06 December 2010

My medical school interview went badly...

You have just completed your interview day for medical school. You had such high hopes for the day and right now you feel as if you have been “kicked in the abdomen”. What can you do to “fix” the situation? You tried to “salvage” the encounter with the interviewer but nothing seemed to work, now what’s going to happen? All of that work that you did on your application comes down to a huge disappointment with the day. You keep running the session in your mind and you can’t make any sense of where things seemed to get off track. My first piece of advice is to stop replaying the interview in your mind.One thing that is generally true about the session is that you are far from an objective observer of the situation. You were a participant and your mind was on the questions that you were asked in addition to a “hearty dose” of nerves about the whole situation. In short, stop playing the situation. You are done and there is nothing for you to be ashamed of thus, you did your best. If you haven’t attended your first interview, here are some possible scenarios and how to deal with them.

The apparantly disinterested interviewer or the interviewer who is in a hurry
You sit down in front of this individual who is shuffling the papers on the desk (likely your application or his/her evaluation score sheet). He/she never makes eye contact with you or even worse, he/she leans back in the chair, looks at you as if you just landed from another planet. They begin to “pepper you” with questions that you can’t seem to answer or they interrupt your answers. They keep looking at their watch as you start to answer a question or clarify your answer.

For you, take a deep breath and listen to each question carefully. If you interviewer tries to rush you, don’t be rushed. Think about your answer and speak clearly. In short, you “take” charge of the interview situation by slowing down instead of being pushed into delivering an answer that you didn’t intend to deliver. It’s your interview and most of the time, the interviewer will to move to your pace, albeit with some resistance. This doesn’t mean that you count to 100 before you speak or count to ten between words but it means that you don’t rush your answer because the interviewer has rushed the question. Sometimes interviewers will look for candidates who can keep control of themselves and the situation under these types of circumstances. Resist the urge to panic but do something to get your nerves under control.

Practice strategy: Take a deep breath quietly and make sure that you don’t take too long to answer questions. Tape yourself answering some routine questions such as “tell me why you want to be a doctor” or “tell me about yourself”. You can almost bet that you will get some version of these two questions so make sure that you have a clear answer to these. Look at yourself in a mirror dressed in your interview clothing. Do you look relaxed and confident? Make sure that this is the case.

The interviewer who asks “ethical” situation-type questions

Some candidates make the mistake of trying to “read the mind” of the interviewer and say what they believe the interviewer “wants” to hear. Give your opinion on whatever question is asked. If you don’t have an opinion, then don’t try to “fake” an opinion. You can state, “I have actually never considered that situation but here’s a similiar situation that I have considered”; then go on to relate your experience or opinion about a situation. In most ethical questions, try to make sure that you are not taking a position that could wind up hurting another individual (or yourself). Unfortunate things happen to good people but do not make the mistake of trying to read your interviewer or trying to give what you believe might be a “popular” opinion. It’s also good to have some examples of how you formed your opinion too.

Practice strategies: Do some research into some current but controversial issues and form some well-researched and well-thought out opinions. Do some research and reading of points of view that are opposite yours and be ready to state these and why you disagree with them. Be able to calmly and objectively discuss a controversial subject such as abortion rights with respect for opinions that differ from yours. Healthcare reform is a popular topic that can be researched so that you have an opinion.

The interviewer that asks scientific questions
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t try to “fake” it. If you have completed a scientific research project, you need to know every aspect of your research (including the things you didn’t work on) along with its implications. Most of the time, you are going to be interviewed by a basic science professor who is quite familiar with scientific literature and current biomedical research. Don’t get caught up in not knowing the most about any project that you have listed on your application. If you are asked a question that you can’t answer, then state your case honestly. Certainly, do not embellish your role in a project more than what you actually accomplished. If you only maintained a cell line, then know everything about that cell line and how it fit into the project overall.

Practice points: If there have been recent papers by members of your research group, know these papers well even if you didn’t work on the projects. Be sure that you can explain your role in any research project completely and in depth.

By all means, when your interview is over, keep the following in mind:

•The worst case is that this interview provided you with valuable experience.
•You are not objective enough to grade your interview. What you may experience as “bad” is likely your nerves getting the best of you.
•Don’t rehearse and try to recount every word that came out of your mouth. Every person is more likely to remember 10 negatives for every 1 positive thing. In reality, the positives always outweight the negatives but you won’t remember them.
•Everyone is nervous. Unless you tripped over the waste bin and fell into the arms of your interviewer, your nerves didn’t “get the best of you”.

Before any interview, practice in front of a mirror. Have a friend read questions to you and watch your expressions. You can even have a friend tape you answering questions such as “Tell me about yourself” or “why do you want to become a physician?” You should have some “stock” answers for these questions anyway. You can write out answers for these types of questions because they are often asked.

Needless to say, be polite to every person that you meet. You are “on” as long as you are on that campus. Ask questions of students and have one or two things to ask your interviewer but don’t make the mistake of bragging or belittling your fellow interviewees. This can backfire in more ways that you would believe. Many times, secretaries have be invited to give input into admission interview day behaviors of the candidates. Be sure that your behavior is outstanding and professional in every way. Words like “please” and “thank-you” can go a long way in distinguishing you from your peers.

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