3 Topics Physicians Should Avoid In Interviews

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For young physicians, the job interview process can be a particularly nerve-wracking experience. After devoting years and years to your education, not to mention enormous sums of money, there is tremendous pressure to make a good impression on any potential employer.

At Physicians Thrive, our advisory team has helped thousands of doctors navigate the interview, contract review, and negotiation process. Over time, we have learned that the things you do not say in an interview can be just as impactful as the things that you do say. By sharing too much information in a job interview, you risk putting yourself at a disadvantage in the negotiating or job hunting process. 

Whether you’re interviewing for your first attending position or looking to change employers, it is important to consider how you will address (or not address) the following topics in a potential job interview:

1, Your personal connections in the area (if you plan to relocate) 

If you are interviewing for a practice that would require you to relocate, you may want to avoid going into too much detail about your personal connection to the region. 

Imagine a physician who has moved out-of-state for medical school and residency, and now plans to move back to their home state to find their first attending position. Sharing this information may seem like harmless small-talk in an interview, however, it can actually hurt your negotiating position. If an employer suspects that you are going to move to the area regardless of whether or not you get the position, they will be less likely to offer an attractive moving stipend. If they believe that you may have a pre-existing support system in the area, they may assume you are less in need of financial support for your move. 

Of course, it may not be realistic to completely avoid disclosing where you’re from. Still, by downplaying your personal ties to the area, you can better negotiate for financial assistance for your move. Avoid mentioning close family or friends in the area, or sharing that you’ve always wanted to live there. Then, if the employer wants to offer you the job, they’ll put in the effort to make it worth your while to relocate.

Related: How Moving Can Help Physicians Pay Off Student Loans

2. Plans to have children

The subject of child-care and parenting can be a sticky subject in interviews. It is an unfortunate reality that many physician employers may prefer to hire candidates who they believe will have fewer family obligations that may interfere with work. As a result, if you share too much information about your family situation or plans to have children, an employer may view you as a less appealing prospect. 

According the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employers cannot discriminate against a candidate due to pregnancy or related conditions, nor can they legally ask whether a candidate is pregnant. Similarly, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) prohibits “caregiver discrimination,” that is, discrimination against employees who may have to take leave in order to care for a newborn, sick child, or aging family member. 

With all that said, topics related to family and family planning may still come up during a  physician’s interview. The following questions may seem casual, but are technically unlawful for an employer to ask:

     • Do you have children? How many? What are their ages?

     • Are you single, engaged, married, or divorced?

     • What are your childcare arrangements?

     • Do you have plans to start a family?

     • What does your spouse do for a living?

There are several ways to approach this situation in a job interview. 

  1. First, if you suspect that serious, overt discrimination is taking place, you can always consult a legal professional. 
  2. Second, if you may decide that you prefer complete transparency right away in order to gauge whether this employer is committed to creating a family-friendly workplace. 
  3. Finally, you may decide to sidestep the issue. If an employer asks you an illegal interview question, such as “What kind of childcare plans do you have in place for your newborn?” You can say “I’m not comfortable answering that question.” Or, you may try to redirect the answer to to address the underlying intent of the question by responding, “Are you concerned about potential scheduling conflicts? I do not anticipate any absences or or scheduling conflicts with my work availability. “

Any of these approaches are completely valid ways to respond to questions related to family planning and obligations. Most importantly, we encourage doctors to think beforehand about how much they wish to share. Too often, physicians volunteer information about their personal life and family just to “break the ice,” without knowing that such information would actually be illegal for an employer to ask of them directly. No matter how much personal information you decide to tell a potential employer, it is important to consider how that information may impact the employer’s hiring decision. 

 

3. Your current salary

Sharing your current salary with a prospective employer can make it difficult to negotiate for a competitive salary, particularly if you were underpaid in previous positions. When an employer asks, “What is your current salary,” they are gathering information about your financial expectations and negotiating position. However, your compensation should be based on what you deserve, not based on what you earned at your last job. 

Many states and cities have banned employers from asking interview questions about salary history, because this line of inquiry perpetuates pay inequities. Imagine, for example, that a pulmonologist who currently earns $310,00 a year is trying to leave her job, in part because she knows she is earning far less than her market worth. A new employer who was initially prepared to offer $345,000 may lower their offer to $325,000 when they hear her current salary, reasoning that she should be satisfied with a 5% raise. 

Related: What Doctors Can Expect During Physician Salary Negotiation

A previously underpaying position should not limit your future earning potential. Thus physicians should be extremely careful about disclosing their salary history, especially if they suspect that their current salary is not an accurate reflection of their professional worth. If an employer asks “What is your current salary?” during an interview, there are several ways to avoid the question. First, you may say that you prefer to discuss the value of your role by focusing on industry benchmarks for your position. Second, you could offer a salary range rather than a specific figure. Finally, you can sidestep the query by explaining that your pay structure is based on a number of variables and you would have to consult with your tax professional for specifics. 

While it may feel uncomfortable to avoid answering a direct question about salary history, an off-the-cuff response could have a detrimental impact on your future compensation. Before you walk into an interview, plan how you will respond to questions about salary history and speak with a physician financial consultant to get the most accurate, detailed compensation metrics for your specialty. 

To learn more about the physician interview process, contract review, and compensation negotiation, talk with a Physicians Thrive advisor today. . 

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