Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.
How My Common Interviews are Anything but Routine and Why I Always Expect the Unexpected
I’ve had five jobs during my career. So I’ve gone on many interviews. I was also a pharmacy manager and worked in a career services department. So I’ve conducted many interviews as well.
As I stated in a previous article, I’m not a fan of the interview process. When it comes to hiring the right person for a job, we hire on:
1. How pretty the candidate dresses,
2. How well the candidate answers canned questions,
3. How well crafted the candidate’s resume is, and
4. The nice things the candidate’s references say about them.
I’d much rather bring in an extern (paid or unpaid) on a trial basis. But this is not always possible in today’s society. So unfortunately, I’m stuck with the interview process.
Answering Obscure Questions
I was being interviewed for an Assistant Director of Pharmacy position. I met with the recruiter for about an hour. He was very cordial.
He asked the following questions:
“So tell me about yourself.”
“Why do you want to work here?’
“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
“What are your biggest accomplishments?”
“What are your greatest weaknesses?”
“Tell me about your current supervisor.”
“Where do you want to be five years from now?”
“Why should I hire you?”
“Do you have any questions for me?”
It was a very pleasant interview. The questions were quite standard. Too standard.
This is why I was never a big proponent of the interview process. I did not feel that by asking these questions that it gave me a true picture of who the candidate was.
Even in my case, it was very easy to develop answers for these routine questions. I’d rehearse them and practice saying them so they wouldn’t seem memorized. Then I’d be ready for the interview. After all, I knew they were going to ask most of these questions during the interview process.
The recruiter was about to end the interview when he stated that he had one more question.
“If you could be any kind of tree, what would you be?”
I wasn’t expecting that question.
Fortunately, I’ve sat through enough interviews where nothing really surprises me. I thought for a moment, then replied, “If I were a tree, I’d want to be an oak. Something strong and sturdy. With a lot of branches to reach out and help others.”
The recruiter liked my answer.
There are three reasons for asking this type of question:
1. The recruiter wants to see if he can rattle you. Keep your composure and remain calm. Refrain from statements like, “Wow! I wasn’t expecting that question.” Keep your wits and answer the question.
2. The recruiter wants to see if you can think on your feet. After all, that’s what most jobs require. Don’t blurt out the first answer that comes into your head. Instead think about the question. Repeat it, if necessary, to give you more time to think. Then proceed.
3. Come up with a good answer. There’s no right or wrong answer to this type of question. However, some answers are better than others. Avoid things like, “I’d like to be a Christmas Tree because they’re pretty.” Or “If I were a money tree I could pay off all my bills.” Come up with an answer that’s pertinent to the job you’re applying for. And make certain to you good, justifiable reasons for your selection.
Matching Employer’s Needs
Being a career services representative, one of my jobs was to help students with the hiring process. I taught my students:
1. How to develop resumes and cover letters,
2. How to create thank you notes, and
3. How to master the interview process.
I always started my mock interview with the same question, “So tell me about yourself.”
Whenever I went for a job interview, I did not have a “pat” answer for this question. Instead, I always reviewed the job requirements of the job listing. This information is what I used to develop my answer.
For example, if the facility was seeking a candidate with exceptional computer skills,
I’d discuss how I was technology savvy in my development of new programs and systems.
For a facility wanting a patient-orientated person, I’d discuss programs that I instituted to best serve the patient.
For an establishment seeking a candidate with strong leadership skills, I’d discussed how I managed staff members to succeed in their daily activities. This, in turn, allowed the facility to meet its goals.
In other words, I didn’t just answer the question with a canned answer. Instead, I tried to determine what the employer was seeking. Then I slanted my answer to meet their needs.
Avoiding Worthless Adjectives
I was also against using adjectives during an interview, unless there was a story to back them up. Consider the following response to the question, “So tell me about yourself?”
“I’ve always been a reliable staff member in my department. My peers would describe me as a team player. I’m an exceptional worker and very meticulous and thorough in my work habits.”
As a pharmacy manager, I’ve interviewed many people during my career. However, when I receive the above response, I immediately dismiss the answer.
Why? Because then answer is simply a bunch of adjectives strewn together. There is no substance to it. It tells me nothing!
What generally follows (after I receive this response) is that I probe further. I say:
“Give me an example of something you did that shows me that you’re a team player.”
“Tell me about a time when you were thorough in your work habits.”
“Why do you feel that you’re a reliable person?”
My intention is not to trip up the candidate. But unfortunately my questions usually catch them by surprise. They fumble through a response and hope that I’ll move on. I generally do.
To avoid issues with adjectives, the candidate should develop stories to match each adjective they plan on using. Obviously this should be done in advance. This way the candidate will have the opportunity to craft an answer prior to the interview. And they won’t be put on the spot.
Bad Mouthing Previous Bosses
Two years after I started, they hired a new Director of Pharmacy. I was a hospital pharmacist in my first hospital job. I was very happy in my role.
I really enjoyed working with this new director. He was a great boss. He must have seen something in me. For he approached me one day and wanted to know if I wanted to perform tasks outside my job description. Tasks like: how to make a schedule, how to prepare a budget, how to place an IV order, etc.
I said ‘yes’. I then found out that there would be no additional monetary compensation. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to learn. Soon I was performing these additional tasks on a regular basis. But I didn’t mind. I enjoyed doing them.
Then one day, he stated that I should go back to school. I told him that he was crazy— that I didn’t want to go back to school. But he (and my wife) convinced me to go. So I did.
I graduated 3 ½ years later with my Master’s Degree in Hospital Pharmacy Administration. About a week after graduating, I was promoted to Assistant Director of Pharmacy. I worked with him for about ten years. Then he was terminated.
It’s not as abrupt as it sounds. His termination was a long, well-orchestrated process. Did the Vice President have it in for my boss? Yes. Did my boss bring a lot of things on himself? Yes. Did it become ugly and very uncomfortable working there? Yes.
Even though my boss was terminated, they allowed him to stay another three weeks until the end of the month. It was bad enough with his presence in the department. He sat in his office doing nothing. He deflected problems. He spoke badly about the hospital’s administration.
It put me in a very awkward position. I had worked with my boss for about ten years. He was my mentor, my instructor, my friend. We were very close and had a wonderful chemistry.
To make matters worse, the Vice President began side stepping him and meeting with me. I became the Vice President’s confidante, the source for departmental information and improvement.
In the Vice President’s eyes, I was being groomed to become the next director of pharmacy. From my boss’s viewpoint, I was a traitor. We left on very unpleasant terms.
I was quite surprised a few weeks later when I opened my state’s pharmacy newsletter. There was an ad for my boss’s Director of Pharmacy position. I was acting director. I thought I was being groomed for the job. I guess I was wrong.
Several weeks later, I interviewed for the director of pharmacy position. The recruiter knew my boss’s history. She was aware of the relationship that my boss and I shared. She also knew the events that led up to my boss’s termination.
All was going well until she asked the following question:
“What did I think of my previous boss?”
Ordinarily, I know what kind of question this is. In a routine interview, the recruiter may ask this type of question in order to trip up the candidate. They want to see if the candidate will trash their previous boss. Negative comments about a previous boss will serve as a red flag for a recruiter who may wonder what you will say in the future if you're hired.
I always refrain from the negativity and try to say something nice. Especially in this case.
I said, “I worked with my boss for a long time. Ten years ago, he saw something in me and told me to go back to school. I was reluctant at first and didn’t want to go. But eventually I went.
After 3 ½ years, I received my Master’s Degree and he made me the Assistant Director of Pharmacy. We worked together closely for ten years. He was my mentor and friend.
If you’re looking for someone to trash him— find someone else. He made me what I am today. Next question.”
The recruiter was not happy with my answer. But I didn’t care.
I didn’t get the job.
Conducting Group Interviews
As a career services representative, I taught my students about different kinds of interviews. They were familiar with one-to-one interviews, phone (or Skype) interviews, and panel interviews. But the interview that intrigued me the most were group interviews.
I don’t know why more group interviews aren’t conducted. As I see it, a group interview clearly benefits the manager or individual in charge of hiring. It provides the same basic information obtained in a one-to-one interview. In fact, sometimes it provides more.
I’ve always felt that a group interview allows the manager to see a candidate’s thought process. It determines how a candidate would react to a given situation rather than to canned interview questions.
The other major benefit of a group interview is that it saves time for the hiring manager. I remember when I was a pharmacy manager. I needed to hire a pharmacist. After reviewing several resumes, I narrowed it down to six choices. I decided to schedule them for interviews.
There were three problems that I encountered while arranging the interviews:
1. Scheduling problems: The candidates had to meet with not only myself, but with the HR recruiter. This resulted in a major difficulty. For we had to coordinate our individual schedule with each of the six candidates.
2. Time constraints: I would have preferred to schedule all six interviews in one day. That way only one day would be lost to the interview process. Unfortunately, my HR recruiter did not share my viewpoint. Instead, she scheduled three interviews on one day and three interviews on another day. What made matters worse was how the interviews were scheduled. On Day 1, there were two interviews in the morning and one in the afternoon. Then on Day 2, there was one interview in the morning and two in the afternoon. Thus, two days were lost to the interview process.
3. Content issues: I must admit that by the time I saw the fifth candidate that I was drained. I had already made up my mind and was just going through the motions. Obviously this is not fair for the remaining candidates, but what about me? Would I be passing up an exceptional candidate because I was overwhelmed by the interview process?
A group interview would solve these issues.
In conducting a group interview, I would schedule all six pharmacist candidates for the same day and time. I would also schedule my HR recruiter, and one or two pharmacy staff members to be present as well.
A group interview generally takes about 1 ½- 2 hours. Since all candidates are interviewed at the same time, I would not lose the entire day.
The candidates and I would sit around a large table. My HR recruiter and various staff members sit along the perimeter of the room. They have the resumes of each candidate. They are also taking detailed notes.
I generally begin by welcoming the six candidates. I explain that this is a group interview and everyone's competing for the same one position. Furthermore, at the conclusion of the group interview, my team and I will meet and discuss our findings. We will then invite the best two or three candidates back for individual interviews.
The group interview is divided into four parts:
1. “So tell me about yourself.” The first part of the group interview is the introduction. We go around the room with each candidate introducing themselves and answering the question, “So tell me about yourself”. At this time, I also take a moment to introduce my HR recruiter and other team members.
2. Interview Q&A. I go around the room (in no particular order) randomly asking interview questions. For example, I may ask candidate #3, “What is your biggest accomplishment.” Then I may ask candidate #6, “Tell me about a time that you demonstrated leadership.” Then I might ask candidate #2, the same or different question. I use this rapid-fire approach for about fifteen minutes.
I must admit that it sometimes feels like a speed round on a game show. For I’m quickly calling on candidates and asking them to answer common interview questions.
But I find this process very helpful. I look for sharpness, content, and how well people think under pressure.
3. Group Exercise. The next portion of the interview is a group exercise. I distribute a handout to the candidates with the following scenario:
They are flying back from a foreign country when their plan makes an emergency landing. Although they are not hurt, the plane and radio system are destroyed. It will take days to reach civilization, however they cannot remain with the plane. After rummaging through the suitcases, they find about twenty items of value. However, they may only take eight items with them. The candidates must work together to determine the one list of eight items.
There are no right or wrong answers in selecting the eight items to compile the final list. But from my viewpoint, I find this type of exercise quite valuable. For it provides me with a keen insight of how people think. I get to see which candidates are the leaders, which candidates are followers, and which candidates haven’t got a clue.
It also allows me to see how people interact with each other. This is crucial. Because it allows me to predict how any specific candidate will work with my staff in the future.
4. Closing Questions and Answers: During the final part of the group interview I open the floor to questions and answers from the candidates, my HR recruiter, or my team members.
In closing, I've learned two things when it comes to interviews:
Sometimes they are routine and quite common and
Sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.