Businessman using cell phone while waiting for job interview with other candidates.

By this point in the job search cycle, every physician knows some of the phrases they should be uttering regularly: “Thank you for your time.” “What should I expect in terms of next steps?” “I really appreciated your staff’s hospitality.” And “I’m looking forward to learning more.”

But how about those phrases you need to avoid? Here are five things you should never say to a prospective employer during the physician job search.

“I shouldn’t say this, but____.”

The next words are inevitably negative about your current employer, training program, hospital or city. We will nod our heads sympathetically and agree with how intolerable this must be for you, but we are wondering. Is the gossipy slam you just shared a clue that you are a habitual complainer? Or was it just an inexperienced interviewee gaffe?

Rule of thumb: There is never an upside to negativity in an interview. Interviewers will pick up clues to the thorns in your side in your current world through listening to what excites your enthusiasm and questions. Let your references talk about how certifiably insane the founding partner is, or how budget cuts have systematically destroyed your department. If the information is relevant, turn it around to focus on a positive element you want to experience in your upcoming job.

Rephrase “I shouldn’t say this, _____” to:

“I found I really loved _____. I’m really looking forward to working with a hospital that does a great job with _____ and has committed the resources to support it.”

“I don’t know anything about business.”

Employers know how little exposure you have to business operations during training. Unless you’re a second-career physician or an MD/MBA, we aren’t expecting you to walk in the door with balance sheet savvy.

Rephrase “I don’t know anything about business” to:

“I’m looking for a group that has strong practice management support for their clinicians. I’ve had a great clinical education and now I’m excited to develop administrative mentors who can help me learn about the business side of medicine.”

“I am impressed by the high quality of ___ services offered at your center.”

Unless you have physician friends inside giving you the scoop, any pronouncement about our quality based on 10 minutes of surfing online or a canned facility tour rings a bit false.

Rephrase “I am impressed by the high quality…” to:

“I reviewed your website and it looks like ______ plays a major role in your practice. Can you tell me about plans for this area going forward?”

“We have a certain lifestyle to which we are accustomed.”

It’s perfectly OK to set high-income targets for your own reasons, but package income needs to be carefully presented to prospective employers. Listen to how different these two explanations sound:

“My family has a certain lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. I need at least $_00k to make this work.”

Rephrase “We have a certain lifestyle…” to:

“My husband and I have a pretty large education debt load, and we face some additional expenses due to our son’s special needs. I need to focus on positions where I will clear $_00k, and I know we are going to have to make some sacrifices to meet that. Is that going to be feasible with this position?”

“I’m not comfortable sharing that.”

There will come a point in negotiations where the employer wants to know where you stand. They want to know who else is at the table with you because it helps them gauge what is driving your decision. They want to know what the competing offer is so they can justify matching or beating it if the move makes business sense. They want to ensure you have relevant information for your pros and cons list assessment.

Employers are also looking for some “buy signs” that justify their continued focus on you. As the comfort level that this is the right fit goes up, they keep piling eggs in your basket. Refusing to discuss your decision process may be taken as a sign that you are no longer interested in this organization.

Don’t be surprised if their tone and pace cool significantly in response to a stonewall answer. One snarky retort can be off-putting enough to move a candidate to the back burner if there are other qualified applicants.

Rephrase “I’m not comfortable sharing that” to:

“I’m looking at one position in Wisconsin that is pretty similar to this position, and I have a formal offer with a higher base salary for a hospital-employed position in Illinois. Neither of those positions includes all of the positive elements of your facility’s position. I am very interested in continuing discussions with you because this may well be the best overall fit for me and my family.”

Takeaway thought:

Employers virtually purr when candidates present relevant information in a positive, reflective and cooperative context. They want to like you and feel good about your potential contributions to their team. They want to finish interviewing and get back to work. Give them good reasons to close this search with you as the successful candidate.