Attention Medical Specialist Candidates! Interview coaching help is on the way!

by Richard , updated on April 17, 2016

Do you have an upcoming medical specialty interview?

These can be are competitive and very extremely tough. So I thought I’d grill Impressive Interview’s Deborah Barit, on what it really takes to nail them.

Deborah is an interview trainer and coach. She is Australia’s most experienced trainers of medical specialists. She has a very high success rate. Some of her trainees have topped the interview results, and people fly in from all over the world to see her.

Deborah runs interview training workshops and face to face training, in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. Click here for the latest training workshops.

Deborah has coached and trained all sorts of medical professionals to succeed in interview. This includes (but isn’t limited to) specialists in the following fields.

  • Anaesthetics
  • Cardiothoracic
  • Dermatology
  • ENT/Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery
  • General Surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Orthopaedic surgery
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Paediatric Surgery
  • Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Radiology
  • Rheumatology
  • Urology
  • Vascular surgery

I recently interviewed Deborah to find out more about the medical specialty interview process and the “nuts-and-bolts” practicalities of how she helps individual candidates.

I found her insights fascinating and I’m sure you will too.

Richard: So Deborah I’m interested to hear more about Medical Specialist Interviews.  What are they and how are they different to other interviews?

Deborah: These interviews are very different to what most of us experience in our working life.  For a start can be a series of interviews or “stations,” each conducted by a panel of interviewers.  Each interview covers a specific area of medical expertise (such as clinical practice, professionalism and ethics or health advocacy) and they all occur in quick succession.  So candidates can find themselves being interviewed by a succession of panels all on the same day.

Richard: Wow, it sounds like a lot of pressure and that the candidates would find themselves under intense scrutiny?

Deborah: You’re right Richard.  And it’s quite deliberate.  It’s critical that the panel can see how the candidates behave and react under pressure, because that’s what they will have to deal with every day they’re working in a hospital.  Not to sound overly dramatic but they are at times dealing with life and death issues.

Richard: What sort of questions do they get asked?  Do they tend to all be medically based?

Deborah: No they aren’t.  Some are very medically focussed because their clinical knowledge and skills need to be assessed.

However many are behavioural interview questions which are far closer to what most of us would be familiar with.  These are particularly important because they help the panel to effectively assess the candidate’s interpersonal and verbal skills related to areas such as management and leadership, patient advocacy, professionalism and ethics.

Richard: So I’m assuming Deborah you don’t go near the clinical questions but rather focus on the behavioural questions?

Deborah: I can actually help them with both. Over my years of experience I’ve developed a level of clinical knowledge.  But more importantly I can coach and train candidates on how to frame and package even the clinically based questions.    In answering questions under intense pressure and stress it’s easy to leave out critical steps that are almost assumed knowledge amongst a group of clinicians.  But in an interview the panel needs the candidate to demonstrate their thought process by explaining every step.

This is critical to the candidate’s success and I can really help them with this.

Richard: And what about the behavioural interview questions?

Deborah: Doctors are trained to think in a very linear, methodical way.  In making a correct clinical decision they do so through a process of investigation of symptoms and elimination of possible causes to then draw conclusions.

However, in answering behavioural interview questions, candidates often have to think laterally, and this is a very different skill. And it is a skill that is increasingly expected of medical specialists.

Over the years I have developed a battery of behavioural (and clinical) questions that are typically asked in medical specialist interviews. I really test individual candidates by simulating as closely as possible the “real world pressure” conditions that the candidate will experience.

Then I review, train and coach and we practice together. It’s this process that helps the candidate to finely tune their interview skills so they maximise their ability to secure what are hotly contested vacancies.

Richard: OK that makes sense.  What are the specific challenges and barriers to success that medical specialist interview candidates face?

Deborah: Well to be frank, the very first challenge many of the candidates face is that despite (or possibly because of) their many years of education they have not had to attend many formal interviews. So they are not perhaps as practiced as others of a similar age.  So we have to do some pretty intensive work to get them over that hurdle.

Secondly, many candidates fall into the trap of focussing on themselves and their own agenda in the interview.  What I mean by this is they don’t pay enough attention to what the employer is really looking for.  The panel all want to know what makes the candidate in front of them stand out from all the others.  Many of them have in a broad sense the same qualifications and level of experience. They all by definition possess a good intellect.

When the employer offers a training position in a specialty, they are committing their organisation to a substantial outlay of resources and energy.  A candidate has to prove their worth and demonstrate how they will “add value.” The challenge here then is for the candidate to always be thinking “What does the panel really want to know and how can I stand out in the crowd?

And thirdly, because they’re trained to focus on medical need through linear problem solving, combined with the intense scrutiny of the interview, they can easily forget to mention important phrases or steps.

This is where we can really help them to package their answer.

Many of the panels’ questions are complex and multi-faceted.  Sometimes I have to say to them, “Great answer, just one thing, we need to get the words ‘the patient’ and ‘patient-centred care’ into your answer more to soften your response, because you need to demonstrate your ability to empathise.”

Another example is a scenario based question we use where the candidate may need to explain how they would get a medical history from a patient that is semi-conscious.   We tell them that the spouse is present.

They focus on all the ways to find the information directly from the patient or hospital records but forget to mention that they could ask the spouse.

It may seem obvious to an outsider but it’s so easy to forget to say this when under pressure. I coach and train them to remember.

Richard: What other interview tips do you have for medical specialist interview candidates?


  • Don’t give shorthand answers, explain every step.
  • Don’t try to script and memorise your answers. You will end up sounding unnatural and rehearsed.  Just review the important points that you need to cover eg. What important points should I cover that relate to medical ethics?
  • Always have examples at hand in answering every question.  Relevant examples go a long way to proving what you have said.
  • In preparing for the interview, always look at the question from the panel’s point
    of view.  Ask yourself “What are they really looking for here?”

Richard: Wow, in all my years of recruiting I’ve never come across this form of interview process. It was fascinating to hear about it.  Thanks so much for your time Deborah.

Deborah: You’re welcome Richard.  And just a reminder if anyone wants my assistance just contact me as soon as possible at



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Undercover Recruiter (@UndercoverRec) (@UndercoverRec) May 18, 2012 at 7:27 am

New @InterviewIQ Attention Adelaide Medical Specialist Candidates! Interview coaching help is on the way!

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