Succeeding at Interview

Written by: Kathy Oxtoby
Published on: 29 Oct 2018

Do your homework

When preparing for your interview it is important to do your homework. This should start with finding out the format the interview will take and the competencies you may be required to demonstrate, depending on your grade and specialty.

To find out more about your job interview format, Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, suggests you visit your college website, and the Health Education England specialty training website. She also suggests asking peers who have been through a similar process about their experiences.

To get an insight into your potential new post, you can visit departments to talk to team members about their work experiences. This will also help give you a sense of how you fit in, says David Evans, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s vice president for training and assessment.

Prepare for potential questions

It is hard to predict every question that could come up at interview. But you can prepare for typical ones that an interviewer is likely to ask. It is likely trainees will expected to “talk about their commitment to a specialty and why it is they want to train in a particular field”, says Lovett.

Other typical questions include: “Why do you want this job?”, “Why here?”, “Why are you changing job now?”, “What skills from your previous job could you bring to this role?”, and “Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?”

“These sort of questions will come up at every interview and it is worth having well rehearsed and slick answers ready,” says David Turner, a GP partner in West London.

Turner says candidates should be able to give examples of how they fit into their team and communicate with other members, and what they think works well in the team and what could work better. They should be prepared to discuss how they would deal with a difficult situation, clinical or otherwise, in their new role, and who they would involve in helping them resolve this.

Candidates should also be able to talk about what they do to relax, their interests outside work, and what they do to avoid burnout and stress.

Cue cards can be helpful prompts for answering questions, but Evans warns against over preparing “as you can end up answering the questions on the cards, not answering the interviewers”.

There is further advice on the best way to respond to the question “Why do you want to work in this hospital?” in this article:

Interview practice

Farah Bhatti, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Royal College of Surgeons of England council member, and chair of the college’s Women in Surgery Network, says that practising answers out loud to interview questions is useful preparation, as is rehearsing the interview with colleagues. However, she says it’s important not to over rehearse your responses.

There is further advice on preparing for interviews in these articles:


Often interviewers ask for some sort of presentation, which Evans says is useful. “Presentations are often done at the start of the interview,” he says. “It’s a way that you can set the scene and it’s something you can prepare so you’re not caught off balance.”

He adds, “When preparing your presentation, think about why you have been asked to do that particular one – for example if it’s about quality improvement activities you’ve done, make it relevant to the role you are applying for.”

Know your audience

When preparing for the interview “think about who is your audience is on the other side of panel, what are they looking for, and what questions they might they be asking themselves about you”, says Lovett. The panel may be ask how interested you are in your specialty, whether you are committed to the role, and whether you have the skills, values, and qualities that their chosen specialty demands.

Managing anxiety

Interviews can be nerve wracking and, even though aspects of medicine can be nerve wracking and doctors are used to exams, an interview is something quite different from what they do on a day to day basis.

“Chances are doctors are extremely good at managing their anxiety in highly stressful clinical situations, often in adverse circumstances such as in in middle of night, and usually good at putting patients needs ahead of their own,” says Lovett. “So I usually say to trainees this is just the same really - demonstrating to an interview panel that you can manage your anxiety.”

She adds that it’s important to feel just “a bit anxious” to perform well at interview. “Being anxious is entirely normal but being over anxious can cloud your thinking so you need to develop strategies, such as breathing techniques if your anxiety is getting out of control.”

Getting to the interview

Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the interview, have a contingency plan in place in case you encounter travel issues on the way, and carry key numbers in case you need to notify your potential employer about delays. If your interview is early morning, you could even stay near the site the night before.

What to wear

When it comes to what to wear on the day, “think about the message you are trying to convey”, says Lovett. “Sometimes interview panels might be quite conservative and find individual styles of dress off-putting.” She advises dressing fairly smartly but comfortably. “Wear what make you feel confident and authentic,” she says.

Responding to questions

“It’s important to listen to the question and to understand what the interviewer is trying to get you to explain,” advises Bhatti.

It’s also fine to pause for a few seconds to think about the question, and to even repeat the question back to the interviewer to buy more time for a response, says Evans. By taking that extra time to think about a question, you will also show that you are able to give considered decisions, he advises.

Strengths and weaknesses

A common question is “what are your strengths – and weaknesses?” Evan says that answers to this question often involve “telling your strength as a weakness, such as ‘I’m a perfectionist”. “Weaknesses have to be genuine, such as ‘finding it difficult to delegate’,”, he says. Then you need to describe how you address those weaknesses, he says.

Avoid negativity

It’s important not to be negative about your previous place of work or your previous colleagues, even if reason you are moving is because of a bad colleagues. “Look for positive reasons for wanting to change, such as fresh challenges and to learn new skills in different areas of medicine,” says Turner.

Equally, don’t blame others for difficulties. “If you’re talking about hypothetical situations and how you might handle something, it doesn’t go down well if you pin blame on patients or staff members. Mistakes are made within a team, rarely by one person,” says Evans.

Be honest

If you don’t know the answer, then say so. “If you’re asked if you’ve read a report and you haven’t read it, don’t say you have. You don’t lose marks for being honest, but you do if you’re trying to a answer question when you’re clearly being untruthful,” says Lovett.

Asking questions

A lot of interviewees feel under pressure to ask a “fascinating question” at the end “but don’t feel you have to ask questions for the sake of it, and it’s also the wrong time to have major questions about the job”, says Evans.

Dealing with interview difficulties

If the interview goes badly and it feels like an issue for you, then you can ask for help from deaneries, educational supervisors, careers advisors, and mentors, says Lovett.

Advice for different career stages

This article provides interview advice for doctors applying the foundation training programme:

There is further advice on preparing for specialty training interviews in this article:

And these articles provide advice on preparing for consultant interviews: