By: Ryan Kelly
Death, taxes, and pre-interview anxiety. There are few certainties in life, but you can count on feeling butterflies in your stomach before and during your medical school interview. I suppose valium or other hard drugs might rid you of your anxiety, but then again, you have to respond coherently to the interviewer’s questions.
Even if you’re one of the rare pre-meds who isn’t fazed by interview anxiety (well la dee da!), you can go from a good interview to a great interview by using our tips below.
Tip #1 - Bring a book
You’ll want to bring your application materials, copies of your resume, and notes about the school or interview questions. But reading these over and over again is likely to drive you insane.
Bring a book that will inspire you. It’s probably a good idea to avoid Orwellian dystopias or epic tragedies and opt for something more uplifting. It might be smart to pick a nonfiction book about someone you admire, or about a topic you find fascinating.
Besides distracting you, the book might catch the eye of your interviewer and could prove a launch point for the conversation.
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Tip #2 - Make small talk with other pre-meds
Pre-meds like to compare themselves to their peers, and this is the quickest way to send your anxiety through the roof.
Rather than compete against the competition, let them help you by making small talk.
Keep it light and avoid topics that would let you ‘one-up’ each other in conversation (number of interviews, MCAT scores, etc.). Ask them where they come from, what they do for fun, or anything else unrelated to the interview process. Hopefully the witty banter and pleasantries will make you relax and warm you up for the interview.
Tip #3 - Start the interview during “the walk”
“YOUR NAME.” After waiting for an eternity, it’s now your turn to interview, so your interviewer opens the door and calls for you. You jump right up, shake their hand, and follow them on the way back to the office.
We call it “the walk,” and it’s a great time to start your interview. Why wait for them to fire the first shot? You’ve got command of the conversation, so ask a question or two, but make them good.
“Cold one out there today, eh?”
“How are you?”
These questions are unlikely to generate a conversation.
Instead, ask something you noticed on the tour this morning. Or ask the person how long they’ve been a doctor and what they like most about it.
You might find out something useful for the interview, but if not, you’ll still be flexing your interview muscles before you even start.
Tip #4 - Use mindfulness
For some, mindfulness could simply mean “going to your happy place in your head,” while for others, it might just mean acknowledging your anxiety. Either way, interviews are a classic case of “mind over matter,” so here are a few mindfulness strategies that work well:
Practice micro-meditation. Take 1-3 minutes to stop and breathe (especially when you feel distracted). While waiting for the interview to start, try to utilize the acronym S.B.N.R.R. —
It must work for some people, since they teach it at Google.
Tame the “inner voice.” Your inner monologue can be your worst enemy, so don’t let it take over your thoughts. Its voice might be panicked, and it’s unlikely to be supportive. When it rears its ugly head, do your best to consciously interrupt it and replace it with positive thoughts.
More reading: How to Strike Your “Power Pose” During an Interview
Tip #5 - Arrive a day early for your interview
By arriving early, you’ll make sure you don’t get lost or overwhelmed on the day of the actual interview. This will give you one less thing to stress about beforehand.
You can also think of it as field research. Take in as much of your surroundings as possible. Find students and faculty who are willing to chat with you. Hopefully you can pick up some insider knowledge and practice telling your story to complete strangers.
Tip #6 - Have a visual reminder to chill out
This could be a funny picture, a token from home, or a favorite quote. Use it as your bookmark or tuck it into the pocket of your portfolio, so that it will pop up and remind you to relax. Keep it close and pull it out whenever you feel the stress building.
“The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.” - Sydney J. Harris
Tip #7 - Smile
Did you know it’s scientifically proven that smiling reduces your stress?
It’s true. Even if the smile is forced, flashing those pearly whites will help relieve some tension you’re feeling. So let that Cheshire grin loose.
Tip #8 - Regularly challenge your comfort zone
Leading up to the interview, do whatever you can to put yourself in front of an audience. You want as much public speaking practice as possible, and the best way to build confidence is to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
You might want to join Toastmasters, a program designed to help you tell your story with passion and universal appeal. You will learn to listen, answer, give feedback, and accept criticism. By regularly giving speeches and gaining feedback in a supportive atmosphere, you will emerge as an interview superstar.
More reading: 5 Creative Ways to Improve Your Interview Skills
Tip #9 - Practice, practice, practice
As useful as my tips can be, the number one way to kill your anxiety is to practice. Military folks know the power of drilling something until it becomes second nature, and you should use this same diligence for interview prep. Every time you rehearse in the front of the mirror or do a “mock” interview with friends, your anxiety decreases a little more.
Tip #10 - Fake it until you make it
If all else fails, “fake it until you make it.” Everyone gets nervous, but you don’t have to let it show. Salvador Dali once said, “Act like a genius, and everyone will treat you that way.” You don’t want to be arrogant or overconfident, but everyone has to fake it at some point in life. Who knows, maybe pretending is the key to quelling your fears and anxiety?
Above all else, remind yourself of why you’re there in first place. It’s fine to be nervous, but don’t forget that you earned an interview for a reason. The gatekeepers thought your application and essays were promising, and they chose you for an interview out of hundreds of candidates. “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and dog gone it, people like you!”
I hope that my tips help you to relax, take a much needed breath, and be the best version of yourself during the interview! Best of luck, my savvies!