The medical school interview is one of the most influential and important pieces of your application. Yet it also becomes the pitfall of many otherwise competitive applicants. Often applicants will not put the necessary time into preparing for the interview, opting to “wing it” and treating it like just another conversation. Being a social and likeable person does not always translate into a successful interview! The interview is a 30 minute snap shot for the person sitting across from you to decide if you have what it takes to be a student at their medical school; you need to make those minutes count and make the interviewer’s job as easy as possible. Below I highlight some of the obvious and not-so-obvious things to keep in mind and guide your preparation for your interview day.
It is important to treat the interview process as any other part of your application, just as you worked hard to earn your GPA or prepare for the MCAT. You’ve spent years of hard work to put yourself a stone’s throw away from getting into medical school, now is not the time let off the gas. Read everything you can find on the school’s website; know the curriculum well – including what makes it unique, find out about any major changes coming to the campus, and look into student groups, research, or volunteer activities students take part in. By doing this you will show the interviewer you are interested in the program. You are bound to come up with specific questions about the program during this process, which interviewers love to hear! Furthermore, read up on recent events relating to health care and health policy. You are not expected to be a health policy expert, but being able to have a conversation about your future profession is important.
Don’t Over Prepare
As important as interview preparation is, you do not want to sound like a robot reading from a script. It is important to come across confident and well prepared, but remember that the interview is also a conversation and the interviewer is judging your interpersonal “soft” skills. By the time you are being interviewed your application has already been screened by at least one or two members of the admissions committee, and they know you have brains to be successful at their school. What the committee does not know is whether or not you can hold a conversation, show signs of good “bedside manner,” and express your self well.
Body Language and Dress Code
It may seem obvious, but the way you present yourself, including your body language, can impact the way the interviewer perceives you. It can go a long way in reflecting confidence. Stand up straight, have a firm handshake, and make eye contact when introducing yourself – it can make a big difference. As far as dress code, professional and conservative is the safe way to go. Ask your university career center or search online for professional attire details if you are uncertain about certain specifics.
This goes hand in hand with good body language, but remember that medicine is in essence a service industry; people want a physician that can smile and be friendly. Similarly an interviewer will come away with a better impression if you can smile and make eye contact while talking to them. Just don’t force a fake smile and stare at the interviewer for 30 minutes straight, find a nice balance!
If it’s in your application be prepared to discuss it
You should know your application inside and out. If an experience or research project is listed in your application you must be able to talk about it for at least 1 minute, otherwise the interviewer may question whether or not you are being honest in your application.
Interviews can be stressful, but with the right approach they can also be fun! These are your future colleagues and they want to see if you are someone they can enjoy working with. Connecting with your interviewer on a topic such as hobbies or passions outside of work/school can be a great way to be more memorable.
The best way to feel prepared for an interview can be a trial run. If your University Career Center offers mock interviews, it can be a great resource to take advantage of. Even having a friend interview you can be a useful way to get feedback on things such as body language. Practice keeping words such as “like” and “umm” out of your vocabulary; remember it’s ok to hesitate and think before answering. Avoid the term “to be honest” or “honestly” as it can imply that everything else you say is not entirely sincere. And although it’s important to get all the information you want across, first always try to answer questions directly and concisely before deciding to introduce another topic.
When it comes down to it, no two interviewers are the same and there is no formula or recipe for a perfect interview. All you can do is prepare, smile, and show who you are to the interviewer. Your goal is to get across to the interviewer why you want to be there (the field of medicine), how you are equipped to be there (intelligence, mental fortitude), and that you have the balance in your life to get through medical school and residency (how you deal with stress, interests outside of school). In the end, it will be the interviewer making your case to the admissions committee and you want to equip them with all the tools they need.