I did 21 interviews. Don’t ask how much it cost because I don’t enjoy thinking about it! Basically, it was roughly the “Top 25” schools if you listen to US News. Since I gained a lot of experience, figured out what works, and had quite a bit of success (with the interviews themselves, not just decisions), I thought I would share what I learned with all of you who want to prepare for interviews.
The Key: Many applicants view interviews the wrong way, in my opinion. To me, it was my time to take control of the conversation and put out exactly the impression that I wanted them to get. You have the spotlight and power to present yourself and your achievements/activities in whatever light you choose. Your confidence and charisma are your greatest assets, and you can use them to make almost anything seem incredible. You shouldn’t be scared – you should be excited, since this is one of the few times you really get to control this process!
Disclaimer: These aren’t the only ways to be successful in interviews. You can disagree (and if you do, post your comments in the original thread!) Many things depend on your personality and how you naturally talk to people. Charmers have the advantage, but prep always helps level the playing field!
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW:
1. Reread your application
This includes personal statement, secondaries, and activities section. You will be asked about your apps, and you want to be fluent in them. Otherwise, it will sound like you made things up. Also, try to remember one specific and meaningful anecdote from each experience that expresses its significance. It’s always better to use specific examples rather than general statements to show what you did.
2. Learn about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
UPDATE – some of this may be outdated now. In any case, learn about the current state of healthcare in the US and relevant current issues.
About half of my schools asked about this. Nothing too difficult! Usually just, “What your thoughts?” or “What do you think will happen?” I recommend tackling this by learning what they key points are—what the overall goal was, what some key changes are (e.g. no lifetime caps, you can remain on your parents’ insurance longer, patients with preexisting conditions can’t be turned away), and problems with it. It’s good to show that you acknowledge the good and the bad, and then state your overall opinion. I basically said I support it and its intentions, but I worry about how it will play out with respect to reimbursements, financially for the US, and for small businesses. It’s ok to say “I don’t know what will happen.” I did every time (after showing I knew about it), every single time, my interview was very pleased and said, “That’s a great and honest answer, because I don’t know either!” Several applicants have told me they didn’t receive this question often. But if you do, and you don’t have a good answer, it’s very difficult to fumble your way through, and you can’t afford that. Interviewers who ask this tend to be ones on the actual admissions committee in my experience, rather than doctors who volunteered to interview.
3. Study the school where you’ll be interviewing
You will usually get asked “Why our school?” Unless it’s a top 5. Even then, you still want to convince them that you fit their school in particular if you want to get in. This means going through the MSAR and their website. I think the most helpful thing is staying with a student host before your interview and asking them. Or PM students on SDN, asking what the school is REALLY about. I made a Word document outline that I would fill out for each school. Here’s what I would makes sure fill in: class size, curriculum (integrated or normal then abnormal? traditional 2 year basic sciences, or compressed basic sciences?), grading system, clinical exposure, student organizations/interest groups you’d like, about the city itself, programs you’d like to do, and any unique or notable aspects about the school. Use a few basic bullet points to remember what you want to touch on; I used curriculum, student life, location/other as my guide.
4. Practice out loud
Below, I will write out common questions. At least practice the first three in front of a mirror or recording yourself. Then do it with another person. This is important though—you’ll probably find that it’s awkward doing the “about me” speech, and difficult not to ramble. In real life, you won’t be that self conscious during the interview because it will be a fun conversation. You likely won’t even feel like you’re giving a rehearsed speech and you’ll be surprised that you speak much more comfortably. So I would recommend that for the big question topics, you organize your thoughts into about 5 bullet points each. For example, though I practiced “about me” out loud. I really only went into the interview with 5 bullets in mind that I wanted to cover: family background, academic journey, pre-med experiences, leadership, and hobbies. That way, you have a road map to refer to, and you don’t forget and leave something important out.
5. Try on your clothes
Do it. Slim suits are sexy IMO.
Don’t offer your fingers. Confident handshakes. I’ve gotten compliments on them during interviews, and you want to get off on the right foot. Insert a joke about weak handshakes and you’ve broken the ice and already shown you’re a fun person.
7. Don’t stress over this the night before.
Nothing is more valuable than being relaxed and confident.
GENERAL INTERVIEW ADVICE
This is so important. You may be dying inside, but smile. This is your chance to show them things besides your scores, grades, and research. My advice? Separate yourself from the pack by showing that you’re a real, genuine, and likable person. They’ll want you. There are so many people that are stiff, or who look like research robots, that this will give you an edge. If you are extremely nervous, then take control by smiling and saying, “Hey I have to be honest, I get pretty nervous in formal interviews, so sorry if I stutter every now and then!” They will probably smile, appreciate your honesty, and try to make you more comfortable. They’re nice people!
2. Balance between confidence and arrogance
You don’t want to sound self-depreciating, but you don’t want to sound like you’re full of yourself. They won’t pick you for their class. Being confident goes with smiling, speaking in an appropriate volume, maintaining eye contact, and even showing excitement and enthusiasm when discussing yourself and things you’ve done.
3. Read your interviewer
Some have been a little more serious (though still nice!), so for those, I would talk more about accomplishments and maybe research. The vast majority have been super chill, so I would never hesitate to joke around or go off on entertaining short tangents. I’m not saying you should do only this, but believe me, if you can handle the humor appropriately, they will absolutely love you and you will stand out. Essentially, aren’t those the two things you want? Be very careful with humor, since you have to make sure your interviewer is receptive to it. Don’t treat student interviewers as “more chill” by default, since you should take them just as seriously. Some student interviewers are more intense than faculty, since they feel more pressure to take on a professional role. But my best interviews have been filled with jokes and funny stories. I even compared iPhone apps for 20 minutes and played games during an interview at Hahhhverrrdd. Just make sure you leave time to get the important points across.
4. Ensure you get your whole picture in
Sometimes, they won’t ask you the questions you wanted to answer. If you’re nearing the end of your interview block, and you really want to discuss your music background, world travels, or research experience, then be direct! Say “Actually, there was one more thing I’d like to bring up that I think has been pretty important – do we have a few minutes left?” Don’t be shy! It’s your interview.
5. Prepare questions for them – show off more!
Almost all interviewers have asked me if I have questions. Even if you don’t, you should come in with some and pretend you do. Here’s the trick – you can use questions to your advantage by asking questions that continue to make you look like an appealing applicant. For example, “I know that there’s the Clinical Foundations course that spans the curriculum, but how are things like values, compassion, and professionalism really integrated into the curriculum? These are issues are really important to me, and I want to see how much I’ll get exposed to them during med school.” You can use your tone to make it sound not “suck up-y.” It shows that you researched their curriculum and that you also have an appreciation of things that are less tangible, but very important. The beauty is that they will proceed to tell you how their school offers just what you’re looking for and how their program is a good fit for your goals and needs. You can use questions like these to show more about yourself, and to get them to convince themselves you belong there. Need more questions? I often asked about camaraderie among students, how accessible faculty were for research and academic help, aaaaand how students new to city can identify local community needs and how to start a program to address them. See what I did there? But yes, ask your own questions too! I found I usually didn’t have any after doing my research.
6. Don’t forget the touchy-feely side of medicine
Many physicians (and patients) are complaining that the quality of personal care has gone down (which isn’t always the doctor’s fault – bureaucracy). I always made a point to include that I was well aware of the value of being a human that others could connect with, which interviewers loved (I heard them say, “You really hit the nail on the head” a lot). This can help set you apart from applicants who focus on research and medical education only. If you have experience working with others intimately, or even things like suicide hotlines, don’t forget to bring them up. Let them know that you can learn all the science, but that you won’t let go of that compassion in you. You can mention how many health problems are really related to other issues in a person’s life, that may have to do with family, work, or emotion.
Make sure to come back tomorrow for Part II, which will discuss common interview questions, multiple mini interviews (MMIs) and thoughts for after the interview.