to share interview questions (beyond those related to knowledge, skills, and experience) that they've found most helpful in evaluating job applicants. The following are a few of my favorites:

What do you like most about your current job?

What makes this question (and those that follow) effective is that candidates can't know the best answer to give you. If they give you an honest answer, it may help you to learn if they're a good match for the job opening in your practice.

What else do you like about your current job?

This follow-up question is even more important than the preceding one because if people do have a rehearsed answer to the first question, you're more likely to get truthful answers with successive inquiries. For example: they might reply "flexible hours," a matching 401(k) plan," or a host of other perks or benefits that may be lacking in your practice.

What are you looking for in your next job that's missing from your present one?

Again, it's going to be difficult for a job applicant to know the best answer to such a question, let alone the one that will most impress you. If the person is truthful, he or she may say "more varied duties and responsibilities" or "opportunities for continuing education" or something else that will be ideal (or less than ideal) for your practice.

Tested tip: To draw applicants out on such questions and gain additional information, respond to their replies with variations of "That's interesting. Tell me more."

What aspects of your last job did you like least?

Without thinking, the person may say, "asking patients for money" or "overtime" or something else that would rule him or her out for the job you're trying to fill.

In your last job, in what accomplishments did you take the most pride?

You may for example, hear something related to improved collections or appointment scheduling - or you may get a blank stare.

What do you consider your greatest strengths? Don't be modest.

Depending on your type of practice, "good" answers might include: "I have great patience." "I learn quickly." "I'm great with kids."

Take such answers a step further by asking, "Please give me an example." These are the five most important words in an interviewer's arsenal and they can't be used often enough. There is nothing worse than ending an interview, finding an extraordinary comment in your notes - for which there is not a shred of supporting evidence.

What am I likely to hear, positive and negative, when I call your references?

This question gives job applicants an opportunity to brag about their strengths and achievements at previous jobs. It also allows them to tell their side of any negative story you might hear or one they think you might hear. I've heard reports of some startling admissions by job applicants who were asked that question.

The purpose of these 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. Look for answers that are not only a good fit for the job for which you're hiring - but also with the culture of your practice.

Bob Levoy is the author of seven books on human resource and practice management topics. His newest book is "222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices" published by Jones & Bartlett. He can be reached at blevoy@verizon.net.