For those of you in the midst of preparing for your upcoming interview, I wanted to share some of my interview tips:
Schools may invite you for an interview on very short notice. Make sure you begin interview preparations early. The amount of time that everyone needs is highly variable for each applicant. Be aware that some schools can roll out interview invites as early as one week in advance. Make sure you take initiative to begin the preparation process beforehand.
If you are preparing for an open panel-style interview, review the application that you submitted to the university before your interview. Ensure you can easily recall and discuss all of your past achievements and extracurricular activities. For example, if your application elaborates on the molecular details of your undergraduate research thesis – you will likely need to revisit it again so that it is at the forefront of your mind. Between the time that you submit your application (e.g. September) and the time your actual interview date (e.g. sometime January – April), many details can be forgotten, especially if your current work relates to a different field. The interviewer sitting across from you might be interested to hear about your project and ask you for specific details – and you may even find that their own research interests match yours! You don’t want to get intimidated by not remembering the name of that specific molecule or pathway. The same logic applies for all activities on your list. For example, if you mention something you did eight years ago in high school, make sure you are able to talk about it intelligently.
Consider the interview to start as soon as you arrive on school campus. At one of the schools where I interviewed, I happened to arrive at the same time as the Dean of Admissions. We entered through the schools doors at the exact same time (yes, I felt a little nervous about it). Be mindful of the people you might encounter and make sure you maintain respectful and courteous attitude with everyone – including other interviewees.
Plan to attend the social events organized by each school. Each school has a different “personality”. These events provide a great opportunity for you understand how each school is intrinsically different from the other medical schools. What is the bonus of attending these events BEFORE your interview? You can answer “Why [insert school name here]” much more effectively. Devising a unique answer to this question can be challenging. The interviewers love to know that you took the time to speak with current students, to understand the curriculum and what will be expected of you, and to learn about the different opportunities that will be available to you as a student there.
Do not hesitate to ask your interviewers questions. The interviewers will ask you if you have any questions (in a panel interview, this can happen either at the beginning or at the end). Use this as an opportunity to show your interest in the school and to demonstrate that you have carefully selected to apply there for very specific reasons. Although the school’s website is a great place to start learning about each school, you should get personalized opinions from those who know best – typically current student, or school faculty. Once prompted to ask questions, seek more information regarding specific details that make the school appealing to you.
If you are travelling to an area that you have never visited before, use this as an opportunity to explore. One of the benefits that I had for interviewing at UBC was getting to visit British Columbia for the first time. I arranged for a visit to the Victoria campus and I had the privilege of experiencing the breathtaking Pacific coast scenery. Interviewing in the US enabled me to visit parts of the Michigan that I have not had the opportunity to see before. Interview season can be very nerve-racking – these small rewards will help you better cope with the stress. After all, interviewers want to see that you can handle the pressure.
Attitude matters: Remain patient and be prepared for the long wait during the application process. For me, one of the most frustrating things about the entire process was the amount of waiting time in between each step – from primary application to secondary application, from secondary application to interviews, from interviews to final decision. People might tell you to “take it easy”, but you will undoubtedly be checking your email compulsively between September to May (and maybe beyond). This can be more stressful than the interview itself. You have to keep balanced and maintain a positive attitude.
Don’t plan important life events around interview season. In order to give yourself the best possible chance of being successful at your interviews, try to reserve the period of interview season (e.g. January – April (depending on when interview dates are)) exclusively for interview preparation and for travel to the specific interview sites. Maintain a regular school/work routine, but try your best to schedule major events after your interview date(s) if you believe that they will compete with your preparation time (e.g. your wedding, leisure travel, etc). After all, you want to enjoy these events without the overhead stress of medicals school interviews.