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7 Typical Questions for Medical Consultant Interviews

When applying for a consultant level post, candidates need to demonstrate that they can offer more than excellent clinical skills. At this stage of the game, they need to show that they also have good leadership skills, business acumen and are aware of current NHS guidelines and policies, but most importantly how those guidelines and initiatives impact their specialty.

The most recent report that has emerged is the NHS long-term plan and a version of this can be found on https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-10-year-plan. It is definitely worth brushing up on this before a medical consultant interview to demonstrate you understand what is current and what future planning looks like in the NHS.

1) Why do you think you’re the best candidate for the job?

This is a common first question, which is intended to allow the candidate to relax and start talking. Prepare this question well in advance and make sure it is a coherent answer. Follow the CAMP structure – Clinical, Academic, Management and Personal (the last point should be more about your personal qualities though ie. your communication skills, teamwork, proactive nature, instead of your personal life which I hear many people doing and I think it sounds out of place). Do remember to bring in your understanding of the role and the job specifically from your pre-interview visits which provides you with the backbone of answering the question well. Remember, you are trying to sell yourself into this particular job, so you cannot give a standard answer at every interview. Job specs are usually very broad and vague and often out-dated so you need to go beyond what is written on them to find out what are the current challenges in the trust you are applying for and in the role itself.

2) What are your weaknesses?

Sometimes this question is phrased as, or “How do you recognise your weaknesses?” or “What would your worst critic say about you?” It is important to state a weakness that is either a positive or a negative that you have overcome or not yet quite refined, but are always looking to improve on it. This could include “not being assertive enough, so I took assertiveness training and had discussions with senior colleagues,” “I used to leave work late but I have now taken steps to improve my work-life balance and try to finish on time,” or perhaps “I take on too much work but I have learnt to delegate and manage others.”

3) Tell us about a conflict with a colleague?

Another commonly asked question, which should be focusing on your communication skills – think about how you resolved a conflict by addressing the problem early with the particular individual, arranged to speak with them (ideally face-to-face) and ultimately, worked towards a compromise solution that worked for both of you. Many times, people have said that the relationship with the individual has since improved as barriers or difficulties in that relationship are now out in the open and have been talked through. It’s impossible to ‘like’ every individual you work with and from time to time, there will be clashes but you should always aim to demonstrate an understanding of how others may feel and a willingness to be open and discuss a problem.

4) How would you plan and deliver a service improvement?

The primary concern is always patient safety. You should always make sure that you back up your answers with examples from your own practice, your specialty, or your local area. For instance, you might say, “Any service improvement would put patient safety first, as well as providing a higher quality and more sustainable service. The change would be clinically led, using evidence-based medicine. The service would be tailored to local circumstances using national frameworks. Patients, the public, and staff would be engaged throughout and the service would be monitored.”

5) How do we know you’re a good team player?

Sometimes this question might be phrased as “What does team work mean to you?” You could answer it along the following lines of: “I work well in a team and have received excellent multisource feedback from my colleagues; I’m passionate about my work and very hardworking and encourage my team to employ the same work ethic. I’m a very good listener and can take account of different perspectives and empathise with others and in fact, my trainees will often turn to me for support. I’m flexible and have often helped out colleagues by being adaptable with the rota. I’m a good communicator and believe I’m a positive role model to trainees and the wider team. I welcome and encourage the contributions and expertise of others and frequently take the lead in MDT meetings.”

6) How would you deliver a cost improvement programme?

Your answer to this will need to cover a number of issues. You might say, “Initially, I would assess how the programme fits into the trust’s values and vision. With the input of financial and clinical colleagues I would draw up a detailed plan, including five-year forecasts. I would ensure that everyone involved in the plan had clear responsibilities and realistic deadlines. The performance improvement would allow savings to be removed from departmental budgets. I would manage the risk for the initiative. Initially, the project would be implemented as a pilot study but once delivered and proven to be successful, I would ensure regular monitoring and reporting using financial and non-financial indicators. This would be carried out via regular audits.”

7) What is your opinion of . . . ?

Questions of this sort are common, and you need to show a balanced answer. Besides which, you may not know the beliefs and opinions of the panel so you don’t want to upset anyone! Examples might be “What is your opinion of 24/7 consultant working?” or “Do you think all junior trainees should undertake research?” Your answer should start with facts before you introduce your opinion. This shows that you are aware of both sides of the issue and that you have made your opinion based on these facts. Give one minute of facts, followed by one minute of opinion and be prepared to hold your ground if you are challenged without being defensive.

Top Tips for medical consultant interview questions

• Practise, practise and practise! Medical consultant interviews are quite straightforward and without many surprises so it’s easy to predict the typical questions. At the same time, don’t get bored of your answers by overdoing it – many a time I have heard of candidates not being offered the job because they weren’t enthusiastic enough!

• Don’t ramble – try to signpost some of your longer interview answers so that they have structure and direction to them • Give yourself time to answer the questions – speak slower than you normally do, emphasise significant points (think of how politicians speak!) and breathe …. • And finally … very few people actually like interviews, but I always stress it’s often approximately only 1 HOUR of your life and that’s it! So, yes, stretch yourself out of your comfort zone for that hour because the pay-off is more than worth it!

And, of course, if you want help in preparation, book a session or two with me.

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Copyright 2015 Sinclair Career Consulting

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