Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

We need better interview methods to recruit junior doctors

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 12 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:s235
  1. N R Chenthil Kumar, research registrar in orthopaedics
  1. Tameside General Hospital, Ashton under Lyne

Having recently gained a management qualification in personnel practice (CIPD-CPP), I now realise that we use an inappropriate method of recruiting and selecting junior doctors in the NHS.

Interviews play a valuable part in making sure that we recruit the right people for the right job. In all the job interviews I have attended in various NHS trusts, the consultants and human resources staff were conducting face to face interviews. Later discussions have revealed that most consultants were not able to go through the curriculum vitae (CVs) of the shortlisted candidates before the interview because of lack of time. In my experience, human resources staff were not interested in going through the CVs of shortlisted candidates as they felt that the final decision was made by the consultants and so they had no say in it. The discussions also revealed that most of the consultants and human resources staff were not aware of the different methods of interviewing and their advantages and disadvantages.

A face to face interview is unlikely to identify talent

Face to face

The conventional face to face interview that is used in the NHS is a major drawback to the whole system. A face to face interview is unlikely to identify talent.1 Consultants and human resources staff think that organising the interview on time, asking the same questions in the same order, and running the interview smoothly is a well structured interview. This is a total misconception as this is an interview strategy not a structured interview.

Personality tests

These are used by some non-health organisations to achieve better results. This is quite a controversial area and there are pros and cons with this method.2 The ability to score highly on intelligence tests correlates with the capacity to retain new knowledge, pass examinations, and succeed at work.23 But this needs to be carefully validated in relation to the job. While personality tests may be valuable in situations where self perceptions are important, there is little evidence that even the best personality tests predict job performance.4 So on their own, these tests are not good predictors of future performance.

Assessment centres

With this method individuals are assessed by a team of judges using a comprehensive and integrated series of techniques.5 The major disadvantage is that the assessors fall into the trap of believing that they are assessing the qualities displayed by the candidates when, in fact, they are simply rating how well the candidates perform the task they are given.

Structured interviews

These are derived from the systematic study of successful performers in a wide variety of jobs to identify the key characteristics that make these individuals successful. This clearly distinguishes them from other selection systems. The system provides separate structured interviews for each occupational group which enable interviewers to identify to what degree individual applicants possess certain characteristics. This is done using a set of predetermined questions which must be asked in the same way for each person interviewed. For every question there is a particular element to listen for in the answer (which is what successful people in that particular profession or vocation say when they respond to the same question). This is the key feature of this system because it is all about selecting people with successful potential. Concentrating on themes also helps to identify weaknesses and strengths.

So although they are a much better technique, there are potential problems and challenges with structured interviews:

  • Since the interview is modelled on outstanding talent, role models have to be carefully identified. Unlike a number of other systems, structured interviews cannot be developed from the general population

  • Validation is critical, as in all forms of effective psychometric measurement, and it can take time to identify appropriate performance criteria

  • Good objective interviewers have to be identified and carefully trained. They can be hard to find.6

Of all the interview methods, the face to face interview is the least productive and so it is no longer used by almost all successful organisations. A combination of a well structured interview with psychometric tests would be more effective in recruiting junior doctors who have successful potential.

Summing up

We should develop a structured interview technique for recruiting junior doctors in the NHS. Once this is done, trusts should make sure that the consultants and human resources staff are adequately trained in various interview methods. Consultants should also be given enough time to go through the CVs of the shortlisted candidates before the interview. The final decision in selecting the right person for the job should be a group decision rather than one individual's decision, and human resources staff should actively participate.


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