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Author: Dr Luke Western

            Oxford Academic Trainee

Here we summarise all the steps to acing the personal part of your interview. How do you fulfill the criteria of the medical expert?


You’ve written a perfect white space essay, mastered acute management, and can read a paper backwards. Now they want to know what you are all about.

The personal discussion is an often overlooked, but very important part of your interview. Trusts are looking to employ not only competent doctors, but interesting, driven, and personable people that promote their core values and contribute to their hospitals and departments. Although, I would argue these are not mutually exclusive.

Interviewers could focus on a number of aspects related to your motivations, job understanding and personal life. This may seem vague and difficult to prepare for, however there are important themes that will often be explored during your interview, and I will endeavour to discuss these in this document.


Interviewers will be assessing if you fulfil the domains of the medical expert, which is characterized in the title image. These themes should be demonstrated in your answers throughout the interview, but particularly in the personal section.

Generally, you can demonstrate these domains by discussing the following for major topics of conversation:

  • academic careers

  • research experience

  • teaching experience

  • leadership and management.

Fortunately, most questions are set up to prompt you to talk about these. By exploring these topics, interviewers will gain a reasonable understanding of your understanding of the job you are applying for, what individual skills you have (and set you apart from others) and what you are like as a person (in the way you answer and communicate). It is important to consider that until this point, other sections will have correct answers, thus it may be hard to set yourself apart from other candidates. This is a unique time to demonstrate to your interviewer why you’re the perfect candidate for the job.


How do you structure your response to interviewers?

You should endeavor to answer questions where appropriate with the following structure:

  • Direct summary answer to question

  • Specific example you have done

  • Brief summary of achievement

  • What that taught you about (yourself, research, education etc)

  • Why this example motivates you to the AFP / future academic career

Questions may typically cover these broad topics which are summarized below: 

  1. Academic Career

  2. Research

  3. Teaching 

  4. Leadership & management


You will, understandably, be expected to know about the career you are intending to join. This involves understanding the UK academic career pathway. AFP forms the first step (although not a required step) of the academic training pathway for academic clinicians. This can be summarised in the diagram below:

During your interview you may be questioned about your aspirations. You do not need to exclaim certainty about wanting to become a senior lecturer one day (unless you do!). Some people do lie to appear ‘more academic’, however in my personal experience, being honest and pragmatic has been more successful. You should be truthful about your motivations for joining the training pathway and set out what you hope to gain from it. For example, I spoke about how I was considering a life in clinical academia but wanted to complete the AFP to experience if the career was something I’d actually enjoy.

I recommend you take some time to reflect about your true motives for the AFP. Once you identify authentic motivation, you will be able to enthusiastically portray that during interview – which people respond well to.

Reality of clinical academia

Unfortunately, the career can be challenging. You will be expected to attain high performance in both clinical and academic worlds, while working partially in each. Interviewers will often ask what challenges you expect to face when undertaking the AFP. You should take time to reflect on the specific circumstances you might find challenging, but I will name a few:

  • High expectations

  • Demands of each career strand can compete against each other for your time (e.g. deadlines vs on-call rota gaps)

  • Must be proactive and organised

  • Gaining clinical competency in shorter time

  • Difficulties of research not going to plan but on tight schedule

academic career.jpg


Here interviewers will try to understand not just your research interests, but your motivations for wanting to complete research. This will vary between applicants and there isn’t a specific answer per say. But generally, they want to see candidates express a holistic attitude to research.

They are unlikely to appoint candidates who portray a selfish motivation to complete research (bolster CV, career progression etc). Ultimately medical research is always about the patients. You will be expected to understand how patients are related to research and systems that are in place to protect them (ethics, bias control etc). Some questions can become more technical and overlap with the academic interview (such as what hierarchy of evidence means to patients).

When given the opportunity, you should talk confidently about your research experience, why you enjoyed it and why it has motivated you to complete the AFP. Think about what excites you about research and be sure to feed it into any related question on the topic.


The Latin meaning for doctor is teacher. Education forms an important part of academia as much as clinical medicine. Trusts will be looking for people who demonstrate teaching interest and experience. It demonstrates an engaging person who has mature communication skills.

In the world of research, obtaining data really doesn’t mean much. Research relies on dissemination of information. Presenting your paper or publishing in a journal is a form of teaching, thus there are many transferable skills which are important to demonstrate.

When appropriate you should talk about your notable teaching experiences and how they developed you as a teacher. You should also discuss through what methods have you improved your teaching skills. Furthermore, it would be prudent to discuss your ongoing plans of developing teaching skills (medical education, courses, education projects etc). Ensure to reflect back the importance of teaching skills to academia, as I have highlighted above.


Clinical academics by their unique job role often become involved in leadership and management within their organisations, as well as associated roles within their research team and clinical team. As such, these skills are highly regarded within the career ladder. They expect candidates to have a thorough understanding of the importance of these skills and have some experience of building junior leadership skills.

To do this you should discuss about a role you have held, and what it taught you about leadership and management (such as a particular skill that is difficult). You may also be prompted to discuss the attributes of a good or bad leader, and a possible example you might have experience. Furthermore, you should be able to discuss the importance of leadership and management in the structure of the NHS.


Answering the question

So far, I have given and overview of the topics of conversation. Now you need to do some work to establish the details.

The personal section, or indeed the whole interview, should be interceded with information specific to yourself. By this, I mean each question should be elaborated on using your own personal experiences. It is prudent to talk about the most substantial things you have achieved. To do this means taking firm control of the interview.

By this I mean, if you give short answers, the interviewers will continue onto the next section, and you will not have been prompted to elaborate on your experiences. You should utilise any question to feed into one of your examples.

For instance, “Why is teaching important”

  • First you should answer the question directly “…Teaching is important as to prompts us to develop comprehensive communication skills that are pertinent to research… etc”

  • Then qualify the answer with a personal example “… I realised the value of teaching after organising a 3-month education program for medical students…”

  • Talk about what you learnt “… I found that it was difficult to address all the students during the session. Following feedback from students and further research, I decided to change the classroom layout, which improved group discussion and involvement…”

  • Then relate back to the AFP “… I endeavour to continue teaching during my AFP, as it is a valuable method to continue to develop my communication skills, which will in turn allow me to better present and publish research…”

So, in this example, you can see how a relatively closed question (not seemingly a personal question) is opened up to demonstrate your comprehensive understanding of the topic but also showcase your notable achievement.


Finally, we should discuss interview technique.

  • Talk efficiently – should have a reasonable pace, no excessive descriptions and maintain a momentum. Remember, a lull in your talking will be a queue for them to ask the next question, so only stop when you’re finished discussing your point.

  • Be confident – You should be clear in your discussions as this portrays motivation and comprehension. Open, relaxed but attentive body language– This is a confident body language. Remember, confidence and sincerity can be innately identified from body language. We recommend recording yourself when you do a practice interview to see how you hold yourself and how your body language responds to difficult questions.

  • Eye contact – A vital body language tool. We would recommend maintaining eye contact with your interviewer for 60-80% of the time. Remember to occasionally break eye contact as this creates a more relaxed perception but looking away too long will be preserved as anxiety or lack of confidence. Looking at the floor at any stage is not advisable. Where you have multiple interviewers, try to give each interview equal eye contact, even if there is an individual who does not talk to you throughout the interview.

  • Dress to impress – This day is not a day to look shabby. Put in the effort, look professional.

  • Maximise your talking time (lead the discussion) – as I have discussed previously, the interviewers are unlikely to overly prompt you to discuss your personal achievements. By controlling the flow of the interview, yourself, you can ensure you maximise your discussion time and get across all your most important achievements.

  • Show your humanity. You will be their colleague – avoid being too robotic or rehearsed. It will appear disingenuous. Ensure to have a natural flow (however that is for you) and introduce a bit of humour if appropriate.


Hopefully this article has given you a better idea about what to expect during the interview regarding personal questions. The main things to remember are:

- Understand the career

- Clarify your motivations

- Prepare good examples of achievements

- Practice your interview technique

We wish you well in your upcoming interview!

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