One key insider tip that could win your interviewers over…

by     9 Comments    Posted under: Interviews



med school interviewInterviewer 1: OK, what is important about the relationship between these two tendons (showing me a diagram of the dorsum of the hand and pointing at EI and EDC to the index finger)

Me: Ok, let’s see….

Interviewer 2: Perhaps, think about which is more lateral…

Interviewer 1: (to his colleague, looking very annoyed) Oh well done, you’ve practically told him the answer now.
(Then to me) Forget that question, let me ask you something else….



Thankfully, this was not my med school admission interview but an interview for a junior plastic surgery position. The interviewers were two eminent consultant plastic surgeons. One of them clearly wanted to catch me out and wasn’t ashamed to show it.

Over the years, seeing how doctors from different specialities treat their interviewees has taught me something interesting. The speciality and seniority of the interviewing doctor has a definite bearing on the style of the interview and, if you are a borderline candidate it may even make or break your application.

As a junior doctor, whenever I was offered an interview for any post I would call up the hospital and ask who the interviewers were likely to be.
I would then make an effort to find out a bit more about them, their area of interest and any recent publications bearing their name. This would tell me something about the nature of my interviewer and enable me to avoid upsetting them. I might even be able to endear myself to them by focussing on those aspects of my CV that would likely appeal to them.

For med school admission interviews it is often difficult but not impossible to ascertain who will be interviewing you. You can bet the admissions tutor will be there. Panels normally contain at least 3 people though. A polite call to the medical school office may tell you something about who else is likely to be there.

Their speciality is relevant.

(Before I upset anyone, the following is (slightly) tongue in cheek)

The general practitioner
GPs are commonly involved at the more GP heavy instititions -Birmingham for example.
They are less likely than say, a surgeon, to interrupt you mid-flow. You may stimulate their interest if you feign a disproportionate level of enthusiasm about communication skills, a fascination with non-organic pathology and combine that with a deep interest in the latest health care reforms. Don’t be offended though if you get kicked out of the room after exactly ten minutes. It’s their area of expertise.

The general practitioner with an MRCP / other previous interrupted career plan
There’s no way of identifying this individual of course, but you may find them asking you a difficult clinical question based on your hospital work experience. Unfortunately for you they are trying to show other members of the interview panel that they know more than the ‘average GP’ and perhaps even have a ‘specialist interest’. If you are clueless they will usually tell you the answer. Look fascinated, nod vigorously and perhaps ask a quick follow up question to prove you value them using this interview setting to impart some of their wisdom to you.

The orthopaedic surgeon
It’s unlikely that one of these high net worth individuals would deem interviewing you worth their valuable time. Very few are involved in medical education at pre-clinical level but if present they are relatively predictable and therefore good news for you provided you have some insight.

They will be unreasonably impressed if you come from a public school or a top tier university, wear a stripey tie and look (and speak) as though you love rugby and skiing (in that order).
They are impatient and will interupt you and other panel members horribly. Keep smiling and focus on aspects of your work experience that might appeal to them. Did you see a knee replacement? You can win this one.

The medical student
Some medical schools have a policy of having a medical student on the panel. This was how i first became interested in interviewing candidates. You may think that this individual is very unlikely to influence the outcome for you but be careful. They will probably ask you a single question somewhere near the end. They may well be trying to prove their worth to other members of the panel so don’t be surprised if the question comes across as harsh and/or out of sync with the flow of the interview. Just smile and say something banal. Just don’t screw it up by revealing your arrogance or stupidity to the panel. Usually there will be no follow up question.
Finally, and more seriously, if you do have an idea about who is on your panel, have a think about what they might expect to hear. If you were on a general surgical work experience placement and haven’t read up about what you saw, a general surgeon interviewing you will get to know about it.

  • Jimbo

    Great points.
    I was interviewed by a psychiatrist and managed to upset him by referring to his speciality as ‘unappealing’ during a heated discussion.
    Needless to say I was NOT offered a place.

  • Sal45

    Definitely agree with the orthopaedic paragraph.
    Two weeks work experience on a trauma firm came together perfectly for me when 5 minutes of the interview was spent talking about fractures in young patients. The trauma surgeon nodded away, basking in the limelight.

    You didn’t mention that some panels now have a lay-person who may not be medical and might be more interested in how you’ll integrate into university life.

  • Anna

    I take it the gp comments are a joke..

    I’ve had one interview in London so far and all interviewers were introduced by name and speciality. I didn’t dwell on it much but with hindsight could have probably guided the discussion better.

    I’d always be afraid of making things too obvious particulatly with nerves

  • Kalpi

    Med students on panels are pointless

  • jfk18

    It’s not easy to find out who is on panels. Believe me – I’ve tried.
    With Oxford and Cambridge I believe it is possible and is very relevant too as they will ask very specific science based problems.

  • Hazel

    This is brilliant.
    I never gave much thought to the specialty but clearly medics have their own prejudices and interests and pet peeves like the rest of us.

  • Jenny Clarke

    This reminds me of a story from my biology teacher who was once at a Cambridge post grad interview where one of the candidates advised another not to forget to congratulate the interviewing professor on his new baby.

    Now this baby was the result of an affair with one of the secretarial staff and an open secret and mention of it highly likely to upset the prof (especially from an unknown interviewee!)

    Well needless to say this was a trick by the first candidate and I believe the second candidate was not successful after a very short interview indeed.

  • Sophie

    Another great article Leo!
    I was wondering if you have any advice for MMI interviews? As a graduate applicant, all of my interviews (if I am lucky enough!) will be either with a non-medical person employed specifically for the job with pre-set questions or rotation around several ‘stations’

    • Leo

      We’ll try and get an MMI feature on doceatdoc soon.

      However, the preset questions shouldn’t make a difference to your approach Sophie, Even in a regular interview you are being scored for your answers and you have to hit certain points to get marks.
      The more formalised marking system used for some graduate entry programmes supposedly makes it fairer, as the scoring system is better defined than in a traditional interview.