Preparing for a Professional Interview

Amber B. Clemmons, PharmD BCOP
Clinical Associate Professor and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
University of Georgia College of Pharmacy
Augusta, GA

Andy Maldonado, PharmD BCOP
Malignant Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
Residency Program Director for PGY2 Oncology
Medical University of South Carolina
Charleston, SC

Julie Kennerly-Shah, PharmD MS MHA BCPS
Assistant Director of Pharmacy
James Cancer Hospital
Columbus, OH

What factors should residents consider when they are looking at potential job prospects?

Clemmons: First, a resident should determine what type of practice setting holds the most interest—do you enjoy inpatient or outpatient work and a specific area of hematology/oncology, or do you prefer a rotating position? Consider how each position is structured, how much time is spent in various activities, and how this distribution relates to your preferences. Second, consider the institution type and expected variety of responsibilities. For example, if you enjoy (or dislike) teaching, research, or management roles, then ensure that the duties of a prospective position align with your desires. Last, consider whether there is opportunity for growth and innovation in the position and institution if that is important in light of your career goals. 

Maldonado: The first factor would be location. Can you see yourself being happy living there? Even if a job is great, it won’t make up for the fact that it’s in Seattle and you suffer from seasonal depression. Also, look at the relationship between pharmacists and other healthcare personnel. For example, were physicians and nurses included as part of the interview day? And finally, pay close attention to employee turnaround, specifically in the pharmacy department.

Kennerly-Shah: First is the type of institution: Is this a place where you will be challenged, have mentors, and be able to grow? Will you be the only hematology/oncology clinical pharmacist, or will you be part of a large team? What type of practice model does the institution have—is the pharmacist’s role that of a specialist or generalist? Subspecialized or rotating? Second is geographical location: Is this a place you would be happy living? Last, try to think beyond wanting to work in a specific disease state. It is extremely common for residents to tell me they are interested only in inpatient hematology or bone marrow transplant. I have convinced many residents to come to the James Hospital for an outpatient solid tumor position, with the promise of a future transition to hematology. No pharmacist has actually taken the offer to transition to hematology after starting their position working with solid tumors. Most people grow to love their teams and the disease state they first work in!  

When would you recommend that candidates start searching for employment?

Clemmons: Each year the recruitment timetable and availability of open positions are slightly different. In most years, the residents begin their job search around early November if they are pursuing interviews at the Personnel Placement Services (PPS) recruitment event at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting. However, some institutions may not have new positions approved until mid-spring. Therefore, residents are advised to keep their search for employment open through the winter and spring months until they find the best fit.

Maldonado: I recommend beginning in October–November, especially if you are thinking of using PPS, because interview slots can fill pretty quickly. If you wait until days before the Midyear Clinical Meeting, you may not get to meet with every institution you had in mind.

Kennerly-Shah: I recommend that residents start searching in October–November in preparation for attending PPS at the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting. If you are geographically limited, it is a good idea to reach out to the institutions in those areas to ask if they expect to have any job openings and let them know you are interested.

Would you recommend that PGY2 residents participate in PPS at the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting? Why or why not?

Clemmons: Yes, I encourage residents to participate. This event offers residents the ability to meet in person with current practitioners and managers who work for a variety of potential employers. Residents can learn about the position and institution in a brief individual interview. The ability to discuss numerous job options in one location can save time and money by allowing future onsite interviews to be selected for only the positions deemed to be the best fit after the initial PPS discussions. Even if a resident pursues a career option outside of those contacted during PPS, the PPS interviews themselves provide opportunities to network and to enhance knowledge of various job structures. 

Maldonado: Yes, I feel that this event is important for data gathering. It may not tell you where you definitely want to go, but it may help you identify places to be crossed off your list.

Kennerly-Shah: Absolutely, this is a great way to quickly rule institutions in or out of your list of job prospects.

What qualities are employers looking for in a candidate?

Clemmons: Each employer may prioritize certain qualities over others. In general, most are looking for a candidate who demonstrates excellent time and project management and communication skills as well as a positive, eager attitude. I also look for those who act calm under pressure, can multitask throughout the work day, and are open to constructive feedback.

Maldonado: They are seeking an adaptable, personable, and proactive team player.

Kennerly-Shah: The top two qualities I look for are flexibility and positivity!

What should candidates avoid doing or discussing during the interview?

Clemmons: Candidates who focus on salary, benefits, or nonprimary requirements (e.g., staffing, on-call responsibilities) can give the wrong impression. Let the employer provide that type of information, or wait until a job offer is extended before inquiring about those details. Avoid the use of personal electronic devices (e.g., a smartwatch), even during the informal portions of an interview. Leaving devices in your car is a great method for avoiding the distraction! Although this is common sense, never “bad talk” former colleagues or employers. If you need to answer a question that involves constructive criticism of persons or institutions encountered in former jobs, ensure that your answer is stated professionally.

Maldonado: Do not discuss pay. You should definitely discuss funding for conferences and BCOP testing, but I would stay away from asking about other benefits. This is something you can inquire more about after you get an offer.

Kennerly-Shah: I would focus on the culture of the organization and the practice model. I wouldn’t spend time on the salary, benefits, schedule, and so on. You can ask all those questions after you receive an offer for a position.

Do you have any other advice for residents preparing for their first job interview following their residency?

Clemmons: Apply only to positions you are truly excited about working in for at least a few years. Be authentic and honest.

Maldonado: Do not ignore your gut feeling when you visit a place. More often than not, it can tell you a lot. Pay attention to who participates in your interviews—this tells you a lot about who you will be working with more closely. Maybe stay an extra day or come a day early to get a better feel for the city in which you may be living for a significant amount of time. And remember that they are trying to recruit you as much as you want to be hired, so don’t feel intimidated. Your training and hard work got you to the interview, so try to enjoy the day and learn as much as you can.

Kennerly-Shah: Practice! Being a great interviewee takes practice. Review behavior-based interviewing questions and be prepared to give thorough but concise answers to questions.