jlaw: interviews

She loves the wolf. She does not love the lamb. Not just any wolf. She loves the wolf that is capable of love.

It is even more complicated: she loves the wolf who contains, hides or reveals an unexpected sweetness in his violence.

The sweetness of the cruel is a greater sweetness.
—  Hélène Cixous, from Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing; “The Story of the Wolf who loves the Lamb he does not Eat,”
10 Things I Learned as an Interviewer for the Interviewee

As a fourth year medical students (yikes) I was able to become an interviewer for my medical school. So yes, that means maybe someone I’ve interviewed may one day see this. Though probably not. Anyways, it was very surreal to be on the other side of the process all these years later and while I’m getting ready for interviews myself (anyone want me for residency, btw?)

A lot of expectations and previous notions about interviews that I had really did change and I can see how intricate the process actually is, and I get why we get asked the questions we do. At least somewhat better.                                                                   

All experiences and interviewers are different but here are some things I think can really help out the interviewee. Maybe things you thought were hard and fast rules but aren’t or things you didn’t expect us to be looking for. Anything to help! And while this is directed at pre-meds, the advice should still general enough that anyone can use it, if they want.

Some things to know beforehand; I was part of a two-on-one interview setting which lasted 30 minutes with a few preset questions we needed to ask. The interview was blind, so we couldn’t see stats.

Take a second to observe your interviewers.

This isn’t an open invitation to judge your interviewers, but most of us are pretty telling in the way we present ourselves. If you can take a break for the nerves for a second pay attention to our introductions, our demeanor and how we’re dressed. It can give you a sense of how relaxed or stringent we may be and what our personalities may be like even if we were told to stay stone cold poker-faced. And always keep in mind who your interviewers are and what departments they’re from. It can help guide the tone we set for the entire interview.  

Play off the interviewers.

Now that you’ve taken a moment to take in your surroundings use those to your advantage. If we’re playing tough, answer with strength and intention. If we’re relaxed, don’t sit so stiff and maybe get us to laugh. If you are asked thought provoking questions, take time to think about it and provide thought provoking answers. The more you work with us, the easy and more open a dialog becomes and the more personable the interview will become. It’s a great way to show flexibility and adaptation, and for the interviewers who did this well we found ourselves impressed.

If I’m offering you information, take it.

If I am telling you that I am a 4th year and I can answer your questions about rotations, classes, or student life I am literally giving you questions to ask me in the event you have forgotten all of yours. If faculty tells you which program they are a part of and what they specialize in they are opening that line of information for you. They are telling you were their interests and focuses are and you can run with that, if you like.

Please, please do your research.

We had an application who couldn’t tell us what they liked our school. Had no idea what the mission statement was or what the goals of the school were. Didn’t have a clue. I had to use my doctor face so I could stay neutral. It was bad. I get that you just want to be in medical school but come on. Point blank, there is no excuse for anyone to know nothing about the program they’re interviewing for. You should also have worked out answers for frequently asked questions. Getting stumped on classic medical school questions…it’s a big red flag. So please plan ahead and do your research.  

Pick the length of your answers carefully.

Different types of questions prompt different types of answers. There are a lot of questions that can prompt follow up questions. Hobbies for example; going into every detail about your hobbies is probably counterproductive. But that’s assuming you have a fair amount of things you like to do that aren’t medicine. You can add a snip here and there, like “I’ve done that for 15 years” or “it’s really a huge passion of mine” but if there is interest in hearing more, we’ll most likely ask. If you only have one thing, don’t think “I like running” is a good enough answer. Give us something to work with. There are questions, especially theoretical ones or tell me a story situations that are meant to be longer. And always keep in mind your time limit.

Be confident, not cocky.

There is a huge difference between smug and confident. We had one prospect who gave this shit-eating “gotcha” grin after every question they thought they had aced. It was almost like they were trying to directly challenging me. It got to the point that I stopped caring what they were saying and was just getting pissed. The answers could have been great (they weren’t) but all that stuck with me was the cockiness. Not sure if you do that unintentionally? That’s what practice interviews are for. There are very clear differences when someone was proud of an answer and were pleased, and what this individual was doing. And if you do act that way, personally, I don’t want you representing my school, regardless of what your application looks like.

I don’t care about the “right” answer. I care why.

I know there are certain questions answers that are kind of set in stone. And I know straying too far from say, an ethics question, is hard to do in a new and unique way. The way to make yourself stand out from the crowd is to explain the reasons why you believe this to be the “right” answers since those tend to differ among applicants and shows your critical thinking skills past “well obviously this is the right answer”. Aside from that most interviewers don’t have specific expectations for most questions. We’d rather just hear about you and your personal experiences, honestly.

We’re not always looking for your spoken answer.

Sometimes we’re looking at your body language. I will purposefully ask questions I know there are only a few answers too. Not because I want to know if you know it, but rather how you viscerally respond. Do you look uncomfortable when answering an ethics or grades question? Did you answer robotically? Are you still looking at me? Can you pick yourself back up after a rough question? What you do speaks just as loud as the things your saying and I’m looking for it.

Use your personality and responses to show you want to be here. Not your grades.

This was not an isolated event. I had a few prospective students speak about a class and sneak in “which I got an A in” and continue. Not really a fan of that. I naturally assume that everyone we interviewed had good enough grades and scores because, well, you’re at the interview. At this point in the process all I want if for you to shine beyond those things and prove to me that you can be a doctor on paper and in person.  

Make me feel connected to you.

In the end, I want to feel like I know who you are. I want to know what you stand for and I want to experience the person who wants to become a physician. I want to appreciate your story and how far you’ve come. We don’t need to become best friends, we don’t need to have similar thoughts or values or personalities. But I want to feel like we could understand each other now and in the future. Let me be excited about you and for you. Let me want you to be here so I can check accept.

I hope someone was able to get something useful from this because for all of you here dying to enter this crazy profession I want you to reach your goals. I really do, and I’m just doing all I can on the internet. Good luck to everyone on your interviews!