Emphasizing First Impressions And People Skills Over The Interview Process

By John H. McCord, DPM

Job interviews have been the greatest challenge for me during the past 32 years of running a podiatry practice. I am no good at it.    I have read a few books on the topic and most suggest interview formulas. You and your office manager grill some poor kid with obscure questions like, “What are your five best qualities?” or “What did your last boss like least about you?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”    I always ask the same question. “Is there anything you would just refuse to do on this job?”    A farm girl once dryly answered my question, “Yup. I won’t buck hay bales.”    I like to have a casual conversation with a prospective candidate. If that goes well, I ask candidates if they have any criticism for what they have seen of my office. One young lady commented, “Doctor, you do not dress very well for a professional.” I kind of got my hair up. What is wrong with wearing tan pants, a blue shirt and no tie every day for the past 32 years? I hired her but still wear the same outfit every day.    I dread the possibility of offending a candidate like one I interviewed many years ago. The conversation part of the interview was going badly. She had little to say and her frown deepened as the interview progressed. I was certain we would not be a good match and decided just to make small talk to make time pass.    “You know,” I commented, “I think I went to high school with your daughter.” Her frown deepened.    “You went to high school with me.” She stood up and walked out as I choked on my foot lodged deep in my mouth.    Occasional turnover in a podiatry office is a reality. Some employees move on to better jobs and it is usually sad to lose them. Others are not suitable for work in a small office or do not have the people skills needed to care for my patients. They get two verbal warnings and one written warning. If they cannot improve, their employment is terminated. This always saddens me and makes me wonder if I should develop better interviewing skills.    My office manager and my partner get frustrated with me because I tend to hire the first candidate to interview. I am quick to remind both that they were the first candidates to interview for their jobs. It is not likely that I will change. To me, the fact that the candidate is here and willing to work is enough.    I do not usually check references or do criminal background checks or any of that stuff. First impressions count more to me.    I ask about the candidate’s previous jobs. If he or she has a laundry list of complaints about the previous boss and co-workers, the interview ends quickly. There is no sense hiring somebody who does not like people.    I am skeptical about candidates who seem too perfect. They dress perfect, talk perfect and have perfect resumes that look like menus from an upscale French restaurant. If they are that good, why are they still looking for work?    I hired a receptionist once who came to drop off her resume a day before her scheduled interview. She was a dairy farmer’s wife and came dressed in her usual work clothes. She dropped an armload of notebooks, including her resume, on the floor, which was muddy from her boots. Her day and first impression were disintegrating. She burst out laughing and so did I. I cancelled her interview and told her to report for work the next day in city clothes. She worked with me and kept me laughing for the next eight years.    My office has developed a reputation in our community as a fun place to work where staff is treated like family. That makes it easy when we need new help. We do not need to advertise or contract with employment agencies. We simply put the word out and good qualified people start dropping off resumes.    Our community is small and rural. When I need a new employee, I usually know of a family with a daughter or son who might be available. I call one of the parents and let them know of the job opening.    I first met my receptionist when she was 6 years old and her family moved into a house next to my home. My medical assistant is the daughter of my optometrist. My office manager was a patient in my office when she was 13. My son works with us. It is like a big family.    I will never be good with interviews. I have just been lucky. Dr. McCord is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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