Consultant Interviews. Job description & Person Specification

Aside from the job advert posted in a journal or online, the consultant job description and the person specification are likely to be the first documents that you will come across in your quest for your a new consultant post.

On this page, we set out how they are written, what they contain, what they show and the pitfalls that you must be careful to avoid.

The job description

Who is involved in writing the job description?

It is the Trust's responsibility to write the job description for any consultant post.  In practice, this will be the responsibility of the clinical lead or some other consultant.  The Trust has an obligation to consult a Regional Adviser of the relevant Royal College (so-called "Royal College Representative") as they may provide valuable input on various aspects of the job description based on their knowledge of what other Trusts do.  In theory, the Trust should take account, or at least consider seriously any comments made by the Royal College representative.  When the post involves significant teaching commitments and/or research commitments, suitable representatives from the University should be involved.

What does it show and what should you make of it?

The job description will set out the details of the job and will typically include the following items:

  • A presentation of the Trust/hospital, its values, the population and geographical area it covers.
  • A presentation of the department or service which you will be joining.
  • The Trust's and department's involvement in clinical governance, audit, research and teaching.
  • A description of the post that you will be taking up, including full details of the clinical sessions, on-call commitment and other clinical and non-clinical duties.
  • A description of the SPAs and expectations in relation to these.
  • Any specific requirements for the post (e.g. drawing attention to a special interest).
  • Information about the town or region.

In many cases, the job description is accurate and therefore reflects well what the job is. In such cases it will give you a good idea of whether this is the right job for you. It is however worth noting that not all job descriptions are accurate or honest about the position being advertised. In particular:

  1. The job description may not be reflecting the actual job being advertised. Writing a job description is not a glamorous task, so most consultants would try not to get involved. Those who do get involved want to get rid of the project as soon as they can. For those reasons, many job descriptions are copied and pasted from other documents, which makes interesting and sometimes contradictory reading.
  2. The wording may be deliberately vague. There are two reasons why this may be the case. Either the responsibilities have not actually been finalised at the time the advert goes out, or the department feels that it may be hard to find a suitable wide and wants to cast a net as wide as possible in order to attract the maximum number of candidates.
  3. The wording may be deliberately misleading. Some more cynical Trusts deliberately produce job descriptions designed to attract higher calibre of candidates, only for those candidates to find out once they are in post that the job is not quite what they thought it was. Some applicants to consultant posts who came to our consultant interview courses have reported personal stories of:

    - Trusts advertising for 10 PAs but in fact insisting on the new recruit doing 12 PAs.
    - Trusts advertising 2.5 SPAs insisting they should be used to run additional clinics.
    - Trusts advertising 2.5 SPAs. which suddenly become 1.5 SPAs.
    - Trusts advertising for a special interest which may or may not be needed (i.e. "just in case").
    - Trusts failing to advertise the more painful parts of the job (e.g. boring clinical activities).
  4. The wording may be deliberately geared towards a "favourite candidate". Sometimes a job description may be deliberately tweaked to favour one particular candidate. For example, they may require candidates to pursue a certain personal interest or to have done research on specific topics. They may also involve requiring specific knowledge of local facts. Whilst this may not put off anyone from applying, candidates should be aware of such situations to manage their expectations accordingly.

Overall though, most job descriptions are fair, but the lesson to be drawn from the above is that you must make sure that you enquire thoroughly about the nature and particulars of the post during the application process. Too often, candidates are so desperate to get a job that some end up in the wrong job, which can then be difficult to resign from. The ideal platform to gain all this information are the pre-shortlisting visit and the pre-interview visit.

The person specification

What is a person specification?

The person specification is an important document for your application to a consultant post as it dictates the requirements in terms of training, experience and personality which you will be expected to demonstrate through the consultant application form, your consultant CV or your consultant interview.

The criteria are normally set out in two separate columns:

  • Essential criteria, which, as the name indicates, you MUST fulfil in order to be considered for the post.
  • Desirable criteria i.e. non-essential criteria which may give you an advantage if you fulfilled them.

and deals with topics such as:

  • Basic qualifications
  • Higher degrees
  • Special interests & fellowships
  • Audit, research
  • Management
  • Teaching
  • Clinical governance
  • Personal attributes

In view of the level of competition for many of the consultant posts on offer, it is highly likely that a number of candidates will possess all the criteria required, both essential and desirable. Therefore, you must carefully consider the consultant posts >to which you are applying, ensuring that you possess as many of the desirable criteria as possible.

Why the person specification matters

Although some person specifications can be non-descript and simply regurgitate the basic criteria set out in the GMC's Good Medical Practice, most have features which are specifically related to the consultant post that you are applying for and set our specific criteria against which you will be assessed both through the consultant application form and the consultant interview. Your answers to questions, both written and verbal, will therefore need to be tailored towards it to ensure that you give the panel what they are looking for. The person specification may also draw attention to specific areas of skills which you may have or not, and may therefore play a decisive role in your decision to apply for a specific post.

If there are desirable criteria that you do not fulfil, don't panic! If no one has those criteria either then you are safe. In addition, if you are much stronger than other candidates on other criteria then you will need to make sure that these are clearly emphasised in your consultant application form and at your consultant interview so that the panel is aware of the full package of skills and experience that you have to offer.

However, if the criteria in question are clearly essential despite appearing in the "desirable" column (e.g. a fellowship, or specific experience) and if other candidates are clearly at an advantage compared to you, you will need to decide whether it is worth applying. In some cases, a well organised pre-shortlisting visit or phone call may provide you with the information you require to make a final decision.

Requirement for being less than 6 months from CCT

If you read any person specification, you will notice that most jobs require candidates to be less than 6 months from CCT. For jobs where they require someone urgently, the Trust may require candidates to be less than 3 months from CCT or even to already have a CCT (particularly if they also require a post-CCT fellowship). This requirement comes from the National Health Service (Appointment of Consultants) Regulations and is designed to ensure that candidates who apply for a consultant post are in possession of their CCT by the time they take up the post. Indeed, 6 months before CCT date, all candidates will have had their Penultimate Year Assessment and will therefore have a clear idea as to whether they are on track to obtain their CCT by the due date.

There are two things that you must know about this requirement:

  • The 6 months are counted from the date of the consultant interview to the date of your CCT. Therefore, you can complete and submit an application form for a post if you are more than 6 months away from CCT, provided your consultant interview falls within 6 months. If you are missing out by a matter of days, it is worth contacting the Trust to see if they could move the interview date. Alternatively you may be able to get an exemption - see below.
  • It is possible for a candidate to be interviewed for a consultant post if they are more than 6 months away from CCT, though the official documents are vague as to when this may be possible. The example quoted in official documents is the case of applicants from outside the UK who are applying to the Specialist Register through PMETB Article 14 (CESR) and for whom subsequent Specialist Register entry is likely. We also know from experience that some Specialist Registrars who were missing out by a matter of days were given exemptions because they PYA RITA had demonstrated that they had already achieved all competencies or needed little experience to gain entry to the Register. In doubt, ask the clinical director of department to which you are thinking of applying. You have nothing to lose.

Bear in mind that this requirement has been imposed primarily to make sure that Trusts don't have to interview scores of candidates who may not gain entry to the Specialist Register, thereby wasting valuable space in the recruitment process. The line has to be drawn somewhere and 6 months sounds like a fair timescale. Therefore do not be surprised if you bang your head against bureaucracy

Problems you may encounter with the consultant person specification

Similary to the consultant job description, there are a number of issues which you may come across with the consultant person specification:

  • They may have been copied and pasted in haste from other job descriptions and may not actually accurately reflect the reality of the consultant post to which you are applying. It may also be that some important criteria have deliberately been left out in order to retain flexibility during the recruitment process. For those reasons, you must make the most of the pre-shortlisting and pre-interview visits to gain a good appreciation of the unwritten requirements.
  • The wording may be loose and therefore difficult to interpret. For example, an essential criteria may be "Wide-ranging experience of the speciality" or "Good teaching experience", which means very little. Again, you should use the pre-shortlisting visit and pre-interview visit to obtain a more refined interpretation of those criteria.
  • They may be tailored towards a specific "preferred" candidate. You will recognise such person specifications because they will require some unusual combination of experience and skills. If this is the case, don't despair! Not all favourite candidates get the job they were promised. But consider your options carefully.