Stop Asking Dumb and Weird Interview Questions. Ask These 5 Instead.

dumb interview questions in medicine

As a means for helping other doctors, at AdvanceMed we collect an open bank of real interview questions. These are questions that have been asked in a formal doctor interview process. Our community members regularly submit questions to this bank (thanks heaps by the way!). Not infrequently the questions that come through raise an eyebrow for me and I do wonder whether we are in fact providing a service to anonymously out dumb, stupid and weird interview questions and by proxy those that come up with them.

Here's a recent example from a Pathology trainee interview:

If you can invite 3 people for dinner, who would they be? You can't name family members. 
Anonymous “dumb” interview question

So what exactly is wrong with this type of question and what makes it a “dumb” interview question? Whilst there is no issue with coming up with a challenging question for the job interview. The question does still have to make sense and allow candidates to provide an answer that helps you to judge them by the selection criteria that you have set out.

Context Is Important.

Everything is contextual in recruitment. So a question about inviting guests to dinner might well be very relevant for say an event management position, where one of the Key Result Areas is the ability to come up with a fresh program of speakers for the event sponsor.

But the selection criteria for most medical jobs that I have seen don't include an event management function. They generally talk about behaviours such as demonstrating good clinical knowledge and skills, good communication, good teamwork, being professional, demonstrating ongoing learning, and practicing cultural respect and safety.

Maybe at a real stretch, a question about inviting people to dinner could infer something about how one goes about forming a team. But I can think of a dozen betters ways of constructing a question that gets to that issue.

Unfortunately, sometimes the doctors who attend interview panels in medicine think that because they are intelligent and perhaps have attended a one day course in recruitment and selection that they are all of a sudden an expert in human resources and recruitment and that it's time for a “wacky interview question to challenge the candidates.”

Perhaps they may also feel that a creative thinking type of question gives them a different perspective on the candidate? Some useful insight into their personality or communication or teamwork style. But guess what? There are actual validated psychometric employment and other psychological tests that do a much better job of this than one interview question.

Stick To The Script.

I'd encourage all doctors and other professionals involved in the candidate selection process to stick to the script. By which I mean stick with the principle that each interview question should form a relationship to at least one of the selection criteria for the job.

I say this for three main reasons:

  1. This principle actually makes it easier to design good questions and establish rating criteria
  2. The information you gain from these questions from each candidate will be far more useful to you
  3. Most importantly you are also avoiding getting into the tricky area of problems with discrimination and equal employment opportunity

Yes. That's right. If you can't prove how your selection process relates to the actual requirements of the position then you open yourself up to the possibility of candidates challenging the process as being unfair.

Good Job Interview Questions. Challenging Questions That You Should Ask.

Ok. So you have looked at the list of questions you are asking for the job and they are predictable and the same as last year. You would still like to be able to stretch the candidates a bit. What can you do?

Here are 5 questions that you can probably use in your next medical job interview. Bearing in mind that you do still need to ensure that they line up with the selection criteria.

Good Interview Question Number One.

What Single Project Or Task Would You Consider Your Most Important Career Accomplishment to Date?

Acknowledgements to Loud Adler for this question. This one question can tell a lot about a job candidate in medicine. Starting with whether they value outcomes and achievements in their work. It can also provide insights into how they go about accomplishing success, how they manage their time and incorporate feedback into their process, whether they get chosen to work on challenges and why, and how they work with others to marshall resources and create a common cause.

There are so many supplementary questions that can be explored off the back of this one single question.

And this question is easily related to the selection criteria of most medical jobs. For example:

  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively & harmoniously in a multidisciplinary team.
  • Demonstrated good organisational, time management and problem-solving skills within a complex clinical environment.
  • Proven commitment to ongoing learning and professional development.
  • Ability to contribute to quality improvement and / or clinical safety in the hospital.

Good Interview Question Number Two.

Tell Us About A Difficult Day You Had At Work
Example Questions Are Great For Getting To the Truth

This is one of my current favourites. Once again it requires the candidate to dig into their career and choose an example of how they have performed. This time under difficult circumstances. If the example doesn't seem all that difficult. Then this may imply that the candidate has not been truly tested. If the example blows you away it probably means that they are up for the challenge. But its also what they found difficult and how they handled it that matters most. For some, it might be difficulties in communicating or dealing with under-resourcing. For others, it might be difficulties with the emotional impact of work. Whatever the circumstances look for evidence of personal insight, coping strategies, advocating and escalating for help and of course, relying on one's team.

This question is easily related to selection criteria such as:

  • Demonstrated good organisational, time management and problem-solving skills within a complex clinical environment.
  • Ability to work independently in a supervised environment and work in a multidisciplinary team

Good Interview Question Number Three.

Tell Us About Some Research You Discovered That Affected Your Practice.
Example Of a Question To Explore Evidence Based Practice

Most candidates can talk the talk when it comes to using evidence in their clinical work. But it is surprising how many are stumped when asked to actually recall an example where they have used evidence to alter theirs and their team's approach to care.

This question applies to selection criteria where you are wanting to see the demonstration of up to date clinical knowledge and practice (which is pretty much in every doctor position description), but often there is also a criterion about demonstrated commitment to learning and research. So it can address two criteria at the same time.

Good Interview Question Number Four.

What Does This Position Offer You And Why Do You Want To Leave Your Current Role?
Organizations Tend to Try To Hang On to Good Employees. So Its Important to Explore Reasons For Leaving.

A much-overlooked question is why a candidate is applying for the position. Granted in many doctor interviews its a matter of progressing from one stage of training to the next. However, as we go up the seniority ranks there tends to be less turnover. If a doctor is a genuine asset then usually their manager is trying really hard to keep them. So there needs to be a good positive reason offered in terms of things like:

  • desiring more responsibility
  • experiences that are not on offer in the current post

Any sign of negativity towards the current employer or service should be treated with caution. Strong candidates will be more sanguine about their current experience and less likely to say anything negative regardless of how bad the experience has been.

This question is often a better alternative to asking candidates to either “Tell Us About Yourself?” or “Tell Us Why You Are Good For the Job?” It invites a candidate to address any or all of the selection criteria. Although in Medicine, most will tend to focus on the clinical requirements first in their answer.

Good Interview Question Number Five.

Could You Demonstrate To Us The Following…
Skills Tests Are Under Utilised In Medical Interviews

The last good question is in fact not a question but a test. And the test will again depend on the position and the selection criteria.

In the majority of jobs, which includes medicine, there is normally a key task that is important for the role and which can be simulated in an interview environment. Successful demonstration of this task will normally address selection criteria around clinical capability as well as often communication skills.

The “Skills Test” is used surprisingly sparingly in medical job interviews in my experience. But often very easy to deploy and quite useful.

In a past role, I recruited doctors to fill Resident Medical Officer posts in mental health. The role required a basic ability and knowledge of mental health (we could and did teach the rest) but importantly required the doctors to have up to date medical skills.

We would give each candidate a couple of ECG readings with a scenario which demonstrated common abnormal findings. This test was remarkably discriminating and quite reassuring in terms of hiring doctors who were able to interpret basic ECGs.

Some other examples where a Skills Test may be relevant:

  • Resident demonstrating how to complete a pathology form or prescription
  • Surgical trainee demonstrating a knot tieing technique
  • Surgical trainee consenting interview member for surgical procedure
  • Radiology trainee interpreting and completing a report on a Chest X-Ray
  • Psychiatry trainee watching a short video of a patient and reporting mental status findings
  • Advanced Trainee being asked to give a presentation on a recent update in their field
  • Consultant being asked to prioritize a ward round list

Related Questions About Dumb Interview Questions.

Question. Are There Any Interview Questions That A Panel Is Not Allowed To Ask Me?

Answer. Yes. There are. These are called discriminatory or illegal questions. There are laws in Australia and most other countries to prevent panel selecting people on the basis of background, preferences or characteristics which do not relate to the ability to perform the role. We have a post about this here.

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Anthony Llewellyn

Anthony Llewellyn

FRANZCP, MHA, GAICD | Medical HR Expert and Coach. Anthony is an experienced health public sector executive, medical educationalist and coach. Anthony is an expert in Medical HR. He has reviewed numerous CVs, chaired and conducted over a thousand job interviews and provided advice to a number of employers and Colleges about selection processes. Anthony's background: Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Manager with 20 years’ experience as a medical practitioner in public health services in a range of roles. From 2012 to 2016, Anthony was the Medical Director of the Health Education & Training Institute (HETI), involved in overseeing a number of network training programs. He is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine & Public Health, and Year 5 Psychiatry Coordinator. He is currently completing a PhD in Medical Education, exploring personal learning environments in the intern training space. Anthony recently delivered for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians a Best Practice Guide for Trainee Selection into Employment Roles Anthony was born on Mouheneenner land in Hobart (Tasmania) and pays respect to the traditional owners of lands he lives and works on, and elders past and present. His two most important roles in life are proud husband and proud father of two boys.

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