It’s interview season! The final step on the LONG journey to getting accepted to medical school, or any professional program. I’m here to give you tips to help you blow them out of the water! Remember that interviews can be offered anytime from about September all the way into April sometimes, so if you haven’t been offered an interview just yet, hang on because it’s probably still on it’s way! Interviews are nerve wrecking. Some schools are much calmer about them and others are way uptight (and sometimes rude). But it’s important to remember that if you have an interview, the school already wants you! All you have to do is prove to them that you’re not a crazy person. Anyway, get a snack and a notepad because I’m about to tell you everything you need to know.
First, know what you’re getting yourself into
There are different interview styles to be familiar with. Who’s in the room: One-on-one vs. group interviews (multiple students ) vs. panels (multiple interviewers). What do they know about you: Closed (informal, they haven’t read your application) vs. Open (they know everything about you on paper). We are most familiar with the traditional interview where you’re faced with questions about yourself and your application. My school (MCG) has 2 interviews–one closed, one open. However some schools, like Duke for example, are using the MMI (multi mini interviews) style where you’re presented with several short practical assessments lasting less than 10 mins each. It can be draining and last up to 2 hours. Stations can include ethical dilemmas or essay writing. Learn more about the MMI here. I never did an MMI so I’m not qualified to give advice on prep for it, but I’ll link a SDN forum about it to check out what other people had to say. Everything else I’ll say is about the traditional interview.
Before the Interview
There is a fine line between preparing for an interview so you can feel confident going into it, and rehearsing your answers to 20 different questions. It’s important to prepare and the best thing to do is to use your school’s Career Center to set up a mock interview is you’re still around campus. Or you can google any set of common questions for the med school interview and have any other adult interview you with those. You need to practice eye contact, hand placement, and speaking clearly and concisely–meaning full sentences without “um” and limited rambling. You need to also practice thinking on your feet. That’s what these mock interviews can do for you. Of course you can already have your “strengths and weaknesses” down and that time you had to “work as a team” or “overcome adversity.” It’s definitely good to know what you’re going to talk about, but leave it at that. Don’t memorize your whole answer or you’ll go in and fumble or sound like a robot. It can also help to look up some current events in the field just in case they come up. But, I consider that low yield.
Closer to the day, review your entire application again, including resume and personal statement. You will likely be asked questions from it and you don’t want to get stumped by something you forgot you put in there. This mainly happens with research that you document. If you know you only pressed a few buttons and washed dishes for a project, but you still put the research on your application, then you need to be ready to explain what it was all about. So go back and re-read that abstract if you need to.
On the day of
- Dress the part: Everyone knows what to wear to an interview. I’m not going to waste my intrinsic hand muscles. I’ll only say that ladies in skirt suits need panty hose and it’s totally appropriate to bring a changing pair of flats if you want to wear heels but the school also offers a tour.
- SMILE: This is huge for me and anyone else out there who has RBF (resting b**** face). The interviews starts when you walk through the school doors. Be friendly and smile at all of the staff you encounter. I had a personal experience with this. I went to use the bathroom when I first arrived at one of my interviews and I was being friendly making small talk with this other woman in there. Later on I found out she was on the admissions committee! So you just never know.
- Learn about your interviewers: You should have a few mins to quickly Google your interviewer to at least see what department/area they’re in. Knowing just the slightest bit about your person can give you a heads up about the kind of questions you might expect (ex. if their main focus is research, they may ask about yours or your lack of research) and what kind of questions would be good to ask them at the end (ex. if they’re on the curriculum committee, you can ask them about the curriculum design or something).
- Protect yourself from sweat: If you’re like me and you start sweating when you get nervous, stop by the bathroom and get some paper towels to tuck under your arms before going to the interview. Especially if you’re cheap and you’re going to be wearing the same suit to all your interviews (also like me) then you want to preserve your clothes as best you can.
In the Interview
When you meet your interviewer, smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake. Sit with poise and rest your hands comfortably in your lap. If you’re close to their desk, don’t put your hands on it! Speak with confidence, not arrogance. Best advice–Be yourself. Before you answer a question, pause and gather yourself–that pause will feel like a million years, but it’s not I promise. It shows thoughtfulness. If you don’t know how to answer a question, say “that is a wonderful question, I just need a minute to gather my thoughts” or something along those lines. It would be worse for you to just just sit there for 30 seconds without saying anything or to start rambling your way around the question and end up not even answering it.
Remember you have the power to guide the interview. If there’s something in your application that you know you want to talk about, find a way to sprinkle it into an answer! Because then they’ll say, “oh, tell me more about that time” and you’re in there! Or, instead of talking about working as a team in chemistry lab, talk about a mission trip you took or a research experience. Spice things up.
Be ready to defend your numbers. If your GPA or your MCAT is low, people are going to ask you about that. If you retook classes in college or the MCAT, be ready to explain. I had a low MCAT score and one school grilled me on it so hard that I actually got upset. If there is anything you’d want a clean, prepared answer for, it’s this. You may even decide to bring it up yourself if they don’t directly ask about it.
I hope you found this informative and useful. Please share with your pre-med friends who are going to be on the interview trail soon, I’m sure they can benefit from it. I want you to walk out of your interview feeling like this! Have a wonderful week!