How to Improve Your Medical School Interview Body Language

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First impressions matter. In fact, they’re kind of what medical school interviews are all about. While the content of your answers is vitally important to success on interview day, your interview body language and nonverbal communication are equally as important. Poor body language can make you appear tired, annoyed, angry, nervous, or cocky—all of which leave a negative first impression and make the people around you feel uncomfortable.

Don’t let your body language undermine your chances of acceptance. Effective body language will help you build rapport with your interviewer, put them at ease, and inspire their confidence in you. In this post, we’ll outline the importance of body language, types of poor body language to avoid, and how you can improve your interview body language.

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

 

Importance of Body Language

We communicate a tremendous amount of information to those around us nonverbally through the tone of our voice, the gestures we use, and how we carry ourselves (posture.) The moment someone walks into a room, everyone else in that room has formed an opinion about them—it’s just what human beings do.

If someone walks up to you slouching, is unable to maintain eye contact with you, and gives you a soft, sweaty handshake, are you going to get the impression they’re an ultra-confident go-getter ready to take on the world? Or are you going to think they’re timid and shy and guaranteed to crack under pressure? Giving a medical school interviewer the impression that you’ll crack under pressure is the last thing you want to do.

The content of your answers is irrelevant if your body language is ineffectual or off-putting. What you say isn’t as important as how you say it. That’s not to suggest that the content of your answers isn’t extremely important, but if your only focus is on your choice of words, you’re neglecting a massive part of how human beings communicate.

 

Types of Poor Body Language to Avoid

Slouching

Slouching, as in hunching your shoulders, curving your back, and hanging your head, communicates sluggishness, sleepiness, timidity, and apathy. Imagine you’re speaking to a room full of people, and most of them are slouching. What’s the impression you get? Do you think everyone is really interested and invested in what you’re saying, or are they bored?

We all get tired, but slouching our shoulders gives the people around us the impression we don’t want to be there and aren’t interested in what they have to say. This isn’t what you want to communicate to a medical school interviewer.

Hands in Pockets

Unless it’s particularly cold, keeping your hands in your pockets sends an unconscious signal to everyone around you that you’ve got something to hide. It makes people think, “what do they have in their pockets? What are they fiddling with in there? Do they have a weapon?” Keeping our hands in our pockets is also a casual way to stand that may cause us to hunch our shoulders, which indicates both timidity and unprofessionalism.

You’ll be meeting a lot of people, which could involve handshaking, or in this post-pandemic world, elbow bumping. Keeping your hands out of your pockets as you walk around campus will make you appear more approachable—which is definitely the impression you want to leave with everyone you meet.

Plus, hand gestures play an important part in communication. If your hands are in your pockets while you’re speaking with someone, your message won’t come across as effectively.

Crossed Arms

Crossing your arms indicates unhappiness and disengagement. It’s a way to tell someone you don’t agree with them without actually saying it. People often cross their arms during arguments. While it may be a comfortable way to sit, crossing your arms can be interpreted as aggressive and intimidating.

If the interviewer asks you a question and you cross your arms before answering, it may give them the impression that they have offended you in some way, which will make them feel uncomfortable. So, when it comes time to further evaluate you with the admissions committee, the interviewer could remember their discomfort and may not speak very highly of you.

Looking at Your Phone

Do not look at your phone while on campus unless you’re exchanging contact information with someone. Interview day isn’t the time to be posting on Instagram or Tik Tok. You will appear unprofessional, childish, and disinterested if you walk around campus with your nose buried in your phone.

When you’re on a campus tour, stand up straight and engage with your surroundings. Make eye contact with and smile at the students and professors who you pass by. Looking at your phone indicates to everyone else that you’ve got something more interesting to do than soak in the campus, which suggests you’re not all that interested in attending the school.

It should go without saying that your phone should be either turned off or on silent when participating in your actual interview or Multiple Mini-Interviews (MMI). Mistakes happen, but having your phone go off during your interview is an extremely bad look, and could sink your chances of acceptance.

Looking at a Clock or Watch

Looking at your watch or constantly glancing at the clock indicates to someone that you have somewhere better to be. This is definitely not the message you want to convey to your interviewer. If you have a smartwatch, consider leaving it in the hotel room on interview day so that you won’t be tempted by notifications. Sometimes, people just need to check the time, but doing so while engaging with someone else is rude and should be avoided.

Avoiding Eye Contact

Eye contact can be difficult to maintain, especially if we feel intimidated by the other person. But not making and sustaining eye contact lets that person know we feel intimidated by them, making us appear shy, nervous, and weak.

Making and maintaining eye contact is essential to in-person or Zoom communication. It lets the speaker know that you’re actively listening to what they have to say, which will make them feel validated and positively predisposed to you. And when you’re speaking, maintaining eye contact with the person or people you’re speaking with conveys confidence as well as a firm belief in what you’re saying.

Prolonged eye contact also triggers our brains to release oxytocin, a social bonding hormone that reduces stress and anxiety and affirms a sense of connection with the people around us. So while making eye contact can make us feel anxious and intimidated, sustaining eye contact actually reduces those feelings.

 

How to Improve Your Interview Body Language

1 | Practice Your Body Language

Effective body language takes a long time to get right. Be proactive about honing your nonverbal communication skills. Even if you consider yourself to be an excellent, confident communicator, keep in mind that the medical school interview is quite intimidating, and the best communicators can get tongue-tied if they don’t take the time to practice and prepare. After so many years of hard work, don’t let overconfidence about your interview skills be your downfall.

Practice your body language in front of a mirror and record yourself on video and watch it back. Use a full body mirror if you have one so that you can gauge your posture, stance, and hand gestures. Does what you’re saying match how you’re saying it? Do you appear as enthusiastic, engaged, and confident as you feel? Do you look nervous?

If you don’t feel or appear confident, fake it till you make it. Stand up straight. Keep your chest broad and your chin out. And smile frequently! Practice nodding your head, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. These are all nonverbal cues that you are actively engaged with the person you’re speaking with.

2 | Gather Honest Feedback

It can be difficult to evaluate our own body language, so get feedback from trusted friends, family, and mentors. Do you have a bad habit they can easily point to or habits you’re not even aware of? Make sure the people you ask know you expect them to be brutally honest with you. A bad interview can sink an otherwise stellar application; if your friends and family aren’t honest with you, it could put your entire application in jeopardy. Gather honest feedback and then practice putting that feedback into action.

3 | Test Your Clothing

A simple thing like having an issue with your wardrobe can throw off your body language. Poor clothing choices, such as wearing something that’s too tight, too loose, or itchy, means you will have to continually adjust your clothing throughout the day. You will appear uncomfortable and fidgety, which could convey annoyance, nervousness, or disinterest.

Don’t buy a brand new outfit and wear it for the first time on interview day. Test your wardrobe out first. Try walking around in it, sitting down, and standing up. Does it crease when you sit down? Are you able to move comfortably, or do you need to suck your stomach in? You will be doing a lot of walking on interview day, so ensure your outfit is able to breathe. Not only will sweating make you uncomfortable, but it will make you appear nervous too.

Test out your clothing to ensure you’re able to move freely and comfortably.

Not sure what to wear on interview day? Read our guide to The Ideal Attire for Medical School Interviews.

4 | Take Time Immediately Before the Interview

Don’t sit there and simply wait for your turn. Take the time to prepare your body and mind before your interview. Prepare yourself right before the interview by resetting your posture, completing breathing exercises, doing face yoga, and performing vocal exercises.

Our faces stiffen up when we don’t move them, and it’s important to be expressive on interview day. Open your mouth and eyes wide, then squish your face together like a raisin, then repeat. Doing these exercises over and over again relaxes the muscles in your face, which will make you appear comfortable, confident, and animated.

To correct your posture before your interview, place your arms on either side of your body, then slowly lift them up toward the ceiling. Roll your shoulders back, then allow your arms to gently fall behind you on each side. Your chest may feel unnaturally puffed out, especially if you generally hunch your shoulders, but this is actually correct posture.

Take the time to reset your body before your interview so that you can optimize your body language.

5 | Implement Mirroring

The mirroring technique involves matching (or mirroring) the body language of the person you’re speaking with in order to establish a friendly rapport. Psychologists call mirroring someone’s posture and mannerisms the Chameleon Effect. It’s a natural way to make someone like you, and it can sometimes happen unconsciously if we’re attracted to someone or want to impress them.

People are more comfortable speaking to people they feel like they have something in common with, so mirroring the posture, attitude, and movements of your interviewer will make them feel comfortable around you. If your interviewer is sitting very straight and their body language is very professional and severe, make sure to sit up straight and be serious. If your interviewer is bubbly, enthusiastic, and uses a lot of hand gestures, match their energy, and don’t be afraid to communicate with your hands.

6 | Participate in Mock Interviews

Mock interviews are as close as you can get to the real interview experience. While your friends and family can certainly help prepare you, mock interviews are your best opportunity to really test your body language and how you react under pressure. Participate in as many mock interviews as necessary until you feel as confident and comfortable with the process as possible.

Med School Insiders offers mock interviews with former interviewers who have served on admissions committees and interviewed hundreds of applicants for both medical school and residency. Each session involves a mock interview followed by structured feedback from people who have been on both sides of the medical school interview.

We also offer a thorough course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview. The course covers all of the details, from making a cheat sheet to common pitfalls to how to address the most common questions. 

Take a look at our blog for a long list of medical school interview resources, including How to Schedule Interviews, Interview Mistakes to Avoid, and How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions.

 

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