Your physical appearance—the image and demeanor you present in your work environment—plays an important role in your career. If you aspire to a leadership position or are looking for a new job, be sure to examine your outward style as carefully as you craft your curriculum vitae.
“This is a huge, woefully unexplored way that physicians relate to the world,” says Mary Frances Lyons, MD, an executive search consultant with Witt/Kiefer in St. Louis. “Let’s call it body language. It’s the attitude or deportment you show. If you’re not the most corporate person in the world, you can still appear to be open, enthusiastic about your work, and have integrity.”
Dr. Lyons frequently coaches physician executives before job interviews. She instructs many of them in the basics: standing up straight, making eye contact, smiling, and having a firm handshake. “This is literally your chance to connect with other people,” she says. “Send a signal that you want to connect, that you’re open, and you’ll bring that out in them as well.”
Her advice may seem simplistic, and she agrees. “You can literally learn this stuff in kindergarten—but many physicians don’t do it,” she says. “Their currency of credibility is how smart they are, and they rely on that. The truth is that no one in medical school ever teaches physicians that a large part of their medical success is how they interact with and relate to others—including patients, their boss, payers, and colleagues.” As a clinician, you can get by with minimal social skills or attention to your demeanor, but Dr. Lyons warns, “If you want to move up the food chain, this is professionally important.”
Typically, hospitalists are insulated from the traditional office dress code (i.e., suits and ties and heels), but doctors are not immune to the basic standards of workplace appearance. “For better or for worse, hospital medicine groups are not corporate,” Dr. Lyons points out. “The question is, how do you become corporate enough to get the job offer or the promotion?”
Look the Part
If you want a higher-level position, whether you’re aiming for a promotion, interviewing for an important committee position, or seeking a new job, consider the impression you make before you open your mouth.
“Your style and attitude is more important than how you dress,” Dr. Lyons says. “However, appearance-wise, you want to look professional and serious … not somber. Be appropriate and nondescript; you don’t want interesting clothes or clothes that make a statement. You want people to think, ‘What a professional person,’ not ‘Wow, I really love those earrings.’ ”
When you have an important interview or meeting, wear a dark business suit. Pantsuits are fine for women, Dr. Lyons says. “You can never, ever go wrong with a suit,” she says. “You don’t want the people interviewing you to be better dressed than you. Your appearance signals how you’ll present yourself to patients.”
Ultimately, a physician’s behavior and professional interactions are significant considerations in the hiring process, says Kenneth Simone, DO, owner of Hospitalist and Practice Solutions in Veazie, Maine, and author of the upcoming book “Hospitalist Recruitment and Retention: Building a Hospital Medicine Program.” “It will affect relationships with all stakeholders in the healthcare system. Furthermore, if the hospitalist’s professional relationship with the nursing staff and other hospital staff disintegrates, it can affect patient care.”
During a job interview, promotional interview, or committee chair interview, the balance between how much you say and when you stop talking can reveal much about your attitude. Hiring managers look for leaders who can listen as well as they direct. “Doctors have no idea how to listen,” Dr. Lyons says. “I sometimes recommend that a client limit himself or herself to three sentences to answer a question.” Dr. Simone agrees. “A job candidate should discuss their professional and personal interests when queried but should refrain from dominating the discussion. It should be an interactive exchange,” he says.
Dr. Lyons recommends preparing for an interview by putting together a three- to five-minute presentation about who you are as a professional. Your interviewers will already have your resume, so avoid recounting what they already know. “If you’re having trouble with these things, put on your interview suit, then videotape yourself giving your presentation,” Dr. Lyons says. “Watch it and ask yourself, ‘Would I hire this person?’ It’s a grim exercise, but it’s effective.”
Consider your demeanor and make changes that allow you to show off your personal strengths and your ability to connect. Simple changes—upgrades, if you will—can lift you above your competition. “If concerns arise with one candidate, the rule of thumb is to avoid taking a chance on hiring a potential problem physician,” Dr. Simone says. “Recruitment is expensive. It has been estimated that making an incorrect [hire] can cost a program up to $100,000, when you consider expenses such as headhunter fees, sign-on bonus, moving expenses, and advertising, in addition to lost revenues for the program while staff participate in the recruitment process and lost productivity when the program is down one provider.”
A good attitude, openness to others, and a professional demeanor can bolster your career path. As Dr. Lyons points out, “If you don’t interview well, other people will make all the major decisions for your career. Physicians have not been taught to interview well. The good news is, it’s not that hard.” TH
Jane Jerrard is a medical writer based in Chicago. She also writes “Public Policy” for The Hospitalist.