We talk a lot about the content of your answers on interview day but rarely about how you should physically prepare yourself for the day. Here are my notes on how to optimize interview day such that you can deliver quality responses with ease on demand. There are some things you can do to keep your stress levels low and your head in the game.
Do not arrive to the host city on the day of your interview. Always the night before. Always. If there is a delay, the schools will not give you a second chance because they are desperate to find a way to eliminate you from the pool of stellar applicants. I once flew from Kabul to Thunder Bay for an MMI and I left a week early just in case.
Figure out how you will get to the interview site on the day of the interview so that you arrive to the building at least 20 minutes ahead of the registration time. Cabs are your friend in cities you don’t know and the cost of reassurance is minimal given the stakes.
If your parents insist on travelling with you to the interviews, you must lay down some ground rules. They cannot be in your head the entire trip, hammering home how important it is for you to get into medical school, ramming your ears with tales of the interview disasters of their friends’ kids, projecting all of their fears and insecurities onto you. This will not help you. If they are going to travel with you, they do not show up to the interview with you. They do not wait around the lobby. They do not questions strangers looking for a leg up. They can stay at the hotel or find a museum.
If you are staying with friends, it is not a night to show how nonchalant you are by staying up partying. This is a night to get to business. Your friends will understand.
Speaking of staying up all night - don’t. Ensure that you arrive and settle in on time to get seven hours of decent sleep. Travel with ear plugs just in case. If you take sleep medication for insomnia, then don’t choose this night to be a hero and not take it so you won’t be drowsy. Just start going to bed the week before around 10pm so that the drowsiness is gone by 8am when it is time to rock and roll.
Stop reviewing your answers by noon two days before the interview. Stop practicing. Stop changing. Stop reading the health news. You’re done. The goal now is to settle yourself and be content with your efforts.
The MOST anxious moment you will experience in your entire interview, MMI or otherwise, will be when you open your mouth to answer the first question. If you can handle that moment, the rest is a piece of cake. Even if you are totally ready and calm when you’re seated in the waiting room, even the most zen of us will experience the following: Read Prompt/Hear Question. Heart Rate Increase. Wash of nervous feeling. Fast talking. Breathlessness.
If you know this will happen, you will pass through it easily. The night before, sit in a comfortable position with your legs supported by the floor and do the following guided visualization:
Imagine yourself reading a card with a question on a door. Imagine yourself reading that question and thinking about what you might say. Before deciding to touch the door knob and enter the room, take one long slow breath in through your nose. Gently exhale the breath. During your breath, don’t think about the question. Just focus entirely on the movement of air from outside your body in through your airways and out again. Imagine yourself opening the door. Walking into the room. Smiling. Handing your sticker/name tag to the examiner for her sheet. Shaking their hand and saying, “My name is…”. Imagine yourself sitting down and getting comfortable. Imagine yourself enjoying the process of sitting down and talking about this interesting question with the examiner, or imagine yourself turning your attention to the role player in the room - perhaps a patient, neighbour or teacher - and playing out the intended role play. Imagine yourself having fun. Imagine yourself feeling completely immersed in the topic and the experience. Imagine yourself being satisfied.
The morning of the interview, you should move your body. If you are a marathoner, toss in a five kilometre run just to wake up. If you are sedentary, take a brisk walk. This is not about fitness, it is about alertness and wasting some excess, fidgety energy. If you have attention issues, this is particularly important. I know that if I have a nervous day coming up and I haven’t physically moved, the various tapping and shuffling movements that come out are beyond distracting to anyone around me. Don’t let this be what people remember about you.
Eat something you know you will like and that will not need to exit your body within the next five to six hours. Protein is ideal but not fast-food protein because you may need to run to a bathroom. Cheese or hard-boiled egg with whole wheat bread is ideal. If you drink coffee, drink coffee. If you are not a coffee drinker, please do not start today. It will upset your bowels and add to the nervous energy of the day.
One bad station or one bad answer is no big deal. First of all, I bet that it is way worse in your mind than you think it is. Second, if you beat yourself up about it, the rest of the answers will suffer. Start each question with a new breath. Start each question like it’s a new day. If you’re in a panel interview, and the general sense of the room is that you just gave a terrible answer, showing that you’re resilient by totally mastering the next question is an asset. Stay even and ready and you will impress. If you’re in an and you blew it, close that door and don’t think of it again. You won’t see that examiner again, possibly ever in your life. Their score is but one of many. Don’t carry it with you. New breath, new question.
There is self-awareness. And then there is self-deprecation. Self-awareness is an asset in an interview station. Self-deprecation is typically not an effective professional tool, thought it may have value as a social tool. You will walk out of the interview hearing the halls abuzz with people saying things like, “I nailed it!” or “I answered…to this question and you could tell the guy was impressed.” Or my favourite: “The interviewer said he wasn’t supposed to tell me this, but that I was really good and he would vouch for me.” I actually heard this last one at an interview. All of these people are probably lying. Examiners don’t say these things. Sometimes people can have a sense of how their answer landed but I know that I try to keep a very consistent response to candidates - I will nod my head and smile even when I hear a terrible answer. So no one ever knows how they actually do in these things. And neither do you. Don’t discuss your answers with other candidates. Don’t try to remember everything that you said. It will not help you and you will hold on to the doubt and anxiety for months, until offers are available.
For every interview where you prepared earnestly, gave authentic answers and are actually trying to join medicine because you want to serve humanity, you have done your job. That’s it, that’s all. And next year, if you didn’t do well, you should hire a coach to work on the gaps in your performance and learn from your mistakes, because there's but that’s not something over which you have control on interview day. If you still have time to prepare, check out our blog regarding or programs to find out how we can help you ace your interview. Guaranteed.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo