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Weekly Weigh-in: Preparing for Interview Season

Welcome to PDr’s Weekly Weigh-in! Each week, we ask medical students and physicians to weigh in on some of our most frequently asked pre-med questions.
This week’s question: How did you prepare for interview season?

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS3
When preparing for interviews, I tried to not take a very detailed approach. I didn’t want to get so bogged down by researching question types, strategies, and anecdotes that I would lose sight of how to naturally relate to people and genuinely compel them. I think that it’s important to become familiar with the variation in interview formats such as MMI, one-on-one, or panel interviews, but beyond that, I would work on painting broad strokes to become more in touch with how you present yourself, and what context you have for the field of medicine. The only specifics that I looked up were in regards to those different formats, and also information on the specific school so that I could ask educated questions throughout my interview day and make the most out of my time spent there. Practice, practice, practice. Practice with yourself, practice with family, practice with friends. Just get to the point where you become completely natural in discussing yourself with a wide variety of people. You want these interviews to be interactive, so you want to know yourself far beyond just a monologue that you’ve memorized and rehearsed. You will be nervous for interviewing, so never have anything prepared that’s so scripted that remembering it creates additional pressures and pitfalls.

In the weeks leading up to interviews I tried to identify areas of medicine that I wanted to learn more about, and I used the interview season as an excuse to read up more about them. We are in the midst of a historic shift in our healthcare system, and for some interviewers it may be important that aspiring doctors know what they’re getting into. My girlfriend had gotten me a book on healthcare reform, and I read it as my leisure book a month before my interviews started (I’m a slow reader). I never ended up getting asked any questions on the topic, but to this day I’m still glad that I read it. Along with all of the great reasons why you want to attend medical school, I think it’s equally important in the eyes of some interviewers that you have identified aspects of medicine and medical school that concern you. Nobody is truly without reservations or concerns, and ignoring them can make you look naive, so tease those out as well and be prepared to discuss them.

As far as scheduling, I found out-of-state schools to be more open to moving around interview dates than I had originally anticipated. Don’t be afraid to ask, in as polite a way as possible, if you can make all of your New York interviews within 2 weeks of each other so you can go to them all in one trip rather than making multiple flights. You do not put yourself at any risk by asking. When traveling try to stay with student hosts, they will give you more information about the school than a website ever can, and they will also allow you to take the temperature of the school and see if you can envision yourself going there.

|| Read: Weekly Weigh-in: Med School Interview Tips ||

Edward Chang, DGSOM MS3
I’m disappointed to say that I used SDN’s interview feedback tool to prepare for interviews. On SDN, there was a list of questions that interviewers asked, broken down into categories like “most interesting question” or “most difficult question”. With that in mind, I made a list of questions that I thought were relevant to pretty much every interview (http://www.prospectivedoctor.com/must-know-medical-school-interview-questions/). One thing that I should’ve done was more practice interviews. I overestimated my interviewing ability and therefore did not practice much on my first one or two interviews, which unsurprisingly, did not go so well. I realized that I did not necessarily need someone to interview me (although that is more helpful); I should have just taken my list of questions and answered them out loud in front of the mirror.

When scheduling my interviews, if it were at all possible, I tried to schedule interviews in the same city or state around the same time. For example, I interviewed at University of Illinois on a Friday and that following Monday, I interviewed at Northwestern. If you receive an interview invitation from a school and you applied to another school in the same city, you should call that second school and see if they are planning to interview you, and if they are, ask if you could interview around the same time as the first school (you don’t have to mention which school you are interviewing at by the way). That way, you don’t have to make multiple trips.

Lastly, if the school offered student hosting at all, I tried to take advantage of it. Not only do you get free housing, you also get a glimpse into the life of that specific medical school’s students. The hosting medical students can give you inside information of why or why not they like their school. They can also help you prep for interviews (some hosting students were kind enough to do a mock interview with me). If you find yourself getting along with your hosts, it’s a good sign (although it’s a very limited sampling size) that you would fit into the culture of the school.

|| Read: MMI Sample Question ||

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS2
I regrettably did not do a lot of preparation for the interviews themselves and I wish I had, particularly for the MMIs. I made sure to do some baseline amount of research about each school before I interviewed to be able to answer “why do you want to come here?” type questions, but I really wish I had spent some time doing mock interviews or at least researching questions and practicing what I might say. It’s always better to be over-prepared than underprepared. My biggest advice for interviews is to show your passion and enthusiasm. Don’t be fake, but if you really want to go to a particular school (you probably do if you’re interviewing there) then show it, show them that you’re really interested in their institution and in medicine. The interviews that went the best were the ones where I was enthusiastic and engaged. Unfortunately, some of the interviews I merely reacted to their questions and thus didn’t make myself stand out and that likely ultimately cost me a couple of acceptances.

In terms of scheduling interviews… that was a bit challenging. You can’t predict if or when you’ll get interviews at certain schools and it’s not always possible to re-schedule the dates to be optimal. Of course I tried to chain interviews in proximity of each other geographically, but sometimes this didn’t always work out. For example, I ended up going to New York three separate times because I couldn’t coordinate them due to being offered interviews at very different times. I guess I prioritized having interviews earlier than later over optimizing the traveling routes. I was working in a lab full-time during my interview season, which actually gave me a lot of flexibility but I still had to work around my obligations there. I mostly just relied on an excel spreadsheet with all of my interview information and tried to book flights accordingly. One time, I actually wasted $600 because I had to cancel a flight to catch another interview that came up. Most of these mistakes were early on in the interview season, before I received any acceptances. Once I received my first acceptance, I ended up canceling several interviews and felt more comfortable the rest of the season.

About Emily Chiu

Emily Chiu
Emily Chiu is the Director of Logistics at ProspectiveDoctor.com. She is currently a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. If you have any questions about her work, or are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact her at emilychiu@prospectivedoctor.com. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.