Editors note: This post was valid for the 2019 application process and might not be accurate for future years.
I cannot stress enough how important preparation for these interviews is. Everyone talks about how competitive the STP is, so if you want to be in with a chance of getting one of those coveted places, then preparation is key. The National School has some pretty good resources that cover the format of the STP interviews, but I know what you really want to know is “what the hell are they gonna ask me?!”. And I bet your google searches are coming up blank- I know this because I was there 2 years ago; frantically scanning the internet to find any hint or example of the questions I might face in any of the 4 stations. Well, I’ve heard that the questions asked at the interviews are pretty similar year on year so specifics are kept notoriously hush hush. I’m sorry to tell you that I’m not about to change that. Mostly because 50% of the interview is specialism specific so I wouldn’t even have a clue for anything other than bioinformatics. But – before you stop reading and vow never to visit this blog again – what I will do is give you some tips on what I think are the best ways to prepare for each station that I hope will help.
“Specialism specific questions to assess scientific knowledge and skill”
The format of the interview has changed in the last 2 years, so unlike when I had my interview, there are now 2 stations for specialism specific questions. To prepare for these, read as much as you can about the job role you would be doing as a qualified scientist in this field. You will be going into the role as a trainee, you’re not expected to be an expert in the field, but there is an expectation to have a basic understanding and keen interest in the specialism. Make sure you’re up to date about current topics and developments in the field. The interviewers want to see that you are passionate about the subject.
The people at these stations are most likely going to be scientists that work in the field – a fair few of them have probably done the STP themselves and may have qualified as little as a year ago. This means two things:
- They know their stuff. If you don’t know the answer to a question, they definitely will – so don’t try to bluff your way out as they will see straight through it.
- They went through a VERY similar process a few years ago, so know exactly how you feel and how nerve-wracking the process is so they will try to help you out where they can.
“General aptitude for science and understanding of scientific services in society”
How annoying is this as a station title? I mean- general aptitude for science?! That could literally be anything, right? Even after having done it I’m not sure I know the breadth of what could be covered in this station. What I would say though is that every question I was asked I was able to answer by using general scientific knowledge and thinking through questions logically. The interviewers are also there to help you out and can prompt you with additional questions to steer you in the right direction. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t prepare for this, but if you have a degree in science (which I assume you do!) you should be absolutely fine. As for the “scientific services in society” part – think about ways that science contributes to general public health as a whole. Although this is “general”, it’s not that general. It’s more general science regarding healthcare and health services provided by the NHS. Crack out your a-level textbooks, brush up on your core scientific skills – that aren’t specific to any particular field, and you’ll be fine.
“Values and behaviour and leadership and management with a focus on potential”
This station used to be two separate ones- values and behaviour, and leadership and management. They have since been combined into this station. Values and behaviour is a reference to the NHS values and standards. It is absolutely essential that you know the values and standards laid out in the NHS constitution and how your role as a scientist contributes to upholding those values. As Adriana said in her post on the interviews; the STAR approach is the one to take on this station. Use real-life examples to evidence your points. This one is actually probably the easiest to prepare for as it’s the most similar to questions you might get in other interviews in regards to leadership, teamwork and management. Having said that, it’s also one of the hardest for the interviewers to guide you on as there are no “correct” answers, it’s all about evidencing your potential to work and hopefully lead a team in the NHS. And one last thing- remember, the patient is at the heart of everything in the NHS. If you only take one thing away from this post- please let it be this: the jobs of scientists and the whole scientist training programme exists for the benefit of patients. Believe this, understand it and be able to share it with your interviewers.
In general, my advice for when you’re at the interview is to approach each station as an entirely separate event. Your scores on each station are completely independent of each other, so don’t let your performance on one affect another. As much as you might hate the idea of having 4 stations, it is quite a good opportunity to completely wipe the slate clean each time you move around. There is a strict 10-minute time limit on each station and you might not get to finish your sentence on one and on another finish 3 minutes early. The amount of time you spend on a station bears no reflection on your performance so try not to let that stress you out. Use your 2-minute rest break between stations wisely, to clear your mind and relax. Honestly, interviews are never fun and I know I’m a nervous wreck whenever I have to go to one, but this is kind of your first opportunity to talk about your passion for your chosen specialism with other people who feel the same way, which really is pretty cool. As everyone will tell you, even getting an interview is something you should be proud of. You earned your space at the interview, so have confidence in yourself and show ‘em what you’re capable of! From all of us at STP Perspectives, we wish you the best of luck!