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Common Mistakes/Pitfalls at Core Surgical Training Interviews (Part One)

After years of interviewing prospective candidates we have identified some common mistakes that we would like to share with you all.

1. Over-Filling the presentation

  • All of us, as medics, are very good at getting involved in loads of different activities both academic and extracurricular, for our enjoyment and to also further our CV.

  • When given the opportunity, we also want to show off these achievements and activities, especially in an interview situation.

  • The common mistake we see is that candidates try and cram as many activities as possible into their presentation, thinking that if they show the interviewer the sheer volume of extracurriculars they do on a regular basis will get them more points.

  • BUT more examples does NOT equate to more points. Content only equates to ⅓ of the marks for the presentation, and within that the interviewers also want to look at the ability to answer the question as well as the examples. So any examples, of say leadership (the common theme for the presentation) really only equates to less than ⅓ of the marks of the presentation.

Our Advice: We feel that LESS is MORE when it comes to the presentation. Take one to two (MAX three) examples to base your presentation around. Ensure to answer what the question is really asking. Have a ‘Start’ (signposting what you are going to tell them about); a ‘Middle’ (the juicy details); and an ‘End’ (re-iterate the key take-home messages) to your presentation.

2. Failure to prepare

  • Now this seems very broad and well let’s face it, obvious! BUT this is a pitfall that we can all fall into. We are not saying that people are failing to prepare for the interview as a whole, but more different aspects of the interview; and the reasons for this can be varied.

  • Over the years when giving feedback, we hear various reasons as to why someone hasn’t prepared something prior to having us interview them

    • ‘I’m not very strong on that subject, so wanted to prepare it closer to the time’

    • ‘I am currently in this specialty and thought that I would have the relevant knowledge from my day-to-day work’

    • ‘I thought that I would be able to give a good presentation on leadership on the spot’

    • Etc

  • Over the years, we have all probably fallen into a similar mindset about a small aspect of an interview or exam; BUT you want to give yourself the best opportunity to get your first choice job! REMEMBER you are competing against all the other applicants, and as the saying goes, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.

Our Advice: Now whether you are practicing with friends/colleagues, or going to an official course (such as ours - wink, nudge) we always feel that it’s best to go in as prepared as you can, to face any question that may be thrown at you. The more practice you give yourself answering questions after preparing in a pressurised situation, the more chance you give yourself to remember these as muscle memory and give yourself the best opportunity at the interview to give the ‘gold standard’ answer.

N.B - the second example above can be a big pitfall - yes we learn a lot doing a job and the day-to-day activities it entails, but this doesn’t replicate in an interview scenario where there is a formulated approach to answering the questions and getting the key points. So REMEMBER always to practice answering questions on all specialties, even the ones you love and are good at.

3. Lack of support

  • This can relate to both the Clinical and Management Stations. Within the Clinical Station this pertains to failing to escalate appropriately. For the Management Station this looks at ‘Support’ as the final S in the SPIES structure for difficult scenarios.

  • Clinical: In our day-to-day practice we are often put into situations that we are either unfamiliar with or out of our depth, and we recognise this and appropriately escalate the a senior for help; BUT when in a interview situation, with the pressure, candidates seemingly forget to do this simple action, an action that is crucial to getting a good score in the interview. REMEMBER the interviewers want to know that you can handle problems, BUT they also want to know that ‘you know your limit’ and you know when to ask for help - PATIENT SAFETY IS KEY.

Our Advice: For all the scenarios you will have an opening gambit, and as with everything throughout your medical career it takes a systematic approach of Clinical Assessment (History & Examination), Differentials and Management (Investigations and Interventions). Once you have gone through all of this there are two broad scenarios;

1. It’s an emergency and you need to inform your senior immediately;

2. This is something you can manage but has potential for deterioration or need for senior involvement in the future. So at some point your senior will need to be involved, so always best just to contact them then and there for both scenarios:

1. ‘I would like to contact my senior and inform them of this unwell patient and that I would like them to urgently review the patient, in the meantime I will implement this plan…’;

2. ‘I would like to contact my senior, to make them aware of the patient and explain to them my management plan.’

  • Management: That’s all for now, tune in to ‘Part Two’ to get the insight!

Thank you for taking the time to read, we hope that you found it useful and you can use these tips to finesse your interview skills!

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