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

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



1. Lack of support

  • As promised from our first blog!

  • Management: The SPIES structure is excellent for managing difficult scenarios/colleagues. Candidates are really good at using this structure but often get fixated on the first two; seeking information and patient safety.

  • Support is crucial. It is also often multifaceted, for example; there can be support for the colleague/person in the scenario, BUT also support for yourself - ALWAYS take the opportunity to reflect. “The more reflective you are, the more effective you are” (Hall and Simeral).

Our Advice: Tackle the scenario as you would, pointing out patient safety is paramount. Go on to talk about how you are going to ‘seek information’, use your ‘initiative’ and ‘escalate’ and always keep in the back of your mind whilst providing this info - is there someone in the scenario to support? If yes, tell the interviewers that you would support them and how you would do it. If not(/for all scenarios), explain that once the situation is over you would discuss it with your clinical/educational supervisor (depending on scenario), reflect on the situation and take some learning points.



2. Trying to blag it

  • There is nothing more obvious to an interviewer than if you don’t know the answer and you are trying to ‘blag’ your way through it.

  • Often candidates do this by using knowledge they do have to try and create what they think the examiner wants to hear - sadly, this often comes out in a very non-structured and vague fashion.

  • REMEMBER knowing the limit of your knowledge (and subsequently when to seek help/escalate) is just as important as having a good knowledge base.


Our Advice: If faced with a question during the scenario that you don’t have knowledge on, tell the examiner up-front and then explain what you would do if you were faced with the situation in real life - REMEMBER ALWAYS mention/ensure PATIENT SAFETY.

  • For example: ‘Unfortunately I am not aware of the specifics of that guideline, but I would look this up on my local trusts intranet as well as discuss this situation with my senior to ensure that the patient receives the best possible care.’

  • Or they may ask you to provide a logical answer if you have informed them you do not know the correct answer: ‘I’m sorry I am not aware of the specifics of a classification but I would ensure to look this up on the internet/my local trusts intranet; I think this classification would be based on the GCS and would have 3 parts - mild, moderate and severe.’


3. Being too defensive

  • Sometimes within a scenario the interviewers will try to test your resolve and the conviction of your answer; they will ask ‘are you sure’. Now if they start asking this more than once to the same answer, it may be worth thinking about an alternative answer.

  • Of course, in times of stress many of us can get a bit overwhelmed and head-strong in such scenarios and become defensive. This can only hurt your chances.

  • By trying to overly-defend your answer, especially when they are hinting you are incorrect, you will not only take up the precious time during the scenario and WORSE you will also show the interviewer that you are potentially resistant to feedback; not an ideal quality. On the flip side, the interviewer may perceive your defensiveness for lack of confidence, which can give the impression of not knowing your limits and when to ask for help - patient safety is PARAMOUNT.

Our Advice: If questioned once on an answer, stick to your conviction. But if it occurs more than once, then start to think about whether there is an alternate answer. Take this opportunity to take a step back, a deep breath and think about the answer before you blurt something out - there is nothing wrong with a brief pause for thought. REMEMBER do not be afraid to admit when you have come to your knowledge limit and ask for help - ‘Yes, I think this is the best management in this situation, but I would first like to discuss my thoughts and plan with my registrar to confirm this.’ By doing this you are taking initiative whilst also maintaining safety.



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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