Unsure how to prepare for a nonclinical career interview? Many doctors don’t know what to expect from industry interviews. If you’re stressing about how to approach challenging interview questions, listen to this episode and feel confident you can nail the nonclinical interview.
In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:
- What to include and what to leave out of your answers – and why
- The real reason you’re being asked three tough questions
- How to prepare and research for specific interviews
Today’s topic covers helps you navigate the top three interview questions nearly everyone struggles with: Why are you leaving your current job? What is your biggest weakness, or a time you failed? What are your salary expectations?
In this Episode:
[1:20] Setting the stage for why these questions are tough
[4:30] Leaving for the right reasons
[10:25] An opportunity to show how you learn and demonstrate self-awareness
[15:00] The compensation conundrum – considerations for how to answer the ‘salary’ question
Links and Resources:
Industry Insider – 12 hours of CME, learn exactly how to land a rewarding nonclinical career without a new degree, connections on the inside, prior experience, or a pay cut
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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 112 – How to Answer the Three Hardest Interview Questions
Hey there, welcome back. Today I’m going to be answering some of the hard interview questions or I guess, answering the question of how to answer the hardest interview questions that have come my way from the clients that I’ve worked with over the years, and also just from other colleagues, as we talk about, you know, what is sort of easy to do when looking for a job and what is the stuff that people feel the most uncertainty, or they feel the most awkward or the least confident about their interview questions.
First, the question of why you’re leaving your current job. The second one is the sort of dreaded like, what is your biggest weakness? Or tell me about a time that you failed? And then the third one, what are your salary expectations?
I know people hate that one, because they’re worried that they’re either going to sort of lowball themselves, right, they’re going to suggest a lower number than they would otherwise be able to negotiate because they don’t know the industry standard, or that they’re going to name a figure that is far higher than they could reasonably expect to earn. And that somehow that would get them eliminated. And so we’ll talk about that.
Before I give you my thoughts on answering those three questions, I want to remind you to come check out Industry Insider, this is my online course. It is a CME accredited course.
And you can learn all about the skills that you would need, from understanding your own transferable skills and strengths in a different way to apply outside of clinical and academic medicine, to how to understand the how to look for jobs, how to understand the job descriptions, what are employers really looking for, figuring out how to package yourself up so that you meet those expectations into a resume, understanding how to grow your network within that new community that you aspire to join professionally, understanding how to ace that interview, once you get one.
And all the way down to understanding what offers look like and how to negotiate them, as well as the potential which I think is actually not as common as many people think.
But if you do need to develop some additional skills or training before you would be a strong candidate, we’ll talk about how to do that as well.
It’s all in industry insider, it’s helped so many of your colleagues make a successful transition from academic or clinical medicine into the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. So if that’s of interest that can help you to come check it out.
Alright, let’s dig into hard question number one, why are you leaving your current job? Right? Why do you want to leave? Many, many people that I work with have a variety of reasons that they want to leave.
And very often, among those reasons are one of the sort of driving reasons, the catalyst reason usually has something to do with the overall culture or environment of medicine today. So sometimes it’s because they feel they work in a toxic place.
I’ve actually heard extremely commonly that people feel they’ve been discriminated against on a regular basis at work, or that they’re subjected to certain inequities and unfair workplace practices.
And increasingly, which is heartbreaking, increasingly, there’s a certain amount of burnout, loss of autonomy, loss of respect, loss of fulfillment, you know, feeling that they’re a cog in the wheel in some kind of crazy bureaucracy, that just doesn’t feel like medicine anymore.
These are common. So if you’re nodding your head along, like, yeah, everyone has some of this. This is usually not the only reason that people want to leave. But it is often the kind of thing that makes them wake up one morning and say, I just can’t take this anymore, I’m going to look for something else to do very often is wrapped up in one of these couple things.
It’s not going to surprise you, if you think about it, to know that those are not attractive things to a prospective employer. Nobody is going to hear oh, man, you are currently in a really toxic environment, I would love to hire you for that.
It just doesn’t really make the leap, right? It’s not your fault. If you’re working in a toxic environment. Or if you have burnout, or culture discrimination or what have you. None of that’s your fault.
But it does not paint the picture of why someone should want to hire you because it doesn’t focus on what you would bring to the table. So when they’re considering their candidates, they want to know what you’re going to bring to the table and having come from a negative environment or wanting to get out of that environment does not answer that question.
So it’s not appealing, and it really shouldn’t be part of your story, even if it is very true. Employers want to know not only what are you going to bring to the table, but they also want to know that you have some idea of what you are getting into, right? They want to know that you’re not just trying, you know, jumping off of a ship into whatever lifeboat will hire you, but that you actually are interested in the role and in the company, right that they have, right?
They want to know that you want to come and join them. And in order for them to believe that they need to understand that you understand the nature of the job and I realize if you haven’t done it before, it would be a new industry to you.
You’re going to be learning a lot on the job. but it’s not really realistic that you’ve come in fully understanding what you’re getting into. But they are going to want to have a general sense of what you think you would be doing there and that you would enjoy it.
This is really important, because if they’re going to hire you, and I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, if they’re going to hire you, they’re going to be investing a lot of time and time is money, especially at these companies to train you and onboard you over a long period of time, you know, three to six months very often, before a physician can really begin to make a meaningful contribution in their new role if they’ve just completely pivoted industry.
So they’re going to want to know that if they make the investment to hire you, that you will be able to be retained, because not only will you be bringing something good to the table, so they will want you but you will want to stay. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. But they’re sort of taking a chance, right?
They’re gambling on everybody. If they’re bringing you in from outside industry, this is your first role. They want to know that you understand what you’re getting into, and that you’re going to like it and you’re going to want to stay. That’s really important.
So when you’re describing what you want to leave, what you want to do is think about where you’re going, and the kind of work and the kind of contribution and impact that that company’s work does, right.
And so for many, many healthcare organizations outside of clinical medicine, this is in some sort of macro level, facilitating health care, either bringing innovation to healthcare, developing new devices, new technologies, new medicines, advancing the science of how we understand, you know, all of physiology and pathophysiology and pharmacology, advancing the standard of care and the way that we take care of patients, advancing the tools that are available to physicians, and to their patients, and potentially a facilitating health care delivery.
And so here, I’m getting a little bit outside of my own sphere, but I’m thinking about things like Mark Cuban’s new cost plus drug company, which is a medication delivery service, essentially, that is low cost, right intended to get medicines, particularly generic medicines, to consumers at a really reasonable out of pocket cost.
That that could be one or of working for the insurance companies could be one working for a utilization management, whether on the side of insurance companies or within the hospitals, or even now we’re getting into electronic medical records and billing. And there’s all kinds of roles for physicians and all of those places. Again, this is a little bit outside of my shop.
But as you think about all of the ways in which a person can make a difference in health care on a macro scale that ultimately does impact patients. But that is via a different nature of work that is not in the clinic, or in the operating room or whatever, between a physician and a patient.
That’s the kind of thing that you’d like to be able to describe what appeals to you about that company and how you would do that. So a great place to understand the company and be sure that that feels authentic to you is on their website and understanding their mission, their mission statement, their value statements, their FAQs, all of the about us, like as much as you can learn about that.
So that you can find the pieces of that that really resonate with you. And you can speak to them. That’s really important. And of course, it has to be something that feels authentic to you. Because this is not when I say your story, I don’t mean something that’s fictional that you’re making up.
But I mean, how are you telling, telling the progression of your career and how does this all fit into your career progression. And then not only to include a little bit about what you understand, and what appeals to you about the new role, or the new industry or that company.
So that’s, that’s good. But also to be able to describe your interest in learning more, or in growing and developing professionally in a new direction, or with a new skill set that is always very attractive, helps people to have confidence that you are a lifelong learner, that you’re interested in learning new things, that you’re comfortable coming into an environment where you’re not necessarily expert, you don’t know everything already.
So those are important things. And I’m hoping that they are true for you, right, because I’m saying not to talk about some of the negatives that you want to get away from, but to talk about the positives that you hope to go to.
And these are some examples of how you can put that together. So when someone asks you why you’re leaving, it’s not because you hate your current job. It is because you have some professional aspiration, ambition, to grow, to develop, to learn and to make a contribution on that macro scale or within that kind of industry in that way.
That’s what you want to be able to talk about, and you want to be able to talk about it in a way that is true for you.
All right, difficult interview. Question number two to tell me about your biggest weakness or about a time that you failed, you know, tell me about a big failure. So, you know, I mean, almost in a cliche way, a lot of people say you know, well, you answer this question by actually saying a strength.
I disagree with that entirely. So you don’t want to say, you know, my biggest weakness is I’m a perfectionist or whatever. That’s actually really that, that’s not a useful way to answer these questions.
And the reason for that is, the purpose behind asking these questions is to try to uncover whether or not you have any self awareness. It’s an opportunity for them to get a window into your maturity, your level of self awareness, your level of insight, and also how you approach learning on a sort of day to day or month to month basis, right?
If you have success, how do you learn from that? And if you have a setback or a failure? How do you learn from that? And if you have weaknesses? How do you mitigate those weaknesses? Or how do you leverage the strengths that you do have?
Or how do you leverage your team or whatever is the case, in order to, to not let those weaknesses hold you back. So this is really an opportunity.
So you do want to talk about a weakness or a failure, you want to talk about one, as I’ve always said, it has to be authentic. And I think it’s fair to take something that is not the worst. It doesn’t need to be the biggest failure of your life, it doesn’t need to be the most profound weakness that you have.
It doesn’t need to be, you know, the one thing that is like you’re in a confessional on reality TV where you have to tell them the deepest, darkest secret. That’s not what this question is about.
So you don’t have to do that. And the best way to avoid being in that situation is to prepare in advance to think about a story or two that illustrate a failure or a weakness that are, you know, significant enough that a person would agree Oh, yeah, that’s a weakness, right, that they’ll understand your story.
But again, it doesn’t have to be the biggest disaster, or the biggest mistake that you’ve ever caused. That’s not really helpful. Because again, when you think about the purpose of the question, it is that opportunity to show insight, self awareness, maturity, learning, growing.
So you want to pick something where people can understand the story, they can understand the weakness, or they can understand the failure, if you have a great story with high stakes consequences, and it worked out really well.
And there’s a great sort of output afterwards. I mean, you can do that. But you don’t have to do that. What I’m suggesting, though, is that you give some careful thought to, you know, what is something that didn’t work out the way that you had hoped? Either because of what is perceived to be a weakness on your part, or just because it didn’t work out? And what did you learn from that?
And how would you apply it to do it differently in the future? So again, my advice around this question is, first and foremost, don’t deflect it, by trying to portray a weakness as a strength as a weakness or what have you.
And you also don’t need to sabotage yourself by telling your deepest, darkest secrets around failure, what you want to do is pick something that’s easy to understand.
And that shows that when things don’t work out perfectly, that you have ways of recovering from that, learning from it and applying it differently in the future. Or if it’s a weakness, that you have ways of either developing that right that you have, you can show that you’ve taken some steps to improve your skills in that area.
Or that you’ve taken some steps to frankly, just leverage some of your teammates or some some, you know, external support to help make sure that you get it right.
Not everybody is good at everything. And not everybody is perfect. And your hiring managers and panels know that. So they don’t want you to pretend to be perfect, and it is okay to speak openly and honestly and transparently about some setbacks or about some things that are not your strongest suit.
And I think striking the right balance is really important. But again, the most important thing is advanced preparation so that when you’re asked this question, you have something to answer.
That gets to the sort of question behind the question, right? The reason that they’re asking, which we’ve already talked about, is not just to like get you into a confessional, but it is to understand how you think about yourself and your work, and how you recover and learn and move forward and mitigate risk.
Okay, finally, and this one I’m asked all the time, it really catches people by surprise, I think when they are talking to an HR screener, and that person, just point blank asks them in the middle of the conversation, what are you earning? What’s your salary today? Or what are your salary expectations?
And then of course, for others, it’s it’s maybe a question on a form field with, you know, within the application process itself, and so this really has a tendency to cause people to freeze and it strikes panic in their hearts because, as I talked about, before, they are afraid of getting this wrong in some way, and if you could see now would use air quotes around wrong, they’re afraid that they’re either gonna say a number that’s so low that then they won’t, even if they get the job, right that they won’t get an offer.
That is a good offer. And again, air quotes and the good offer, right, because they don’t know, the benchmark data.
And you know, this is where having a career transition coach who really knows the industry can help you, or where there are some, you know, resources, and where your network can really help you to understand, you know, what is a good offer, have those conversations with my clients all the time, but in any case, people are afraid they’re either going to throw out a number that’s too low, because they frankly, they don’t want to be eliminated, right?
They’re afraid that if they say a number that’s too high, that somehow that’s going to disqualify them, or make them less likely to be interviewed.
And I understand these fears, for sure. I mean, nobody wants to be underpaid. A lot of people transitioning careers really just want to transition careers. And so they would be willing to take a slightly lower offer in order to begin to get some of that professional experience and get a foot in the door. But of course, we all have bills to pay. So people do have a minimum that they need to earn, they do have a salary expectation.
I think generally speaking, the way to respond to this, if you’re having a conversation, is to tell the person that you’re speaking with that, it is really something that you would need to consider in terms of the role itself. And that is the best fit, you know, like if this is a really great fit between you and the company, and the role is really exciting, then you would look at the total compensation package and be able to have that conversation then.
And that maybe it’s just premature. And you can’t have that conversation today. Because you don’t understand, right, I’m assuming that this is early in the process, that you don’t understand yet what their compensation structure is.
So you don’t really know, you know, what’s their percentage that would be a base or stock or stock options or whatever, in addition to the base salary. And since you don’t know that structure, throwing out a number is tough to do. And this is true from a practicality point of view, right?
A cash flow perspective, if you get a lot of your compensation and an annual bonus or in stock that is sometimes not vested right away, that you cannot exercise, then although it’s compensation, it’s not cashflow on the weekly or monthly basis for you to pay your bills. So I think it’s fair to wrap it up within a need to understand the compensation structure.
And I think it’s also fair because not everything is about money, you want to more deeply understand through the interview process, you know, how this role and the company really fit with your career goals and aspirations. And, you know, for the right job, that you know that that you’re flexible, and that you’re willing to make a few considerations around the compensation structure. And this actually gives you an opportunity to just ask them that question. You know, is there anything you can tell me today about the compensation structure?
And is there anything you can tell me about the salary range, or the compensation range for this position? Usually, in large companies, this is predetermined, right, they’re not just pulling a number out of the sky, they usually have, HR usually has a pre-existing range.
And sometimes those ranges are pretty broad, but they have a pre-existing range that goes with each job title, and each posting. And they can oftentimes just tell you that if you ask if you think to ask, so this is a good way to go about doing that.
Having said all of that, though, I think if they’re on the phone with you, and this is a recruiter who’s on the phone with you, right, as somebody who works at the company, or even an external recruiter, if you were to name a salary that you desired, right, so you throw out a number, and that’s outside the range that they can offer, then they would probably just say that to you.
And I don’t think they would eliminate you, I wouldn’t really worry about that too much. I mean, that seems to me like a really trivial reason to disqualify somebody. Because if they’re willing to accept something that is within your range, then why should it matter that the first number they throw out is above the range? Right?
So I don’t think that you should worry about that. I don’t think that’s going to stop the process for you. But I do think it is useful to try to get some information from them about their compensation structure, and have that conversation. After you’ve, you’ve completed your interview process and you’re being made an offer and you like them, and they like you.
And because that’s really, and I’ve said this before, when we’re talking about remote careers versus relocation, right, everybody probably has some certain ideal job or salary amount, even if it’s just astronomical for which you would relocate even if today you think that’s an impossibility.
But if somebody offered you $5 million a year, maybe that would change your mind. I’m not suggesting that that is a common salary. I’m just saying everyone has some kind of iPad pedicle number, right. So once you know how much you want the job, then you are in a position to make some really educated decisions about what kind of compensation you can take.
And sometimes people in fact, many of my clients are very pleasantly surprised that their offer is actually more than they make today.
So they’re delighted. I mean, that’s Win Win Win, win win, but sometimes it’s a little bit less, and they’re able to, you know, make some some educated decision, you know, thinking about their long term career aspirations, understanding, they’re coming in at entry level, they’re only going to go up from there, they will get promoted, they will get raises.
And this is sort of their basement, if you will, it’s definitely not the ceiling. Money in total compensation is obviously a really personal thing. So only you can decide what would be right for you. But I hope that you’ll think about it in the totality of the bigger picture in terms of, you might get an amazing offer.
That’s, that’s more compensation than what you earn today. And that could be super, or you might get something that’s about the same. Or you might get something that’s a little bit less, and then you just need to think about, what will that look like in terms of how much less are you working? How much more free time do you have?
How much time might you be able to do locums or some other work clinically if you want it to augment your income? And also, what does it mean to you to be able to get started in a different career where there’s a lot of upward mobility potential.
So only personal decisions only you know yourself, your priorities and your finances? But those are some of the considerations I think for how to answer that question.
So there you have it, my thoughts on how to answer some of the hardest interview questions that are almost certain to come up during your interview. Now you can be prepared because you’ll have given it some really good thought in advance.
You know, some things to avoid, and you know, some ways to approach how you’re going to phrase, what it is and what you want to communicate about yourself. So I hope this episode has been helpful.
As always, please do send me an email with questions that are on your mind. If there’s anything I haven’t already addressed in a podcast episode. I’d love to hear from you so that I can address it in a future episode. That’s all for today. Bye for now.
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