By: Ryan Kelly
“You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.”
In his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie calls for an attitude adjustment, a shift in your perspective as a communicator. And we think you should heed his advice during your medical school interview, especially towards the end when you get to ask the interviewer questions.
What’s the trick for making people like you during your medical school interview?
According to How to Win Friends, you should ask questions that encourage people to talk about themselves. As Carnegie says, hearing one’s own name is “the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s true--showing your interest in others makes them paradoxically interested in you.
Click here to find out more creative ways to improve your interviewing skills.
The key is to think of the interview as a conversation, with real give-and-take, rather than a test or interrogation. Your end goal is simpler than you think - you want them to like you and remember you fondly amongst the many names and faces they’ll encounter.
So, when you ask questions, you get the chance to guide the conversation towards things that have positive associations for the interviewers--namely things about themselves! It’s nice to give them some degree of freedom with their responses, so that they can naturally gravitate towards the topics they like most.
“What do you think is the most exciting research currently going on at your school?”
“Are there any interesting changes your school will be making in the near future?”
“If you could add anything to your program, what would it be?”
“Are there any upcoming events or projects at your school that you’re looking forward to?”
“What’s something you really enjoy doing in the area/city?”
“What was your medical school interview like? How are things different now? How has your perspective changed over the years?”
“Did you always know you wanted to practice X specialty? What made you ultimately decide?”
“What’s something you wish you knew before starting medical school/practicing medicine?”
Make sure to use non-critical language (notice how we said “add to your program” instead of “change your program”) and positive qualifiers (“interesting changes” and “exciting research”).
Convey a genuine interest in them, whether you’re being forward thinking about their future endeavors or letting them reminisce nostalgically about the past. Hopefully, once they’re done answering these questions, they’ll be in a good mood and walk away with positive vibes about your conversation.
Once you’ve let the interviewers talk about themselves, they’ll be much more open to hearing about you.
The interviewers know you’re qualified. That’s why you’ve been invited. They’re more interested in the way you fit into their culture, mission, values, etc.
The questions you ask aren’t just a way to find out more information; they can also help convey the ways you’re a match for the school.
The best questions in this category will establish personally relevant and specific connections, while also showing that you’ve done some thorough research into the school’s offerings. (DON’T ask about something that could have been answered through a quick Google search, like how their curriculum is set up - you must go deeper than that.)
The ideal scenario would be to find some connection through your online research, see where the available information plateaus, and then build your question around that.
“I was reading online and got excited when I saw the clinical rotations in _______ specialty, since I’ve had extensive exposure in that field. Can you tell me more about those rotations and past students’ experiences?”
“I did an independent capstone research project in _______ as a senior and loved the growth experience, so I really appreciate that you give students similar opportunities to explore and contribute knowledge. I read about your independent research grant program online and was curious to hear about past students’ projects.”
“I really appreciate this school’s dedication to the underserved, which is something that has defined most of my experiences thus far. One of my favorite parts of helping local refugee patients was running health education workshops - would it be possible to offer a similar service through your _______ clinic or _______ program?”
“I saw online that past students have created their own groups and organizations, which really resonated with me. I formed the first Bioethics Club at my school and would love to do something similar here. I saw that you have _______ workshops and _______ events, which seem to align with my club’s goals. Would I be able to collaborate with these groups or create my own as a first year?”
“I’ve developed an interest in _______ during my recent gap year, and I see that you have many community service options. Which would you recommend for someone interested in _______? What clubs are/were you involved in? How important do you think it is to be involved in extracurricular activities?”
“What do you look for in a good medical student?”
“What have been some traits of your most successful students?”
“Is there an area of need in this community that your school is striving to better?”
Even if you have to ask about something less exciting like the small-group or team-based learning in their curriculum, try to find what’s personally relevant to you, your learning style, your values, your academic interests, etc.
The goal is for these questions to open a 3-5 minute conversation between you and the interviewers. Hopefully, they’ll walk away feeling like you’d fit in nicely and find a niche where you can contribute your time and passion.
Pre-meds sometimes feel like the questions they’ve prepared are over-rehearsed. That’s a bad sign - if it feels that way to you, it will probably feel that way to people who are spending all day interviewing candidates with similarly formulaic questions.
Although you need to have readymade questions prepared, it’s great if you can ask questions that arise from the interview day or the interview itself. This will feel more organic, show that you’re a good listener, and create a better sense of give-and-take with the interviewers.
It could be something from the dean’s address, the interview dinner, a discussion with the medical student who’s hosting you, or even something that relates to a question they asked 10 minutes ago during the interview.
“They’re seemed to be a lot of buzz about the new _______ that the dean mentioned in her presentation. Do you know what this change/expansion will entail? What are its goals? What need is it trying to fill?”
“One of the medical students mentioned _______ tradition at the end of the term for first-years and faculty. What’s the best part about this event?”
“I heard at the interview dinner that your school has plans to open _______ facility by the end of the next year. What new opportunities would this present for students?”
“It was really cool to read about the Medical Spanish Program in your informational packet. I’ve taken a little Spanish and always wanted to learn more. Is this open to all students? Are there opportunities to practice what we learn in real settings?”
“I really liked the question you asked earlier about the future of healthcare in the U.S. It’s a challenging and complex topic. I was curious to hear your ideas and learn from someone with more experience.”
Your internet research will often be limited, making it difficult to distinguish one school from the other and personalize your questions. So improvising these questions once you discover something new can help you avoid sounding generic and scripted.
These questions show that you’re not just regurgitating something you think they want to hear; instead, your responding in the moment with a genuine interest to actually LEARN something during the interview process.
Click here to read some more tips for the interview trail.
There are so many unpredictable variables, all depending on context and the people interviewing you, but if you stick to these three categories of questions, you’ll be well on your way to winning friends and influencing people in the right way.
Carnegie would be so proud.