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Consultant Interviews. Pre-Shortlisting Visits
Pre-shortlisting visits are often neglected by applicants to consultant posts, who tend to view them as "yet another constraint". In reality, when they are allowed by the Trust and when they are done properly, they can be a valuable tool which will significantly enhance your ability to choose and apply for the right job, and to tailor your experience to the needs of the Trust within the application form and the CV.
On this page, we set out the principles which govern pre-shortlisting visits and information which will help you plan and approach the pre-shortlisting process optimally.
What is a pre-shortlisting visit and does it matter?
A pre-shortlisting visit is a visit made to a trust to which you may be applying between the moment the advert has been released and the closing date of the application. The main aim of such visit is to gain information which will help you determine whether you to want to apply for the job or not.
You will undoubtedly have gathered a lot of information about the Trust and the post by reading the Trust's website, and various documents such as the job description and the person specification, but these are often vague, sometimes misleading and in any case they often only provide a representation of what the job will be in the first few months but not in the longer term. A pre-shortllisting can give you an opportunity to find out information which may influence (i) your decision to apply to that particular Trust and (ii) how you represent your experience on the application form and tailor your experience to the needs of the employer.
Some Trusts may make it clear that they do not encourage any pre-shortlisting visits; however, it is also the case that some departments may decide to shortlist only those who have demonstrated an interest in the post by having visited before, or at least called. This is more likely to happen in larger specialties such as anaesthetics where they could be a lot applicants per post (up to 100 for some posts) and where Trusts have to find ways of cutting down their shortlisting workload.
Finally, if you have trained in a different region, are unfamiliar with the Trust and its environment, and need to investigate other factors such as career opportunities, schooling, housing or transport issues, a pre-shortlisting visit may be appropriate.
In conclusion, if the advert encourages pre-shortlisting visits, you should try your best to make one. If the advert for the post does not specify whether pre-shortlisting visits are authorised, you should make an effort to find out by contacting the named contact in the advert and then act accordingly.
Who should you see?
Since the purpose of the pre-shortlisting visit is to gather information about the job, the Trust and the area, you should therefore restrict your contacts to the team in which you would be expected to work (e.g. the clinical lead, a few chosen consultants, other key individuals such as senior nurses and the business/operations manager for that department) and, if appropriate, the clinical director. The best approach is often to call the named person on the job advert, the clinical lead or the clinical director and ask who would be available to talk to you.
At this stage of the process, you should not attempt to contact the Medical Director or the Chief Executive. You will have an opportunity to meet them during the pre-interview visit, once you have been shortlisted.
What if you are too busy or live too far?
If you have identified that the Trust welcomes pre-shortlisting visits but are finding is hard to make yourself available, you should consider arranging a telephone conversation with the relevant parties. Although not as powerful as a face-to-face visit, it will demonstrate that you have shown an effort, which will not go unnoticed. Some clinicians and clinical directors also often prefer that approach as telephone conversations tend to be more to the point and therefore waste less time.
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What questions should you ask?
At that stage, you are merely trying to understand what the situation is so that you can decide whether to apply and how to pitch your application. Don't forget that you will be back later for a pre-interview visit, during which you will have further opportunities to gather information. During the pre-shortlisting visit, your main concern will therefore be to get a feel for the team, the job and the Trust.
Before the visit, you will of course have done a lot of reading and the purpose of your questions will therefore be either to clarify aspects of what you have read, or to enquire about information not easily available. Here are a few examples:
Clinical & Job Plan
- If the job description contains flexible sessions, what are they likely to entail?
- How many SPAs are there and what are the expectations in relation to their use?
- If the post is on split sites, ask questions about how that would work for you.
- Is the proposed job plan a long-term one? How is it likely to change after 1 year? 5 years?
- Ask about special interests and how they fit within the job plan.
- If you have interests which do not feature in the job plan, will there be opportunities to develop an involvement in those?
- Nature of on calls
- Ask about the links between the medical school and the department.
- Ask about the department's involvement with CT/ST trainees, GPVST/GPST trainees and expectations with regard to your own responsibilities.
- What about the opportunity to become an educational supervisor?
- Are there particular areas which they feel would need to be filled by the new recruit e.g. they may want to set up a journal club or formalised departmental training sessions.
- Check what is required of the candidates in relation to research.
- Are there opportunities for collaborative research within the department?
- What are the expectations for research involvement amongst trainees and how does that impact on consultants?
- If you are aiming to finish a research degree or finish writing up your PhD during the first few months, ask about how this would fit with the job plan.
- What are the opportunities to develop an involvement in management within the department?
- Are there opportunities for an involvement at regional level (e.g. networks)?
- What are the immediate needs for service improvement and service development within the department?
If there are issues which you know may cause problem it is sometimes worth raising them at this stage as the response that you get may influence your decision to apply for the job or not. This would include issues such as:
- Job sharing
- If the job is part-time, whether there may be opportunities to make it full time later on
- If you lack experience in one area but you know that you can gain that experience quickly if given a minimum of support, would this cause an issue for the department?
- If you need a few weeks or months at the start of the job to complete a previous project or finish writing up your research, would this be acceptable?
- If you have developed a lot of experience in an area of interest which is not immediately relevant to the job, will your experience be of use at some point in the future?
There are obviously many more questions you could ask depending on the responsibilities set out in the job description; but at this stage, keep it fairly generic.
What questions should you not ask?
The point of the pre-shortlisting visit is to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job and ask questions which will not give a wrong impression. It will therefore be inappropriate to ask questions about:
- Private work.
- Holidays and sick leave.
- Whether it would be a problem if you had any more children.
- Whether SPAs can be done at home, or whether they can be taken on Mondays and Fridays.
- Whether the Trust expects you to do some work in your own time.
- And generally anything which may present you in a bad light.
You are told not to canvass. What does it mean?
Many candidates are concerned about doing pre-shortlisting visits because they have been told (or have read) that the Trust does not allow canvassing. Canvassing is essentially a situation whereby you approach members of the panel with the view to sell yourself and encourage them to consider your application more thoroughly. This is not to be confused with a simple pre-shortlisting visit where you limit yourself to enquiring about the detail of the post to which you are applying. If you pre-arrange the visits and stick to a normal line of questioning which is designed to enquire about the post being advertised, then you can't go wrong.
Can you bring your CV?
The pre-shortlisting visit is a forum which you can use to gather information about the post. You will get a chance to sell yourself at a later stage during the application process and the interview process, and as such it is a little premature to give them a CV; it might in fact be construed as canvassing. You may find however that some of the people you are visiting ask for a copy of your CV, in which case it would be judicious to have copy with you. In conclusion we would not recommend that you give your CV out unless you are being asked for a copy.
Is it okay to take notes?
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.
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