4 Tips to Improve Interviews

By Barb Daiker, PhD, RN, FACMPE, MGMA member, manager of quality, Minnesota Medical Association, Minneapolis
Originally published on the MGMA Blog on March 6, 2015
Republished with permission from MGMA

After interviewing at least 200 people for open positions ranging from entry-level to director of operations, I know how hard it is to sort through an applicant’s information and organize interview notes with reference material and background checks. Here are four tips for new and experienced managers to consider before the next interview:

Know what you want today, tomorrow

Pause before you start advertising an open position. Think about the skills you must have in a candidate and keep this list short. Does the person need a license, management experience, the ability to manage budgets? Use this list to sort applicants into the following skillset and experience categories:

  • Has
  • Has some
  • Does not have

While the list should be short, keep your options open for someone with a skillset you might need next year. For example, you need to improve patient flow for efficiency and quality purposes, but once that issue is addressed you might want to incorporate telehealth into your services. The skills needed to improve patient flow are different than what someone needs to assess and implement telehealth. The challenge is to hire someone who will meet today’s needs as well as what you need tomorrow.

Be thorough

As you prepare to interview candidates in the “has” category, read resumes carefully. Look for employment gaps, discontinuity in responsibilities or nontraditional responsibilities in a certain job. Develop questions that are unique to the candidate and will provide insight into skills and background. For example, ask about promotions, responsibilities that exceeded a traditional role or work experience that is out of the ordinary, such as a different industry or an unexpected location.

Keep your company overview to 15 minutes tops. Candidates should have researched the company and position ahead of time so provide them with a comprehensive job description and only answer questions about the job instead of restating the job description.

“Tell me about a time …”

Identify particularly challenging aspects of the position and ask open-ended questions that elicit information. For example, if a position requires a candidate to implement new initiatives, you might say, “Tell me about a time when you implemented a new project and it didn’t go well. What happened and how did you address the problem?” If there are staff conflicts, consider this question: “Tell me about a time when interpersonal conflict was negatively affecting the workplace. What was the situation and how did you handle it?” Listen for details of how a candidate responded to the situation. A strong response will give you a sense of the situation, including how it affected the organization. Ideally the candidate will also share what he or she learned from the situation and how it affects his or her management approach. It is not a poor response if a candidate did not solve the problem, but make sure you hear what the candidate learned from the experience. If an answer is hypothetical, ask for actual experiences.


Sometimes reference checks or other conversations lead to more questions so don’t be afraid to bring the candidate back in for another interview or schedule a call to explore an issue. You might want clarification on work experience, more information about an issue raised by a reference or you might see something new in a resume or cover letter that raises questions.

Once I tried to speed up the hiring process. Instead of using a three-step process — interviews with me, with me and our clinical manager and then with me and the department’s lead physicians — I did a telephone interview and had successful candidates meet with the clinical manager, physicians and me all at once. What a mistake! If we stuck with the three-step process, none of these candidates would have passed the second step. We wasted physician time and cast a poor light on the process.

Hiring is art and science. These tips will not guarantee success, but they might help you look at candidates in a new way.


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