Interview tips for impressing CIOs at top hospital IT departments; Hint: Don't be vague

Executives want to know what motivates candidates, how they solve problems and, of course, how deep their understanding of the tech goes.
By Mike Miliard
06:12 AM

What should IT professionals be prepared for when they sit down for a chat with their potential future bosses? We asked leaders of this year's Healthcare IT News Best Hospital IT Departments to share their go-to questions meant to show whether or not a job candidate will make for a good employee who fits in well with the team.

We also asked them to dish about their biggest no-nos when interviewing prospective hires. Here's what they had to say.

"Trying to figure out what motivates people, one of my things is to focus on culture," said Chad Brisendine, chief information officer at St. Luke's University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "The other is to focus on their education and learning, both in work and outside of work: I'll say, What do you want to continue to learn? Tell me some time in your career where you have had to spend some extra time learning things to grow and change with your job."

David Abbott, vice president of IT operations at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said that when he and his CIO do interviews, "we have situational discussions: Tell me about a time when you solved X, Y and Z. What was your line of thought in approaching the problem, who were the stakeholders you had to deal with and how did you logically work through the process? And once you had the end result, how did you measure your results?

"On the flipside, I would say coming unprepared is probably the biggest turn-off," he added. "If you haven't done your homework to understand even a little bit about our organization and the industry – you need to come ready. You need bring your A game and really be prepared."

Indeed, Steve Garske, CIO at CHLA, said he likes to pepper job candidates with questions, both technical and not, that aim to test how well they've done their research: "Do you know our mission? Who is our CEO?”

And then Garske likes to throw an IT question -- for instance: what is a front-side bus? -- to test a candidate’s tech chops. 

At Methodist Le Bonheur Health Care in Memphis, Tennessee, Chief Health Informatics Officer Cynthia Davis said she likes to present interviewees with "a very specific question: This is broken, what would be your thought process in assessing the situation? Or you're working with a team but are not in agreement about what the solution is for the customer, how would you solve that problem?"

Gene Fernandez, Methodist Le Bonheur's chief technology officer, said his interviews might also involve written case studies and even some role-playing.

"For us, fit is more important than skills," said the health system's CIO Mark McMath.

Skills are important. "But our culture is driven much more by the how than the what. We value the richness and diversity of opinions and ideas and experiences, and want to protect that."

Gil Hoffman, CIO at St. Louis-based Mercy, said he aims to challenge job candidates "about what value they can bring different from anyone else. I've tried to make sure they understand that this is a unique opportunity, and we're looking for people who can not just hit the ground running but bring something unique to the game.

"I've got to have a team that understands what value is expected, what value means at the individual level," said Hoffman. "So there's a lot of discussion about how do they define value, what do they think it means, how do they bring it, what's unique about them that brings value."

Similarly, Joseph Mannion, MD, senior vice president of IT at Edison, New Jersey-based Hackensack Meridian Health, wants to know why interviewees want to work there in particular.

"What is it about Hackensack Meridian Health that attracted you to this position?" he said. "If they're just looking for an IT job then they're not going to fit in culturally with the department. The thing that's unique about our department is the all-for-one, one-for-all attitude."

Tina Baugh, director of IT at Houston's Menninger Clinic offers another interesting question: "The one that usually blows up the interview pretty good is, 'If we offer you this job, what are you going to have on your resume in three years that you do not have today?' Because our team is also very much about growth. We like to continually grow our people and make sure you have continued education and certifications but also what projects and skill sets are you looking to add to your resume so I can make sure that this is a job that helps you accomplish that.”

The second one, she said, "is a role play, with two of us pretending to be a doctor and a social worker and we give you a pretty hard time. Not awful-awful, because our customers are pretty sweet. But I need it now because the patient will be here in 10 minutes and the form will not do this.”

As for no-nos? 

"The ones that really get the team is when people are vague about their answers," Baugh said. "Or they don’t actually answer the question. We ask, 'Tell us about a really high-performing team you have been on before and what made it high-performing?' And the people do not answer the question. They say a high-performing team is this or that. But have you ever been on a high-performing team? That shows a lack of attention, that you are not using active listening skills."

Anne Lara, CIO at Union Hospital of Cecil County in Elkton, Maryland, is also turned off by "folks that don’t exude a positive energy, folks that may tell me how bad their customer interactions have been, someone who gets annoyed from people who ask for help."

Signs of selfishness are also a cause for concern among CIOs of pretty much any industry. 

"We had a guy just the other day who came in, and basically was talking about the office space, and was worried about whether he had a window in his office," said Michael Mistretta, CIO at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia. "It tells a lot about the person when those are the questions you’re getting. We’re looking for someone who will fit with the team socially. If you’re focused on your individual needs and wants, you’re probably not the right person for us."

And it may seem obvious, but lacking even the most basic personal interaction skills can hurt a candidate’s chances. 

"Not being dressed appropriately for an interview; not making eye contact when talking" are big red flags, said Pam Ridley, IT Director at Paris, Tennessee-based Henry County Medical Center. After all, said Mark Kilborn, CIO at Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama, "In this business where you're interacting and sitting down with physicians and department heads, if you can't look them in the eye, that doesn't instill confidence."

Best hospital IT departments: 2017

Meet the winners and find out their winning formula.

Click here to learn more about how we chose this year's winners.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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