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Attending a Job Interview

We tend to make decisions about other people fairly quickly. This is a problem for employers. Selection committees can be led astray by the superficial, and unstructured interviews have a high risk of failing to identify the best candidates. That is why human resources departments place great emphasis on the detection of evidence about the selection criteria based on demonstrated performance. This approach assumes that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.

The process

Selection committees want to know the evidence supporting the level of performance for each of the selection criteria. Members of the selection panel usually have standard assessment forms designed around the selection criteria. For instance, each selection criteria might be marked from 0 to 5, and the panel will have indicators of the level of performance for each level. Hence, the assessment of candidates at interview has an analytical component and all candidates are asked the same questions. The composition of interview panels is chosen with care to represent a wide variety of interests. They just wish to select the best candidate. That is why it is important to strive to give your best performance, even if you suspect that another candidate has the front running.


Find out about the employing institution and the position that you are applying for. Carefully read the information provided by the institution. You can also get information from the internet, via contacts suggested by your friends, or directly from friendly surgeons. You may be asked questions that seek to uncover the extent to which you have given serious consideration to the position. Selection committees are impressed by candidates that have sought out information - it indicates commitment.

Interviews are sometimes accompanied by the assessment of core competencies, e.g. patient simulations, group tasks, presentations, and written exercises. Such tasks require extensive preparation.

Decide on the material that you will take to the interview, e.g. invitation letter, copies of certificates, a small note book and a pen. It may be useful to write some notes immediately after the interview.

Avoid being rushed for time

Be punctual – make sure that you know where to go and leave plenty of time to compensate for any delays. Arrive early, but not too early – sitting around the waiting area for more than 5 to 10 minutes will just make you nervous. Use any excess time to walk around the area and collect your thoughts.


Committees and granting agencies are influenced by people that exude a positive communicative attitude accompanied by appropriate body language. Remember that about 90 per cent of communication is non-verbal. They tend to be put off by stilted talk from the nervous.

You should dress like a conservative professional – avoid dirty finger nails and scuffed shoes, choose unobtrusive ties or jewellery, use moderate amounts of perfume or after-shave lotion, and don’t fidget. Smile and, if offered, shake hands with the chair of the selection committee. Maintain eye contact and remember to address your answers to all members of the committee. It may be unwise to ignore the quiet non-descript person sitting at the end of the table.

Answering questions

The panel will be interested in evidence relevant to the skills outlined in the selection criteria. It is crucial that you provide them with examples that demonstrate your level of performance. Be positive and avoid negative comments about people and institutions. Listen carefully to the questions and ask for it to be repeated or rephrased if you don't understand. Don’t waffle – if you don’t know the answer then say so. Demonstrate good communication skills.

Predictable questions

You should have prepared answers for questions that directly relate to the selection criteria. When answering these questions, you need to concentrate on the action that you took. Consider using the ‘CAR’ approach i.e. Context / Action / Results. Reflect on the past to identify relevant examples of your skills and abilities. Never give ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, even if you have been asked a closed question. Use the opportunity to provide evidence related to the selection criteria.

The first question is often very general so that the you can settle down and members of the panel can gain a first impression – “Tell me about yourself”, “Why did you apply for this position?”, “What are your career goals?". This is followed by a set of specific questions. The types of questions that you should expect include:

"Give me an example of a stressful situation that demonstrates your coping skills."
"Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult patient."
“Do you work well with others, as part of a team?”
"Tell me how you deal with difficult hospital staff."
“Do you perform well under pressure?"

Wicked questions

You need to become agile at dealing with difficult questions. Some examples of wicked questions:

“What questions didn't I ask that you expected?”
“What are your weaknesses?”
“Where do you see yourself in five years' time?”
“What are the three worst clinical mistakes that you have ever made?”
“You believe that your consult is performing an unethical study. What would you do?”
"What is the most difficult situation you have faced?"

It is useful to list the five questions that you would least like to be asked, and then compose suitable responses.

Ask them a question

At the end of interview you will be asked if you have any questions for the panel. This is an opportunity to gain additional information and demonstrate your interest in the position. Ask any genuine questions or explain that you have been able to find the answers to your questions.

Additional information

Online resources:

How to interview successfully (The Doctor Job)

How to ace a job interview (Cejka Search)

Job interviewing techniques (Medscape Today)

Interview skills (BMJ Careers)

Interviewing skills (Tufts University School of Medicine)


How to Succeed at the Medical Interview by Chris Smith

Instant Interviews: 101 Ways to Get the Best Job of Your Life by Jeffrey G. Allen

The Interview Kit by Richard H. Beatty

The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book by Jeffrey G. Allen

Interviewing by Arlene S. Hirsch

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