If you receive an offer for an interview, you can be confident that you are a strong candidate and the interview will be an opportunity to “seal the deal.” However, a poor interview will generally put you out of the running at that school for the current year. Accordingly, it is imperative that you understand what the interview process is all about and prepare thoroughly for it. Please refer to Important Parts of the Interview Process section below for an in-depth write-up of the interview process and how to prepare for it.
It may also be useful for you to think about the “five Ps”: 1) preparation, 2) professionalism, 3) peace of mind, 4) personality, and 5) perception.
Learn as much as you can about how interviews are conducted at individual schools (see links below). Generally, schools will offer an orientation session (gather your thoughts and relax), tour (learn as much as you can about the school; this may help you think of intelligent questions at the interview, and will help you decide where you ultimately want to go), and then the interview itself.
The format of the interview varies considerably (see Important Parts of the Interview Process below). People conducting the interview may be faculty, students, or other volunteers. Treat them all with respect. Questions are sometimes predictable and other times seem to come from nowhere. The best way to begin preparing is to seriously evaluate the following aspects of yourself: 1) a thorough self-assessment as an individual and potential doctor, especially as portrayed in your application; 2) how your priorities mesh with those of the school at which you are interviewing; 3) your knowledge of current events, especially those related to medicine; and 4) where you stand on moral and ethical issues related to medicine.
You can explore sample interview questions and think about how you might answer them, but ultimately you should participate in a videotaped mock interview and critically review the video. Repeat this process until you are comfortable with your ability to interview well. Our office will schedule videotaped mock interviews at your convenience. Pay special attention to listening carefully to the question and forming your response to answer the question clearly, concisely, and directly.
Be prepared to convey two to three central messages about yourself and do so when the opportunities arise. If they don’t arise during the interview, you may be given an opportunity at the end to add whatever you think was not covered. You may also be given a chance to ask questions about the school. Be prepared with one to two questions that could not be answered by a cursory inspection of the school’s catalog.
This is the final hurdle and usually one of the most important parts of the application process. You should prepare for the interview with as much care as you get ready for an important examination, and you should go into it with a game plan, i.e., with a well-thought-out plan of how you can best present yourself. At many institutions, someone who has interviewed you will be expected to act as your advocate before the full Admissions Committee so it is within your interest to provide him/her with the best ammunition.
Interview formats are incredibly diverse. In addition to the traditional mode of casual (or occasionally confrontational) conversations, many now include role playing, mock patients, or hypothetical scenarios such as the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Check out the Additional Links below to learn more about MMI’s and other non-traditional interview formats. However, the universal goal of all interviews is to assess your interpersonal skills. This is your opportunity to convince the school that you are the type of person who can make a complete stranger feel comfortable divulging the most intimate parts of their lives to you – someone they may never have met before in their life.
I. In order to present yourself in the best way possible, you need to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Thus, you will want to be familiar with:
- All parts of your application: your personal statement and your responses on the secondary are often the basis of the interview, whether the interview is blind or open, and you should bear this in mind when writing them. You do not want to lead the interviewer into areas where your knowledge is limited or which might prove embarrassing to you.
- What interviewers are mostly looking for:
- Would anybody go to you for professional help?
- Do your answers support the image created in your application? Interviewers are very unlikely to question particular grades in your academic record, but it could happen.
- Are you honest?
- Are you someone they can live with for four years?
- Do you communicate well?
- Are you stable and self-confident?
- Are you well motivated?
- Are you knowledgeable about the demands of the profession and how you can meet them?
- Are you an interesting person?
II. The Health Careers Office can help you in several ways:
- Micro-interview (a videotaped mock interview);
- Reports on schools based on interview feedback from students;
- Names and email addresses of students or alums who can give you advice;
- Advice regarding scheduling, canceling, or combining interviews;
- Advice regarding regional versus on-site interviews.
III. The key to all interviews is to be professional in appearance and behavior while still being yourself.
- Appearance: Dress, haircut, makeup, cleanliness; if in doubt, be conservative and dress professionally. Remember that you do not want to make a statement with your dress, jewelry, hairstyle or perfume.
- Early arrival: Don’t put extra pressure on yourself by cutting your arrival too closely. Also, assume you are “on camera” as soon as you arrive at the campus or hospital.
- Good behavior: Secretaries, student-hosts, student-interviewers should all be treated as having input.
- Knowledge: You want to be informed about:
- The institution you are visiting. Make use of institutional websites and Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR).
- Current issues in the profession (malpractice insurance, public health, HMOs, managed care, patient’s bill of rights, universal health care, maldistribution of physicians, educational costs, AIDS, hospital mergers, assisted suicide, genetic and stem cell research, conflicts of interest). You will certainly want to be aware of developments that warrant major news coverage, and you should get into the habit of checking stories about medicine. Remember, physicians frequently have narrow interests, and they may feel more comfortable talking about medical issues.
- How you feel about yourself is important; if you go in thinking your whole life depends on your interview, you’ll blow it.
- Nervousness: It may well happen, especially in your first interview, and need not be a problem if you get over it fairly rapidly.
- Eye contact: It is important that you make eye contact because, if you do not, this will often be construed as lack of self-confidence. You do not want to stare constantly at the interviewer, but most interviewers will be concerned if you have to turn away while framing answers.
- Think before you answer. Although it may seem like a lot of “dead air time,” it usually is not, and it is both appropriate and wise to take a few seconds before answering questions that require thought.
- If asked an inappropriate question, try to avoid confrontation. But if you are unable to do so and do not want to answer it, politely ask the interviewer if there is some need for him/her to know the answer.
- Do not bring up topics that might prove embarrassing to you.
- Introduce yourself properly, shake hands, get the name of the person who is interviewing you, and use formal address. Remember this is a first meeting.
- Somewhat analogous to a first date, remember that unless you seem sincerely interested in the institution, the interviewer will not be interested in you, but don’t exaggerate your level of interest.
- It is not a good idea to try to control or manipulate the interview, but you should make use of opportunities to present information about yourself that is favorable to you and relevant.
- The best way to judge appropriate length of an answer is by maintaining eye contact and being sensitive to the interviewer. You do not want to go on so long as to bore your audience nor do you want to give monosyllabic answers so that the interviewer runs out of questions and takes you out onto thin ice.
- Be understanding if questions seem strange; some interviewers are new or just not very good at it. If you don’t understand a question, ask. Some common questions are:
- When did you first get interested in medicine?
- What specific field interests you? (Need not be answered definitively.)
- Where do you see yourself in ten years? (This means professionally.)
- Tell me about your family.
- Why did you choose this medical school?
- Why did you go to Clark?
- Which courses did you like (dislike) most and why?
- What will you do if you do not get accepted?
- How do you plan on financing your education?
- What would you most like to change about the profession? (Be careful not to insult gratuitously.)
- What do you most fear about medical school? (Don’t indicate your own insecurities or suggest you’re afraid of the work load. They won’t like it.)
- Ethical questions: Remember your responsibilities to the patient, to the law, and to the profession. These often involve a conflict of values so it might be wise to indicate that you really do not know the answer, but indicate your best judgment.
- Avoid trying to snow an interviewer, especially about research; you may be talking to an expert in the field or someone who thinks he/she is.
- It is a good idea to ask questions about the institution since this shows both interest and self-confidence. But don’t ask questions whose answers you should already know from their literature or website or from items presented in a general session or a tour, and don’t ask anything that questions the value of the school, such as where their graduates get internships. It is generally not a good idea to ask when you will hear the results, as this may be interpreted as nervousness. You may ask about:
- Clinical clerkships away from the institution;
- Research opportunities;
- Joint programs and/or courses outside of the medical school itself;
- Cultural, social, and athletic opportunities;
- Their particular strengths: i.e., programs, curricular approach (traditional, organ systems based, problem based), specialties;
- Courses that you might still try to fit into your curriculum.
- Don’t try to give an answer which you think the interviewer wants to hear. A proper answer is one that you can logically defend, and you may be very wrong about where an interviewer stands on a particular issue.
- It is not smart to duck questions by being indecisive. Sometimes that is appropriate, but remember that physicians need to make decisions.
- If you feel your interview is a disaster (e.g., there is open hostility), it is generally a good idea to report it immediately and request another interview. This happens very rarely.
- Report your interview to the Health Careers Office. We can often judge better whether you have handled yourself well or not and can provide constructive advice on how to take subsequent interviews.
- You want to be self-confident but not arrogant, and you also want to avoid being defensive.
- Interviews are less stressful if you know what to expect.
Helpful Preparation Resources
Your physical appearance will provide a first impression that can ultimately be decisive, especially if your interview is otherwise marginal. Dress appropriately (suit or blazer and tie for men; conservative dress or suit for women). Appear neat and clean, as your mother would insist. Chances are, your interviewers will have dress and hygiene standards closer to those of your mother than to yours or those of your friends. Eye contact is also especially important (see The Interview). Be polite (but not obsequious), including to orientation leaders, tour guides, and office staff. Take care to listen carefully to your interviewers’ names so that you can thank them later by name; if you do not catch their name during the introduction, ask them to please repeat it. After you return from the interview, write the school a thank-you note. It will be placed in your file and could be one of those little things that add up to make a difference.
Peace of mind
If you are being interviewed, you are a strong candidate. If you have prepared, you will have the opportunity to excel. You have every reason to feel confident and relaxed. If you keep your cool, even in the face of challenging questions or unanticipated events, you will impress the interviewer more than by any words that you say. This means that it is very important to get a good night’s sleep, arrive early, and avoid stimulants or anything else that could cause unnecessary stress. Find relaxation techniques that work for you, practice them in advance, and use them before the interview.
If you are normally a bump on a log in social situations, work on developing at least a little charm during your mock interview. If you are normally at ease in social situations, don’t be afraid to flash an extra smile and demonstrate your interpersonal skills, but only when the situation arises (i.e., don’t force it).
You know (or at least think you do) what kind of person you are. Be sure that your interviewers perceive the same person. The best way to do this is to be honest. Be yourself. Be honest in answering challenging ethical questions, and don’t be afraid to admit that you do not know the answer to any specific question. However, after admitting your ignorance, don’t be afraid to offer an informed opinion and give your line of reasoning. Do not try to anticipate what the interviewer wants to hear! These are things you can practice in your mock interview and read more about in The Interview.
After your interview, please write a short summary of the format, questions, and your reaction to the interview and send it to the Health Careers Office. We can go over your reactions with you and talk about ways to improve your skills for any upcoming interviews. We will also keep your observations on file so that we can share them with Clark students who have interviews at this school in the future. Similar feedback is available at Interview Feedback on the Student Doctor Network (SDN).
The following questions are presented to help students practice preparing for health professional school interviews. They are not necessarily questions asked at a particular health professional school.
- What are your ideas about the traits that are essential for being an ideal doctor?
What keeps people from becoming ideal doctors?
What would you do to become as nearly an ideal doctor as possible?
- What do you see as the pros and cons of using human beings in medical research?
Under what circumstances would you be willing to do research using humans?
- What are the big issues in euthanasia?
What would be your position as a doctor?
How would you deal with the family of the patient?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
How would these influence your medical career?
- Describe your life in ten years in terms of your professional life, your personal life, and your financial situation.
- Describe yourself.
From this description indicate the traits that are most valuable to being a doctor and explain why.
- Describe a difficult problem you have encountered, how you resolved it, and what you would change if you were doing it again.
- What is the most difficult decision you have ever made?
What are the pros and cons you weighed in arriving at your decision?
- What do you think of premed education?
What should be changed and why?
- Is the U.S. producing enough doctors?
What should be done if we have too few or a surplus of doctors?
What would be the consequences of such action?
- How do you spend your spare time?
Which of these activities may still be useful when you are a doctor and why?
- Would you make house calls?
Justify your answer and tell how you would explain this to your patients.
- What else do you want to accomplish in life besides attending medical school?
Why are these accomplishments important to you personally?
To the medical professions?