So seeing as it is prime time interview season I think it’s time to talk about how to do well in interviews. This is a much-feared barrier in the med school application process for many people and it shouldn’t be.
You got this far.
Take this to heart, if you get offered an interview it means that a school is interested in you. Your chances of being accepted go way up when you get to see them face to face. This is because; unlike primary/secondary applications, interviewing costs the school time and money. It is a huge hassle to arrange for an interview day and each student has to have an individualized schedule. Each interviewee will be interviewed at least twice, sometimes more; which means faculty (and sometimes students) need to have their schedules moved around to accommodate that time. After the interview is over the interviewers write what they thought about you, then the performance of the interview has to be evaluated by a team in the context of the rest of your application and finally voted on by a team of 10-20 people on the admissions committee.
They also have to carefully evaluate how many people that they accept will actually matriculate to their school. Some schools initially accept a half dozen or so more students than the class size is designed to have, because they expect many applicants will choose not to come to that school and take another acceptance. They then have to meet again and figure out who will come off the waitlist and be offered an acceptance.
This should show you that they take you seriously, so use that as a confidence booster.
How Applicants Mess Interviews Up
Now that you’re confident how can you go about messing it all up?
This is normal and to be expected, but only to an extent. Being in high-pressure situations is par for the course in medical school, so if you’re shaking in your boots at the interview how are you going to perform when someone’s life is on the line? If you find yourself too anxious or nervous about the interview day reflect back on my previous section and convince yourself you belong here. If you’re still super anxious do some yoga or something. If you’re still inconsolable then maybe see a psychiatrist and talk about it with them, who knows, maybe you meet DSM5 criteria for generalized anxiety disorder.
This is a sure fire way to get blacklisted from medical schools everywhere, or just looked down upon, depending on the nature of the lie. If you fluffed your primary application a little too much or outright made stuff up, you should be nervous. Medical School admissions committees have been doing this a long time and can generally see through BS. They may catch you just by reading what you wrote or by talking to you and realizing half of your app was hot air. Bottom line here is don’t be dishonest, if your application is just a bit weak then make up for it with charm. If your application is a barren wasteland aside from your GPA and MCAT then perhaps you should just wait a bit to apply until you’ve beefed it up a bit. If you rounded some numbers up a little bit, don’t sweat too much.
This one typically throws people off. They see the surgeons on TV or shadow a big time attending who struts his stuff and the applicant thinks that they can act like that too. They think that’s just the doctor mentality; it’s not. The docs you see pimping on the wards or barking orders in the OR have generally earned the right to do so. Also to be perfectly honest, some are just assholes, but you have to remember that the hospital doesn’t keep them around because they’re afraid of them; they’re there because they’re damned good at what they do.
You might have the right to get that cocky someday but right now you’re just a glorified premed, regardless of how high your MCAT is or how many publications you have. You have the right to be confident in yourself but don’t waltz in and put your feet on the table. I knew a guy who had a higher MCAT than me (38) and he got interviews across the country, he went in with a big head and got rejected by everyone. After that humbled him a little bit he had one more interview and he was accepted, purely because his attitude had changed.
Everybody thinks they’re right, and that’s ok. During your interview if you are asked an opinion about something and you go off on a diatribe you may not be received as well as you think, even if your stance is well informed or logical. Worse case scenario is that the interviewer disagrees with you and happens to know a lot more about it than you. Even if your interviewer shares your views you may come off as a bit too much of a fanatic or a little too hard-headed.
People are notoriously stubborn, and that is a fault you don’t want to be associated with. Whatever your opinion is, it is inherently biased in some way, shape, or form. However right you think one side of the argument is; there is someone on the other side who believes the opposite with equal vigor. Both are likely to have some valid points, and being able to understand it can make you appear much more mature and allow you to communicate with people even if you don’t agree on everything (like real life). Sometimes your patients will have opposite political or religious beliefs but if you accept that people might think differently than you it will allow you to develop a rapport with anyone who walks in the door.
Too many Excuses
Everybody has a weak point. If you feel yours is your GPA/MCAT/volunteering then resist the temptation to over-explain yourself. Unless the interviewer says “tell me about your GPA/MCAT” or says “What about your application’s weak points would you like me to know” then just don’t bring it up at all. If you have to talk about it, own up to any mistakes you made and explain what you learned from it. If you think it was someone else’s fault or you just had bad luck, be careful about shifting the blame. They might think you just are incapable of seeing how you are responsible for your own actions and they might hold it against you.
Some neurotic applicants will memorize and rehearse answers that they expect to be asked. This is unwise as it will come off as staged and not genuine, and since questions may be similar but not the same you may end up answering a question that wasn’t asked. By all means think about what you would say to common questions like “why medicine,” but don’t memorize a word for word answer.
How To Do Well
This is simple enough but be nice and act cordial. Show that you’re happy to be there, and that you’re thankful for the opportunity to interview there. Be funny if you can, and try to smile if it suits you. Make sure you come of as enthusiastic but not ecstatic. Find something positive to say about the experience so far, the campus is pretty, the buildings are nice, the staff has been friendly, etc. Don’t get upset at anything and don’t complain. Also, be nice to EVERYONE you see that day. Some schools plant people to observe how students act when they think no faculty is around, and this has created paranoid interviewees and is very uncommon. However, every school will listen to a medical student, secretary, or assistant who says you were rude to them.
By this I don’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but don’t go too hard one way or another. If they ask you a question that requires you to make a decision be sure to validate both sides even if you do make a choice one way or another. They want to see that you make decisions after weighing all the information, so if you need more information to properly decide then let that be known. Lastly, chances are you’re not an expert on anything really so don’t pretend to be; for example if they bring up health care law they don’t expect you to be a lawyer.
If you’re interviewing somewhere you should remember some things about it, make it known that you’ve done your homework by asking poignant questions during the interview. Don’t ask simple stuff that can be googled like “how many people are in each class” but think of something that is informative but also shows you looked into the school like “I see your school has 1st year medical students work in a primary care clinic monthly, what sort of responsibilities do they have at that early stage?”
Again this is about how you act under pressure, if they stump you with a tough question don’t go quiet or get scared, let them know that’s a tough question and you’ll do your best to answer it. If it is a legal or ethical question and you’re not sure how to answer, let them know it’s beyond your expertise and that you would likely consult an ethics/legal committee prior to making a decision, but if you had to go with your gut you would do xyz. Treat the interview like a conversation instead of an interrogation and you’ll be less likely to lose your composure.
Be confident in your strengths, but do it in a way that doesn’t come off as too cocky. They will likely ask you why they should pick you “out of all these highly qualified applicants.” In this situation you want to let them know what some of your strengths are in a humble way that recognizes that you know you’re probably not the best, but you are pretty darn good. You don’t have to paint yourself as the best applicant they have ever seen but show how you belong in the same discussion as those highly qualified applicants.
Many students fumble their first interview but then later one the interview trail feel much more confident and comfortable, this is good for those later schools but not so good for the earlier ones. Have someone you know do some mock interviews with you before your first interview, preferably someone who has been through the procedure before, on either side of the table. This experience is invaluable as it will familiarize yourself with the process and you will get used to answering questions on the fly.
I saw people read into everything and freak out about little things. I saw applicants wonder what it meant that they were scheduled to do morning interviews or afternoon interviews. They suspected a medical student was interviewing them because they were not competitive, or that they must be interviewing for the waitlist because it was November. Don’t nag the administrators about exactly when you will hear back about your acceptance status, and try not to bug them with too many application updates.
Ask the current medical students what they really think about the school, what they like, what they don’t like. Also ask them why they chose that school. Students will be honest with you for the most part as long as an admin isn’t within earshot. Use this in your decision making when you are forced to choose between multiple acceptances.
Good luck out there.