Acing the Interview: How to Make a Great Impression & Not Mess Up
In this post, I’ll continue to discuss interview prep—how to navigate tricky interview questions and answers, banish interview jitters and project confidence, to make your best impression. Plus, a friendly refresher on interview behavior basics (or how not to kill your chances of landing the job)—because it’s the little things that can make or break it. By the end of this post, you’ll most assuredly be ready to put your best foot forward—and not in your mouth—and go get that dream job.
There are certain interview questions you can easily anticipate—but then, there are those occasional curveball questions. Being prepared for the known makes you better positioned to handle the unknown. Acting out the interview scenario (practicing a mock interview) with a trusted colleague or friend will also help you appear confident without being arrogant.
Below is a list of common questions asked by interviewers. Formulating answers prior to the interview, and writing them out, will eliminate a lot of anxiety that comes with not knowing what to expect. Note that the way you frame your answers carries weight. Answers that are personalized and experiential rather than hypothetical (i.e., “I did this” rather than “I would do this”) are more meaningful.
Common interview questions
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why would you be a good fit for this job?
- What are some of your strengths?
- What are some of your weaknesses?
- Why do you want this position?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- What would technical and support staff say about you?
- What sorts of leadership positions have you held?
- Do you consider yourself an overcaller or undercaller when it comes to interpreting radiologic examinations?
- How do you feel about communicating results directly to patients?
- What do you feel is the biggest issue facing radiology?
- What modalities/procedures are you willing/not willing to do? Why?
- How have you dealt with a difficult person in the workplace?
- What would be your ideal job?
- What led you to pursue your subspecialty?
- What did you contribute in your last job?
- How have you participated in departmental quality initiatives?
How to handle bugaboo questions
One of the best pieces of interviewing advice I can give is to always be positive. People are drawn to positivity and can more easily see themselves working with someone who is a solver and not a complainer. Adopting a positive mindset and approach will not only serve you well in an interview, it’s also the key to navigating those tricky, uncomfortable questions with grace and poise.
“What is your biggest weakness?”
Many candidates dread the question, “What is your biggest weakness?”—if you are one of them, try looking at it differently. Don’t fear this question. Embrace it. See it as an opportunity to demonstrate self-actualization and knowledge that success stems from failure. Some people invite critical feedback because they know that everyone has room for improvement. Others are blind to their weaknesses or try to ignore them—but we can only improve on our deficiencies when we are aware of them. Hey, we’re all human; we all have weaknesses. To quote the female astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, “Build your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.”
Think about your past failures or negative critiques and how you used them to be a better resident/fellow/radiologist. There is no need to admit any weaknesses you have that aren’t related to the job. If you have trouble thinking of examples, talk about something specific you’re working on to improve your work performance, perhaps through continuing education, research, or committee work. As previously mentioned, always talk up your strengths and frame your answer with a positive spin so that it demonstrates qualities such as growth, learning, and overcoming.
“Why should I hire you?”
Another question that seems to stymie candidates is “Why should I hire you?” If prepared with a strong answer, this can be an opportunity to make a slam dunk. For example: “I’ve read all I could find about the practice, talked to as many radiologists and staff members as I could about their experiences working with the group, evaluated the location and its opportunities for me and my family, and I think we would be a good match. I’m excited about the possibility of being able to do what I’m most interested in while bringing value to the group and fulfilling my career goals.”
This kind of answer does two things. It emphasizes that the candidate 1) did her homework and is able to make an informed decision about the suitability of the job, and 2) is concerned about the well-being of the group.
“Why did you leave your last job?”
If you left a job under less than desirable circumstances, you should carefully plan how to address questions related to that departure. These responses should be professional and honest. Responses could include: 1) “We came to a mutual agreement that this wasn’t a good fit, and I chose to look for positions more in alignment with my skills and values”, or 2) “Unfortunately, with the downturn we saw, including the loss of a major contract, the group had to eliminate several key positions, and I realized that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I moved on.”
If applying for a job that advertises flexible hours, work from home or excellent benefits in the job posting, the candidate can mention those qualities as a reason for looking at the new position. This would send the message to the employer that the candidate is a good fit.
“Do you have any questions for me/us?”
Below is a list of potential questions for the candidate to ask the interviewer. These are generic questions and you can make them more meaningful by knowing more about the group and its members. While it is fair to ask general questions about the amount of call and workflow model, the first interview is not the best time to delve into details about the call schedule or coverage. It is also not the time to inquire about salary or vacation time.
You don’t want to give the impression you’re more interested in compensation and vacation weeks than your contribution to the work environment and practice building. Such questions are best discussed during a second or final interview.
Questions for the candidate to ask the interviewer
- What would be your ideal candidate for this position?
- What is a typical workday like?
- What are the challenges this position faces?
- How would you define your group’s culture?
- What is the community like?
- What is an example of why someone didn’t work out in your group?
- How much of my daily workload will be in my subspecialty area?
- What are the criteria for partnership? Are all partners equal? What percentage of new hires become partners? When was the last time someone was made partner?
- What is your vision for the future of the group?
- How would you measure my performance? Would it be measured by RVUs?
- How is performance feedback delivered?
- What opportunities would I have to learn and grow?
- How did you get to your role?
- Is there anything I’ve said that makes you doubt I would be a great fit for this position?
- Are internal candidates being considered for the position? What is the timeline for hiring? Will I hear from you whether I’m offered the job or not? Will there be additional interviews with lead candidates? How is the candidate chosen – by committee?
Get to know the business side
Asking the right questions requires getting acquainted with the business side of medicine, which includes such issues as practice finances, compensation models, malpractice coverage, and health insurance payments. It’s common for many physicians fresh out of training not to know much about these topics. In a 2015 Medscape survey  of over 1600 physicians, 88% of medical residents/fellows and practicing physicians (when they began practicing) said they felt unprepared for the business aspects of medicine. A 2016 survey of physician job seekers by Merritt Hawkins found that 56% had not received any instruction in the business side of medicine. What’s more, 39% felt unprepared to handle the topic and only 10% felt very prepared .
There are resources available to help you gain a better understanding of the business side of medicine. The Johns Hopkins Department of Radiology offers an e-learning program, underwritten by the Radiological Society of North America, that includes a series of 24 lectures on “The Business of Radiology” . A textbook on the same topic published by the course presenter can be purchased as a companion to the course .
What NOT to ask
Certain questions should not be asked during an interview, including: 1) information that can be found through a simple Google search (e.g., how many members are in the group, what is the group’s competition), 2) anything related to information heard through the grapevine or gossip, 3) salary and promotions in the initial interview, 4) whether the group performs a background check (assume they will; asking will raise suspicion), or 5) deeply personal or invasive questions.
Interview “rules of thumb”
There are several basic interview “rules of thumb” and while some may seem like no-brainers, it’s important to get them right. These basics include arriving on time (which means arriving early), and knowing where you’re going. Also, be aware the interview starts the minute you walk in the door. Everyone you come into contact with can potentially be asked about you. Your goal is to win the vote of each of them, and establishing rapport can turn them into advocates. When the employer is weighing your requests for changes in the proffered contract, these internal advocates may likely ask management to make an exception for you.
Feeling good and looking good is also important to interview success. This means getting a good night’s sleep, eating a well-balanced meal prior to the interview, and dressing appropriately. In most circumstances, dress should consist of business attire (it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed).
You should greet the interviewer by shaking dry hands, smiling, and looking the interviewer in the eye. Also, be sure to stand and sit up straight (slouching in a chair could give the impression of nervousness and lacking energy) . Okay, I sound like your mother—but she was right; good posture is important.
When an interview entails dining, it’s important to remember that the interview is still going on. Interviewers will be evaluating a candidate even during meals to determine how the candidate acts in a social situation. Obviously, mind your table manners. Avoid drinking too much alcohol—also, beware finger foods and red sauce (I speak from experience).
Turn. Your. Phone. Off.
Phones should be turned off during an interview, unless it is a matter of life and death (and that should be shared with the interviewer).
Listen, don’t hog the spotlight
An interview is a conversation, not a monologue. Both parties should listen and learn as well as talk (reciprocity is a courtesy). It’s also not an audition for a Shakespearean drama. So, in addition to grandiose pontification, being overly self-serious should also be avoided. Self-deprecating humor is an attractive characteristic. Add a pinch, if possible.
Body language speaks volumes—good or bad—so be mindful of the non-verbal messages you may be sending. Leaning in, making eye contact, and not fidgeting says, “I’m interested and focused on what you’re saying.” Folding your arms across your chest suggests a defensive demeanor. A lot of leg movement is both distracting and indicates nervousness .
Don’t let ‘em see you sweat
How do you come across as calm, cool, and collected, when you’re nervous as heck? Both what you say, and HOW you say it are vital. Speaking in a clear and controlled voice conveys confidence. Aim to vary tone and pitch without coming across as too excited or emotional.
Breathe and pause before answering a question to give yourself time to react, absorb, and formulate an answer that you’re sure you can deliver in a confident manner. Practicing the interview scenario can help give you a better sense of how much energy and passion to project without appearing hyperactive.
Even when feeling anxious, (which is normal during a high-stakes interview), you can act confident. Don’t read too much into it if the interviewer doesn’t seem interested; the interviewer may very well act that way with everyone. If you think you blew an interview with one person, let it go before moving on to the next person. Your perception of the interview or your performance may not be accurate, so don’t let it throw you off your game. Also, in general, try to keep a healthy perspective. Yes, an interview is important—but at the end of the day, it’s just one interview.
Avoid negative language
Both parties will be turned off by negative language, such as badmouthing current or prior employers, colleagues, or institutions. Don’t speak ill of tasks you were asked to perform at your past job. Such language could cost you the job (or if not this job, a future opportunity). Even post-interview it is not wise not to be critical or badmouth anyone you’ve met during the interview process. It may come back to haunt you. Some would contend that the interview is never truly over because what doesn’t turn out to be a job one day may turn out to be a job prospect down the road. It’s always best not to burn bridges and to make allies, not enemies.
|Some would contend that the interview is never truly over because what doesn’t turn out to be a job one day may turn out to be a job prospect down the road.|
Overall, 25% of physicians starting new jobs will eventually leave, and a frequent reason is that their spouses are unhappy . Therefore, it’s a good idea to invite your spouse to come along if the position you are interviewing for would require a move. This can give your spouse or partner a chance to set up his or her own job interviews, check out schools, cultural attractions, housing options, and other such things that may help ensure mutual happiness with a move.
Some interviews are conducted as a panel, with multiple people interviewing a candidate at once around a large table. In these circumstances, the candidate should try to speak to and make eye contact with everyone in the room. You can follow the same agenda and make the same points when being interviewed by many as when being interviewed by one.
Within 24 hours of the interview, you should acknowledge the time and effort of interviewers with a thank-you note. When asked, “After interviewing a candidate, does receiving a thank-you email/note impact your decision-making process?”, 68% of hiring managers and recruiters replied that yes, it matters . An Accountemps’ survey found that 87% of employers said that email is an appropriate way to express thanks after an interview . Thank-yous should be personal, not generic, and relate to something that was discussed during the interview. If you’re interested in the job, definitely say so!
Want to learn more about how to set yourself up for career success? The ACR offers a course for residents and fellows called “Kickstart Your Career” that addresses topics such as completing an effective job search and finding your first job, interviewing (including mock interviews), deciding between academia and private practice, and evaluating a job offer. At the time of this writing, the course was last offered on October 26, 2019 .
- Shaw K. Finding the Right Physician Job: Identify and Land the Job, and Negotiate the Contract. Medscape. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/courses/business/100011. Accessed July 8, 2019
- Hawkins J. Medical residents and the “business” of medicine. Merritt Hawkins. March 17, 2016. https://www.merritthawkins.com/clients/BlogPostDetail.aspx?PostId=40523 Accessed July 8, 2019
- Johns Hopkins e-Learning Program. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/e-radiology/index.html. Accessed July 10, 2010
- Yousem DM, Beauchamp NJ. (2008) Radiology business practice: how to succeed, 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders
- Mantis J. 5 Ways to adjust your body language to come across as more confident in an interview. Available at: https://jobs.acr.org/career-resources/articles/?article=4&category=2&subcategory=3. Accessed July 3, 2019
- Harolds J. Successful recruiting of radiologists. J A Coll Radiol 2007; 4:240-247
- Augustine A. The importance of saying “thank you” after an interview. Available at: https://jobs.acr.org/career-resources/articles/?article=38&category=2&subcategory=10. Accessed July 3, 2019
- Augustine A. Avoid these common and costly interview follow-up mistakes. Available at: https://jobs.acr.org/career-resources/articles/?article=36&category=2&subcategory=10
- ACR Radiology Leadership Institute. Kickstart Your Career. Available at: https://www.acr.org/Practice-Management-Quality-Informatics/Radiology-Leadership-Institute/Programs-and-Training/Kickstart-Your-Career#Program. Accessed July 3, 2019