Intended for healthcare professionals


Great answers to tricky consultant interview questions

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 16 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2803
  1. Perbinder Grewal, consultant surgeon
  1. 1Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust
  1. Perbinder.grewal{at}


Perbinder Grewal provides a guide to answering some of the tough questions candidates may face in interviews for consultant posts

In interviews for consultant posts it is the non-clinical skills and attributes that separate the excellent candidates from the good ones. Evidence of good clinical skills is of course essential, but candidates also need to demonstrate that they are up to speed on management and politics. Some questions and types of questions come up regularly so it is important that candidates have some set answers prepared.

What makes you a good doctor?

This is a common opener, which is intended to allow the candidate to relax and start talking. Don’t ramble. Follow the personal, academic, clinical, and external (PACE) format.

A good answer would be: “I feel I am a good doctor because, personally, I am affable and polite. I am not judgmental, and I get on well with my colleagues. This can be supported by evidence from my multi-source feedback, comments made by colleagues and consultants, and from my references. Academically, I have passed all my exams well and have prizes in [. . . ]. I have published X number of articles in peer reviewed journals and presented X times nationally and X times internationally. I enjoy teaching by the bedside in small group tutorials and in larger lectures. Clinically, I have been told by my colleagues and supervisors that my clinical acumen is good and my operative skill is appropriate for a consultant. My logbook shows that I have been involved in X index cases, having been primary surgeon in X cases. Externally, I enjoy sport and can play the piano to grade seven.”

What are your weaknesses?

Sometimes this question is phrased as, “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. 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.”

How would you deal with a drunk doctor?

Any question about difficult doctors requires a set answer that addresses the problem as well as the consequences for patients and the trust. You could answer along the following lines: “I would talk to my colleague and try to ascertain what the underlying problem was. I also would investigate any complaints. My primary concern would be patient safety and I would arrange cover for the doctor so that the trust’s commitments are met. Either I or a senior colleague would check the doctor’s decisions to ensure safety was not compromised. I would escalate the matter within the trust, using trust guidelines. I would ask for advice from senior colleagues, the clinical director, or the medical director, human resources, or the General Medical Council. I would ensure that support was provided for the doctor.”

How would you plan and deliver a service improvement?

Patient safety is paramount here. You should also 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.”

How would you plan and manage a new service?

You could answer this question, and other similar ones, along these lines: “When planning the new service I would assess how it fits into the trust both physically and financially. I would approach senior managers to assess its sustainability, as well as gathering feedback from patients, service users, and colleagues. I would appraise the options in terms of benefits and risks.

“I would then identify the level and type of resources needed to deliver a safe and effective service. I would also minimise waste by using resources efficiently and effectively. Ensuring that my team is onside would be paramount. I would use their skills to ensure that outcomes are met and support my team to develop their roles. I would finally analyse performance using a range of sources. I would take responsibility for tackling difficult issues and build on my experience for future developments.”

How have you worked in a team effectively?

Sometimes this question might be phrased as “What does team work mean to you?” You could answer it along the following lines: “I work well in a team: I’m a good listener and can take account of different perspectives and empathise with others. I’m a good communicator and hope I’m a positive role model. I encourage colleagues to engage in the clinical process. I respect the contributions and expertise of others.”

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 appropriate deadlines. The performance improvement would allow savings to be removed from departmental budgets. I would manage a risk register for the programme. Once delivered, I would ensure regular monitoring and reporting using financial and non-financial indicators. I would also ensure regular audit.”

What is your opinion of . . . ?

Questions of this sort are common, and often answered badly. Examples might be “What is your opinion of junior consultants?” or “What is your opinion of research?” Your answer should start with facts and 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.

Tips for successful answers

  • Be succinct and coherent, and pause before answering, rather than launching into a rambling and incoherent response.

  • Prepare responses of no more than two minutes to common questions. If you wish to say more ask the interviewer if he or she would like you to expand further.

  • Structure your answers so that they are easy to follow.

  • Use your personal experiences and examples.

  • Do not be modest. The interviewers need to know why they should appoint you over equally good shortlisted candidates.

  • When answering, provide a headline statement to allow the interviewers to understand where you are heading.

  • For competency questions use the situation, task, action, and result (STAR) formula to provide a structured and coherent answer.


  • I have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: I am an interviewer for general surgery CT and ST interviews. I provide training for consultant and ST interviews for Medicate ( I have produced a Kindle book entitled “Medical Consultant Interviews Tips & Tricks.”