“Just be yourself”: three simple words that we have all heard at least once from friends and family before an all-important interview. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of truth to this familiar idiom. Canned or disingenuous responses are like nails on a chalkboard to medical school interviewers and can seriously hurt an otherwise stellar applicant. But this shred of interview advice also risks lulling applicants into complacency by implying that preparation is not a prerequisite to interview success. In fact, it is entirely possible and even necessary to both prepare for medical school interviews and also “be yourself” on interview day.
Interview prep can be narrowed to three main tasks: knowing your application, pondering common interview questions, and familiarizing yourself with multiple mini interviews (MMIs)
- Knowing your application. While this sounds like a no-brainer, every year many applicants are derailed by a failure to adequately review their own applications. Any aspect of your application is fair game to interviewers. In fact, if there is something you are not comfortable discussing, it is best left off the application altogether. Perhaps the most common hiccups for pre-med students are questions related to their research. That basic science paper on mouse models of thyroid cancer that you haven’t thought about in three years? Be sure to review it so that you are able to comfortably and succinctly explain the experience. Remember not neglect the little things either. For example, make sure you remember which of your hobbies you listed on your application. That way you won’t be caught off guard when the one-off, oddball interviewer asks how quickly you can swim 100m.
- Pondering common interview questions. You cannot possibly prepare for every question you will be asked, nor should you try to. But there are a few questions that you will certainly be asked, and in all likelihood they will be posed at every interview. “Why do you want to be a doctor?” “Why do you want to attend this medical school?” “Tell me about yourself.” These are questions that require preparation. While all applicants have an interest in science and a desire to help others, there is a unique set of experiences underlying each student’s commitment to medicine. In order to answer this first question it is essential that you adequately ponder your own experiences and practice (not rehearse) a succinct response. A similar approach must be taken towards the interview prompt: “Tell me about yourself.” What about your experiences, family, education, or hobbies do you want to highlight to the admissions committee? This is an interview softball, but it can easily lead to an unfocused and rambling response if not considered and practiced ahead of time. Finally, it is imperative that you review each school’s website in order to explain how a particular school’s strengths and qualities fit in with your own goals as well as how you might contribute to the community.
- Familiarizing yourself with multiple mini interviews (MMIs): MMIs involve multiple, independent questions or scenarios at different timed stations with unique interviewers. MMIs are meant to gauge an applicant’s interpersonal skills, teamwork, professionalism, way of thinking, and ethical judgment. In general, station prompts are written on the door, which you will read prior to entering. Some stations may require you to work cooperatively with one or more other applicants in order to complete a task. Other stations may involve imagining yourself in a hypothetical situation and then interacting accordingly with a professional actor. There is no way to predict the scenarios that you will be faced with on your interview day. However, there are old, retired MMI prompts available online that you can and should use to familiarize yourself with this unique style of interview. The most challenging aspect of MMIs is merely that the experience is entirely unfamiliar to most pre-med students. Practicing out loud with a few old scenarios will give you a strategy on how to approach unknown prompts, and, more importantly, will increase your confidence that you can succeed on MMIs.
For more tips on how to prepare for the medical school interview, please check out “Preparing for the Medical School Interview”.