Preparing for interviews and assessments
Interviews, like exams, need to be prepared for if you are to perform well on the day. And just as with exams, you can often predict many of the interview questions. So once you have been short-listed, make sure that you are ready to shine on the day of the interview itself.
The week before
Look up the hospital on the website and look up the consultants who you would be working for. What are their special interests? What have they published? Knowing a little bit about the consultants will help to put you at ease during the interview; it is always easier to talk to people you know about even slightly than to complete strangers.
Phone the medical staffing department and ask if they can tell you the format that the interview will take. Interviews come in different shapes and sizes so it is useful to know what you will be facing there will be fewer nasty surprises on the day!
Ask if it is possible to look around the unit or hospital you are applying to. This has a number of advantages:
- It shows that you are keen.
- It gives you a chance to meet the people you may be working with and who may be interviewing you.
- You can find out about the special interests of the consultants you would be working for.
- You can find out from the junior staff what the job is really like.
- You will sound much more knowledgeable, and be able to ask much more relevant questions, after a visit to the unit. During a visit, speak to as many of the staff as you can, not just the consultant, to find out from the junior doctors what the job entails. How much responsibility would you be expected to take? What is the support like? What is the role of the nursing staff? Many units now have very experienced nurse practitioners, from whom you can learn a lot as a junior doctor.
- If you cannot look around the unit, then second best is to speak to a doctor who is doing the job that you are applying for. Phone the hospital and ask them to bleep the appropriate doctor. Explain briefly who you are and ask for a time that you can call for a five minute chat.
Ask if you need to take your learning portfolio with you. Your portfolio should include:
- All your certificates from degree onwards
- Home office papers (if needed, to prove you have the right to work)
- Your assessments, such as DOPs, MiniCEX, and 360 degree feedback forms
- Any open references you may have collected from consultants you have worked with
- Any pieces of reflective learning you have completed
- Audits you have done
- Presentations you have given
- Thank you letters
- Evidence of teaching you have given (e.g. a thank you letter for giving a formal lecture)
If you do not know what any of these things are, you need to find out NOW. Go to the Foundation Programme website [www.foundationprogramme.nhs.uk] and look for the portfolio. Start collecting all your information now and make it all look smart in a nicely bound folder.
There are mostly two different interview formats the traditional interview panel and Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) style assessment stations (see below).
Traditional interview panel
In this type of interview you will face two or three consultants and a member of the human resources department. They will ask you traditional style interview questions (see below). These are likely to include questions about yourself and your experience, your understanding of key current topics and one or two clinical scenarios.
Preparing for likely questions
There are a number of old favourites when it comes to asking interview questions, so you should be prepared to answer any of these questions:
- Why this specialty/level?
- Why this hospital?
- How would you describe yourself? How would your friends describe you?
- Can you tell me about your strengths?
- Can you tell me about your weaknesses?
- How do you deal with stress?
- How do you prioritise in a busy job?
- Describe a team that you have worked in that has worked well/ badly together. What made it work/ not work?
- Can you describe a time when you were disappointed/stressed at work/under pressure/ had to ask for help/ had to manage by yourself/ had to break bad news?
- What do you understand by the term clinical audit? Describe an audit that you have done and your role in it.
- What do you understand by the term clinical governance?
- Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
- What would you do if you went to work and realised your colleague/ consultant had been drinking (alcohol)?
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. What did you learn from it?
- Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?
For these (predictable) questions think through a reasonable answer and try them out on British colleagues.
There is a skill to finding an answer that puts you in a favourable light. For example, being a perfectionist can be a fault (because you take a long time to finish a job) or a strength (because you always do a good job); having had time out of medicine can be a weakness if you let it be, but it could have given you time to reflect on your goals, refresh and revise your medical knowledge and mature as a person so that you can bring that sense of maturity to the job.
Be honest if this is your first job in the NHS you could say that you recognise this is your weak point but show that you have prepared yourself well on a clinical attachment and are able to recognise when you need help and ask for it appropriately. Be positive.
Make sure that if you say you want to be a consultant anaesthetist you have found out about the career pathway, when you would take exams and how many years training it would require.
Look up current buzz words in clinical audit, clinical governance, personal development portfolios, NICE, and National Service Frameworks, on the Internet beforehand. Read Good Medical Practice written by the GMC; it is designed to help you answer those tricky ethical questions.
Re-read your application form or CV ( I hope you keep them!). You should be tailoring each to the job that you are applying for. Sometimes the interviewers will ask about an audit you described or a project you worked on, so be prepared to answer those questions.
Finally, after all this preparation, make sure that you do not sound too rehearsed. The interviewers will be able to tell if your answers have been prepared by someone else, so you must use your own words.
OSCE style stations are becoming more popular. You may be faced with anything between three and six stations. This may include an interviewer asking traditional style interview questions in one of the stations, and also someone looking at your portfolio and asking you about your experiences.
OSCE stations will include a mixture of:
- Managing acutely ill patients (not a problem if you have done an ALS course)
- Breaking bad news or asking for consent
- A communication skills station. Re-read your PLAB books or, better still, read a communication skills books used by medical students or GPs.
- Prioritising emergencies
Clinical scenarios – prioritising
Clinical scenarios often involve dealing with common clinical emergencies and prioritising when faced with several sick patients at the same time. There is no trick here just think through what you do every working day on the wards. Remember you do not have to deal with emergencies by yourself and one after the other. You can:
- Ask for help
From the nurses (many can maintain airways, do ECGs, cannulate,start IV fluids etc).
From fellow SHOs
From senior doctors, even consultants. The consultant would rather be called to help than come to the ward and find a dead patient because you were afraid to call.
Whilst dealing with the first emergency ask the nurse to call the porter to send the bloods and call the registrar.
- Use your communication skills
Tell the other wards that are bleeping you, why you cannot attend right now. They may send someone to help you!
- Learn from the situation
Afterwards think about different ways you could have coped should you have made sure that you checked on all the wardsbefore going to lunch? Should you have avoided booking your holiday to start the evening that you finish on call?
On the day
What to wear
Dress in British medicine is conservative. Men should go for a smart suit and tie. Women have more options but must look smart and business-like. Make sure that your shoes are clean and polished too.
Allow yourself enough time to get there and plan for the bus or train being late, even if it means spending time sitting in the canteen drinking coffee to pass the time before the interview.
Take a deep breath
In a typical interview, you are likely to be introduced to the interview panel individually and should shake hands with them during the introduction. In an OSCE station format you can still shake hands with the individual examiner, so put your hand out confidently and introduce yourself.
Remember that they know you are nervous as everyone is nervous in an interview, so they will be trying to put you at your ease. Dont look for tricks behind the questions, as they will be quite straight forward.
You probably have lots of experience in your own country, so use this. Give concrete examples of how you dealt with situations. You have already demonstrated that you can adapt to difficult circumstances and fit in with different people, or you would not have got this far, so be proud of this.
And have you any questions? If you havent thought of any pertinent questions, then do not ask something irrelevant or obvious. Simply state that all the questions you had were answered when you looked around the unit.
If you dont get the job, dont give up. Getting as far as interview is an achievement in itself. Ask the human resources department for feedback so that you can improve your interview performance in future.