I want you to take a look at these three faces and tell me whom you’d choose to be your doctor, based on appearance alone:
Did you choose 1, 2, or 3? Why? The eyes? The shape of the face? The smile (or lack thereof)? According to scientists, the third face has the highest “perceived extroversion,” a generally desirable impression to make.
A recent study confirmed that people rely on arbitrary facial features to make important decisions, including which candidates to vote for in elections. This systemic bias is being called as "face-ism,” and science claims it can predict your likelihood to become a CEO, advance in military rank, or even be convicted of a crime.
Let’s “Face” the Truth about the Medical School Interview
The sad truth is that we form split-second judgments based on flashes on information, like appearance and nonverbals. It’s a psychology term called “thin-slicing.”
And medical schools are no different! When you walk into your interview, the non-verbal interrogation begins, as the interviewers absorb everything about you - your outfit, your gait, your handshake, and yes, perhaps most importantly, your face.
First impressions are so powerful that the first 30 seconds could make or break their assessment of you.
The idea of being immediately judged is a frightening prospect. But it could also simplify things, since it shows that your words are only a fraction of the process. Worrying about your interview answers is key, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
Often, the vibe or impression you create will matter more than the exact formula of words. This same concept might explain why doctors are sued more often for issues of personality than improper care…
Alright, I’m done scaring you. I promise. Let’s look at some concrete ways you can make a good first impression at your medical school interview.
Tips for Putting on Your Best Face at Your Medical School Interview
Don’t fret about what you can’t change (you’re not a shape-shifter); instead, focus on what you can actually control:
Tip #1 - Smile
It sounds simple, but there’s a lot of power behind a genuine smile. Smiling gives us the same happiness as exercising in terms of how our brains respond. Smiling also reduces the stress that our bodies and minds feel, similar to a good night’s sleep.
So, with very little effort, you can create a positive mental association and soothing somatic response in your interviewers.
Keep in mind that there’s a scientific difference between a genuine and a phony smile!
When we smile, there are two potential muscles we activate. The first is the zygomaticus major, which controls the corners of your mouth. If only this muscle is activated, it’s a phony smile. Scientists call this the “social” smile (ha!).
The second muscle (that indicates a genuine smile) is the obicularis occuli, which encircles our eye sockets. This is called the “duchenne” smile, named after the famous scientist who distinguished these two types of smiles.
At your interview, make sure to avoid this frumpy social smile and give your whole face to the gesture (or at least your eye sockets?).
Tip #2 - Make Eye Contact
Clearly, no one likes talking to someone who never meets their eye.
But just like smiles, there is a surprising amount of depth (and science) behind the importance of eye contact.
Did you know there’s a scientifically-based measure for the “right” amount of eye contact?
It’s called the 50/70 rule: to maintain appropriate eye contact without staring, you should maintain eye contact for 50% of the time while speaking, and 70% while listening. This supposedly helps display interest and confidence.
Some other key pointers that are often overlooked:
*Always establish eye contact before speaking
*Try not to hold it for longer than 4-5 seconds at a time
*Think deliberately about where you look when you break eye contact
*Don’t break eye contact too quickly or in the middle of a sentence
Tip #3 - Dress in a Tidy, Professional Manner
I am the furthest thing from a fashionista, but my advice is to err on the conservative side in every category: color, style, length, fit, etc.
It’d be impossible to get rejected for dressing too conservatively, but dressing too liberally could squash your chances right away to the wrong eye.
Would your grandparents wear it to church? That’s what we’re going for here.
Tip #4 - Maintain Good Posture
In the past, we’ve written about how striking your “power pose” during your medical school interview can boost your confidence, delivery, and self-esteem.
But posture also exudes a certain message to your audience. For example, someone who is slouched or hunched over might give off the impression of being depressed, disinterested, or lazy, when it reality that person might just be tired.
Your posture at your interview should be natural and relaxed, so don’t overthink it too much, but here are some tips to help maintain your form:
*Shoulders back and down
*Tailbone slightly tucked
*Knees slightly bent
*Feet hip-width apart
Tip #5 - Enter the Room Like a Doctor
You’ll be sitting down for most of the interview, but your entrance is key in shaping the interviewers’ impression of you.
You need to carry yourself in a manner that instills confidence and collegiality. This means being outgoing but not exuberant. Confident but not cocky. Forthright, but not effusive.
Simple, right? Of course not. It’s a delicate balance that physicians spend their careers mastering.
Your bedside manner will come with time, but here are some tips for the interview:
*Keep your arms at your side unless you’re shaking hands
*Remain standing while you shake hands with all the interviewers
*Give them the chance to invite you to sit down before you grab a seat
*Repeat the interviewers’ names during your introduction (Nice to meet you, Dr. _____. I’m ______.)
I hope these tips will help you achieve the mind-body connection you need to exude confidence and make a stellar impression on your interviewers. Good luck!
Was this advice helpful? Leave me questions in the comments and I’ll respond personally. Best of luck with your interview prep!