Conquer the Interview | by Italo M. Brown
One of the most significant things about my journey to med school is that I did A TON of prep work for interviews. Unfortunately, I was never afforded the opportunity to show my stuff (yes — that’s correct, I’m a medical doctor who somehow got into medical school without ever having a formal medical school interview). But in all of that preparation, I was able to stow away a few jewels that proved helpful in my pursuit of scholarships, internships, and eventually a residency slot. In this blog, I’m going to share with you some of those golden points.
An interview is nothing more than a focused conversation. It has ebbs and flows, natural pauses, dead space even. The idea is for the interviewee (that’s YOU) to express intent, provide support of their abilities, and reference the skills they can contribute — all within an active dialogue. Believe it or not, navigating a conversation IS A SKILLSET — one that can greatly add to the quality of the interview, and even paint the interviewer a more well-rounded picture of the interviewee (that’s YOU).
Generally, the more natural this conversation feels, the better. Making this conversation feel natural relies partly on familiarity with self, your personal narrative, and your reasons for wanting to pursue the opportunity. The other part…well, that’s just sheer personality.
The interviewer has a set of questions they ask everyone; these can be anticipated (in fact, you ALREADY KNOW THEM). Develop succinct yet thoughtful responses to these questions PRIOR to the interview (in other words, set’em up — knock’em down).
Now other questions will be more specific to your route and your body of work. Imagine identifying a unique scar on a person’s eyebrow or shin; the very first thing you want to do is ask, “How did that happen?” So, go over your entire application, searching for those unique markers — and build out the detailed encounter that will provide an accurate explanation while still echoing your strengths (do this PRIOR to the interview).
The Secret Weapon
Many students have asked me about “the dreaded filler space”…that vast sea of uncertainty in the waiting room, while walking through the hallway with the interviewer, at the beginning and near the end of an interview. Here’s my secret weapon: Beyond the obvious common-ground (Medicine/Dentistry/Science…what you came to interview for), there are two UNIVERSAL topic areas on an interview: 1) Food, and 2) Sports.
These two areas serve as melting pots across cultures, religions, genders, and preferences. I’ve found that being able to hold a conversation in these two areas can bridge any void. I remember sitting at an interview and noticing the details on the interviewer’s tie (he was a Baltimore Ravens fan). We launched into an all-out conversation about the Ravens defensive weaknesses, and I was able to creatively dial it back into my overall ability to address weaknesses. Another time, I was on an interview (at my current hospital) and we had a conversation about Nashville Hot Chicken (oh how I love this delicacy). By the end of the interview, the interviewer was sharing home recipes with me and offering to email step-by-step cooking instructions for their favorite dish.
Now I’m not encouraging you to be come a Chopped Champion overnight, nor do you need to be able to out-argue Stephen A. Smith. However, it might be helpful to do some cursory research about the sports or food culture in the city you’re interviewing in PRIOR to the interview, then “conveniently” weave that into your conversation.
Ultimately, the best interview advice I can give is to rehearse. Stop trying to be a good interviewer, and instead, work on being a better communicator in natural, everyday conversation. Articulate your words, build stories to express your points, and laugh (the real kind, not that nervous one people resort to in awkward moments). You can do each of these things MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, with your friends and loved ones, a mentor or colleague, even the stranger on the train or at the coffee shop. Bottom line, you are the ONLY expert on your personal narrative, so who better to lead that conversation…than you!