Intended for healthcare professionals


How appreciative inquiry can help you write a better medical CV and do better in interviews

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 30 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5152
  1. Mark Cheetham, care group medical director, Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust
  1. mark.cheetham{at}, @markcheetham


Mark Cheetham explains how doctors can use appreciative inquiry to get the job they want

The current vogue for online job applications means that there is a danger that your CV can end up looking bland and vanilla. This has made recruitment and job applications harder, as it is now more difficult to discriminate between candidates.

Early on in my career I found that I had a gap of six months with no job. At first I was rather worried. Then I saw an advertisement in The BMJ seeking doctors to join an expedition to Borneo. I had always been interested in the outdoors and travel. Suddenly I saw a new possibility, and I took six months out from surgical training to join the expedition.

When I returned to the UK, rather than leave a gap in my CV I listed this as a job. This has been the focus of questions at many subsequent interviews. Now when I am shortlisting or interviewing, I actively look for people who can bring different skills or experiences to the organisation.

Different viewpoint

Appreciative inquiry is an approach to organisational or personal change that emphasises and amplifies positives (box 1). It was developed by David Cooperider and colleagues, who had spent time investigating why some teams or systems performed well.1

In healthcare we are used to using a deficit model. We define a problem, diagnose it, and then try to solve it. In treating patients we tend to focus on illness rather than wellness. Many quality improvement methods (such as lean thinking) also begin by looking at a particular problem and defining it. But using a deficit model may damage morale and limits future possibilities. Appreciative inquiry takes an entirely different viewpoint of the world and, by focusing on what we are good at, can open up new possibilities (box 2). Tapping into the power of positivity by using appreciative inquiry can help you develop your career in new directions or improve your CV (box 3).

Creating a standout application

Remember that the people shortlisting applications may have only a few minutes to scan each, so make their life easier to improve your chances of being shortlisted for interview. Firstly, make sure you read the instructions.

When you come to write your application, use a decent sized font. Anything smaller than a 12 point font is hard to read for people of a certain age. Don’t use capitals, as it looks like you are shouting.

Read the person specifications and make sure that you have clearly listed all the essential criteria. If you are exceptionally good at something outside medicine, make sure it’s obvious on your application. Don’t make up scenarios, as you may get asked more about them at interview.

Ahead of an interview

On the day of an interview you are bound to feel a little nervous. If you are not careful, a host of negative questions will begin to swirl around in your mind. This negativity can escalate and can directly affect your performance at interview.

Go back to the appreciative inquiry questions you asked yourself earlier (boxes 2 and 3). What are you especially proud of in your CV? Why is that? Can you visualise the interviewers asking you about this? If you had a perfect interview, what would that feel like?

By doing this and spending a few minutes quietly visualising your perfect interview before you enter the room, you will improve your mood and performance. Using focused appreciative inquiry questions immediately before an interview is a useful way to calm nerves and improve your performance.

Box 1: Principles of appreciative inquiry

  • The constructionist principle: Reality is a socially constructed state that emerges from conversations and other social interactions.

  • The positive principle: The momentum for change requires a large amount of positivity. Amplifying positivity by asking the right questions stimulates momentum.

  • The poetic principle: We can choose what we study or decide to improve. What we decide begins to create our future world.

  • The anticipatory principle: Images of what the future could look like inspire human systems and individuals to take action to develop in that image.

  • The simultaneity principle: Inquiry is intervention. Asking questions begins change.

Box 2: Appreciative inquiry questions to choose future direction

  • ● What activities make you happy and why?

  • ● Which job role or specialty best combines these activities?

  • ● What do you need to do in order for you to enter that specialty?

  • ● If you could design the perfect job for you, what would it look like?

Box 3: Appreciative inquiry questions to develop your CV

  • ● What achievement are you most proud of and why?

  • ● What are the circumstances that allowed this to happen?

  • ● What could you do to create these circumstances again?

  • ● What would you do this time?

Further information: BMJ Careers Fair

Mark will be leading a seminar at the BMJ Careers Fair on Friday 23 October. He will also be manning the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust stand throughout both days of the fair (Friday 23 and Saturday 24 October).


  • Competing interests: I have understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare that I am care group medical director for scheduled care at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust and a Generation Q fellow supported by the Health Foundation.


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