Medical interviews (ST interviews, consultant interviews and GP interviews) can be daunting if you are unprepared. Here are a series of medical interview tips that you can apply to ensure that your answers stand out.
1 - Keep your answers between 1 1/2 and 2 minutes
No one can listen to a speaker for more than 2 minutes unless that speaker is absolutely fascinating or has some visual aids to help retain concentration. There is therefore no point in giving answers that are much longer otherwise you run the risk or boring the interviewers.
2 - Avoid long introductions.
Answer the question directly. In my experience of interviewing and coaching candidates for interviews, I have always been struck by how few people actually answer the question directly. At an interview, it is crucial that you get to the point quickly, that you address the core of the question and that you avoid lengthy introductions that serve no purpose other than allowing you to buy time.
3 - Structure your answers in 3 or 4 points
One of the problems that plague interviewees is lack of structure in their answers. This makes it difficult for the interviewers to identify the different ideas that are being presented. The human brain finds it difficult to remember more than 3 or 4 ideas at a time, so there is no point giving your interviewers 10 different ideas in the same answer. It will only confuse them. Stick to 3 or 4 points maximum. If you feel that you need to use more points to say what you want to say then your answer needs to be structured differently.
4 - Illustrate each point with examples from your experience
Making broad statements not only makes you sound vague, and at worst arrogant, it also makes it difficult for interviewers to differentiate you from other candidates. It is therefore crucial that you back up all the claims you make with examples drawn from your personal experience so that that there is no doubt in anyone's mind about your abilities.
5 - Signpost each point clearly - Make your points clear
Once you have a structure in mind, make sure that it clearly shows in your answer and that the message that you are trying to convey is clearly announced clearly within each section that makes up your answer.
6 - Use power words
Selling yourself is not just about stating your message clearly and describing your experience. It is also about sounding confident, mature and, generally speaking, in control. Most people tend to understate their experience. In order to appear more confident, you will need to adopt a vocabulary which may be slightly different to that which you are accustomed to on a day-to-day basis, and which will sell yourself in an active and enthusiastic manner. For example, Consider this sentence: “After a few attempts, I was able to reach a compromise with my colleagues" . On the surface, it sounds like a good thing to say. However, “After a few attempts" and “I was able to" sound weak. They make is sound as if the candidate didn't try that hard or is not particularly proud of his/her achievement. The sentence could have a much stronger impact if it were reworded as follows: “Following several discussions where I encouraged my colleagues to review their position, I was successful in helping the team reach a compromise". In this revised sentence, the words “encouraged" and “successful" present a much more proactive candidate and make a big difference in the manner in which the answer is being received by the listener.
7 - Talk about yourself rather than everyone else
Candidates who feel uncomfortable at interviews usually compensate by talking about everything else but themselves. They talk repeatedly about “we", “the team" and, although it does present a good team playing attitude, it fails to tick the boxes when it comes to personal skills and competencies. In your interview, it is perfectly fine to introduce some collective actions and say sentences such as “As a team, we were charged with conducting an audit on waiting time in A&E", but only as an introduction to the rest of the answer, which should remain focussed on you and no one else.
8 - Bring objectivity into your answers
If you feel awkward talking about yourself or you don't want to appear to be boasting, one good way to counter this problem is to bring objectivity into your answers. This can be achieved firstly by bringing examples from your experience into your answers but also by discussing the feedback that you have received, either informally or through 360-degree appraisal forms.
9- Avoid vague statements. Keep to statements that provide real information.
Avoid vague statements such as “I went into paediatrics because I like it" unless you can back up your statement. What really matters is why you find it interesting or why you like it.
10 - Don't bore them with spurious detail
Avoid going into too much detail when giving examples unless they have asked you to describe a specific example in the question. If you provide too much intricate detail, you will make your answer very long and you will create confusion by concentrating on one issue whilst the question may be much broader.
11 - Stay positive
Whether I coach people who are applying for ST, Consultant, Clinical / Medical Director posts or even higher up, many candidates incriminate themselves by delivering answers with a negative undertone right from the start. I have lost count of the number of people who start their answers to the question "What is your research experience?" by saying "Well, I haven't done much research"; or those who describe their communication skills as "above average"i. e. nothing special. To make an impact, you must sell what you have rather than what you don't have. If you don't show that you believe in yourself then no one will.
Olivier Picard is an acclaimed author of a wide range of resources for medical interview skills. He is also the managing director of ISC Medical, a firm specializing in interview skills coaching for the medical profession. See http://www.medical-interviews.co.uk for full details.