Interview Advice

The Medical Interview Countdown

Sunday, 16 Jun, 2024

What to prepare in the months, weeks, days and hours out from your interview!

Preparing for your specialty interview can feel like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be!

Over my 30+ years of experience in the medical fields I know first-hand, after sitting on hundreds of panels for interviews, that really good preparation under your belt can make a world of difference.

Because we’re all quite analytically minded (who would have guessed!), I find it helpful to break down the time leading up to the interview in stages. That way, you can check off the stages as you go, and make sure you know where you should be, and what you still need to cover.

Nobody likes the idea of having to sell themselves, but that’s what you’re going to be doing – making an all-important first impression and standing out from the crowd.

I’ve compiled this timeline based on what’s worked for hundreds of my clients. Select the approach that feels right for you, keep an open mind, and prepare with confidence!

Months before your interview

  1. Know the fundamentals

Believe it or not, we’re not starting with question or content prep, and we’re not starting with your experience or your long-term goals. None of that matters if you don’t have the fundamentals in place!

Step 1 is identifying your key strengths and what makes you stand out from the crowd. What makes you a unique candidate?

During your application you’ll be presenting yourself as a consistent package. No one likes the idea of selling yourself – but that’s what we’re going to do! 

Sure, gathering and reflecting on your strengths gives you a strong base for the rest of your interview prep – but it also feels really good. You’re building your own confidence as you go along, like an internal pep talk!

You can read more about the 5 Fundamentals of Interview Preparation here.

  1. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk

I love this talk and highly recommend it to anyone preparing for a medical interview. Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist from Harvard, who’s studied the influence of body language on performance, particularly in relation to interviews.

Her approach is, simple, and the TED talk is only 20 minutes long – definitely worth a watch!

Take a look here.

  1. Work on your content

Now is the time to look at preparing your answers to questions. What kind of content will you need to be familiar with?

A great idea is to keep a constant log of interesting and difficult situations that you meet in your practice, and record how you dealt with them.

Then create a range of examples you can use for:

  • Leadership, teamwork and communication 
  • Relevant policies, college and other specialty guidelines (depending on your level of seniority) 
  • Clinical questions and scenarios

If you can, get hold of questions from a previous year. Even if the questions aren’t repeated (they often are), you’ll get a feel for the types of questions and the level of difficulty.

  1. Practise

As often as you can and with a variety of people! If you can, take the opportunity to ask a couple of consultants to run through a question or two with you (bonus if they’re involved with recruitment at all!). Colleagues also make great practise partners at this stage.

The goal here is to get comfortable presenting to a wide range of people and to get feedback from different perspectives.

Don’t rest on practising with yourself too! Try recording yourself, say your examples and answers out loud – this is key to building your confidence and shaking those nerves away!

  1. Look at mindfulness techniques

These can be helpful both in your preparation and in the days (or hours!) before your interview. 

Mindfulness might not be for everyone, but it’s a really handy tool to have in your back pocket. I highly recommend trying it to see how you go – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how these techniques can immediately have a positive impact on your nerves!

Breathing exercises are a great place to start, and there are a number of apps that are helpful, such as Headspace, Smiling Mind, Calm, and Insight Timer. 

Remember: Nerves are normal, and everyone gets nervous in interview situations – but there are tools and techniques we can use (like mindfulness) to help us prepare confidently. 

Weeks before your specialty interview

  1. Practise – selectively

In the weeks before you need to practise with people who boost your confidence! Feedback should be constructive and motivating. Put simply, don’t ask for it from people who you think may knock your self-confidence!

Take your self-practice up a level as well – be discerning about how you sound, and what you look like. Use the mirror (you’ll soon get comfortable with it), and record yourself. Take note of your hand movements and any parts where you stumble or move through too fast.

  1. Prepare your outfit

First impressions matter and this isn’t superficial – it’s appropriate planning. The level of formality will depend on the position and specialty you’re applying for, but if you’re unsure lean to a more formal look.

Make sure you’re comfortable, and can look in the mirror thinking you look good! Feeling great helps with your mindset and nerves too.

  1. Go over your preparation again

Watch Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk (again), look at your notes (again), and practise mindfulness techniques if you’ve found them helpful. Most importantly, reflect on your fundamentals (see the very first point of this list!). 

  1. Plan for the days before

Maybe you need to book a hotel stay the night before to get a good night’s sleep, or maybe you need to travel for your interview. Now’s a good time to book your accommodation and make your travel plans. Make sure you have a list of what you’ll need to take, and have it ready!

You might want to take some time off work in preparation, or adjust your roster so that you’re not on call/working nights in the lead-up to your interview.

  1. Look at sports techniques

Take a look at this article where I discuss how sports psychology can help with managing interview nerves. 

The day before your interview

You’re nearly there! So what now?

  1. Cram…or don’t

This is entirely up to you and your personality! If it stresses you out, relax instead. If you prefer to do it (think back to Uni and what worked best for you then), then cram away!

  1. Eat, sleep, rest

The basics are here for a reason! Because they’re important, and they work in calming your nerves. If you’ve found mindfulness techniques have been useful up to this point, then you’ll find them helpful now as well.

The day of your interview

  1. Be practical
  • Eat something light, if you can – it will help. 
  • Avoid caffeine if it makes you jittery! 
  • Reduce distractions. 
  • Head to the venue early, or if your interview is via video call, log into the link in advance.
  1. Get in the zone

This is very much a personal preference – you know yourself best! How can you comfortably get your head in the game?

You may find talking to other candidates distracting, or you may find it a great way to warm up. Don’t worry about offending people if you prefer to grab a quiet space to sit and focus.

Utilise the tools at your disposal that you’ve found helpful: mindfulness, breathing exercises, warm-up exercises, or meditation.

In the interview 

Remember the basics; greet your interviewers and the panel, make eye contact, smile, and keep an open posture.

Even if you feel they’re not reciprocating the tone, they generally want you to do well as they’re looking for a future colleague, so keep it up throughout the whole interview. 

Need a chance to think? Maybe your mind freezes (it happens!), or you lose your train of thought. It’s absolutely OK to say you need a moment, or to take a sip of water to clear your head. 

You can always ask for a question to be repeated, or if you’ve started going down the wrong track with your answer acknowledge this and start again. 

I know from my years of experience how helpful this countdown is, so make sure you come back to it when you need to use it! I also want to take this time to acknowledge how far you’ve already come – let’s recognise the amount of work and time you’ve put into your medical career so far! Success starts with believing in yourself, and acknowledging your hard work is a great way to pump up your confidence as you begin your interview preparation!

Want to read more about prepping for your next interview? I’ve created a FREE guide for that very purpose!  Take a look: Unlock Your Medical Interview Potential

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