The Phone Interview – When a graduating resident/fellow begins the search for their first job, or when a practicing physician starts looking for a new career opportunity, the process is going to start with a phone interview.  Even with a growing physician shortage, hospitals and private practices are not going to invest thousands of dollars bringing a physician in for a site visit and personal interview based on a resume and cover letter.  This is even truer when one considers that over 80% of physicians relocate when accepting a new job.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if you cannot perform well in the phone interview, you will not have the opportunity to perform at all in a personal interview.  Yet, many young physicians are totally unprepared for this critical first step in the interview process.  You may be a perfect match for the opportunity you have targeted.  You may have roots in the community and exactly the training and skill sets that the interviewer is seeking.  But if you don’t communicate these assets, if you fumble for answers, if you do not have basic information at your fingertips and if you are unable to project enthusiasm and confidence over the phone lines you may not get another opportunity to sell yourself.

Some physicians approach the phone interview with little hope of receiving an invitation to visit for a face to face interview.  The opportunity may be all the way across the continent and the job description may seem to be a very loose fit.  Make no mistake, hospitals and practices are looking for the best people.  And with the enormous revenue a quality physician brings to the table, relocation is rarely a consideration.  And you may find half way through the phone interview that the opportunity is a much better fit than you first imagined.

So my advice to any physician preparing for a phone conversation with a prospective employer is treat the phone interview exactly like you would treat a site visit.  And I mean that quite literally.  Do your research, have the company or facility web site up on your computer; find a quite spot for the call where there can be NO POSSIBLE INTERUPTIONS; set as your objective nothing less than an invitation to visit the client.  Here are some tips that will help you ace the phone interview:

1. Dress for success.  It may sound absurd but wear business attire for the call.  After over 25 years of interviewing physicians, I can almost visualize how the candidate is dressed by the way they project themselves during a phone interview.  If you have just come in from your morning jog and are still in your gym shorts and sweat shirt, you simply cannot project well.  Take a shower; slip into your business attire; take a moment to collect your thoughts.

2. I once read that a phone interview is like an open book exam…and it is.
  Lay out all of the materials that you will need to properly present your case.  Have your cover letter, resume, company research, questions you plan to ask and questions you expect to answer.  Being prepared will resonate in your voice and come through loud and clear in your complete answers and probing questions.

3.  Be prepared to answer the single most important question in any long distance phone interview: “Why are you interested in our community, our practice and our opportunity?”  And then be prepared for the follow-up: “Why are you looking to pull up stakes and move your practice and your family half way across the country?”  I can’t tell you how many times candidates blew themselves out of the water with answers like: “I really don’t want to relocate but your opportunity aroused my curiosity.”  or “I’m looking for the best clinical opportunity; my family will go where I go.”  Or my favorite: “I wasn’t aware that relocation would be involved.”  

4. Here’s a tip I picked up from Paul Bailo, CEO of Phone Interview Pro and author of "The Essential Phone Interview Handbook."  Find a picture of the person with whom you will be interviewing (check LinkedIn, Face Book and other online resources).  Tack the picture up above the phone and speak directly to the image.  I’ve actually tried the technique and it works!  It somehow makes the interviewer more human and less intimidating.  

5. If you liked what you heard, ask for the visit.  Ask what the next step in the process will be.  Ask how your experience and skill sets match up with their opportunity.  Express your interest in taking things to the next level.  Ask when you can visit them in person.

The phone interview is every bit as important, every bit as demanding and potentially just as rewarding as a face to face interview.  Remember the Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”