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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!