Public Health Online Resource for Careers, Skills and Training

Home  »  Developing myself and my career  »  Preparing for a first consultant post

Preparing for a first consultant post

Trainees will start preparing for their first consultant post before the end of their formal training:

  • You are eligible to apply for consultant posts within six months of achieving your CCT date.
  • You are likely, in your final year, to be gaining additional skills / direct experience in areas in which you would like to practice.
  • In the last year or so of your training, make sure you are being given opportunities to lead on areas of work (as opposed to delivering specific tasks). This will prepare you for the type of work you will do as a consultant and help you to perform well at interview.


Which area to practise in?

The choice of area of practice as a public health consultant is wide. Some questions trainees need to consider:

  • Area of practice – generalist or defined area such as health protection, health improvement, health intelligence, health and social care quality, academic
  • Setting in which to work – public sector, private or independent sector, non-governmental organisation, third sector, academia, international
  • Type of role wish to undertake – eg strategic lead, technical expert/advisor
  • Nature of employment – full-time, part-time, portfolio arrangement with more than one employment, self-employed
  • Flexibility – how much flexibility will you have in practice, e.g. geographical mobility?

What do you want from this first role? E.g.:

  • To use it as stepping stone to other roles you already have in mind. 
  • To gain experience in a specific field of practice or setting. 
  • To gain broad experience as a consultant

Find out as much as you can in advance

The first stage is to know your individual strengths and preferences. If you are unclear what a specific role might compromise, make it your business to talk to someone doing that role. 

Applying for posts

You need to be clear where the kind of posts you seek will be advertised. Eg

jobs will be advertised principally in the BMJ, Health Services Journal, and, for the UK health service, on-line at You can register your profile and ‘key words’ for the type of post you are seeking at You will then be notified of posts advertised that match your criteria. They could be on for academic posts, also the Guardian for the Third Sector or non-governmental organisations.

When you have found a job you wish to apply for and received the application form you must:

  • Comply with what is required in terms of submission and in the correct format 
  • Select your referees carefully

Take great care over the sections that relate to your experience and skills

  • Tailor them to the specific job requirement (and not just give a resume of everything you have done in your career to date)  

Increasingly, NHS employers are using the on-line application system linked to This is a ‘one size fits all’ application form which covers all types of NHS post. It can be difficult to demonstrate your PH skills and competencies within the fields offered on the form. It is worth seeking some advice/attending a seminar to give you hints on how to fill this out to show yourself to best advantage.

There may be questions about the job description you wish to check with the employing organisation before you apply. It is always worth contacting the DPH or consultant named in the job advert to discuss the post and to give both parties a feel for whether it could be right for you.

Preparing for the AAC interview

Interviews at consultant level which are open to doctors to apply are formally constituted as Advisory Appointments Committee. This is a statutory requirement. The Faculty of Public Health website has information on the formal composition of an AAC. The same format is also used for non-medical consultant posts.

  • Check factual points
    If you are short-listed, you may have questions about the job to ask the employer or whoever would be your line manager in the organisation; you may wish to visit; there may be organised opportunities to visit. Make sure any factual questions you have about the job are covered in advance of the interview rather than wasting valuable interview time on information you could have checked beforehand.

  • Read up on the organisation
    Look at the website and read any relevant strategies or reports

  • Think through what questions will be asked
    Look at who will be on the panel and the kind of questions they might ask. There will always be an external assessor supplied by the FPH who will need to be sure all your paperwork is in order – ie you are properly accredited; CCT date etc.

  • What will your line manager need to ask?
    If there is someone from the local authority on the panel or a local academic, what questions might they ask?

  • Gather evidence
    Look at the job requirements and make sure you can supply evidence of your experience or skills. Think through relevant pieces of work – what did you personally achieve, what was your role, what were the issues, what did you learn?

  • Think of examples
    Panels need to be sure they person they appoint has the technical skills and is competent to do the job. Your role in the interview is to demonstrate this in answer to their questions illustrating this with examples from your work to date.

Each panel is unique and will formulate its own questions. Typically, questions will be:

  • In the form of scenarios – given this situation what would you do? 
  • Asking you to outline a particular methodology or response 
  • Give information of your experience in ….  

If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is better to admit this rather than get "found out" by subsequent questioning. You can usually think, however, of an alternative situation to the one asked which may show you know how to tackle given situations or would know in theory how a situation could be tackled.

Try to be positive and enthusiastic throughout the interview! A key aim of the interview is to assure the panel/employer that the appointee can function independently at consultant level and take appropriate responsibility for their area of work from day 1. They will be looking for answers that demonstrate that you can respond practically to issues that can arise, including emergencies (e.g. swine flu) or governance issues (e.g. failures in a screening programme).

You need to show that you would know what to do in practice. Answers that show theoretical knowledge but not practical application are unlikely to be sufficient. Also, beware of saying "I would ask/take advice from my DPH". You need to show that you could handle it!

In addition to the interview

You may be asked to prepare a presentation in advance and give this at the interview. Do make sure your presentation answers the question asked, is focused, sticks to time, does not have cluttered overheads. A practical suggestion is to have handouts in case the equipment does not work.

Sometimes, candidates will be asked to do a "test" before the interview– this could be a quick analysis of data or summary of evidence to then present to the panel.

Some areas will use full day assessment centre with group and individual exercises to be followed by interviews.

Be prepared! Find out exactly what will be expected of you on the day.

In the job

  • Having a mentor could be helpful in your first role, someone who can support you with an independent view.
  • Setting up your objectives, job plan and CPD. Use the FPH guidance for this.



Back to top