Red Flags: How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions

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Congratulations on making it to medical school interviews! Admissions committees officially find you compelling enough on paper that they’re ready to sit down with you and gauge whether or not you’re a good fit for their program. They’ll ask you a series of similar questions you must prepare for beforehand. Unfortunately, even though it is rare, you may encounter inappropriate interview questions on the interview trail.

While it’s by no means a guarantee that you’ll be asked an inappropriate question, it is important you know how to handle them. You need to know what classifies as inappropriate during an interview and how you will handle a reg flag question should one come up.

In this post, we’ll discuss a range of inappropriate questions, hidden inappropriate questions, and how to best prepare for and respond to them.

For a thorough overview of the interview process, read our complete Medical School Interview Guide.

 

Types of Red Flag Interview Questions

There are several questions considered inappropriate for the interview setting that occasionally, whether purposefully or unintentionally, get asked on the interview trail. These include, but are not limited to, asking a woman if she is planning on having kids in residency, asking a parent if they have missed numerous shifts to take care of their kids, asking how many interview offers you got, or asking where you will rank their program.**

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of race, the color of their skin, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy,) age, national origin, or disability in the United States. The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.

There are both federal and state laws in place to prevent discriminatory employment practices—but where does that leave medical students?

You may choose to share information about your background, family life, or partner, especially as you share stories about how you found your passion for medical school. It’s important that these personal insights come from you and are not directly asked about by the interviewer. Sharing information about your background does not open the door to inappropriate questions about where you were born originally or how your accent could affect your performance.

Inappropriate questions include, but are not limited to:

  • Where are you from originally?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where is that accent from?
  • What’s your racial background?
  • Are you a US citizen?
  • Is English your first or second language?
  • Are you a religious person?
  • What religion are you?
  • Do you go to church?
  • What’s your sexual orientation?
  • What gender do you identify as? (Unless they are asking about the correct pronouns to use when addressing you.)
  • Are you single?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • Do you plan on getting married?
  • Do you plan on having kids?
  • Are you dating/seeing anyone right now?
  • How much money do you currently make?
  • How much money does your spouse make?
  • Does your family come from money?
  • Where will you rank our program?

Hidden inappropriate Questions

Inappropriate questions can be disguised within questions that seem like they are about the medical school application process. You may not be asked outright if you are married or have kids, but the interviewer could use another question to uncover this information.

Watch out for questions that blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate, such as:

  • Did you receive a lot of offers from other schools?
  • Will your accent affect how you will be able to perform as a doctor?
  • Will your age affect your ability to keep up with the other students?
  • Will your family support you financially while you are in school?
  • Will your spouse or significant other support you while you are becoming a doctor?
  • Do you plan to take time off school or residency to have children?
  • Do you have a spouse or partner who traveled with you for this interview?

 

How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions

1 | Understand Which Questions Are Inappropriate

Take the time to understand the interview process and which questions you should and shouldn’t be asked. If you do not know which questions are inappropriate, you could end up answering questions that will make the interviewer biased against you, negatively affecting your chances of acceptance. Learn what counts as an appropriate or inappropriate question before you begin interviewing.

2 | Prepare for Inappropriate Interview Questions

Practice and preparation are vital to your success on interview day. While you can’t study for your interviews as you can for the MCAT, there is still plenty you can do to prepare since each medical school will ask a range of similar questions that boil down to:

  1. Why do you want to be a doctor?
  2. Why do you want to study at this program specifically?
  3. What do you have to offer this program?
  4. Why should we choose you?

For more information on the most common interview questions, here are 21 medical school interview questions and how to answer them.

It’s imperative you know your answers inside and out so that you are able to adjust and adapt as you go. The more you practice by yourself, around others, and in mock interviews, the better prepared you will be. Start practicing early in your application process so that you have plenty of time. Don’t wait until you begin to receive interview requests to start thoroughly preparing.

As you draft answers to the most common interview questions, it’s important to draft responses to inappropriate questions as well. How will you respond? Will you answer the question, sidestep it, or be direct and decline to answer? Don’t just wait and see what happens during the interview—you don’t want any surprises that could trip you up.

3 | Trust Your Gut

Sometimes inappropriate questions are off the cuff and come up naturally over the course of the conversation. While the interviewer may be asking the question innocently, it still doesn’t change the fact that you don’t need to answer it.

Trust your gut. If the question feels benign and you are comfortable answering it, then answer away! If the question feels malignant or shady in any way, decline to answer it and steer the conversation back to your qualifications—but keep any red flags you encounter in mind when rank lists come around.

Also, just because you answered one borderline inappropriate question doesn’t mean it’s open season for the interviewer to ask whatever they want. If the interviewer continues to press you for more personal details, you can decline to answer at any time.

4 | Show Poise and Restraint

If you’re asked an inappropriate question, take a deep breath and stay calm. Losing your cool for any reason during your interview is not a good look. Interviewers are only human, and human beings are incredibly sensitive about being accused of saying something inappropriate or otherwise behaving in an inappropriate way. Hopefully, they’ll realize they asked an inappropriate question themselves, but ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how to respond.

Be calm in the moment and remain professional even if the interviewer is not being professional. Keep your cool and don’t attack back. You don’t need to call them out or lecture them about an inappropriate question. Rise above it; after all, it’s your acceptance on the line, not theirs.

5 | Dodge the Question if You Can

Knowing your answers inside and out—without memorizing them like a script—will help you adjust on the fly and swing the conversation the way you want it to go. If you write out your responses to medical school interview questions beforehand and memorize every word, you’re more likely to get tripped up by an inappropriate question or unexpected follow up question.

Know your answers, but don’t memorize every syllable. By knowing what you want to say, you’ll be able to steer the flow of the conversation back to what you want to talk about, which is why you are an excellent candidate for that medical school.

There are a number of ways you may be able to dodge the question, such as making a joke, asking a clarifying question, or swaying the conversation in another direction.

If the interviewer is persistent, you can courteously address the question’s inappropriateness by asking for clarity about the question and how it specifically relates to your candidacy for medical school. “I’m sorry, but could you explain how that question relates to my qualifications for this program?”

Asking this question may cue the interviewer that they have asked something inappropriate. Everybody makes mistakes, and it’s possible the interviewer asked the question without realizing its implications. If, however, they continue to push the question, you may need to be more direct.

6 | Say Something About It

Depending on the gravity of the question or its level of inappropriateness, you may choose to address it head-on. If this is the case, you can say the question makes you uncomfortable. For example, “I don’t feel comfortable answering a personal question of that nature in this setting.”

You could also say you believe the question isn’t relevant to the interview, or you could say you were told by a supervisor you wouldn’t be asked questions like that. If, however, the question is extremely inappropriate, you can report it in person after the interview to an admissions officer or by email within the first 24 hours following the interview.

It’s also important to note that inappropriate behavior, though rare on the medical school interview trail, may come in the form of inappropriate comments, not questions. These comments are often of a sexual nature and should also be reported to an admissions officer after the interview is concluded.

 

Practice With Mock Interviews

Preparation is vital to your success on interview day. The more you prepare, the better you will be at guiding the conversation the way you want it to go—no matter the questions you are faced with.

Med School Insiders offers a comprehensive course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview that provides expert training to prepare you for the entire interview process.

You’ll have dozens of years of medical school admissions committee experience on your side. Our team of top doctors, all with adcom experience, came together to build this course from the ground up to provide you with the ultimate resource to master the medical school interview. The course includes all of the details, from what precisely to pack to making a cheat sheet to common pitfalls to how to address the most common questions.

Med School Insiders can also help you prepare for residency with application editing, interview prep, and mock interviews. We offer a number of Residency Admissions Consulting Services tailored to your specific needs.

Curious about what to wear on the big day? Read our guide to The Ideal Attire for Medical School Interviews.

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