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Interviewer Skills for the New-in-Practice Pathologist

You’re probably used to being interviewed, having gone through medical school, residency, fellowship, and job interviews. But are you proficient at interviewing others? Being an effective interviewer takes a bit of preparation and practice, and those you interview will be looking to you to lead the conversation.

As a new-in-practice pathologist, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be involved in interviewing and recruitment, possibly soon after settling into the job yourself. In academics, there’s also the annual recruitment of residents and/or fellows. It’s important to understand that your approach to the interview and the questions asked will vary depending on what position you’re trying to fill. It’s worthwhile to invest some up-front effort when interviewing to find someone with both the necessary qualifications and who’s a good cultural fit. Identifying the best candidates makes your life easier in the long run and prevents having to go through the whole resource-consuming process all over again within a short amount of time.

Be Prepared: Timely, Organized, and Knowledgeable about Candidate

Preparation is just as important for someone conducting an interview as it is for the candidate. Make sure you have service coverage and are at your designated interview spot a few minutes before the scheduled interview time. Showing up late, harried, or completely forgetting about the interview does not convey a good impression or interest in the candidate. In addition, understanding what your organization or practice needs are, the job description and expectations, and the candidate’s qualifications can make the interview more efficient and directed. Reviewing the candidate’s CV and cover letter ahead of time can guide your questions and reassure the candidate that you took the time to prepare. Does the candidate’s training fit with the group or department’s needs? Do they have strong recommendation letters from respected and trusted individuals? What other qualifications or experiences make them stand-out? Are there any red flags?

Be Prepared: To Answer Difficult Questions

You should be prepared to answer the candidate’s questions about not only your practice, but also interactions with clinical colleagues, benefits, opportunities for advancement, cost of living, and potentially more difficult questions such as any drawbacks they should be aware of. You should not use interviews to complain about your colleagues, boss, practice, etc. Try to remain objective and factual when answering questions regarding your workplace environment. Pathology is a small world, and damaging words can travel far and fast, so be careful what you say and how you say it. If questions arise regarding compensation, it’s best to defer to your practice leaders and/or department chair.

Represent Well: Marketing is a Component of Interviewing

As much as you are evaluating a candidate for a position, you are also serving as a representative for your practice. Securing the best candidates does mean some element of marketing yourself and your practice. Dress professionally and demonstrate good posture. Don’t forget to smile and use open body language. Be authentic and practice active listening. Make the candidate feel welcome and comfortable in the interview environment, which helps build positive connections from the beginning. Offering water or coffee and bathroom breaks between interviews should be standard.

Be Consistent: Ask Similar Questions of all Candidates

Questions should be fairly consistent between candidates to enable you to compare responses. Having a list of open-ended questions in writing will help you organize the interview. Avoid illegal questions about age, marital/family status (including kids), birthplace, country of origin, nationality, criminal record, disabilities, race, affiliations, military service, or religion. Steer clear of personal questions. Instead, focus on questions that relate to the essential functions of the job and the candidate’s qualifications and ability to fulfill those functions. For example, asking about prior illness or surgeries is illegal, but asking whether the candidate can travel to other sites is okay, as long as you pose the same to all the candidates. Avoid having the candidate repeat their CV, although your interview could be a good time to delve into more detail.

Practice and Be Aware of Visual Cues

Try some behavioral interviewing by asking about the candidate’s contributions to projects, experiences working in a lab environment, leadership experience, etc. It’s fine to chat about common interests if it makes the candidate feel more at ease and creates a connection, but don’t let the whole interview fly by without evaluating what you need to evaluate. Take the time to listen carefully to responses… it’s distracting and discouraging for candidates to see an interviewer ask a half-hearted question and then lose eye contact, check their watch, or fidget. The majority of the interview should be spent listening to the candidate’s responses, not barraging them with questions or information about yourself or anything unrelated to the job. Also, take the time to observe non-verbal cues… does the candidate appear engaged and genuinely interested in the conversation or do they appear distant, distracted, or apathetic? Keep things friendly and professional, and try to focus on the candidate’s fit for the position and the workplace culture rather than whether you personally like the individual.

The Optional Slide Test 

Pathologists have mixed opinions about slide tests or clinical case discussions when recruiting other pathologists, but it is an option for assessing the candidate’s approach to cases and their thought process. Similarly, a job talk can help assess the candidate’s presentation skills and ability to organize information. In most cases, the slide test or job talk will not make or break an interview unless the candidate demonstrates truly poor, way below average skills. However, these practical assessments could serve as a differentiating data point when comparing several strong candidates. Someone who holds up well under the stress or pressure of a case discussion or job talk may be more likely to adapt in other difficult work situations. If a test is given, make sure it is open-ended on what the differential is and what tests should be ordered. You are trying to ascertain their skill level and diagnosis process, not ‘grade’ them on correct answers.

Concluding the Interview

Of course, be sure to end the interview on time so that others have the same opportunity to meet the candidate without having to rush. A handshake, smile, and something along the lines of, “It was great to meet you” should suffice when handing the candidate off. Do not make promises or comment about other candidates. Even if the candidate wasn’t a good fit for the position, it doesn’t hurt to leave them feeling like they just had a positive and informative interview with you. If possible, take a few moments to jot down any impressions or thoughts about the candidate while the interview is still fresh in your mind. If all goes well, your effective interviewing skills will translate into successful hires. Remember that it’s the people who really make a pathology practice or lab shine!

Summary Points

  • Being a good interviewer takes preparation and practice
  • Be on time, with service coverage, and having reviewed the candidate packet
  • Be prepared to answer difficult questions about culture or professional environment – be truthful, but not disparaging
  • Dress well, be an active listener, and smile! (You want your practice to seem inviting)
  • Ask similar questions of all candidates, it will help when deciding between several good candidates
  • DO NOT ask about age, marital status, kids, disability, race, religion, or politics – these could be grounds for a lawsuit. IF they mention their kids you may say something along the lines of “Oh, you have kids? We are a very family friendly place” But do not belabor them with more questions and do not ask if they plan on having any more
  • Slide tests may be given, but should be made to evaluate their thought process/differential, not looking a specific answer (unless extremely straightforward)
  • End with a handshake and a simple “Nice to meet you”. Do not promise offers you can’t make and never mention other candidates

Sample Interview Questions

  • What drew you to pathology? 
  • What excites you about the future of pathology?
  • What are some of your experiences in leadership roles? 
  • Tell me about a time when you helped implement an improvement in the pathology lab.
  • Tell me about a recent challenge you’ve faced and how you handled it.
  • Why do you want to work here in particular?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?

Roseann I. Wu, MD, MPH, FCAP, is a staff pathologist and assistant professor of clinical pathology & laboratory medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine/University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. She has clinical and educational responsibilities in cytopathology, breast and pulmonary surgical pathology, and medical pathology. Her interests include fine-needle aspiration, organized pathology, and innovative ways to deliver pathology education.

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