How to Be Successful at Interview

Few people truly relish being interviewed. But as a professional you will go through a number of interviews in your life. Interview skills also overlap with presentation skills and examination viva skills too in that all three skills are “performing in front of others under pressure” and each is probably born with some degree of nerves.
To tackle this subject, interviews can be divided into 3 stages:

  1. Before the interview
    Know yourself
    Know the job
    Articulate fluently
    Anticipate and rehearse
  2. The day of the interview
  3. After the interview


Get feedback

Before the Interview
The aim of your preparation should be: “to learn how to sell yourself in a positive light in relation to the post without sounding arrogant”. The best way to achieve this elusive balance is to:

Know Yourself 
To be an effective team member a person needs to know themselves well – their personality, strengths and weaknesses, values,  motivations, experience, career aims, and skills. People who do not have insight into these features may have a tendency to either answer questions in a more arrogant fashion or they grossly undersell themselves. It’s worth having a think about the following questions:

  • What are your weaknesses/strengths?
  • How would you describe yourself?

Also think about specific achievements and examples, for each exploring what was achieved and what was your contribution:

  • What is your best research project?
  • What is you best audit project?
  • Where have you shown great leadership and management skills in your career?
  • Where have you shown great teaching skills?
  • What is your biggest strength/weakness

2.    Know the Job
For many medical jobs (especially foundation/specialty training posts) there are clear person specifications and requirements matrices available online. Therefore it is reasonable to anticipate questions alongside what they want you to be like e.g. 
if they want people who are future leaders, so a reasonable question would be “tell us about what makes you a good leader”! 

There are many ways other ways to find out more about a post:

  • speak to the department/job lead
  • speak to the departmental secretary
  • speak to the current post holder or someone holding a similar post
  • speak to the regional adviser in the specialty where possible
  • go to the organisation’s web site
  • speak to the HR department and ask for a copy of the annual report
  • obtain and read carefully the job description, person specification and all other data that may be sent to you

Do this comprehensive research and you will start to see which parts of your past are particularly relevant to the post and how you can specifically contribute to the department.

3.    Articulate Fluently
Practice (particularly selling yourself!) – Not everyone can think fast off the top of their head under pressure. Practicing actually speaking out loud your answers and getting used to talking about yourself in positive terms can be invaluable. Gaining some feedback from others (colleagues, family, friends and tutors) in mock interviews can help you to start honing some good phrases. Doctors are notoriously bad at or uncomfortable with the whole issue of “selling themselves”, practice to become well versed in talking about your key selling points with ease.

4.    Anticipate and rehearse
Anticipate – It is a great idea to keep an ever expanding list of interview questions, from reading the medical press, asking those who have just been to an interview, your own interviews and asking those on interview panels which questions tend to be answered badly.

Rehearse – A good approach to answering potential interview questions during preparation is to write the answer down rather than trying to keep things in your head. Once your answer is down in black and white you can then analyze it, try to refine it or if you are concerned about what to say you can seek feedback from others.

On the Day of the Interview 
Be prepared – Preparation is key, get a good night’s sleep, know your CV, look presentable and arrive early. Remember any documents you were asked to bring.
Communication Skills
Body language – Look relaxed, don’t overdo the hand movements, remember to smile and make plenty of eye contact
Answering questions

  • Take a deep breath and ensuring the structure of your answer includes: 1.Statement, 2. Evidence/example, 3. Summarise with explicit answer to the questions
  • Keep your answers open and balanced
  • Begin with a structure to what you want to say and then follow through with the details.
  • The ability to know when to stop talking is important – If you feel you have answered a question fully, stop, even if there is a brief period of uncomfortable silence
  • If you feel your last answer was poor, put it behind you and focus on the next question, you may be able to redeem yourself
  • Try and come across as the sort of person the interviewers would like to work with.  Generally this means being bright, stable and controlled, with good interpersonal and leadership skills, while being reasonably relaxed, conscientious and warm-hearted

Listen – Many candidates do not answer the question they have just been asked. Listen very carefully to the question and don’t rush into an answer. If a question is not clear in its remit then ask a question back to clarify it.

After the Interview
Many people breathe a sigh of relief as they walk out the door of the interview room and instantly forget all that went on. This is a mistake, as reviewing and reflecting is an invaluable learning opportunity for improving your approach at the next interview.
Jot down as many questions as you can recall and also the answers you gave. Writing them down immediately will improve the chances of remembering a fair number.Try to write an honest appraisal of yourself in this interview and ask yourself:

  • Which questions went well or went badly?
  • Some of these questions and answers you will have prepared well for in the past, but how did you do under pressure?
  • Did you feel that each answer was received well or did they seem to be looking for something additional?
  • Did the interview have a relaxed happy feel to it or did you sense tension or hostility?
  • Did you do or say anything that you would try to repeat or avoid in future interviews?
  • How did the interview begin and end? Was each satisfactory?

Get feedback
If you did not get the job, it is vital to attempt to gain interview feedback from the panel. Obtaining feedback can sometimes be difficult. Increase your chances by:

  • Trying to phrase your request for feedback in a constructive and positive way for yourself.  If you enjoyed your interview – say so.
  • Try to gain useful feedback from comments like “you were overqualified” or “you did really well – but there was somebody just a bit more suitable” by replying “I wondered if you could point out any areas where I could do better at interview or any areas in my career where I should pay more attention”. Try to do this as soon as possible after you receive a rejection– their recall won’t last long.
  • Even if the feedback suggests that they think you are unlikely to succeed in this career route with your given skills and experience – this can be invaluable by either stiffening resolve or it can help one to come to terms with the need to seek some objective career guidance and perhaps to look at a wider range of options.

Getting Better at Interviews
If you feel like you need further practice, there are a number of ways to approach this.  These include:

  • Public speaking training and practice
  • Selling skills training (so that you can adopt a more balanced approach to selling yourself if you are not that comfortable with doing this)
  • Seeking interview training
  • Get friends and colleagues to interview or video you and ask them to be brutal


  • Interviews and your performance in them can make or break a career pathway.
  • Developing a strategy for doing well in them is a sensible investment – preparation is key!
  • Try to learn from failure by reviewing your performance and gaining feedback
  • Remember that nobody has ever failed at anything unless that is the last time they are going to try