Attitude, Preparation, and Expectations Are Key

On today’s show, I provide 8 Tips to Help You Prepare for Your First Job Interview. This is a critical part of your nontraditional job search. 

You’ve narrowed your choice to a single job. You’ve convinced someone that you’re qualified. And now you’re scheduled for your interview.

There may be an initial phone interview. Then you may be invited to one-on-one or group interviews. Some of today's tips apply primarily to face-to-face interviews, but most also apply to telephone and video sessions.

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Preparing for Your First Job Interview

It is important to prepare sufficiently for the interview. This preparation includes:

  • Adopting the right attitude,
  • Understanding the organization and the job, and,
  • Knowing that performing well may take practice (i.e., attending several interviews).

Listen to the entire episode to hear all of the details. There is also a transcript below.

Eight Great Tips

1. Bring Copies of Your Resume

Not everybody may have received a copy. And some interviewers may have left it behind. So, be prepared, and bring copies to share.

2. Dress Properly and Present the Right Body Language

Your appearance and demeanor are important. Do NOT dress down, even if the company appears to have a relaxed atmosphere. And present an open posture. Avoid crossing your arms. And sit forward attentively.

3. Do Your Research

Prepare yourself using sources such as:

  • Annual reports,
  • Online searches,
  • Guidestar for nonprofits,
  • Standard & Poor's or other online stock reports for publicly traded companies,
  • Hospital Compare and other quality reporting sites,  and,
  • Speak with your own colleagues at the organization.

4. Be prepared to Describe Your Selling Points

Memorize a few traits, success stories, special training, and other factors that make you the ideal candidate for the job.

5. Line Up Your Questions

Be prepared to ask pertinent questions. Demonstrate that you have a good understanding of the organization. Be sincerely inquisitive about big initiatives underway. And try to pinpoint the skills and experience they are looking for in a candidate.

6. Start and Stay Positive 

Be happy and enthusiastic about being there. Offer appreciation to each interviewer.  Never go negative about a previous employer or manager.

7. Be Assertive But Not Pushy

Try to make all of your points. Get answers to all of your questions. But be patient and do not dominate the conversation. You should listen more than you speak.

8. Close with CLARITY

Make a clear statement about your interest in the job. Be sure to have clarity about the next steps. How long until a decision is made? Who will be contacting you? Can you call in a few days to check on your standing?


Interviewing can be stressful, especially at first. If you get to the point of an interview, you’re almost at the finish line. Don’t expect perfection in the first few interviews. You will get better with practice.

Try to learn from each interview. If you don’t get the job, follow up later for constructive feedback. It could be your demeanor or approach. Or maybe you lack a particular skill or certification that can be addressed before future interviews.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode.

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Transcript for PNC Podcast Episode 223

8 Great Tips to Help You Prepare for Your First Job Interview

John: In today's show, I'm going to give you eight great tips to help you prepare for your first job interview. Preparing for that first interview is a critical part of our non-traditional job search. You've narrowed your choice down to a single job at this point, you've convinced someone that you're qualified and now you've been set up to have an interview. This could be primarily in live interviews, generally in-person. Some of these pointers don't necessarily apply to an online interview. Remember that interviews can come in different sizes and shapes also, even live interviews.

There are individual interviews, there are group interviews, and each one is a little bit different. I personally am not a big fan of group interviews, but if you encounter them, then you're going to have to be ready to participate. Let's just go through my list of eight tips to prepare you for your first job interview. Some are going to be fairly straightforward and simple, and the other ones are going to require a fair amount of explanation.

The first one I want to get off my list right now is to bring a copy of your resume to every interview. Obviously, if you're attending a live interview, then you're going to need to bring those copies. Why? Because although many of the people that are interviewing you, if not all, will have received it ahead of time, sometimes they don't get the message. Sometimes they don't download it. They forget it. They come to the meeting, which is not in their office or something.

And so, it's always helpful to bring extra copies so that you appear to be prepared and it can trigger questions in the interviewers that you're going to be meeting. It's just basic, just bring a folder and a briefcase or something with papers where you can write down notes, if you need to, and also with extra copies of your resume. You might as well bring 10 or 20 because you just don't know how many people are going to ask for it. That's number one.

Number two, dress properly and present the right body language. This is all about appearance. Even though you're interviewing somewhere that is fairly informal, like some places out west. Everybody goes to work in their informal attire, but the thing is, you don't know who you're interviewing and you don't know ahead of time necessarily how formal the attire will be unless you've worked there before and you know the culture and you know the attitude of everybody there.

It doesn't hurt for you to be overdressed. Wear business clothing, and I would not even say business casual, but actual business. If you're a man and you want to wear a suit, that's awesome, with a tie generally. I guess you could think about taking the tie off if it seemed overly formal during the interviews. But you might be interviewing everybody from a manager or a coworker up to the CEO of the company or a board member, depending on what kind of job you're looking for. In general business, attire is in order.

I would say for the women as well, some type of a business suit. I wouldn't necessarily get too creative. I'd be a little bit subdued unless you're doing some kind of job that really requires you to demonstrate your creativity. But since we're not talking about applying for a job as an actress or something like that, then I think keep it simple and air on the side of formal attire, not black tie, just formal business attire.

The other thing is, remember your body language. I'm lumping these together, but all is about appearance. Looking people in the eyes when you're speaking with them, not crossing your arms, having a posture, and an appearance where you're open. Your arms are open. You're looking forward, maybe leaning forward a little bit during the interview so that it does not appear that you're closed lip and tight and nervous and that kind of thing. It's okay to be nervous. Everybody is nervous, but unless you've done a lot of interviews. So, don't worry about that, but try to have an open attitude and that makes people more comfortable with you and trust you a little bit more.

Now the third one is a big one that I'm going to spend some time on here, at least five minutes. And that is to do thorough research before the interview. When you go into the interview, you don't want the organization to be unknown to you. You don't want to learn the first thing about the organization during the interview process. It would be ridiculous to go in there and say, "Well, what exactly do you do here?"

The idea is that you're applying for this job because you have a pretty good understanding of the job based partly on the research, but partly just on the job description and maybe talking to the HR manager or the recruiter or something like that. You need to be prepared and be able to answer questions and demonstrate that in fact, the skills, attitudes, background that you have aligns with the things that are put in the job description.

One of the questions they're going to ask you most likely in almost every interview is why are you applying to this organization at this time? And so, the answer to that question should be prepared and it will have to do both with what you know about the organization and also what you know about yourself and how those two match up. Can you deliver what you think this organization needs?

You should know at some level, not that you can recite it right off the bat, but its mission, its vision, and its values. That's usually published in various locations, which I will talk about in a minute.

You need to understand the culture if you can. Now that takes a little more research and actually talking to people ahead of time that work at the company, but maybe you've already done that, maybe the way that you even first landed this interview was by having a connection at the company, someone who put in a good word for you, someone who may be pointed out your resume or gave the HR department an extra copy of the resume with an endorsement. So, you should learn what the culture is, if at all possible, ahead of time.

You should know something about the financials of the company. There are ways to figure this out, but if it's a publicly-traded organization, then you're going to be able to know whether it's growing or shrinking or stable, is it a cyclical organization or an industry that might be cyclical? Health care and let's say pharma companies and hospitals, they're not that cyclical. And sometimes they grow in countercyclical ways, for example. It wasn't unusual for our hospital to do better during a recession and to do worse during a growth phase in the economy. And there are lots of reasons why that might be. But you do not necessarily want to interview in a place that's on the brink of going bankrupt or is having such severe financial issues that they're likely to do a layoff in the near future. So, it's best to understand that ahead of time. And again, I'll talk to you about where you can find this information.

If you can, and it is a healthcare-related organization, which most of them should be, or could be, based on who you are. Obviously, you've got a background in healthcare, and even if you're working in a nonclinical or nontraditional job, it probably relates to something in healthcare again, whether it's a hospital health system, pharma, insurance company, or something like that. Even as a medical writer, that's probably not as big an issue as in those other areas.

Some of the ways that you can learn about these things is to number one, try and find the most recent annual report. It's not going to be that timely, but it's definitely going to have information that will be useful. And usually, they will talk about who the board members are, who the leadership is, who manages the company. And to some extent, the financials of course, and big initiatives going on or are planned for the future.

Just go online and do some searches and do some recent searches, just plug in the name of the company and see what comes up. When you're doing a Google search, you can look for news, you can look for other things. Just do a general search and see what's going on. You might as well look at any resources you have access to. If you read Kevin MD, go look up and see if there are any articles about the company, or if it's been mentioned. You can look in Doximity. Sometimes there are articles there that talk about certain industries, and those are based on the physician's perspective.

I definitely recommend you use It's a site that publishes all of the IRS 990s for any nonprofit organization. So, that won't apply to a for-profit pharma company or insurance company, but it will apply to many hospitals, hospices, health systems, and other nonprofit healthcare organizations. And then you definitely want to see if there's any kind of history of mergers and acquisitions as you're doing this research that can tell you if I have a local hospital here that's not more than 20 minutes from my house that has been part of four or five different systems, in the last five or six years, maybe 10 years, I guess.

That's not a real stable situation and it makes it difficult because what happens in those mergers and acquisitions is let's say you're applying for a job as a chief medical officer. Well, now you're the chief medical officer, and then they have a cutback. Their finances are not great, they've merged. So now you're going to have a regional CMO and they're going to let the local CMO go. And then you're going to find out that your regional CMO, maybe this is a job you're applying for. You're actually covering for three different hospitals, all of which are at least 45 minutes apart. So, it's a different lifestyle. It's a different job than being let's say a dedicated CMO at an individual organization. And this applies the same in other non-hospital organizations as well.

If you're looking at joining a hospital or health system, then one of the things you should do is go to This is basically a hospital comparison. There are similar sites like hospice compare, nursing home compare, where they really look and publish the quality based on their treatment of the Medicare patients. Another resource that you should do the research on.

I had someone lately who told me that she went to her interview for a clinical job and she asked them questions and I had asked her to delve into a little bit, and that had to do with the quality. And when they asked her about why she wanted to be at that organization, she said, "Well, I'm looking to work for a high-quality organization that does X, Y, and Z. And I know from looking at your reports on hospital compare that your hospital is the best in this region, of which was a pretty large area".

They were impressed and she apparently got points for that. She ended up being offered the job that very day. When you know the company, when you understand the company, and when you have intelligent questions about the company that you're applying to, all of which depend on doing your research, then you are going to come out of the interview much better. I think that's enough for doing your research at number three.

Let's go to number four. Be prepared to clarify your selling points. I'm going in this interview and I'm going to make sure that I point out this and that aspect of my job in the past, my education, my experience. Be prepared to answer a question and write these out and practice. Why are you good for this organization? Why do you think you're a good fit for this organization? Be prepared to answer that question.

What are your skills and abilities and background and training that enables you to solve a problem that we're trying to solve in this organization? Why do you think you'll fit in? How do your skills help meet our goals? Are there accomplishments that you have that you can point to that demonstrates those skills?

It's one thing to say that "Well, I'm always on time and I have a really good knowledge of managing medications, or I have a lot of experience with quality improvement or length of stay, reducing complications", things of that sort. Or "I have a lot of experience with leadership and management".

You really need to be specific. Those are the types of things that should already be on your resume, but be prepared to answer those questions. "Well, give us an example". - We had this issue when I was chief medical officer, where we really had two or three very disruptive physicians on our staff and these weren't just people that had some personality quirks. They were really dangerous in some ways because they were difficult to work with. And it got to the point where the nursing staff wouldn't call them, wouldn't engage with them because they were afraid they were going to be yelled at constantly.

And so, I led a team that put in place a program to identify and deal with the dysfunctional physicians on our staff. It was one that over a period of a year or two, really helped solve that problem, reduced the episodes that were leading to nurses avoiding these physicians, and improving the outcomes in the end, in terms of response times to phone calls and things like that.

So, if you can give a concrete example, if that example can also have data in it, in terms of there were 20 incident reports the year before, and then later there are only three. Those things go a long way. So, you might want to talk mostly about how you're going to help them. It's okay to talk about how you're aligning with this organization and working for this organization. It will meet your goals. That's fine too because you want your goals to align.

You can get a little more specific about why exactly you want this particular job. In particular, we're talking non clinically here. People want to know why you're leaving medicine. And that can be a tricky question because you don't want to seem overly negative. You don't want to be running away from something. You wouldn't say, "Well, I'm severely burned out. I hate my job and I just have to try something else".

The company that you're applying to, and during this interview, you have to demonstrate that you are going towards them. That it's a positive choice you're making because of the attributes of the company and the opportunities that it's going to present to you and for you to help them with, not that you're running from something which usually doesn't lead to a permanent or a long-term relationship. Again, come up and practice stories about when you showed teamwork, initiative, making a difficult decision, solving a challenging problem, and those who go a long way. And they need to be customized to each particular industry in each particular job interview.

Some people are trying different things and they might go on an interview in a pharma company on one hand and then a few weeks later go for an interview for a utilization management job. That happens. Some people are trying to try different things and see how the interviews go. But you have to customize your responses to those two, obviously.

Number five, have your questions for the interviewers lined up, or at least some questions. Be prepared because you should spend most of the time listening during this interview and then asking direct questions, and not that you should be very brief during your answers, but to fully answer their questions. But at the same time, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to ask questions of the company and the people that are interviewing you.

Things that come to my mind, depending on the job, again, are what are the big strategic initiatives going on this year? What is the major focus of the organization right now? Is there one? Somebody might say, "Well, we're just doing what we always do, which is bring meds to the market and market them". But there may be some big strategic initiatives going on.

You can even ask questions like what characteristics do you feel are the most essential for this role that I'm applying for in your opinion? And then you may be able to respond and give examples to that interviewer about why you align with that and are compatible with that. But that also gives you an ability to go in and be proactive and address those things with other interviewers, even before they've asked the question and then you'll be pretty proactive in terms of their impression of you and in this interview process.

At some point you need to ask people why they like working there? How long have they been there? What do you like about the job? You'll get some good information. You can write these questions down and have them ready. It doesn't hurt to say, "Hey I had a few questions I wanted to get answered. Let me look at my notes". That's fine. But if you can get at least four or five, six questions, and remember, you can ask these questions, different types of questions from different interviewers.

Like someone who's let's say going to be a peer. You might ask other questions than someone who's going to be your immediate supervisor versus someone who is the CEO, the CFO, or the COO of the company that you're applying to if you interview with those people.

One thing I didn't mention, I guess I would say here just as an aside, is that in some organizations, in some industries, you're going to be asked to do a presentation. I think this is more common in pharma jobs. If you look at pharma, a lot of the jobs in pharma, they're really academic positions besides MDs and Dos. There are PhDs and PharmDs. And there's a lot of well-educated people.

There's a lot of times in different jobs in pharma where you're doing a presentation. And so, they may ask you to do a presentation. They may tell you ahead of time to be prepared, or maybe they'll just spring it on you while you're there. But think about it if you were going to pick a topic, or in the pharma situation a particular drug or drug class you want to talk about. Just have those ideas in your head, write an outline ahead of time, go through it a few times at home, and then be prepared when you get there.

Now, number six is to start with a positive statement and stay positive. Never complain, never go negative. I think I alluded to this a little bit earlier with the body language and so forth, but when you're interviewing, everything needs to be from that perspective. You don't want to fall in the trap, even if they ask you why you left your current job, what's going on, you need to frame it in a way that's more focused on the positive aspects.

Like I've been there for a long time. It seemed like I was stagnating, the company wasn't using all of my skills and I've done some additional certifications and different training. Or I was in clinical medicine and I made a decision that I wanted to leave clinical. I'd done that long enough and I wanted to try and express some other interests that I have, and I've taken some classes to learn new things. I'm really more interested in management and leadership or I'm really interested in drug development and bringing new drugs to the market because I think I can help a lot more people doing something like that. But always positive.

Never get into a description of how nasty your boss was, how you couldn't get along. Nobody understood you. There's no point in criticizing your old employer or current employer, because to someone hearing that just feels that you're going to turn around and do the same thing to them if things don't work out. In reality things just sometimes don't work out. And if the other company culturally was not a good fit or had some negative attitudes, maybe they're more focused on the bottom line or whatever it might be, that's fine. It's good to learn that and to move on to a company that more aligns with your vision and your passions.

You want to have a lot of energy. You want to start by expressing thanks and appreciation for the interviewer's time. It seems a little odd, perhaps because that's why you were asked to come, but it does take time to do an interview and it's disruptive. It's not something most of us do on a regular basis. We have to actually change our schedule, fit in an interviewee for 30 minutes or 60 minutes or whatever it may be. And so, it's good to be appreciated by the interviewee when they come in and it sets a positive tone.

The other thing is you might start with a very positive comment about the organization. "I've been really looking forward to this. I've read about your company. I hear the quality is really good. The turnover in the employees is really low," or "I hear you have this new initiative going on," or "I hear you've been growing and I'd really like to be a part of an organization like that." Those are some ideas. Positive, positive, positive, and be prepared to engage right off the bat with each person that's interviewing you.

Now you should be assertive, but not pushy. You're not there to have, let's say a laundry list of 20 or 30 questions to just go through and check the box on. You need to be interactive. You need to give your interviewers time to ask their questions, give thoughtful responses, and don't hurry yourself. Don't be pushy. You can be proactive about the stories, about your initiative, but leave plenty of time for them to get their questions answered. Be a little patient. And if there's a lull in the conversation, then feel free to jump in and highlight one of your strong points that maybe they haven't heard about.

Now, number eight, the final tip. And believe me, there are a lot more tips and I'll probably have to do a follow-up to this sometime in the future. But there are a lot more things that go into preparing for and performing well during your interview. Some specific tips to doing group versus one on one and other tips may be specific to your screening interview, which might be on the telephone over a Zoom call.

But for now, I'm going to end with tip number eight, and that is close with clarity. I've had people come back after an interview and tell me, "Well, I'm not really sure when they're going to get back to me, I'm not sure if I was supposed to call them or not". What I mean here is, at the end of the day, with the last person, usually it's going to be someone who's been helping to take you from interview to interview or coordinating the whole process.

And so, there should be some closing. You should say, "Look, I really enjoyed interviewing today. I really liked all the people that I met. I feel I can be a very strong contributor to this team. I'm just curious when do you think you'll be getting back to me? And if I haven't heard from you within three or four days, would it be okay if I call you at this number? And make sure you've got their number so that you don't go home and think, "Oh, let's see now. When was I going to hear and how do I know? Are they going to interview more people?"

I wouldn't necessarily ask how many more people are being interviewed, but you might ask when the process is expected to be closed and when the decision will be made and an offer made. And so again, once you get beyond that point, you're justified in calling and confirming. Obviously, they should call and tell you that you're not being considered or that you are a very good candidate, but there are so many other good candidates that they decided to go with someone else.

It also wouldn't hurt to ask at that point, if that happens, about things that you could do better during the interview process, or maybe make that a separate call. But my main point here is to close with clarity, your expectations, their expectations, and what the next steps are.

So, that's it. Those are my eight great tips to prepare for your first job interview. That'll get you pretty much through your interview. There are other things we might talk about in the future, but I think most of them fall into those eight areas. That's it for today. If you get to the point of an interview, you're almost there. Don't expect perfection in the first few interviews, we all get better with practice. The only way you're going to practice is if you're not necessarily getting that job on the first interview.

Again, I consider going back and talking to one or two of the people if you don't get the interview, just to find out why. Not so much because of your performance, but maybe the experience that you have didn't quite fit, and there might be a way for you to gain more experience that would make you a better fit the next time at the next company.


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