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What’s the food like in the cafeteria? What not to ask in a medical job interview.

Medical job interview.

Simon* is sitting across from me in the small meeting room. He has done fairly well in his interview for a surgical registrar position, and it’s about time to wrap up the interview. Before we finish, I ask: “Do you have any questions for us?”.

It’s at that moment that his eyes betray a sudden panic, and he seems to be searching for something to say. The seconds tick by, and even I am starting to feel uncomfortable.

Finally, he blurts out: “So, what’s the food like in the cafeteria?”, with a half smile that indicates that it’s meant to be a joke, but it didn’t really get the laughs from the panel he was hoping for.

Simon’s situation is painfully common in medical job interviews. It’s a small thing, but people are often genuinely anxious about what to ask at the end of the interview, when they get that question.

The good news is that you can prepare for this question, and be ready with a question or two of your own.

So, why do interviewers ask this question? Is it a secret plan to see if you ask the ‘right’ question? Is it a trick to reveal the true you? Is it a test? What if you ask no questions; will it go against you?

In reality, more often than not, it is simply an opportunity for you to ask any questions you have about the position, the employer, or any other relevant topic. It is really that simple.

The easiest way to prepare for this question is to actually think of things you want to ask the panel, that relate to the job, like:

  • Working hours
  • Team composition
  • Facilities and equipment
  • Training programs
  • Research

You don’t need to pick something from this list, but do try to come up with something relevant. Make sure what you are asking isn’t publicly available information – such a question might show a lack of pre-interview research.

It’s certainly not the opportunity to ask about remuneration, any special requests you have, nor is it the time to jam in any additional information you feel the interviewers didn’t ask you. It’s definitely not the moment for ‘humble-brags’ like: “Because I have a PhD, I am worried that I might be more qualified than some of the senior registrars here. Will that be a problem?”.

If you genuinely have no questions, it’s a great opportunity to gracefully end the interview by telling the interviewers that everything has been covered very well, and that you thank them for their time.

Remember, the interviewers might just want to get you out of there, so they can see the next person, have lunch, or go to the bathroom, so don’t take up hours of their time with questions. Keep it under a couple of minutes.

This is the last impression the interviewers will have of you – so if you stuff it up, it will be remembered. So, it’s best to get it right.

In any case, the food in the cafeteria is never very good, so don’t bother asking.

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*Identity changed for the sake of his career.

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