We've gotten to the point where many medical schools are returning to in-person interviews, or at least giving students that option, but medical school virtual interviews are something that will likely be a permanent carryover from the COVID-19 era, at least to some degree.
Some of the first medical school interview invites have been sent out for the 2022-2023 cycle, and several medical schools are sticking with the virtual interview format, which sometimes adds an additional layer of anxiety for applicants due to the somewhat awkward and impersonal nature of virtual platforms, as well as the somewhat unpredictable technology issues that can arise.
With this in mind, you might be wondering if there are any strategies that can give you an edge and help you crush your virtual interviews for medical school.
We see this all the time in applicants’ secondaries. For a prompt about their most meaningful volunteer experience, they will waste their precious words/characters by repeating the prompt verbatim at the beginning of their response:
“My most meaningful volunteer experience was when I…”
It’s somewhat understandable, since years of formal education have trained us to carefully follow directions and give hyper-focus to the wording of assignments. In other cases, it might be attractive to take up space when you don’t have that much to say.
But these “throat clearing” sentences are boring and unnecessary in essays, and the same goes for interview responses. Medical schools know what their secondaries are asking, and they certainly know what question they just asked you at the interview.
Even if you’re not worried about a long-winded response, avoid these sentences because they will set a dull, generic impression for the rest of your answer.
This strategy is also comparable to secondary essays. When most pre-meds are given 500 words to answer a question, they’ll do their damnedest to use every last word. Even a 475-word response will make them feel uneasy.
The misconception is that long answers will impress the medical schools or show them how much you care. But that’s misguided. Usually, when applicants feel obligated to fill up space, their answers just become fluffier and more redundant.
The same concept applies to your virtual interview responses. In fact, fluffing and rambling could be even more detrimental in an interview than an essay. Most interviewers, even the most focused ones, will start to tune out somewhere between minute 2 and minute 3. Sure, you can technically talk for as long as you want, but longer responses definitely have diminishing returns.
Sure, there’s such a thing as “too short” (i.e. 30-60 seconds), but 90 seconds or 2 minutes will definitely be sufficient. Focus on quality, not quantity.
Medical schools will sometimes claim that they “will ignore the background in which you complete the interview and focus on the content of a response.”
They want to be egalitarian, especially during the constraints of the pandemic, so they’re publicly saying that your appearance, technology, and backdrop won’t be held against you.
We’re not buying this. Sure, maybe your living situation is so crazy that your quietest option is using your smartphone inside your car. But is that REALLY how you want to present yourself? Is that REALLY the first impression you want to make?
Of course, we’d like to think that the privileges of a quiet environment, quality technology, and high-speed internet connection shouldn’t be the difference between someone getting into medical school and getting rejected. However, it’s going to be very difficult for medical schools to ignore these facets completely during their evaluation of your virtual interview.
Think about all the times you’ve given up on watching a video online because it’s grainy, filmed in portrait mode, or has poor sound quality. Appearance is a HUGE factor for your virtual interviews, and it might even be worth investing some money into better technology and a faster internet connection to ensure things look and sound crisp.
You've probably heard advice to practice through mock interviews with peers or advisors. Some people may even tell you that in-person practice is better.
But there’s a big problem with this approach: doing mock interviews in-person isn’t going to accurately simulate the actual virtual interview experience.
During the actual virtual interview, you won’t have the benefit of a person sitting across the table or desk from you, so when you’re practicing, you should get acclimated to the sensation and dynamic of conducting the interview over Zoom (or a comparable virtual platform).
Sure, doing in-person preparation might be more comfortable for you, but the closer you can get to simulating the real experience while preparing, the better off you’ll be.
Our advice is to do virtual mock interviews, record them, watch them yourself to self-assess, and share them with others to gather feedback. You should be evaluated in the same way your real virtual interviews will be evaluated.
It’s an embarrassing thought - stumbling through your first few sentences, abandoning ship, and starting from scratch. It almost seems like a faux pas.
But it’s actually not as bad as it sounds. And it could be a more effective strategy than trying to power through your fumbling, which could snowball and compound into a completely incoherent response.
Think about all those times that you or someone you know has said something weird or incorrect and then doubled down instead of backing up and rescinding the comment. That usually looks pretty bad, right? Don’t stubbornly commit to your response if it’s truly derailing or getting out of control.
If you feel like you’ve botched your opening, don’t be afraid to start over. No need to apologize or announce that you’d like a redo. Simply pausing to collect yourself and take a breath should be enough indication that you’re amending your answer.
So there you have it: 5 counterintuitive virtual interview strategies that you probably won’t hear anywhere else. We hope they’ll be useful in giving you an advantage and crushing your virtual interviews for medical school responses!
Have any questions about medical school virtual interviews? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!