Medical school interviews are not that different from a serious job interview. After all, you are applying to a high-paying, competitive and prestigious profession.
Yet, I am shocked whenever I see an applicant who does not want to prepare for their interviews. They give the argument that they do not want to come across rehearsed and unnatural. They feel as their personality should be sufficient.
But when you break it down, there are two components that all interviewers are looking for. They want to know (1) What you have to say and they want to see (2) How you say it.
In effect, they are assessing your (1) Content and (2) Presentation and I believe that you can improve your performance in both these aspects through (1) Preparation and (2) Practice
As a past interviewer, I can tell you it’s quite obvious when applicants are unprepared. They appear nervous and disorganized when they are caught with an unanticipated question. Similarly, applicants who lack practice stumble with their sentences. And let me tell you, those applicants usually score poorly on their interviews.
Before you can even begin to practice interview questions, you must first know what you are going to say. The first part is to know yourself. Take some time to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Write down experiences that have made you become who you are today. Think of some examples of when you showed leadership, integrity and empathy. In order for interviewers to get to know you, you must know yourself.
Knowing yourself is one of the hardest things to do in life. I have attached a few interview files from Colorado and U-Chicago with basic questions you must know how to answer. Think, reflect, write things down.
When you approach these questions, the point is not to drill your responses over and over. That will only make you sound rehearsed. You do not want to sound like a recording. Instead think about these questions and try to find answers that are sincerely yours. It’s hard to be unnatural when you are sincere.
Approach each question in your own way. Do not look elsewhere to see what others have said until you have answered the question on your own. Try to come up with different responses for key questions (Why do you want to do medicine, why do you want to do X specialty?) multiple times, until you are satisfied with an answer that is uniquely yours. Each person is different; there are no right answer for almost all of the questions.
After you have adequately prepared the content should you then find someone to practice with.
Find someone you trust to practice with.
Ideally you want someone who can give you honest feedback about your interview performance. Career counselors, physicians, medical students, health care professionals, friends and family are just some of people you can ask.
When you do practice, make each interview as realistic as possible. Find someone who can interview you for thirty to forty minutes at a time. If you are preparing for an MMI, create multiple stations with set timers. There are many great resources of past questions on the internet. A good practice interviewer should be able to stay in their roles and really challenge you with hard questions.
Finally, it is crucial to ask for timely feedback. Ask them to be honest. Remember to also reflect and introspect your own responses. Perfect practice makes perfect.
I have seen many applicants caught up over small details that have no bearing on your outcome at all. What should I wear for the interview? Is a suit better or a blazer and skirt? How do interviewers grade your responses? How do I calm my nerves? Can I talk about my personal life? Do I get a notepad to use during my interview? … and other irrelevant factors.
In the end, your time would be much better spent preparing answers to questions and practicing them with someone. Nothing will stand out more than confident, well thought out answers.
The best applicants who are prepared and practiced actually come across as natural. Instead of worrying about blanking on a question or stumbling with their words, they can relax and be themselves. With this framework in mind, I hope that everyone will take the time and effort to prepare for their interviews. It might just be the deciding factor.
Note – This post was updated and adapter from an earlier post in Feb 2009