Slam-dunk Your Professional Job Interview!
“In any job interview, you should prove that in your life you’ve achieved the goals that you set out to accomplish,” says Mark Morales. “Let your greatest accomplishments speak for themselves, and be sure to express that you truly want the job.”
Morales’ advice to allied health job seekers comes from extensive experience. He is currently the vice president of planning and placement at Dallas-based Texas Health Resources (THR). Recent recipient of the Momentum Award for job creation from the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce THR is one of the nation’s largest faith-based health care providers in the country, employing 16,800 workers.
“Even though there is a strong demand for individuals in allied health fields such as radiology, imaging and pharmacy, there is still aggressive competition for positions,” Morales warns. “Each facility is looking for the very best and brightest.
“THR is looking for candidates of both genders and all ethnic backgrounds,” he continues. “We’re looking for the best-qualified candidates, and we acknowledge and leverage the differences that out diverse employees bring to [THR].
“Your educational background may be what gets you the interview, but it is your experiences, personal style and communication skills that distinguish you from the others applicants,” Morales adds.
Every workplace calls for a different mix of qualities and skills; the attributes that make you a unique individual are exactly what will make you the perfect fit for the employer that’s right for you.
What Employers Want
Darrell Pratt is the leader of the Health Professions Support Team of Washington, D.C.-based Indian Health Service (IHS). Federally funded IHS serves 1.6 million American Indian and Alaska Native patients and employs 15,000 workers and 9,000 contract providers.
“The job applicant who comes to us is generally motivated to help people and to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities,” comments Pratt. “We look for people who are interested in other cultures.
We would like to have as many Indian health care providers as we can, and the number has increased substantially over the past several years. The reality is, however, that there aren’t enough to fill all of our positions, so we look for employees who are sensitive and compassionate but not condescending someone who cares about what happens to other people and is able to demonstrate that.”
Thomas A. Pascuzzi, MD is president and CEO of Santa Fe-based Northern New Mexico Emergency Services, PC, which provides emergency-room services to area hospitals. “Our community is very multicultural; we interact with a diverse population in the emergency room (ER), so it helps to have someone who can speak the different languages that we encounter,” he observes.
“I look for employees who are willing to work really hard. ER medical technicians, ER radiology techs, ER ultrasonographers and others have to thrive in a high-pressure environment.
“To work in ER, you have to be energetic. Even though you will be tired at the end of a shift, you will get the fulfillment of making an impression on a lot of people’s lives, and even saving lives,” says Pascuzzi.
Pratt reminds applicants to “read the announcement for the job!” Pay attention to what the qualifications are and what is being asked for in terms of abilities, knowledge, skills and experience,” he adds. “Carefully plan how you will answer the question that underlies all interviews: ‘How do your qualifications fit our needs?'”
If you have only the basic qualifications and presently lack some of the skills asked for in the job description, can you still land the job? During the interview, be truthful. The employer may not be able to find one person with all the ideal qualities and skills. If you’re willing to learn, you may turn out to be the best candidate for the job.
“Maybe the most important thing I look for,” Pascuzzi muses, “is a person who’s looking to grow. Those people do a good job in any position because they have an openness and a desire to learn new things and take on new challenges.”
All career experts stress the importance of researching an organization before the interview. After all, thanks to your resume and cover letter, your interviewer has background information on you; shouldn’t you be armed with ample information about the organization?
Check recent newspapers and business magazines for reports about the organization and industry trends that may affect its prospects, and take some time to explore the organization’s Web site. Ask yourself some basic questions: Does their stated mission fit your values? Do you see women’s faces and faces of color among the photos of senior managers? Is it a large organization, offering varied opportunities for advancement, or a small one, where you won’t be boxed into a narrow specialty? And which do you prefer?
It’s also important to take time for personal introspection. Figure out exactly what you need and want from a job. And consider the pay range. Darrell Pratt notes that the IHS salaries are “livable, but if money is what drives you, then this isn’t the place for you.”
Location is also an important consideration. Many IHS facilities are located in small settlements near some of America’s wildest, loveliest and emptiest areas paradise for some, but not for all. “Sit down with a map and see exactly where the organization is located,”
Pratt advises. “Call the facility and speak with someone about lifestyle and professional concerns.
“People really need to be upfront about their concerns and needs,” Pratt emphasizes. Other experts agree: “If we can’t meet the potential employee’s needs, then everyone has to move on.
“For us, the bottom line is our patients,” Morales says. “We’re not doing our patients any service if we supply them with health care providers who don’t really want to be there.”
An onsite visit is also recommended. “You don’t really get a sense of an organization until you walk through the waiting room or lobby,” Morales remarks. “Visiting [the organization] gives you a clear understanding of the facility, the location and the community.”
Ready, Set, Go!
When it comes to words of advice for the actual day of the interview, the most important advice is to “be on time!” Morales admonishes. “Allow yourself extra time by arriving 10 to 15 minutes before the interview.”
When you step through the door for your professional interview, you have to look presentable. “If you are dressed appropriately, others will respond appropriately,” Morales declares. Be extra-clean and neat fingernails scrubbed; hair freshly washed and combed; beard or moustache, if any, trimmed; and shoes shined. “The patients we’re serving expect a level of professionalism,” Pascuzzi explains. “Your clothing doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should look nice and neat. Things like flip-flops or un-tucked shirts aren’t really the best way to present yourself.”
Also, remember to bring extra copies of your resume and references, and bring a pad of paper and pen to take notes. And if women are wearing nylons, they should bring an extra pair in case of an unexpected run.
When you meet the interviewer for the first time, look him or her in the eye and give a “good, firm handshake. Avoid nervous mannerisms, fiddling with things and giggling,” Morales advises. “Stay away from slang and don’t speak in a monotone. Speak with some inflection, smile, look interested, demonstrate good body posture and maintain great eye contact!” he continues.
Be prepared with specific examples of how you have achieved your accomplishments. Pick out several key stories that demonstrate your abilites, Morales suggests. Each story should illustrate a point that you want to highlight during the interview. “One specific example is worth half a dozen vague references,” he says.
For example, when asked, “How do you keep organized?” You might reply, “During my internship, I liked to come in a few minutes early. I would prioritize my tasks so that I would be ready to begin work with the most urgent task.”
If it’s hard for you to “brag” about yourself, imagine that you are describing a good friend whose work you respect. The only way that the interviewer can learn about this person is through what you say, so present the best image that you can. Don’t let the interviewer miss out on learning about such a great job candidate!
“Listen carefully to exactly what the interview is asking,” Morales urges, “and clearly answer that question. If you don’t understand what’s being asked, get further clarification, then respond to that question and don’t ramble.”
“Interviewers are not going to purposely try to trip you up,” Morales explains. “They want accurate, succinctly information; they are not going to ask a trick question.”
Interviewers have some favorite questions, however, that are not meant to be deceptive but are especially complex for minority and immigrant applicants. For example, an interviewer may ask, “What made you decide on a career in this field?” The interviewer assumes that the decision was yours alone and is curious what basic talents and life-long interests make you well suited to the profession. Some applicants, however, went into a particular field because their family decided it would be best. Stating that your chosen profession was your family’s idea may lead the interview to believe you cannot think for yourself. Downplay this part of your reasoning, and instead list some of the other reasons underlying your decision. A radiologic technologist might answer, “I’ve always been interested in technology. Even as a child, I tinkered with electronics. I also have a deep desire to be of service to others. So this field seemed like a good fit for me.”
Another “trick” question is, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” The interviewer hopes to put you at ease and to get a more accurate understanding of you as a person. This is an opportunity to relax for a minute. Do smile as you answer and allow yourself to calm down a bit, but don’t go on and on about sports, hobbies, family and travel. Interviews typically last only 30 to 60 minutes, so there isn’t much time to chat. Simply mention one or two things you like to do, and then turn the conversation back to the interviewer’s interests or to the work at hand.
A busy mother might answer, “We like to spend a lot of time together as a family. That must be your family photo on your desk cute kids!” Or she might say, “We like to spend a lot of time together as a family, and I’m glad that everyone helps out with the children. It allows me to give my undivided attention to my work while I’m on the job.”
During an interview you should never discuss salary or benefits before an actual job offer is made, even if the interviewer brings it up. Make some general comment, such as “I’m sure the pay will be fair in terms of my qualifications and the responsibilities of the job,” and then go back to showing how your qualifications fit the responsibilities of the job.
The interviewer will probably invite you to ask some questions of your own. Be ready with some questions about the work, the equipment, the organization’s growth plans anything except pay and benefits. Your questions should show your interest in contributing to the team’s success. After you are offered the job, there will be plenty of time to discuss vacation time, sick days and bonuses.
Honesty Is Best
“Be honest about what you put on your application and what you say during an interview,” Pascuzzi says. “Be straightforward about what you’ve done and what you haven’t done yet. Don’t try to go in there and be someone you’re not,” he recommends. “By the time you’ve applying for jobs in the health care profession, you’ve already achieved a lot. You’ve shown that you’re willing to work hard and do what it takes.
“When you go into the interview, be confident. Describe the type of person you are, the type of work you like to do, and the type of job you do,” he concludes.
After the interview, send a quick thank-you note right away. Re-emphasize what makes you the right person for the job, and say you enjoyed meeting with the interviewer and discussing the job. If the employer doesn’t call you back within the timeframe indicated at the end of the interview, follow up with a telephone call.
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