What would you tell students about how to prepare for interviews?
Well before interviews: Introspect regularly on your identity, who you are, who you are striving to be (better everyday), and what your brand is. Read about all the different medical schools and their nuances. Read up on current medical news, trends in medical education or issues affecting the field in general. Google searches will do wonders.
Once you receive interview dates: Do your research into format of interviews and gather any information you have (take notes if needed) from valid sources such as current medical students or alumni, people who have done the interviews, etc. Once you have some information or research done for each interview format and school, sit down, breathe deeply, and visualize yourself going to the interview. The best performers in any field go through a process of mental preparation and pre-visualization was a key component of mine. Create a list of school specific personal points you may want to bring up, location and program specific details you have researched and any general points you definitely want to emphasize (e.g. family has long lived in Toronto and therefore I feel I am a part of the community).
Interview time: The week before the interview, make sure to get all final travel and practice details out of the way. Know yourself and your application inside out. Know your own strengths and weakness really well. Be yourself and practice being yourself, humble, honest, and prepared. When you arrive at the interviews, make sure to be well rested and calm. I found meditation extremely helpful - I practiced 3 slow deep breaths each held in for equal amounts of time and exhaled over equal amounts of time. I repeated this practice wherever and whenever I wanted throughout the weeks before, day of, and during the interviews themselves without drawing attention to myself. In the interview, be clear, specific, concise, and honest. Represent yourself in the best light possible with confidence. Showcase a calm demeanour and remember to have a firm handshake if you choose to shake hands and be aware of your body language. Also remember, there are eyes on you from the second you arrive to when you leave, so be professional at all times. For MMI interviews, make sure to live in the moment and be the best candidate you can. Improvise when faced with the unknown and remember to think as a professional (keeping in mind the CanMEDS roles can be helpful). For panel interviews, keep your answers direct, concise, and provide examples both personal and factual whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to take an extra few seconds to think so that your delivery is polished.
After the interview and in-between interviews: reflect on the day but remember you have already done your best. Do not compare yourself to others. Highlight the positives and take note of any areas for improvement. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, be active, and meditate before the next interview. Thank you notes to interviews or schools are not expected in Canada. Consider sending any thank you notes at some point to those who helped you prepare.
Considering you’re a medical professional now, what would you have done differently if you were to interview again?
I have been through multiple medical school interviews both as a candidate in 2012 and as an interviewer subsequently. Furthermore, I have also successfully been through CaRMS interviews for residency programs. If I could do it all over again, I would not change anything. Let me be clear - I was not perfect; however, I had prepared thoroughly, both in terms of knowledge and content development as well as delivery and demeanour. By the end of all sets of interviews, I realized there is nothing more important than knowing yourself and your story/brand really well and practicing to deliver the best, polished, and yet honest version of yourself as a candidate and professional each and every time - regardless of whether it is for medical school or residency. If this is the case and there is constant introspection and reflection on ways to further develop strengths and improve upon weaknesses, then there is no real specific way I would have done anything differently. My process has a built in self- and mentor-driven feedback mechanism which I take seriously. Build your own such and you will find it will definitely equip you well for decades to come as an emerging healthcare professional.
What traits are common among strong interview candidates?
Three specific traits come to mind with regards to the strongest interview candidates when I think back to my journey as a candidate and as an interviewer: confidence, resilience, and thorough preparation. In terms of confidence, the best candidates leave no leaf unturned in learning about themselves, the world around them (whether the profession they seek to enter or the program/school they seek a seat at), and their short, medium, and long-term goals. This type of self-brand-building and introspection undoubtedly leads to a clear picture of personal success that translates to a polished and confident interview demeanour. As an interviewer, I found this helps differentiate one from another. Resilience comes from learning to think on your feet, be malleable, and adapt to changing circumstances and the unknown. This is particularly important for handling MMI interviews and takes practice and constant reflection to improve one’s approaches. Don’t forget this is not just for interviews, but for a life of learning and growing as a healthcare professional. Finally, thorough preparation leads to success. Preparation should not just be a process to engage in before interviews but should be a part and parcel of daily life. For example, deep conversations on varied topics with friends, engaging in thought-provoking work and extracurriculars, and making regular contributions to society with your specific skillsets all provide avenues ripe with opportunities to practice content, communication, and interpersonal skills that make for an excellent interview. A candidate that can combine these three traits is almost guaranteed success in my experience.
What do you find is the most common anxiety students have about their interviews, and how can they overcome this?
The chief architect of all anxieties, genuine or exaggerated, is the interviewee him or herself. Every candidate is unique and I’m sure there are a personal set of anxieties or worries one can have, but to introspect daily, identify these and seek out ways to overcome them are key to good preparation. Perhaps the most common anxiety is one stemming from “impostor syndrome” - the idea that I am not good enough and don’t belong. If you score an interview, know that you deserve it. Schools don’t have time or resources to hand out interviews except to the top of their crop. Use the fact that you deserved to get an interview as a confidence booster to help overcome any overarching or repetitive themes of self-doubt. If you remove doubt from the equation and rely on the above-mentioned traits and methods, I can affirm there will be very little room for anxiety to overcome you.