Consultant interviews. Pre-Interview Visits

Pre-interview visits are a pivotal part of the consultant recruitment process; and, although, they can sometimes take a lot of time and effort (especially if you are applying to several posts at the same time), they can substantially increase your chances of getting the job.

On this page, we explain in detail how you should prepare for the pre-interview visit for consultant interviews, who you should see, and what questions you should ask.

What is a pre-interview visit and why does it matter?

A pre-interview visit is a visit made to a trust between the time you have been shortlisted and the date of the interview. The main purpose of the pre-interview visit is to understand in more detail what the job will involve and the politics which may be influencing your department and your post in the foreseeable future. Everyone who has ever applied to a consultant post will tell you that pre-interview visits are one of the most useful tools for your preparation to you consultant interview.

As a candidate, you will know little about the Trust and its internal politics, particularly if you are an external candidate.  For example:

  • Do you know how the Trust is faring against the cost savings targets imposed by the government?
  • Do you know the extent to which the department has contributed towards those targets?
  • Do you understand the impact that external competition is having on the Trust?
  • Are you aware of the measures they have proposed to fight back?
  • Do you know what the key priorities for the Trust are over the next 3 or 5 years?
  • Do you know how the Trust's views on the Care Quality Commission report? 
  • How is the Trust attempting to influence the commissioning process?

Even if you are a local candidate, you may aware mostly of day to day matters, but will likely have little awareness of the bigger picture.

The pre-interview visit provides a unique forum which will enable you to gather information that help you gain a better appreciation of the job and the Trust. That will enable you to provide more comprehensive and better targetted answers at your consultant interview.

It also gives you a good opportunity to meet potential colleagues (if you haven't already met them during a pre-shortlisting visit) and to meet key members of the consultant interview panel, making the interview less daunting on the day.

Who should you meet?

In your shortlisting letter, you will normally have been given the names of all the members of the consultant interview panel. You should ensure that you visit as many of these as possible, except for two of them:

  • The lay chairman, as his role is primarily to direct the operations and, most often, he will not have a very hands-on role within the Trust. Having said that it is worth noting that some chairmen like to be asked (we know of two candidates who upset a chairman for not asking), so it is worth asking for an appointment, but expecting to be rejected in most cases.
  • The Royal College representative, whose role is to offer an opinion on the job description and person specification and to check your appointability . He will have little or no involvement with the daily activities of the Trust and will therefore have nothing useful to contribute in terms of pre-interview information. Unlike the chairman, we would advise that you do not even bother contacting them at all.

In some circumstances you may find it hard to get hold of the University Representative, but if you are applying for a post with a strong academic component, it is worth investing some time in trying to meet him/her.

As well as the relevant members of the consultant interview panel, you should make an effort to meet other people who will have information that you can use. This may include consultants from the specialty who may not be on the panel, business managers, clinic or theatre managers, matrons/senior nurses/midwives, consultants from related specialties, PCT representatives, service user representatives (if appropriate). Some trusts may ask you to attend an MDT meeting prior to your interview; if you have not been formally invited, you can always ask to attend. Similarly, you should ask if you can attend some Trust board meetings.

The list of people you should visit therefore includes:

Panel members
  • Chief executive or representative
  • Medical director
  • Clinical director
  • Consultant(s)
  • University Representative
  • Other team members in the list (e.g. nurse, manager)
Non-panel members
  • Other consultants (same or associated specialty)
  • Senior nurse/midwife
  • Managed network representative
  • Clinic/theatre or other manager from the team
  • Business or marketing manager
  • PCT / service user representative

What if you are too busy or live too far?

Unlike for pre-shortlisting visits, you won't be easily forgiven for not making a pre-interview visit. Even if you live far away, it is always possible to combine the pre-interview visit and the interview in one visit, for example by visiting the Trust the day before the interview. They will appreciate the effort and you will come across that much better for having tried your best. It does mean that you must demonstrate a certain discipline in organising the meetings.  

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What questions should you ask?

The questions that you will ask each individual will obviously depend on their role within the Trust. Ultimately your questions will be aimed at:

  1. Obtaining a clearer picture of the role and of the team's expectations towards the new recruit.
  2. Identifying opportunities for the development of your special interests and of your career in general.
  3. Discovering the strengths and weaknesses of the unit and its plans for development.
  4. Getting an idea of the politics within the Trust and the place the department occupies within it.
  5. Understanding the Trust's financial situation and the contribution the department makes.
  6. Getting an idea of how Trust and departmental policy and objectives are influenced by current reforms.
  7. Identifying any major issues that you may be quizzed about at the interview e.g. has the Trust experienced difficulties (e.g. well publicised negative events or deficits which are hard to fill), is the Trust suffering from poor reputation, etc.

Questions to members of the team

When you visit some of the consultants and other members of the team such as nurses and managers, you will want to find out about the job and about the team. Ask questions such as:

  1. What is the job about exactly?
  2. I have a special interest in x. I see that the job description includes x sessions of it. What are the opportunities to develop this further?
  3. How do you see special interest x develop over the next 2/5 years?
  4. Is the job a replacement post or a new post? (This will help you determine how much flexibility you have in negotiating a job plan.
  5. What are the opportunities to get involved in teaching, research, clinical governance etc?
  6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
  7. What are you expecting from the new recruit?
  8. How do you see this post develop over the next few years?
  9. What are the key areas of development / objectives for this unit?
  10. What are the key areas in which the department needs to improve?

Ask also about the relationship with nurses and basically anything you want to know about the job and the department so that you can identify whether you actually want to work there! If you know that the Trust is facing particular issues (e.g. trying to plug a deficit or merging soon with another Trust), ask questions about those issues e.g. "Where is the department likely to find money to save in order to contribute towards the reduction of the deficit?" (Important as this may affect some services) or "How do you think the merger will affect the services offered by this unit?" (a question which they may well ask you at the interview!).

Questions to the Clinical Director

If the Clinical Director is part of the service that you will be joining then you can essentially ask the same questions as you would ask other consultants. If, however, he is from a different service then ask questions about the role of the department in meeting Trust objectives and how he sees the department develop. Ask about any problems in the department and how he sees your appointment make a difference to the current situation. You can also ask questions about the impact of any merger, move to foundation status, competition or other issue on the service.

Questions to the Medical Director / Chief Executive

Both are essentially seeing you in a management capacity and will be more preoccupied about the Trust itself and the positioning of the department to which you are applying within the Trust. You will therefore aim to ask questions which are less linked to the nature of the job and more towards the economic and political setting. Questions you could ask include:

  1. What is the Trust's strategy over the next few years?
  2. How do they see your future department help the Trust meet its objectives?
  3. How did/will the Trust benefit from its foundation status?
  4. How will the Trust be affected by a forthcoming merger?
  5. What are the key priorities for the Trust over the next few years?

Both the Medical Director and the Chief Executive are experienced at meeting candidates and will usually have things of their own to say. Listen carefully to what you are being told as the questions they ask you and the topics they raise will certainly come up at the interview.

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Visiting those who can't make it to the interview

In some cases, you may find that the Chief Executive or the Medical Director may not be sitting on the interview panel and may be replaced by a deputy. If that is the case, you still need to see them. You want to see them because they have information that you will need to answer your questions at the interview and not simply because they are on the panel. If you really can't meet them, then ask if someone else is available at that level.

Can you bring your CV and is it okay to take notes?

Yes, in fact you should bring several copies of your CV and application form. Many of those you will meet may not have a copy of your application to hand and having one ready to give out will save a lot of embarrassment. If the application process did not ask for a CV, this is a wonderful opportunity to give them additional information they may not have seen before. Having a CV ready will also make your look professional.

Yes, it is perfectly okay to take notes. Indeed it is almost recommended. Firstly, they will be giving you information and you will find it hard to remember it all. Secondly, if you take notes, they will see that you are treating the process seriously. It is also okay to write down the list of questions that you wanted to ask. All this comes with a small caveat though: make sure you don't spend the whole visit with your nose in your notebook. It is also important to demonstrate an interactive personality.

Do your homework before you visit anyone

When you do your pre-interview visits, don't just turn up with your hands in your pockets, expecting to have a nice chat and take notes. This is your opportunity to make a good first impression in anticipation for your consultant interview and you must make sure that you come across confident and sound intelligent. The pre-interview visits may be informal but a bad performance could destroy your chances of getting that consultant post.

There will inevitably be discussions about the job, the Trust and current issues and therefore you must be familiar with at least some of the basics. This will include reading the following:

  • Job description and person specification
  • Trust's website
  • Trust's "Annual Report" for the past year - available from Trust website
  • Care Quality Commission report
  • Response of the Trust to the Care Quality Commission report
  • Minutes of Board meetings
  • Other policy documents made public by the Trust
  • Minutes of PCT meetings

These documents are available from different sources:

  • The Trust's website either directly or through a link to another website
  • The Chief Executive's or Medical Director's secretary
  • The PCT 's website

Some Trusts also offer candidates the opportunity to attend MDT meetings. If it is possible, then ask politely. This will give you a valuable insight into the work and relationships within the Trust.

Don't forget that it is a business meeting

To make the best impression, make sure that you wear business attire. It is also a good idea to avoid humour; not everyone will share your jokes and your nerves will probably make them sound unfunny. There is no harm in just being normal.

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