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Getting Into Medical School: General Interview Strategies, Part II

In the last lesson, we talked about interviews in general and started talking about specifics, such as dealing with nervous tics. In this lecture, I’ll continue that discussion and talk about age, size, voice, confidence, and what to wear. All of these have to do with the interviewers’ perceptions of you as a candidate.

The first of these is age. Many people applying to medical school are somewhat younger than the average age of acceptance, which is 26. Being a child wonder may be a great thing if you’re in the fourth grade, but it’s not great for medical school. The reason is that medical doctors deal with personal, adult problems with their patients or with the parents of their patients. Younger candidates may not have had enough exposure to the adult world to be able to draw on those experiences and interact adult-to-adult when needed. Consequently, youth works against you as a candidate for medical school because people tend to associate it with immaturity.

The perceptions of youth and immaturity, in many cases, are more important than one’s chronological age. That’s because people react to perceptions. Everyone has heard about someone having a “gut feeling” about something or someone. That comes from perceptions. Managing perceptions, then, is important for candidates.

The first perception we deal with is appearance. Do you look younger than you are? If so, consider things you can do to make yourself look older. Factors here include your hair, whether or not you wear glasses, and the clothes you wear.

There is more to perceptions of age than just appearance, though. Voice is also important. It is hard to change one’s voice if it has a childlike quality to it. It is worth paying attention to and modifying in any way you can, if necessary. Another consideration of one’s voice is its loudness. People who speak softly may be perceived as being timid or easily pushed around. If you have a very soft voice, learn to project it and be emphatic.

Physical size is also important for perceptions. Like a soft voice, small body size can be equated with youth and/or lack of strength. If you are physically tiny, experiment with things that give you more of an imposing presence. For young women, heels may be of help. For young men, facial hair may work.

Projecting confidence is an essential tool for dealing with small size perceptions. Firm handshakes and purposeful walking can help. Eye contact is always important but is particularly critical when trying to demonstrate confidence.

One tool in the bag of interview skills is frequently overlooked by students and it is a powerful one. It is the power of silence. One of the things that happen in almost any interview is anxiety on the part of the interviewee when silence arises. Some students will do anything to avoid it and insert chatter to fill that void, sometimes coming up with remarks that are less than intelligent.

Properly used, though, silence can help to make a point more emphatic. A silent pause before answering a question may give the impression of deep thought. If you’re being interviewed by more than one person and one person seems to be doodling or daydreaming. A good way to get their attention is to stop briefly in the middle of an answer and allow the silence to set in briefly.

Just as silence can be unsettling for you, so too can it make an interviewer who has not been paying attention anxious, and when that happens they will look at you. At that point, you have their full attention. The one caution about silence is it really only works once in an interview. Use it wisely.

People who are very large may appear intimidating and though this is generally not as detrimental of perception as petiteness, it is worth being aware of. I recommend very large people work on appearing as friendly and outgoing as possible. Having a good sense of humor may help.

Laughing is great for all candidates, so long as it is genuine and not excessive or nervous laughter. Making a single self-deprecating remark in humor can be good. Making more than one is not.

The last consideration for age/maturity is how you sound. What is the language you use? Are you aware of differences in the language you use compared to that of older people? Do you answer in complete sentences? They don’t have to be long, but complete sentences make you sound more intelligent.

Another consideration for interviews that affects perception is the dress and it is worth spending some time discussing it. You should dress to respect the occasion of the interview. This means business clothing. For men—dark suit and a tie (keep to the conservative side with the tie). Dark socks and shoes that are appropriate with a suit, naturally.

For women—You may wear a skirt-suit or a work-appropriate dress with a jacket if you wish, but this is not required. Especially if you are petite, you might want to avoid skirt-suits or dresses—they can make people see you as younger. A pant-suit is fine any time of the year and may be the most comfortable option. Business clothes for women usually come in black, navy or grey and you can add color in the blouse or tailored shirt you wear under your jacket.

Your clothes should not distract you or the interviewers—this is a professional setting, not a date. If you are cold and uncomfortable, you won’t be able to concentrate on your interview. Pick shoes carefully—if you wear heels, make sure you can be comfortable in them all day. You want to feel and look confident and relaxed.

Students sometimes make the mistake of over-dressing. Your interviewers are more interested in who you are than in what you are wearing. Your clothes should not be the main attraction. Overdressing says that your appearance is the most important thing about you and that is the wrong message.

Another important guideline is to dress to make you look older than you are unless you happen to be 27+. Again, women tend to have more options than men, particularly with regards to their hair and makeup. Glasses can help both men and women look older.

So, we’ve seen that managing perceptions is important for candidates. Perceptions of age correlate with perceptions of maturity. Issues of size, language, and appearance all affect the way in which an interviewer perceives the confidence of a candidate.

In the next lecture, I’ll discuss strategies for success in the traditional interview format.

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Written by

Kevin Ahern

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