The way I see it, there are two components to answering questions during an interview- the content of your answers, and the delivery. Both of these aspects can be prepared for, and I actually think there is a specific way to prepare for each component.
Think hard about what you want convey to interviewers when answering common questions. I have compiled a list of questions I prepared for/anticipated here. I personally wrote out my answer to each and every question on this list. Some people prefer making a bullet point list rather than writing out a word for word answer. Do whatever you need to do. I’m personally a better writer than orator, so I knew that in order to do my best during an interview, I would have to spend some time thinking through each question and actually writing out a thoughtful response.
Besides this list of questions, really think about 2-3 key things that you learned or realized through each of the activities you participated in and listed on your application. Many of the questions you receive during interviews will be about your experiences to date and about specific activities you listed on your application. The way you speak about your activities and experiences should demonstrate insightfulness and reflection. Spend some time thinking about what you learned from each experience/activity you participated in, and how it impacted you. Try and make sure that what you plan to say isn’t trite or overly-clichéd.
For every single activity you put on your application, be able to explain the activity and your personal role using the STAR method (below), as well as 2-3 things you learned and/or challenges you faced. Also, be able to explain why the activity was meaningful to you.
S – Situation, background set the scene
T – Task or Target, specifics of what’s required, when, where, who
A – Action, what you did, skills used, behaviors, characteristics
R – Result – Outcome, what happened?
Some people will say this is overkill, but I also recommend being able to explain why you took each course you did, and 1-2 specific things you learned from the course.
Some people are naturals at this part. You can ask them any question and they’ll easily deliver an eloquent and interesting response without a second thought. Most people, though, are not like this. I am not like this. I actually had to practice saying my answers out loud before my interviews. I had written out answers to all of the common interview questions, but when I was practicing out loud, I wasn’t trying to memorize my answers. I was just trying to make sure that I remembered to cover all the key points with each answer. Also, I use filler words a lot (like, um, etc.) so practicing out loud was SO NECESSARY for me to not sound like a ditz during the interview. If you are someone who uses filler words a lot (and honestly, most millennials are…), I highly recommend practicing your answers out loud a few times before the actual interviews.
Secondly, I recommend doing a few mock interviews with someone who has been through the process or who has interviewed people before. You can also practice with fellow students, but I think it’s preferable to practice with someone who actually has experience with interviewing people or who has been through the application process themselves. I’d recommend asking the people you practice with to focus on specific things. For example, maybe you are confident in your answers, but want the interviewer to focus on where you can improve in your delivery. Whatever it is, try to give them something specific to focus on so you get really detailed feedback.
Think about three main points about you that you want to make sure every interviewer knows about you by the time the interview has ended. These should be the three most interesting points about your application. They can be about experiences you had, things that are important to you, your goals, or whatever else. Try and incorporate these things into your answers.
1. MMIs vs Standard interviews
Some schools do 10 minutes per interview, some do 8 minutes, some do 5 minutes. The questions are quicker than traditional interview questions. Sometimes there are role-playing questions where you have to pretend to be the physician. It really varies from school to school and is difficult to prepare for. I hated MMIs because I feel like there’s not enough time to really get to know the interviewer and to show them who you are. I didn’t do anything in specific to prepare for these.
2. What to say when they ask why medicine?
I can’t answer this for you, this has to be something you reflect on in order to give a really strong answer. Whatever your answer is, though, I think being enthusiastic is really important when you answer this one. Even if you give a really strong answer, it won’t be that convincing if you don’t sound like you are excited.
3. How much to prepare so it doesn’t seem rehearsed?
This honestly depends on the person. If you are pretty eloquent as is, maybe you don’t need to practice giving your response out loud too much. If you aren’t eloquent or if you use a lot of filler words, I don’t think there is a such thing as preparing too much. There is a reason people do better during their tenth med school interview than during their first.
4. How to seem genuine?
I am not a good actress. I don’t think I can come across as ‘genuine’ if I’m not actually genuine. In fact, I think there were a couple schools that could tell I wasn’t very excited about them, and they were right. I think the best way to seem genuine is to do your research and get excited about the school and city- that way you will actually be excited and you won’t have to fake excitement during the interview day.
5. How to deal with questions that catch you off guard?
Honestly, I wasn’t caught off guard much because I prepared a LOT for interviews. The list of questions I linked earlier is over 100 questions. I was prepared to answer anything and everything. That said, if I was unsure of something, I’d usually ask the interviewer to clarify the question in order to get a better idea of what they were looking for. I’d sometimes ask for a minute to gather my thoughts, as well. After that, I’d just try to be honest and explain what was going on in my head as best I could. The key is to stay calm, I think.
6. What are good questions to ask at the end?
I think good questions are specific. No one is going to be impressed if you ask “What was your favorite thing about attending med school here?” It’s obviously fine to ask a question like that, but it’s not going to make you seem super insightful if that’s the only question you ask. Your questions should be genuine, and shouldn’t be something that Google can answer. I find that doing a lot of research on the school is the best way to come up with good questions. If you do a lot of research, there WILL be a few things you are confused about or that you see conflicting information on, and that you need your interviewer to answer for you. I’d say you can ask your interviewer 1-2 ‘general’ questions or questions about their experiences at the institution, and then 1-2 more ‘specific’ questions that show that you have done your research on the school.
7. Are interviews done together or separately?
I’ve never been in an interview with another student. I haven’t heard of group interviews for other students either. Assume they will be separate unless you hear otherwise.
8. Most difficult question?
There was one interview where my interviewer and I had spoken for a long time about my experiences and my goals within medicine, and at the end, the interviewer asked me “So why medicine?” I felt so confused because I thought I had answered that already, and that it was obvious why I was interested in medicine from everything we just spoke about. In fact, I felt like I couldn’t answer the question without repeating some of what I had already said, so I was thrown a little off by that.