The Interview Day – How to Maximize the Day and Optimize Your Chances

man getting an interview

Author: Sean Childs MD

Finally, after all of the required forms, applications and costs, you have been awarded with the long desired “interview.” Now is a time to celebrate, but also to begin preparing for what is the most crucial, high stakes portion of the entire application process.

Whether it is your first interview or you last, they all will feel the same…one lone day to show faculty, physicians and even students that you are a MUST for their acceptance lists.

Additionally, many will be told that this is not only a day for medical schools to interview applicants, but also a day for applicants to interview the medical school. As cliché as this may sound, it is 100% true and very important to remember. So, whether you are asking yourself “What can I possibly do to make this school want me out of the other 700 applicants” or “How will I know if this medical school is for me?,” … read on and hopefully your questions will be answered.

Always Have You Game Face On Your Interview Day

From the minute you hit “submit” on your application to the day you begin your first day as a medical student, you must treat all communication with medical school staff/students/admissions as a official interview. At any stage in the process, treating anyone with disrespect or making candid/inappropriate comments can be the single strike that will land you with a rejection letter. Everyone involved in the admissions process knows that there is a very limited window available to get to know potential applicants. With this in mind, any slip up, distasteful comment or interaction may be enough of a flag on an applicant to prevent them from obtaining the much-desired acceptance letter. In this day and age, with the extreme abundance of qualified medical school applicants, everyone must remember that in addition to showing medical schools why they should be chosen for acceptance, it is equally important to NOT give them any reasons for rejection. Thus, from the time you respond to invitation emails to the day you get your acceptance letter, treat every interaction with medical school, regardless of the individual, as an official interview. Be kind, be courteous, and stay true to who you are at all time, for you never know who can be your ally or your enemy.

Interviewing the School..

Whether you believe it or not, the common teaching that an interview is a two way street is fully correct and important to remember. While applicants are often only focused on obtaining acceptances at as many institutions as possible, they can often overlook the subtleties that make each institution uniquely different…and which make them ideal for different applicants. One of the most important concepts that can drawn from the interview process itself is that medical schools, while responsible for teaching the same content, are all rather different in their delivery and style. In addition, each medical school attracts and is comprised of a unique type of student body. Thus, any time spent at an institution during the interview process should be viewed as a precious opportunity to gauge your fit among the community behind each medical school.

During the interview day, applicants have free range to observe, talk with, interact with and question any student or faculty they meet.

They must realize the importance of these interactions as they can first hand “feel out” their fit within the community they may end up calling home for 4 or more crucial years of their life. Common questions may include what they do for fun, their favorite/least favorite aspects of the school, what they were looking for in a medical school and whether or not they would repeat their decision if they had the chance to do it all over again.

From Interviewer to Interviewee

Whether it is your first or your last, whether it is at a “reach” school or safety net interviews can be a source of anxiety and fear…but they don’t always have to be. Interviewers are not out to get applicants, as often believed to be. They have what can be thought of as 2 main jobs: 1.) To get to know you as a person, something that a piece of paper or electronic file cannot fully do, 2.) To determine whether you would be a good fit and addition to their medical school and community. With those two things in mind, the interview can be transformed into a more relaxing, even enjoyable process. Applicants should try to relax and be themselves, in a professional setting, to reveal to interviewers why they belong at that institution. Taking time to peruse a medical school’s website prior to the interview can assist in finding the basic tenets upon which the schools educational foundation is based upon. Taking time to ponder what personal characteristics one possess to make them an ideal applicant can help to guide the interview and make them seem like a perfect fit. Be sure to answer all questions truthfully and to always ask yourself “why do I belong here” and “what is it about my application that makes me uniquely posed to succeed at this institution.”

The Dreaded Medical School Personal Statement

books as a stand for a laptop with stethoscope

One area of the medical school application process that may seem especially daunting to applicants is the dreaded personal statement. There are other parts of the application that you may be able to complete on autopilot. You researched things? Awesome! Put your dates here, mentors there, publication right here. You volunteered at a homeless shelter? Bless your soul, now just put the details in this box over here.

You’re listening to that beautiful engine purr as you deftly handle the array of application obstacles like some sort of ninja, when all of a sudden you hit that personal statement speed bump, your gearbox falls out, and now you’re pounding the console. It was all going so smoothly!

Well fear not, brave compadre, you are not alone. The rigors of pre-medical coursework have tuned up your “left-brained” traits that have steered you to success thus far, but now is the time to ditch the formal writing structure of your O-Chem lab reports in favor of a more “right-brained” approach.

If you can break yourself from the logical, algorithmic patterns you’ve already started to develop (and will continue to strengthen in medical school), you will discover that the free-flowing, associative nature of the personal statement is, in fact, quite fun!

The most important aspect of the personal statement is to be AUTHENTIC.

You want to grab the reader’s attention, but you want to do this in a manner that is authentic to you and your personality. You want to show the reader that you are a caring human being, but do this in a way that demonstrates how YOU are a caring human being, not how Mother Theresa is a caring human being. You need to illustrate specifically why being a doctor is important to you, not why it is important for the generic med student, or society for that matter.

When you go to interviews, your interviewers are going to consciously and subconsciously compare you to the “you” that they read about in your personal statement. The most important element here is congruence–if there is incongruence between the impression given in the personal statement and the one “in the flesh”, this is going to give the interviewer (and yourself!) a less than great impression of the encounter. If you really have no interest in research, but you make yourself out to sound like a lab rat because the school you are applying to is well-known for research, then you’re going to wear yourself out in the interviews trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your interviewers.

This doesn’t even have to be in terms of content. If you spent hours on your personal statement carefully crafting witty lines like you’re some kind of cocktail party wizard when that’s just not your personality, then you might fall a bit flat in the interview. If you “spice up” a former illness or death in the family just to pull at some heart strings, you’re going to appear less than authentic when interviewers ask you about this experience, as they have been living through these experiences professionally now for quite some time.

If you are that cocktail party wizard, or have truly been strengthened by a harrowing medical tragedy, by all means, display that in your personal statements! But if that’s not you, don’t cheapen your authenticity just because other people do have these personalities or experiences. Just be you, and like Sinatra, soon enough you’ll be singing “I did it my way”!

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Brandt is a graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine