How to Prepare for your Medical Consultant or Specialist Registrar Training (SpR) programme interview

9th Jan 2019
Share this blog post:

The below is an article, written by our Managing Director Eoghan McDermott, which was originally printed in the Irish Medical Times.

Going for a consultancy post is an extremely competitive process. And it is a process too many doctors tackle in a haphazard, scattered way.

The two main steps of the process are theoretically simple; you write up your CV detailing your career to date, your pieces of research, papers, presentations and audits. Then you go through an interview that explores your career in more detail.

At this stage in your career, it is taken that you are clinically competent. You would not have been called for interview if you had not reached the required level of competence, yet, paradoxically, many aspirant consultants focus on this when preparing for their interview at the expense of the need to prove that they have the other skills required by the consultancy role.

In addition to technical or clinical skills, consultants need to be provably adept at management, must demonstrate the ability to work as part of a senior management team, need to show they can implement change and think strategically. These broader competencies must be proven in the interview. Ergo, they need to be prepared, with supportive evidence, in advance of the interview.

In working with doctors on this preparation, one of the recurring patterns I have observed is a tendency to cut to the chase too quickly.

If they are asked about a time when they showed a management competence they say, “Well, I was tasked to lead a team to deliver X change. The end result was a process that went without a hitch.” That gives the panel no insight into what the candidate actually did to make the thing run well. Worse than that, it gives the panel no insight into what the candidate was thinking, or what judgement the candidate brought to bear on their management of the task or people.

The major difference between a good and bad consultant interview is that the properly prepared candidate makes the panel “see” the competence they are claiming and understand that the successful outcome was not luck but rather was the result of judgement, thinking and insight on the candidate’s part. The less successful candidate makes claims and assertions. It is essential to provide a narrative around your claims and to provide detailed evidence to back up every assertion.

The second major hurdle for most doctors at promotion interviews is failing to extrapolate from their current consult role to the consultant position.

They prove they can communicate, or manage, or organise at their current level but don’t show how that will fit when they get promoted. Before you go into the interview, spend some quiet time visualising how each of your skills will be deployed after you get promoted.

If you claim a capacity for great teamwork, for example, think how you will use that skill when you are managing a team at a lower rank to you. If you have got great organisational skills, try to imagine how you would use them if you were given a whole department to run.

This year, I have prepared a number of doctors who were going for promotion for the second or third time. They had examples of what they had done (some of them having gained that experience overseas) and could deliver them well, but they were getting passed over again and again. They could not understand why this kept happening and were beginning to lose confidence.

When we analysed their interview answers it was clear that they weren’t making the panel see them fitting into a higher role. They kept failing to relate each past experience and example directly to the role of consultant. They had detailed examples of working in teams and communicating effectively, as well as doing all the things their grade required, but they were not showing how any of those skills would apply if they got bumped up the pecking order. All I had to do was spend a few hours asking them questions like: “If you are a consultant, how will you communicate with your reports? if you were a consultant., how will you organise resources for different tasks? If you are a consultant, how will you motivate your people?”

Once they started to think through the implications and imagined themselves at the higher grade, it was easy for them to show the panel not only that they were competent at their job, but that their current competence would directly translate into a future consultant position.

The simple act of moving their thinking into the future and converting their past-tense examples into future-tense potential helped most of them jump the hurdle at which they had fallen so many times. Always remember when preparing for the interview that the panel are looking for the best person for the role. Your job is to provide the evidence that you are that person. Gather it together, think it through, paint the picture and link it to the role. Do not think about the past, figure out what the past means to your future.