Career Resources

The Job Interview: How to Sell Yourself … Subtly

Richard C. Dolan

Part of implementing a career plan in the highly competitive job market involves selling yourself in the interview. Books cover interviewing basics, but you can seldom find in them the finer points of interviewing for executive positions.

As a first step, apply fundamental rules of interviewing and common sense to all job-hunting situations. Managers who are accustomed to interviewing applicants often do a poor job when they sit on the other side of the desk as candidates. Sometimes they do ludicrous things. One executive, for example, showed up for an interview and asked a secretary to baby-sit his dog while he was being interviewed.

Stress Accomplishments

Decision-makers want to hear about your achievements. Simply expanding on your job description won't fill the bill. What's important are achievements that distinguish you from the next candidate. Applicants tend to talk about what they've been doing, but a good interviewer wants to know what you've done that sets you apart from the others. Candidates spend too much time detailing their job duties and responsibilities and often skip the specific accomplishments: the money they saved the organization, the increased market share, the specific clinical improvements.

The fact that you directed seven vice presidents and managed 1,500 people isn't all that important in a CEO interview. Instead, show the goals that you've set forth and accomplished. Of course, achievements vary depending upon the person's age and the level of the position. But in a CEO interview, the list of achievements may go back many years and still be considered relatively recent.

Accomplishments are often difficult to compile. And when the question is asked, some applicants have actually blanked out and said, "I'm embarrassed, but I can't think of anything." So be sure to spend time developing a list of accomplishments, naming the most important first. Make them specific and quantified. Don't be modest. If you've had solid achievements in your career and can honestly take credit for them, state them boldly.

Use Examples

Answer questions directly and concisely. But vary the length of your responses, and answer questions in a variety of styles and approaches to keep the interview alive. Use examples rather than lecturing to expand on points because a two-hour interview devoid of examples is too theoretical. Cite turnaround situations and programs you have implemented to improve the organization's overall financial and clinical health.

Let the Interviewer Talk

Be courteous to interviewers by letting them take the lead - especially early in the meeting. But size up the interviewer and interject comments that will control what should be a two-way communication.

When you're desperate - and in the company of an especially windy interviewer - it's appropriate to say, "Do you mind if I tell you something about my background and accomplishments?" Surprisingly, most interviewers aren't offended by such comments - if they're used sparingly and tactfully.

Ask Solid Questions

Investigate the opportunity in depth before you visit, and be ready to ask thoughtful questions about organizational issues. Employers are impressed with applicants who show knowledge and interest in the organization, especially about such issues as profitability, market share, and strategic planning.

Nothing makes candidates sound more inept and uninterested than saying, "I have no questions; you've covered it all." This might flatter an incompetent interviewer, but who wants to work for that kind of person?

Some sources that can be used to help research an organization are:

  • The American College of Healthcare Executives' Directory
  • The American Hospital Association's Guide to the Healthcare Field
  • The public relations office of the organization. They can supply an annual report and other background information

When the interviewer asks, "Do you have any questions?" be prepared to respond. Include professional questions that will impress the interviewer with your technical knowledge. For starters:

  • What are the responsibilities, duties, and accountabilities of the job?
  • What are the reporting relationships in the organization?
  • Why is this position open?
  • What do you perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of this organization?
  • Who are the specific people involved in the hiring decision?
  • Are there any unique elements of the job that I should know about?
  • What are the big problems here?

Pace the Interview

Keep the interview lively. Raise and lower your voice. Hesitate occasionally before answering questions. Gesture with your hands.

Some people use graphics and others don't. It's another form of making an interview more interesting. You might consider making a brief visual presentation that consists of:

  • Organizational charts to explain the structure of your organization.
  • Financial charts to demonstrate your performance.
  • Charts that explain results in medical staff recruitment, operations, and human resources.

Be flexible, but never sacrifice your integrity. Some candidates think they should always agree with the interviewer's viewpoint; others believe that taking a strong stand demonstrates confidence and assertiveness. I don't believe in a strict allegiance to either approach.

Project yourself as flexible by showing that there's more than one way to handle a given situation. Avoid controversial topics such as right to life and other issues that generate strong emotional reactions such as politics and religion. But don't always agree with the interviewer. In some instances, interviewers try to trap interviewees into agreeing with a stupid observation or opinion. If you're pressed for answers on a subject where you may disagree with the interviewer, be honest, but not argumentative. Walk away from the interview with a balance between flexibility and independence.

Show Your Humanity

Some candidates are overly concise on questions about hobbies, family, and sparetime activities. But these questions often mean the difference between getting an offer and a rejection. You may be competing with people whose qualifications and accomplishments are very similar to your own. The interviewer and others in the organization want to know that you'll fit. So let them get to know you as a person.

Telephone interviews, preparation of written material such as the resume, networking, research, and good grooming—they're all important. But selling yourself during the interview is the most critical part of implementing your career or job change.

This article is reprinted from Healthcare Executive.