One of the hardest questions to answer in a job interview is, “Do you have any questions for me?”
The question itself is not hard — as physicians, we can come up with plenty of questions. What makes it challenging is that we understand the timing and depth of any question we ask and can say a lot more than we want it to. We do not want to ask too much, too soon (How much will I make?). We certainly want to appear disinterested by asking nothing at all.
The remedy is to have questions ready that open the door for deeper conversation. Questions that make probing seem like a natural extension of the interview conversation rather than an inquisition.
Here are 10 questions that will help you do just that.
Why is this position open?
You’d like to hear a clear, positive answer that demonstrates growth and retention. A growing business, more patients, new contracts or retirement would be reassuring. Large numbers of employees leaving, rapid turnover or being given a vague answer could be a red flag.
What will a typical day look like for me?
This question sets the stage for acquiring more details. Asking it lets you follow up to gain specifics like how many patients you will see in a day, when you will show up and go home and what your schedule will look like.
For example, if you were told that you’ll usually leave around 5:00 p.m., it would seem natural to follow up with the question, “OK, good — I’ll usually be home around dinner — how often do people stay later than 5:00 p.m.?” or “What’s the latest time people go home?”
What about my background makes me attractive?
You have a lot of experiences and attributes that make you an attractive candidate, but what you think are your shining attributes may not be priorities for an employer. They could really need someone with experience on a committee that you hate sitting on, or they could need someone to do research that you’re trying to move away from.
You want to make sure that their needs are aligned with yours because it’s those attributes an employer is hoping to bring into their organization. This conversation will give you insight into what “success” means to the employer and what is expected of you.
What is your decision-making process?
You are not asking because you care about the specific decision-making process (though you might!); you’re asking because you want to see how structured the organization is. Organizations have some processes in common — they all have a peer-review process or a QI process. By asking for details of a process, you get to see the structure of those processes.
Certainly, a peer-review process exists, for example, but if no one knows what it is or can’t describe it to you, it might be a cause for concern.
How is physician wellness supported?
Even though we’d all like to know that our wellness will be supported, asking about it still feels unnatural for many physicians.
Medical culture continues to tell us that caring about our wellness is weak or that asking about wellness makes us appear that we won’t pull our own weight. Fortunately, physician wellness programs are more prevalent. This normalizes the question and sends a clear message that physician wellness isn’t a perk — it’s an expectation.
As more people come to expect this, employers will have to provide wellness services or risk getting squeezed out of the market by organizations that offer them. If you wind up in a toxic workplace, this is a question that you will wish you had asked before you took the job!
What opportunities are available to physicians?
Here, you’re asking how you’re going to grow. From administrative to academic opportunities, research or education — how will you be a better, more complete physician in five years because of this organization? Medicine itself is a constantly evolving field, and you want to know that an organization will help you keep pace with it. Outside of clinical practice, you want to know how an organization will support your greater career growth.
What responsibilities will I have outside of clinical medicine?
The reverse of the last question, asking about your responsibilities, tells you what else you’ll be required to do in this position. What are the hidden jobs that come with the one you think you’re signing up for: committee membership, research, quality performance projects. The myriad responsibilities that keep hospitals, clinics and groups working are often run by physicians. They’re also very time-consuming and often prevent you from leaving your work at work. Ask early to see what your life outside of work will look like.
Are there any restrictions in the contract?
It’s not realistic to believe that any job will satisfy all of your needs. You may want to moonlight, make a new medical device, consult for private industry, or have any one of a thousand side gigs.
You really don’t know when these outside opportunities will be attractive to you, but you do not want to renegotiate or break a contract to pursue them. We were taught as much contract law in medical school as attorneys were taught renal physiology in law school. Consider these questions when looking it over. If you obtain a contract, have a specialist interpret it for you — hire an attorney.
Who picks up the slack?
Holidays. Family disasters. Sickness. How does the new job deal with these things?
By the time you’re interviewing, you’ll have been exposed to a few different ways of how groups deal with these things.
Like any disaster, there’s probably no perfect way of handling it. When you ask this question, your focus is on (a) whether they have a system at all or it’s all volunteerism (anarchy), (b) how clear the system is (if it’s not clear to the interviewer, it’s not clear to the group), (c) how fair it is (the best systems are the ones where everyone is equally likely to be miserable if a scheduling disaster occurs).
Are there any changes planned?
You can ask this question directly, as in: “Are there any changes you know about to the hospital administration?” but you can also get an indirect sense of it by asking about history, as in “How long has the group staffed this hospital?”
In the former example, you can find out about any number of important parts of your job like your payment, contract or group structure. But by asking about the history of these aspects, you get a sense of their stability and likelihood of change. A contract and hiring process that has existed for 20 years and that you’re now being interviewed by isn’t as likely to require tweaking as a brand new one.
What are your favorite parts of working here?
The people interviewing you are representing the workplace. They’re familiar with it and are, in part, supposed to put on a good face for the organization. They should understand the culture and be able to gauge your “fit.” They understand the payment, the complaints and the challenges.
Asking them their favorite part of the organization shouldn’t be a challenging question, and it shouldn’t yield a vague or superficial answer. You’d like to hear something such as, “I’ve worked here for 10 years and really consider my coworkers as family. I spend time with them outside of work; we help each other, and they give me something to look forward to. I really like the culture and the individuals here.”
We often find it hard to ask too many questions, feeling like we don’t want to be a nuisance or appear too probing as an interviewee. This thinking is a remnant of the medical school and residency application process, where we’re competing against thousands of people for a limited number of spots.
When we’re done and applying for a “real job,” we need to realize that the tables have turned — now we’re the ones who get to be selective, as plenty of options are available to us, and there are a limited number of people who are eligible for them.
This mindset is empowering. It gives us permission to be a little more aggressive with our questions during an interview. After all, the workplace needs you more than you need it.
David Beran is an emergency physician.
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