I’m finally settling into some job security after 16 years of changing jobs every six months. One advantage of not being in run-through training has been the frequency of job interviews (and the consequent interview experience I’ve gained). The consultant interview involved another level of preparation. Facing this is a challenge, particularly for trainees who will not have had an interview for 6-8 years. My approach was to throw everything into it. I worked extremely hard to prepare, practice, and research – essentially leaving no stone unturned so that if I didn’t get the job at least I would know I’d done my best.
Edit: In 2022, I published the Ace Your NHS Consultant Interview eBook, which explores how to come up with good examples, how to learn what you need to know about the organisation you’re applying to, and what tips and tricks you need to bring your best self on the day in spite of your nerves.
I also share how to answer the most common questions you’ll get asked, how to make sure your answers are structured and the right length, and how to cope with a surprise question.
The book includes exercises, links to videos, and examples of how you can head into your interview feeling prepped and ready.
You can find it here.
In the meantime, here are my top 10 tips.
1. Do your background reading
In the NHS, there are some key reports you need to know about. I don’t think it’s likely you will be asked to summarise the reports in detail, but it’s useful to know what their key learning points were so you could refer to them in your answers if they were relevant. These are explored more in the Ace Your NHS Consultant Interview eBook, but there are a few key points below.
Understand the priorities for NHS strategy
- NHS Long-Term Plan
- Health and Social Care Bill 2011
- Any relevant College guidance (e.g. RCPCH Facing the Future Standards for Emergency Care for me)
And know some specifics related to your Trust/Hospital
- CQC report
- Trust Board meeting minutes
- Financial report (know whether your Trust is in deficit and roughly by how much)
- Know about your local STP
2. Know the important people and meet them
There are a number of people you need to contact to meet prior to your interview. Although this might seem awkward, it is expected, and your fellow competitors will certainly be doing it. Some of them will reply that they aren’t meeting any of the candidates or that there is no need to meet them, and that is completely fine. Making the effort counts.
The people you should be contacting will include:
- All the people on the panel (except for the layperson)
- Chief Executive
- Medical Director
- Departmental Managers
- Matron/Senior Nursing Team
- Clinical Director and Clinical Lead
When you do meet, have some questions ready. These could focus on asking what their priorities are for the Department/Hospital/Trust and what are the key things that worry/are stressful for them.
3. Work hard to prepare your presentation
Many interviews will have a presentation attached. The question for my 10-minute presentation was:
“What are the key challenges facing Paediatric EDs in the UK over the next five years and what solutions do you propose?“
Nobody gives a better presentation guide than Ross Fisher, so check out his website ffolliet.com
I treated it like any conference presentation – prepare the content, story, and slides, and practice fully so it’s smooth. This should be the easy part of your interview.
4. Have five examples to hand
It should not come as a surprise that you are going to be asked to give examples. And there are certain examples that are likely to come up. So have them planned in advance so you aren’t having to anxiously pull something out of the depths of your brain.
A time when you made a mistake
A time when you had a conflict with a colleague
A time when you had a conflict with a patient
A time when you led a team/brought about change
A time you dealt with a stressful situation or managed risk
5. Use a structure for particular answers
Rather than flailing around in the dark trying to structure your answer, have some set structures to use.
PERM. Personal experience, research/education, management. You will always get an open question, likely for your first question. This can take various forms but can be answered using this structure. Some examples of this type of question:
Tell me about yourself
Talk me through your CV.
Summarise your experience to date.
You can tailor the answer, but PERM allows you to remember all the key areas.
SPIES. Seek information, patient safety, initiative, escalation, and support. You are likely to be asked a question about dealing with a problematic colleague. Using SPIES helps to keep you on track.
A junior colleague consistently turns up late to her shifts.
A senior colleague comes into work looking dishevelled and smelling of alcohol.
A nursing colleague repeatedly underperforms and makes questionable clinical decisions.
IMSO. Incident, Mission, Steps, Outcome. This structure is useful for any time you are giving an example. It stops you from spending the whole time telling the story about what happened and reminds you to focus on what they want to know – what you did and how you achieved it.
Tell me about an example where you had a challenging consultation.
Tell me about a time when you struggled with competing demands of patient flow.
Give an example of a time when you made a change against resistance.
6. Don’t ramble
We’ve all had this experience in interviews where we are in the middle of answering a question and suddenly wonder if we’ve been rambling on for too long and if anyone is still listening. The structures discussed above will help you have a plan before you start. If you can, highlight where you are headed with the answer and then summarise at the end. This helps flag the key points for the interviewers to note down. Two to three minutes is reasonable for an answer – longer than this, and you’ll have lost the attention of the panel. Shorter, and you probably haven’t given enough evidence/examples. The more you try this in advance, the more easily you will recognize what an appropriate answer length should be.
7. Be specific – examples really help illustrate your question
It is easy to answer a question generically and report the skills you have. But what is common to forget is how well an example solidifies your answer and provides context and evidence.
“I’ve led several projects where we made a positive change in the department.”
“Last year I led on implementing a positive feedback reporting system in the Department. In the last nine months we have received 610 excellence reports by our staff members to their colleagues, and the project has been rolled out in two other departments in the hospital.“
8. Know the common questions to expect
If you do enough preparation, you will know all the key questions (or versions of questions) that are likely to come up. This means that you are unlikely to get any surprises). Some of these can be predicted – each panel member will focus on asking questions that are relevant to their role (i.e. they are all on the panel for a reason – to represent a specific interested group of people).
- The College rep. They will ask general questions about your training, e.g. what you might change in training, what were the best bits of your training, how you keep up to date, and what are your career aspirations (you need a plan for where you see yourself in 5, 10 years time – you can use CAMP for this and many of the College rep’s questions)
- Clinicians – managing juniors, change in the department, what you will do with your non-clinical time, how will you develop education and wellbeing, you have a disagreement with your colleague – how do you cope?
- Medical director – governance, SI experience, something specific to the department (which directorate), CQC report – key findings and what would you do to improve them, how you measure quality, do you want us to be involved with research going forward?
- Chief Exec – how will you improve patient flow? How do you improve quality without increasing costs?
9. Practise, Practise, Practise
There are only so many questions that can come up. If you write down 30 example questions you’ve probably covered most topics. 80% of these questions will be the same regardless of the speciality you are interviewing for, and the rest will be specific to your speciality or department/hospital.
Practice them all – answering them within a reasonable timeframe, with a reasonable structure, and by giving good examples. Arrange mock interviews with other consultants in your speciality (ideally, ones you don’t know well, so you feel under pressure – I went to two other Paeds EDs in London to have a mock interview with Consultants I didn’t know). Try to make sure it’s people with experience on interview panels.
Go to an interview skills course – I went to an ISC course, which was excellent (although not cheap). But I also practised questions each day – with my husband, with my mother, with my colleagues, and on my own. Get used to feeling awkward and having to perform.
10. Don’t ask a question at the end for the sake of it.
Nobody wins their job with the answer to ‘Do you have any questions for us?‘. But you can still mess it up at that point.
Don’t ask about rotas or money, or use it as an opportunity to negotiate your terms.
Please don’t ask something you should know the answer to. Personally, I go for the…
‘Thank you, but I’ve spent a lot of time speaking to people in and about the role, so I don’t have anything specific to ask for now”.
And some bonus content
There have been some great tips from social media after posting this, so I’ve added some extras below:
Make a list before your interview of the Top 5 things about yourself you want to get into the interview – this will help you get some key selling points across.
Have a QI project, a safety project, and a project where you worked with management teams ready to discuss (h/t @docomalik)
Research your interview team – find out what they need/what problems they have and show how you’d solve it (h/t @hcs_david)
Avoid passive language. Rather than ‘I was lucky enough to be involved with…’ or ‘I was invited to…’ say ‘I undertook..,’ or ‘I led…’ (h/t @MaryamCrews)