Interviews may be the final step in the application process, but a bad interview can completely sink your chances of acceptance, no matter how compelling your qualifications are. In this post, we’ll discuss 13 medical school interview mistakes that are essential to avoid.
For a comprehensive overview of the interview process, read our complete Medical School Interview Guide.
1. Scheduling Interviews Poorly
There is an art to scheduling your medical school interviews. It’s important not to schedule your interviews too late in the interview process because of rolling admissions—the later you schedule your interviews, the worse your chances of acceptance. However, it’s also important not to book interviews at your top choice schools first, as gathering experience with the interview process is key to ensuring you’re as comfortable and confident as possible when you do interview at the schools you’re most excited to attend.
Schedule your lower tier options first to get familiar with the interview process. As you progress from interview to interview, evaluate your performance and tweak it as necessary.
2. Being Rude to People on Campus
Ideally, you shouldn’t be rude to anyone, but it’s especially important to be on your best behavior throughout the entire application process and on interview day. And not just with your interviewer—you never know who you may meet on campus or in the city it resides in.
The person you don’t hold the door for at Starbucks in the morning could have a say in whether or not you’re accepted. Be polite and courteous to everyone you meet, whether you’re at the airport, in an Uber, or on campus. Treat every person as though they were on the admissions committee.
It’s also important to note that many schools offer an optional social event the night before your interview. Although attendance isn’t required, it is extremely advisable that you attend. Faculty and students at the event will be watching you closely to keep an eye out for red flags, and if you are rude or give someone a negative impression of you, it could close the door on your chances of acceptance.
3. Exhibiting Poor Body Language
First impressions are important, especially on interview day, and it’s vital to your success that you appear cool, calm, confident, and collected. Crossing your arms, slouching, keeping your hands in your pockets, not making eye contact, and walking through the halls with your head down are all examples of poor body language that should be avoided on interview day.
Not meeting the eyes of the people you encounter and delivering a soft, sweaty handshake will make people think you lack confidence and crack under pressure—and cracking under pressure isn’t something people want to associate with doctors.
Practice sitting and standing straight with your shoulders back in the mirror beforehand so that you can evaluate your own body language. Use hand gestures when you speak to convey enthusiasm, and be sure to nod, smile, and make eye contact whenever someone is speaking to you to demonstrate that you’re actively listening.
4. Not Thoroughly Preparing in Advance
It is critical that you prepare for your interview in advance. Don’t walk in thinking you’ll be able to skate by on your charm. Although each interview won’t be exactly the same, each interviewer is going to ask you a range of similar questions, such as “tell me about yourself,” “why do you want to attend this program,” and “why should we accept you.” Prepare answers to these common questions in advance and practice answering them in front of a mirror, trusted friends, family, and mentors, and during mock interviews.
Anything in your primary or secondary application is fair game to be asked about, so it’s also important to review your application materials to re-familiarize yourself with every personal anecdote, research experience, and extracurricular you included. Don’t overcomplicate things. At this point in the application process, you know how to sell yourself.
5. Offering Bland or Generic Answers
You are up against thousands of medical school applicants, and odds are, many of them have stories, aspirations, and reasons for wanting to become a doctor that are similar to your own. Answering questions generically makes it difficult for the interviewer to separate you from the many, many other applicants they’re interviewing. Bland answers could also indicate that you haven’t put in the necessary amount of thought into why you want to attend that specific program.
Deeply research the schools you’re interviewing at so that you can be specific about why you want to attend and what you can offer the school. Focus on turning your answers into a story and building a cohesive narrative, just as you did with your personal statement and primary application.
6. Sounding Memorized or Overly Rehearsed
Prepare for each of your interviews, but don’t write yourself a script that you repeat verbatim. The interviewer is looking for a future doctor, not a robot. The more rehearsed you sound, the more inauthentic you seem. Plus, the more you memorize your answers, the more likely you are to get tripped up if the interviewer asks you a question you haven’t prepared for.
Build a foundational response that you can customize and tweak based on each interviewer. Remember not to complicate things. You already know why you want to become a doctor and why you want to join the specific program. Be honest, enthusiastic, thoughtful, and thorough.
7. Listing Your Qualities Without Providing Evidence
Keep in mind that the interviewer has already seen your GPA, MCAT score, personal statement, coursework, and extracurriculars. They know you’re a promising candidate, which is exactly why they’re interviewing you. They don’t need another rundown of your credentials. They’re also not looking for a list of appealing adjectives like empathetic, determined, hardworking, etc. How are you empathetic? How can you illustrate that quality with a personal anecdote that speaks for itself?
Always demonstrate your personal strengths with evidence from your past.
8. Dressing Unprofessionally
First impressions matter—they’re what the interview process is all about. What you choose to wear indicates whether or not you are serious about attending medical school, which is why it’s essential that you get your attire right. Interviewers want to see candidates take this process seriously, and that means dressing professionally and sharply.
Your outfit is the one area of the interview process that doesn’t require you to stand out. You need to dress to impress, but your outfit shouldn’t distract from your winning personality and excellent qualifications. Invest in one nice outfit or a couple of professional options, keeping the colors neutral and any accessories modest.
Learn more about The Ideal Attire for Medical School Interviews.
9. Not Testing Out Your Attire in Advance
Don’t wear your outfit for the first time the morning before your interview. You need to ensure you can move around in it comfortably, as you will likely be participating in walking tours when you visit the campus on interview day. Ensure the outfit isn’t too tight, as you must be able to breathe comfortably; interviews are stressful, and not being able to breathe properly is going to severely increase your anxiety.
When you practice in front of a mirror or attend mock interviews, put on your outfit to see how it feels. Can you breathe comfortably? Does sweat show? Preparing for your interviews is essential to your success, and that includes testing out your clothing in advance.
10. Smelling Strongly (Good or Bad)
Bathe before the interview to ensure your fabulous interview skills aren’t overshadowed by any unpleasant body odor. Be clean and fresh, but also don’t overdo it. Being heavily perfumed or cologned is also a turn off, and if your interviewer is sensitive to smell, they won’t be able to focus on the quality of your answers.
11. Forgetting to Turn Off or Silence Your Phone
Having your phone go off during your interview is unprofessional and could ruin your chances of acceptance. Even if it’s only set to vibrate, the sensation against your thigh is going to distract you and throw you off your game. Really, there’s no reason you should be looking at your phone while on campus. Do not take interview day as a chance to document your journey to acceptance on Instagram, as taking a bunch of selfies is also considered unprofessional.
Turn your phone off and forget about it when you get to campus to ensure you keep your head up and remain attentive for the duration of your time there.
12. Not Having Questions Prepared for the Interviewer(s)
Not having a long list of questions to ask shows the interviewer that you are unprepared, uninterested, or both, whereas having a list of well-thought-out questions demonstrates that you have a genuine interest in attending the specific medical school.
This is a chance to take advantage of the interviewer’s intimate knowledge of the program. What do they like best about working at the school? What made them decide to work there in the first place? If the rest of the interview goes well, your detailed and thoughtful questions could be a way to turn your interviewer into both a supporter and mentor.
13. Not Sending a Thank You Email After Each Interview
After your interview, it’s important to send an email or handwritten note to the interviewer thanking them for their time. Sending a thank you email isn’t only the polite thing to do, it’s a way to ensure you remain in the interviewer’s mind.
While it doesn’t necessarily change your chances of acceptance, when the interviewer compares you to another candidate who did not send them a thank you, you gain an advantage, and when it comes to medical school acceptance, it’s important to take every advantage you can.
Ace Your Medical School Interviews
Med School Insiders offers a course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview that provides thorough and thoughtful training to prepare you for the entire interview process. The course covers 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.