If you’re interviewing for med school or residency

I was playing around with the idea of doing a series of posts on interviewing for med school, but it feels a little overkill to me.  The reality is, the obvious things are obvious, and the non-obvious subtleties depend a lot on your personality.  During my interview season I really figured out how to play to my strong suits, but I’d bet most people figure out the best strategies on their own.

I still might do something like that, but in the meantime, here’s an interesting article from bnet on how to interview for a job.  A quote:

Finally, there’s one more thing smart people forget to do in an interview: Close. Salespeople are always focused on the close. When you are interviewing, you’re selling yourself, so you need to close. This means, first, asking for what you want. And second, looking for any barriers to getting what you want. Here’s the script: “Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I want this job very much. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?”

At this point, you will have a chance to allay any fears the hiring manager has about you. It’s a tough moment to put yourself into, but it’s better to have a chance to do it than to give up now, when you are so close.

I’m a huge fan of approaching medical school like it’s the business world, because – well, it is.  It’s more specialized, and there’s a different balance between goals, but one thing business people are great at is figuring out how to make relationships work for them, and part of that is making sure people are on the same page.

I don’t think casually saying, “One more question – are there any reservations you have about me as a candidate for admission here?” is always appropriate, but like anything else, the situation can be felt out.  I asked something similar at an interview where the interviewer was working very hard to set a tone of absolute openness (one of those “Interviews are so artificial, I don’t want this to be like an interview” interviewers) – and he actually said “No one’s ever actually asked me that.  Interesting!  You know, I don’t think I do.” So I didn’t get a helpful discussion out of it, but then again, I also got accepted, so who knows.

Any thoughts on how effective or appropriate this tactic might be?

15 thoughts on “If you’re interviewing for med school or residency

  1. You know when I read that I thought “Nooooo nobody should ask that at an interview for med school.” but now that I’m thinking about it I do remember saying something roughly similar (obviously not like they recommend in that article, but somewhat similar) at my interview for the school I’m currently attending.


  2. Curious as to which country you’re in and whether the med school process differs from one nation to the next. In terms of interviewing, I would think culture would really influence the strategy.

    • Good point. I’m in the USA. The general process here is a lot of applications, interview invitations from the schools that like you, and then at each school you’re either accepted, rejected, or waitlisted after the interview. The degree to which the interview matters is debateable and differs widely between different schools.

      I actually have no idea what the process is like in other countries.

  3. One question that I’ve considered asking admission officers during medical school interviews is whether or not I would be happy at that particular school. Asking about reservations in the manner you described could be wildly successful or scuttle your chances immediately – it probably depends a lot upon the interviewer, the strength of your candidacy, and the dynamic that has been developed during the interview process. It would feel out of character for me, so it’s probably not something I would do personally, but I can imagine there are people out there for whom it’d just appear to be a natural extension of their personality.

    The problem with medical school interviews is that it is indeed a seller’s market. Medical school admissions know that you will go wherever you get accepted, so the section of the interview where the applicant answers questions is a little useless. You can ask the interviewer all you like but they know that, regardless of the answer, you’re going to go wherever you get in. And, if there is anything about you that they don’t like, they know there are another 600 students that will gladly take your seat. It’s unfortunate that the applicant has so little to gain from the interview.

    • It is SUCH a seller’s market, exactly. Thanks for the insightful comment! I agree that this leads to a huge problem with interviews – schools want to see students being natural, but because of the high stakes, that’s nearly impossible for applicants. It’s nerve-wracking.

      One thing that I found funny about the process, though, is that there are some ‘highly-ranked’ schools that know they compete for the same pool of students, and therefore actually run their interviews completely differently – for example, my state school asked me a million variations on “Why do you want to be a doctor?”, but Metropolis Med didn’t ask me a single version of that. They also outrightly assumed that I had already been accepted elsewhere (Flattering, but no).

      In fact, I’ve since found that my school has a reputation for just spending a few minutes making sure the applicant has some social skills, then spending the rest of the time trying to sell them on us (“I saw that you’re a mountain climber! Well, we have a mountain climbing CLUB, you’d love it. I’ll give you the e-mail address of the current guy in charge.”)

      The funny thing is, despite being very wine-and-dine-ish and low stress, many interviewees I’ve talked to really hate this format because they feel like they didn’t get the proper chance to sell themselves. I totally understand that and felt the same way at the time. We just can’t win.

  4. I’d say that comes off as a little confrontational, and, unless you really feel you’d have asked that question anyway, maybe abstain. It really does depend on the dynamic, as Med School Odyssey said. IMO, the better bet is to just, well, be yourself, as trite as that sounds. Sure, you can present this trumped up, fancy version of yourself to the interviewers, but in the end, if they accept you, they’re not really accepting you but this persona you’ve created. The committees do think about how well you as a person would fit in to the community, and if they dont have an accurate picture of you, how are they to know how well you’d fit in to that community?

    Just my $0.02. I’ve got a lot of opinions about the interview process, so I’m sure if you ever wind up doing that series, I’ll be piquing in quite a bit 😛

    • Thanks for the perspective! I agree that being yourself is important, I know a guy here who says that his interviews became 10 times better when he just got so sick of interviewing that he started answering questions with whatever his 1st instinct was.

      Unfortunately, I think the “1st instinct” thing breaks down if you get stupid questions. (i.e. Q: “If you could have dinner with any 3 people, living or dead, who would they be?” A: “Honestly? My girlfriend and my two best friends.”)

      I think it’s unfortunate that those kind of questions demand a strategy. I was once asked “if you could be any animal, what animal would you be?” and was glad I’d already decided what side of my personality I wanted to emphasize so I could answer it. It was ridiculous, though.

      • Actually, I think the “3 people to dinner” question is an interesting question, but only if you understand the point behind it. What they’re really asking is “who are three people living or dead that you would like to actually meet?”. I think that could led to some good conversation, depending upon the answers.

        Oh…and the falling snow on your blog made me wonder if I was having some eye problems. Scared me for a second there.

        • Yeah, I get the point behind it, and that’s how I’ve answered the question when I’ve gotten it (three times! crazy), but I’m still not a huge fan of the question. Did you get it when you interviewed?

          The first two times I was honest, and it didn’t go over well. The third time I learned my lesson and BS’ed a generic answer. It was just safer than leaving my honest choices up to interviewer bias.

          Honest choices: Bernadette Peters, JK Rowling, Sir Walter Raleigh. [Interviewer #1 did NOT like JK Rowling’s inclusion! Quote: “… you read kid’s books?” Interviewer #2 thought I was BSing about Raleigh, which I wasn’t, and also confused as to who Bernadette Peters was and why I cared.]

          Somewhat made-up choices: Buddha, Cormac McCarthy, Sullenberger.

          Go figure.

          • I won’t apply to medical school until June 2012 – I’m the non-traditional style applicant and work a full-time job in the aerospace industry as a physicist. My three people…Richard P. Feynman, Evariste Galois, and probably Leonard Euler.

  5. AP, since we’re on the topic of interviewing and the “getting in” part of med school, what are your thoughts on the process of making the decision to pursue an MD? I ask this from the perspective of an adult desperately trying to weigh what I really want to do with what I should do at my age- like procreate, have adequate employment in less than 8 years, and be mentally available to my husband – none of which go hand in hand with med school.

    • It’s funny you should ask that, because our class has recently had some scary reproductive health lectures that have led a lot of the girls to say they wish they were married already so they could be sure they’ll have kids before they turn 30. The bright side of a bad situation is that everyone seems to agree there’s NO great time to have kids if you’re going to become a doctor. We may not all be in the same boat, but we’re all in roughly similar ones.

      Ultimately, I believe it comes down to knowing exactly why you want to go into medicine, knowing the sacrifices you’ll make, and taking a long, brutally honest look at whether your reasons outweigh those sacrifices.

      (I may try to elaborate on this tomorrow in a post, but being only a 1st year, I don’t pretend to have all the answers… that’s the trouble with med school. If you’re happy during 1st year, they tell you “wait ’til 3rd year.” In 3rd year they say “just wait til’ residency!” I guess you can’t be objectively certain you love it until you’re done.)

  6. I can’t imagine having asked that at any of my interviews. I feel that strategies like that work better for structured, formal interviews, but pretty much all of med school interviews were very conversational and the tone of that question would have been out of place.

    One thing I did like asking was what they liked most and least about being at the school/hospital I was interviewing at, or about the city where it was. It was a nice standard question to have on hand because all my interviews ended with “Do you have any questions for me?”

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