Succeeding at consultant interview: how to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons

Robert Ghosh, consultant physician at the Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, together with Matt Green, from BPP University School of Health, explore the factors that you need to consider when preparing for and undergoing a consultant interview

For senior trainees the post of consultant remains the pinnacle of achievement and carries a sense of grandeur together with an element of fear of the unknown. It is paramount that every potential interviewee gives the interview due respect. Preparation should be meticulous.

Employers hold the role of consultant in the highest regard and will look at new recruits as leaders and valuable commodities, helping the institution to deliver first class healthcare. They will need to see evidence of credibility and team working, rather than misplaced negativity or resistance. Selection criteria will be more stringent than ever; no longer will simple clinical credibility and tacit acknowledgment from former consultant bosses dictate success.

Preparation and application

Clinical skills should be beyond reproach; a basic awareness of management and political topics, including ethical issues, is essential; and leadership skills should be developed. Above all, you must “feel ready.”

Ensure that your application is specifically tailored to the position you are applying for. The advertisement and person specification for a consultant position are very detailed and include a list of essential criteria required of the successful applicant. Make sure that your application clearly refers to these criteria. For example, if a desirable criterion is experience of a particular technique, then make sure that this is clearly mentioned in your CV to boost your chances of being shortlisted.

Consider the appropriateness of your future employer beforehand. You should not compromise at this stage, as lack of job satisfaction in years to come will make you unhappy. Consider an informal visit if this is acceptable to the trust.

Formal visit after shortlisting

The aim here is not to canvass opinion but rather to display genuine interest and also to glean from relevant personnel the issues that are important to the trust. Therefore you should not restrict your visit to those who will be sitting on the panel. Confirm the reasons for your application, and try to investigate the following:

  • From the lead clinician: the department’s clinical interests
  • Clinical director: success and room for improvement in standards and targets
  • Medical director: perennial managerial problems with regard to the department and the trust
  • Chief executive: future direction and sensitive topics for the trust
  • Department: engage with all relevant personnel
  • Directorate general manager: a non-medical perception of the department or directorate, with similar viewpoint to the clinical director
  • Departmental matron: issues for nurses
  • Key executive directors: strategic and topical issues.

You may be able to give these key people the impression that you are a problem solver and subsequently bring these issues into the interview.

Interview practice and dress code

Repeated interview practice cannot be recommended highly enough. You should prepare thoroughly; and mock interviews should be taken seriously by both the mock interviewer and mock interviewee. Dress on the day to look formal, smart, and professional, but clothes should be comfortable. Tribalism should be avoided (such as club ties, which may evoke a negative response), and do not use overpowering scents.

Advisory appointment committee (interview panel)

Remember that the technical role of the advisory appointment committee is to recommend suitable candidates to the trust’s executive board. In practice, however, the trust will delegate full power to the committee to identify and appoint a candidate. The advisory appointment committee is large (probably the largest interview panel you will have encountered), and each member has a specific role:

  • Chairman: provides introductions and chairs the panel
  • Chief executive officer: often asks about vision, strategy, and leadership
  • Medical director: often asks about revalidation, appraisal, probity, and data protection
  • Clinical director: often asks about quality indicators, including financial indicators
  • External college representative: provides quality assurance for previous training and competencies
  • Lead clinician: acts as a gatekeeper for the department; often asks about clinical skills and vision for the department
  • University representative (if relevant): to assess your experience of teaching and research
  • Layperson: may occasionally ask patient centred questions
  • Human resources: rarely asks any questions.

Presentation and other pre-interview tasks

Presentations are increasingly common, entail varying formats, and will invariably concentrate on an aspect of standards pertaining to your specialty. A half day may be set aside for a presentation, or it may be incorporated into the interview. The topic may be preset, together with an agreed audiovisual format; or the topic and audiovisual format may be determined on the day. The second scenario requires rapid identification of the reason for topic selection and delivery method.

Psychometric testing in mock scenario stations is increasingly common. This is designed to highlight behaviour and personality traits that are conducive to team working and also often deals with leadership skills; assertiveness and submissiveness; tendency to frustration; and anxiety and articulation. Never second guess in psychometric testing: always be yourself.


  1. Spurgeon P, Klaber B, Green M. Becoming a better medical leader. BMJ Careers  31 Jan 2012.

Robert Ghosh consultant physician, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
Matt Green medical publisher director, BPP University, London

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