By: Ryan Kelly
“You can’t prepare for it.”
That’s the general consensus surrounding the phone interview phase of Western Michigan’s admissions process.
It starts with Western Michigan itself, whose medical school admissions webpage makes a point to explain the function of what’s colloquially known as the “phoneterview”:
Step 4: Phone Interview
We have designed a telephone interview to help us learn more about your personal attributes. This is not an interview you can study for and isn’t designed to test your medical or scientific knowledge. This step is unique to WMed and is designed to help us learn more about your personal attributes.
“You can't really prepare. It's not so much the typical ‘why medicine’ stuff. Questions will be about you, your interests in general, and in science and medicine specifically. Be honest about who you are and what you do, and you will be fine!”
“Haven't done it yet, but the consensus on SDN is that it's is mostly questions aimed at gauging your personality. I'm not preparing much for mine at all.”
“You just talk about yourself and your thought processes. Nothing you need to regurgitate or rehearse.”
“Completed my phone interview today! It took about 15 minutes and wasn't bad at all. There's no way to prepare for it really.”
“There's literally nothing you could do to prepare. Just don't psych yourself out, be prepared for zero feedback to your answers, and be yourself.”
We at Savvy Pre-med are calling bullsh*t on this claim. No way to prepare? Wasn’t bad at all? You’ll be fine?
That might all be true, but we believe that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Can some pre-meds crush this “phoneterview” without preparing? Definitely. But there’s no doubt that many pre-meds enter this process too nonchalantly and end up regretting it.
The Basics of WMed’s Phone Interview:
After submitting the written secondary application, which includes essays and an “Online Assessment” test with 50 multiple-choice questions, certain candidates will be invited to schedule a phone interview before the official campus interviews are offered. The phone interview is mandatory for continuing the admissions process, so you can think of it as the prequel to the actual interview.
The interview is conducted by a third-party contractor, not the school itself, and the third party does not have access to your application. It features seven predetermined questions and lasts about 15-30 minutes. There’s very little give-and-take between you and interviewer, so don’t expect much feedback.
Here are some tips from past interviewees (gathered anonymously from the internet). You’ll see trends in the advice, but also a few mixed messages, so please take things with a grain of salt!
“It felt very friendly, and you really have an opportunity to express who you are. I came in skeptical as to how beneficial it would be, but I felt like I had a good opportunity to show off my personality.”
“That phone interview was definitely awkward but not too bad! The interviewer was nice; it was just so nerve-racking to not be able to see her facial expressions so I could know when to stop rambling.”
“Don't be afraid to ask the interviewer to clarify questions or ask for time to think. My interviewer specifically said there is no penalty for this! It might also be comforting to know that it didn't go perfectly and I still got an II lol.”
“Seven pre-written questions--very robotic and unnatural. It’s hard to gauge afterwards as well. I used very little time for mine, but still interviewed on campus and was accepted quickly. Good luck!”
“It's a little bit like clicking on a Buzzfeed link on Facebook that says it will tell you what type of cheese you are, and then they ask you a bunch of multiple choice questions that seem irrelevant. Except it’s timed and you don't get to find out what type of cheese you are.”
What advice can be derived from these testimonials?
For one, it seems like it’s in your best interest to avoid rambling, even if it feels like you need to fill dead air. When you’ve finished, don’t keep going just because it feels short or you’re not getting much response from the interviewer. Short does not equal bad. In a normal interview, you wouldn’t want your answers to exceed 2-3 minutes, and the same rule applies here.
However, take your time when needed. Don’t immediately start talking if you haven’t solidified your thoughts or the intentions of your answer. Ask for a moment to think if you’re stumped. As long as you don’t take too long of a pause, these brief seconds can be crucial to delivering a cogent response.
Lastly, don’t bother stressing about the phoneterview once it’s over. You can’t go back and change the past, so just bank it as useful wisdom and experience for future interviews. It’s likely that you’ll have a hard time assessing how you did, and you might get a campus interview even if things didn’t go perfectly.
Oh, and it goes without saying, but make sure you have a fully charged phone battery and quality reception. The last thing you want is a technical difficulty.
What Questions Will WMed’s Phone Interview Ask?
That’s a good… question (haha). Former candidates are asked to keep things confidential, so it’s difficult to suss out any specific prompts or questions from past interviews. However, certain pre-meds have been kind enough to provide cryptic hints (again, via the internet):
“It felt like a job interview with the exception of 1 or 2 questions specific to the field of medicine, but not to WMU itself.”
“I expected cute questions like what's your favorite food and what was your family background like. But it was more about your outlook, approach to problems, how you would react to certain situations. Similar to some of the trickier secondary prompts.”
“It's like a verbal secondary in that you get to answer questions that show the best qualities about yourself. So, think something along the lines of, ‘What experience would you say contributed to your growth professionally?’ <<I made this up.”
“They want to see the qualities that align with what they're looking for in applicants. That seems to be the purpose of phone interviews at some other schools (like Mayo).”
Based on this advice, let’s cover the “greatest hits” that you’re likely to encounter:
Questions about your teamwork, leadership, and ability to collaborate with diverse people.
Questions about your approach to handling stress, resolving conflicts, or responding to failure.
Questions about your proudest accomplishments or most meaningful extracurriculars.
Questions about your motivations towards medicine, different potential career paths/specialties, and the challenges/rewards of the career.
Questions about ethical dilemmas (hypothetical or real).
Questions about your greatest strengths and weaknesses.
Questions about your learning style or preferred academic environment.
Questions about the values covered in the school’s mission.
Steps to Prepare for WMed’s Phone Interview:
Based on the “greatest hits” above, we suggest making a cheat sheet with notes that would help guide your responses during the interview. Don’t write out your answers in full or read them verbatim into the phone; instead, write outlines or “skeletons” that help your answers flow and stay on course.
Questions about your approach to handling stress, resolving conflicts, or responding to failure.
Open with story about roommate dispute and physical altercation between residents as an RA
Steps I took to solve it - one-on-one meetings, sought counsel from boss, explored alternative living options, helped them reach compromise
How this experience helped me elsewhere - lab, fraternity, family, in clinic
You may want to have multiple skeletons so that you’re prepared for different ways the question could be asked. For example, in this case, you might want to have a personal failure anecdote prepared as well. Your skeletons won’t cover everything, but you’ll be able to draw upon them for a variety of potential questions.
Once you’ve prepared your cheat sheet, go ahead and practice with these 50 Example Questions. They’re intentionally much harder than what you’re likely to see - that way you’ll be extra prepared!
Have you ever broken a promise to someone to keep something secret? Under what circumstances have you ever had to break this promise?
Tell me about a time you had to decide between two (seemingly) equally good and/or bad choices? What did you choose and why?
What's your biggest regret? Why?
Best and worst gift you ever received?
Give yourself a nickname and explain why you chose it.
Tell me about a time you felt overwhelmed at school.
Tell me about a time you saw someone do something unethical and what you did about it.
Discuss an experience that allowed you to learn something important about yourself. How will this lesson help you succeed in your career?
Describe a time when you got more out of a situation that you anticipated. What happened?
Describe an event in your life that made you feel angry. How did you respond? Tell us what you would do differently if it happened again.
What makes you feel guilty? Revisit a moment that you are ashamed of or feel guilty for and explore why that is. Describe the event and communicate why you feel this way.
What would you like to change most about the future world? Why?
Tell me about a time when you felt privileged.
What's the best and worst advice you've ever received?
Tell me about a rule or directive that you disagreed with. How did you respond?
What's the most offensive thing someone has said to you?
What surprised you most about a particular shadowing experience?
Have you ever disagreed with a doctor? Why? When?
Name one thing on your life's bucket list (other than being a doctor) and explain why.
What's your biggest fear?
Tell me about a time that your emotions threatened to get in the way of your decision making, and how it was resolved?
Tell me about a time you lied to someone else? Why? If you can't think of one, tell me about a time someone lied to you? How did you find out and handle the situation?
Tell me about a time when you tried to help someone who didn't want your help? What happened?
Describe your most challenging co-worker or supervisor - why were they difficult to work with? What problems arose, and how did you solve them?
What’s the worst/meanest thing a patient has done/said to you? How did you react or handle the situation?
If you had to give one piece of advice to hopeful doctors, what would it be?
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Or both? Is one type better for a physician? Why?
What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Tell me about a time when you “put yourself out there” and it didn’t pan out.
Describe the worst misunderstanding you were involved in at school or home. What was the situation what did you do and what happened as a result?
What was the best experience you’ve had as a member of a team. What was your role on the team? What made this a great experience?
Tell me about the last time where you had to do a lot of hard thinking and analysis to solve a problem. What difficulties did you encounter in the process and how did you address them?
What is the toughest feedback you’ve ever received and how did you learn from it?
Describe a time when you were faced with problems that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
Tell me about a time you had to build a relationship with someone you didn’t like.
What are people likely to misunderstand about you?
Tell me what irritates you about other people and how you deal with it.
Tell me about a time when you had to make an unpopular decision? What was the situation and what was the result?
Tell me about a time you unintentionally offended someone else. How did you deal with the situation and how would you deal with it now?
Tell me about a time when you had to present complex information. How did you ensure that the other person understood?
Tell me about a time when you felt very embarrassed. How did you deal with that feeling and how would you deal with it now? Why did you choose that example?
Give a specific example of how you have adapted to a culturally different environment.
What was the most difficult decision you’ve made in the last year? What made it difficult?
Tell me about a time when you felt humbled by a situation or circumstance.
What type of medicine do you want to practice? Have you ruled out any specialties?
What would you do if you couldn't be a doctor?
What do you think healthcare will be like in 20 years?
What was your favorite college course and why? Your least favorite?
If you could change one aspect of your personality with a snap of your fingers, what would you change?
If you could go back in the past, what would you tell your former self?
Is there a perfect way to prepare for the Western Michigan phone interview? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you should just wing it completely.
Half the battle is practicing through mock questions to get in the rhythm of interviewing. It’s great if your cheat sheet and skeletons align with some of the actual questions you receive, but even if not, each response you practice improves your overall delivery, improvisational skills, and self-confidence.
Don’t take the easy, defeatist approach. Get cracking on these practice questions so that you can nail the phoneterview and secure your on-campus interview in the future!