Sarah Burnett gives some tips on how to shine
If your curriculum vitae has impressed the selectors1 the day will come when you have to attend for interview. The principles are not so different from those for the interviews you may have had to get into medical school, but for a job, your skills should be infinitely more sophisticated. Some people are born performers and relish the chance to show off their personal presentation skills, but for most the interview is at best intimidating and at worst terrifying. The best way both to deal with the anxiety and to improve your performance on the day is to be properly prepared.
Allow plenty of time to get to the interview, leaving time to calm down and freshen up. Practise the route if necessary. Before you enter the interview room switch off or set your mobile phone, pager, and watch so that they don't beep. If you have some time to wait reread your CV so you are not caught out by a sudden reference to "page 13." When you are called into the room take your lead from the chair of the panel about where to sit and whether to shake hands.
The "Halo effect" means that your overall appearance affects the panel's evaluation of you. This impression will often be gained within the first few seconds of your walking into the room, and it will probably be the first time you have met some of the panel members. This is why it is important to think about your appearance before the interview. Look smart and professional. Poor personal presentation may detract from the content of what you say during the interview.
The first question
This is often designed to put you at your ease and may not be relevant to the main content of the interview. Therefore, resist the temptation to waffle. The interviewers aren't really interested in how you journey was, so give a brief but polite answer, unless you need to explain why you are late. If you are late, remember to thank the panel for arranging the schedule so that you can still be seen.
The panel members should explain who they are and what their role is. There may be royal college and university representation as well as consultants from the trust to which you have applied. The emphasis of the questions may depend on the role of the panellist. The first serious question is likely to be, "Why have you chosen this [trust/speciality]?" It is helpful if you have done some homework about the job. Get the trust's annual report and any other promotional material it may produce. You are then able to say, for example, "Because this is a 600 bed hospital serving a local population of 400 000, and I know that I will see a broad range of acute surgical emergencies," if that is appropriate to the post. Talk to people who are currently in post or who have been interviewed for it.
Why this specialty?
You should be clear about your own reasons for choosing a particular specialty, although you may have to be circumspect in the delivery of those answers. If you are applying for a vascular surgery rotation in a teaching hospital it is not wise to say, "Because I want to get through the MRCS and become a radiologist, and this job is only a one in seven acute take." Make sure you know enough about the specialty to talk intelligently about your interest in it and motivation for it. Try to match it to skills you have described in your CV. If you have a logbook or portfolio it is sensible to take it with you. You may be asked about important future developments in your chosen field so read anything you can find about it. If you want to change specialty suddenly you will need to be clear and honest about your reasons for changing.
Research and teaching
You are likely to be asked about the importance of research and teaching, and you need to sound enthusiastic. It should be easy to do this about teaching, as it is often one of the most fun aspects of a post. You may be asked what the value of publications is at your level. This is difficult to answer as, realistically, they usually serve to improve your CV rather than further medical knowledge. A useful answer is to say that it is vital to acquire basic research and statistical skills and to have experience of writing a paper and giving presentations. If you have done any research then you can expect to be asked about both the methodology and the significance of your results.
You can expect to be asked about the current issues about quality in the NHS, so have an articulate response to questions about clinical governance, appraisal, and revalidation. Know the full names for the acronyms (such as CHI, NICE, PEAT), the role of each body, and definitions of the jargon. It is a good idea to check out the GMC and NHS websites for the "party line" response. For a more real (possibly cynical) view, read the Doctor or Hospital Doctor sites in addition to the BMJ. Be careful how you respond to these questions, however, as you never know if the consultant interviewing you is Alan Milburn's best mate (presuming that he does have some friends). A tricky but not uncommon question is how you would deal with a colleague who has a drink or drugs problem or who is failing to perform. Ask your current consultant for advice on how to answer, as it will depend on the seniority of the doctor compared with you, and to some extent on local policies.
Organisational skills and time keeping are important, and you may be asked how you handle a busy schedule. If this is your first proper job interview, use examples from your hobbies and clubs. The panellists may ask about your interests in order for you to demonstrate these skills. Or they may ask from genuine curiosity or common interest.
If you have rehearsed an answer try not to let it show. Launching into a prepared speech doesn't look convincing. You can have a strategy for how to deal with a question without memorising a verbatim answer. Try to speak with enthusiasm, if not passion, for subjects that interest you. Keep your sense of humour during the interview--you may need it later.
When the panel has finished asking questions they will invite you to ask a question. If you have a real question then ask it, but don't ask about something that is covered by the job description, a topic already discussed in the interview, or a question that makes you look like a smart-ass. It is conventional not to ask about holidays or private practice. Listen to what the panel tells you about how you will be contacted about the result of the interview. When you leave, take your cue from the panel as to whether to shake hands again or just to say goodbye. Thank the panel and don't forget to take your things with you. Don't try to second-guess your performance by how long the interview lasts.
If you are not appointed it is reasonable to ask for some feedback. Accept this in the constructive way it is intended. Do not let a disappointment affect your performance in subsequent interviews. Try to enter each interview room with a positive attitude and a smile. Apart from intelligence and clinical skills, consultants appoint people because they think they will work well in a team and be fun to teach and work with.
It is a good idea to arrange some interview practice, especially if you are relatively inexperienced. Senior colleagues are usually willing to do this, but as a lot of the skill is not what you say but how you say it, then friends, even non-medical ones, can help too. Choose a venue where you will not be interrupted and don't get the giggles. If you can video the mock interview then watching it is an excellent, and revealing, source of feedback.
Remember that there are no right or wrong answers (except perhaps, "I want to be an orthopaedic surgeon for the massive private practice opportunities," which may be true but is still wrong), and there is no right or wrong appearance. If you are the right person for the job you should get it. If you don't get it you probably wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway.