‘You’ll be fine, just relax and show them who you are”.
Easy for your parents to say!
Getting out of the car, walking up towards your first Medical School Interview, it’s easy to feel nervous.
It’s easy for those thoughts to creep in: “This is my chance, what if I mess it up?”, “What if I can’t answer a question, or make a fool of myself?”
Having come out of the process on the other side with offers from Oxford, Birmingham and Leicester, I hope to dispel some of the common fears about the Interview process, and help you master your ‘inner and outer game’, which are key to ensuring Interview success!
What Is Inner Game?
After months of volunteering in care homes and slaving over your personal statement, reading it again and again to ensure its point perfect, you finally get the long-awaited email drop into your inbox.
At first, there’s elation, joy over what you have achieved, and rightly so – gaining an Interview at any Medical School is no mean feat. The admissions team has identified you as a strong and credible candidate, congratulations!
But after the initial euphoria, a sense of doubt may arise, as you wonder what the process will bring, and how you will fair.
Here’s where ‘inner game’ comes in to play and trust me, it’s not something to be underestimated.
What is inner game?
It’s about overcoming all the internal obstacles which prevent you from fulfilling your potential. Negativity. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Self-condemnation. All of these are debilitating and can overwhelm you if you don’t overcome them.
Winning The Inner Game - Before Your Medicine Interview
Luckily, there are a few tips at hand to help you hurdle these obstacles and win the inner game.
While preparing for your Interview, if you find yourself getting sucked into negative thoughts, now is a good time to take a step back from your notes and have a moment to yourself. I found it helpful to remind myself, sometimes aloud, of a few basic truths – know that you’ve been invited to Interview because you deserve it.
Know that it is in your power to prepare for the Interview to the best of your ability, and that’s enough. Beyond that is out of any of our control, so it’s not something worth getting down about beforehand.
Finding this sense of acceptance within you can help you fight off anxiety about the future and will drive you to do all you can in the present to prepare.
It also helps you remain calm and focused on the big day.
Another tip to deal with thoughts of self-doubt is to write them down and then scribble them out (or tear up the piece of paper – much messier though!).
Definitely give this a go – it’s very cathartic!
I’ve found this to be a really good visual way of relieving myself of negative energy. You may also find it helpful to write down all of your strengths- those you think of yourself, and those your family and friends see in you.
I also personally found it helpful to have another read of the invite to Interview email from the university (great morale boost hearing how good your application was!).
This shift from focussing on your weaknesses to realising your strengths is pivotal, not just for the Interview process, but indeed in life in general.
It’ll help you appreciate all the positive traits you’ve been blessed with and having a sense of gratitude for these blessings is a proven remedy for overcoming pessimism.
I also think it’s helpful to remind yourself that you’re not alone in feeling nervous.
Just like you, most of the other candidates will be Year 13 students who haven’t been through an academic Interview before and are unsure what to expect.
I definitely found it helpful to remind myself of this as it made me feel less isolated and overwhelmed.
Before the Interviews began, I sometimes had the opportunity to speak to a few other candidates- I found this to be a timely reminder that the other students were no different to myself and this relaxed me prior to the Interviews. I understand this might not be everybody’s cup of tea though – many people prefer to read over their Interview notes before entering, which is absolutely fine.
Different things work for different people – I think it’s just important to make sure you’re feeling as calm and settled as possible before going in.
Inner Game - During The Interview
What about at the Interview?
How do you maintain your inner game, when you’re sat in front of the interviewer, being asked question after question?
Inner game is that sense of self-assurance, even in difficult and testing situations. Remember that even though you may be feeling nervous, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The interviewers know this is a stressful situation for every student sat before them and would expect you to feel a little apprehensive.
Try not to let your nervousness distract you from the present.
Stay in the moment, focused attentively on the interviewer- the interviewers can tell if you’re giving them your full attention or not, and trust me, they’ll be much more receptive towards you if you are.
What To Do If You Feel Yourself Losing Focus?
If you feel yourself losing focus during the Interview, you might find it helpful to focus on your breathing for a few seconds or so.
On a similar line, when the interviewers throw a curveball at you with a challenging question, instead of panicking, take a deep breath to calm yourself down.
Pausing before answering also gives you time to think, and produce a more coherent response.
Personally, I’d always smile and say ‘sorry, could I please have a moment to think?’ if I was caught off-guard by a difficult question. Interviewers will always give you this time to think, and it’ll show that you aren’t just saying the first thing that comes to mind, but rather you are processing the question rationally.
Finally, remind yourself of the end goal – getting a place at the Medical School.
Focussing on this reminds you why you’re here and why it’s important to stay focused. It’ll drive you to give it your all, and help you cut off any distracting thoughts.
What Is Outer Game?
Outer game encompasses many factors. It’s reflected through your body language, your facial expressions and your tone of voice amongst many things.
The importance of outer game is clear – it’s what is seen, heard and felt by the interviewer with regards to you. It shapes their overall impression of you as a candidate, thus it’s vital you learn how to master outer game.
How To Win The Outer Game
Most of these are pretty simple principles of good human contact, which you’ll naturally possess – but it’s worth considering them more in the context of a Medical Interview!
It’s been my experience that the best way to master your outer game is by smiling. It sounds like a simple piece of advice, but it is so incredibly effective!
Smiling while answering questions helps you look engaged and be perceived as more charismatic. It makes you come across much more assured and confident to the interviewer.
As you’ll know, smiling releases endorphins which also make you feel less stressed in the situation. If you yourself are smiling, chances are your interviewer will reciprocate this – this makes for an all-around much more comfortable Interview experience!
An interviewer has actually commented before that I was a very cheerful interviewee (thank you!) and that they really liked the fact that I smiled so much, so definitely take this advice on board!
You would have heard many times ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’.
This is definitely the case at an Interview as well. Make sure that you don’t end up sounding monotone as this shows a lack of enthusiasm.
Think about the worst physics lesson you’ve been in – no matter how interesting the content might be, if it’s delivered as a monotonous monologue, you won’t be interested.
Same applies to your Interviews – your work experience or volunteering could have been really enlightening and inspiring to you but if you sound bored, the interviewers won’t be interested.
Try and convey your excitement and interest to the interviewers in your tone of voice. Put emphasis on certain words that you think are particularly important.
Make sure you’re not speaking too quickly or indeed too slowly. Mumbling is one of the worst things you can do at an interview, so speak loud and clearly.
You want your body language to show you to be confident and attentive- sit up straight, eyes focussed on the interviewer. Leaning forward slightly is also important as it helps express interest.
It can be difficult to know what to do with your arms and hand during an Interview- definitely don’t cross your arms and try to avoid touching your face or playing with your hair – this shows defensiveness and nervousness.
It’s a good idea to place your hands on your lap while listening to the interviewer. While speaking, feel free to make hand gestures to aid what you’re saying. While hand gestures are a great way of adding emphasis to your words, let this come across naturally.
Try to avoid moving about too much during the Interview as well, such as shuffling in your seat, tapping your fingers or bouncing your leg up and down. As well as being a classic sign of impatience or discomfort, it’s probably very distracting to the interviewer!
Finally, try to look attentive and interested throughout your Interview. This is where facial expressions are important. Ensure you smile when it’s appropriate to do so. When discussing more solemn issues, I find that nodding my head more frequently while the interviewer is speaking helps convey empathy and understanding.
Try and mirror your interviewer’s actions and expressions- if they’re nodding, you nod too. When they laugh, you give off a little laugh too!
Maintain Eye Contact
Ensure you maintain eye contact throughout the Interview to again show the interviewer you’re really engaged with what they are saying. Along with this, I always nod while the interviewer is talking to visibly show that I’m focussed on their words.
There were a couple of stations at some of my Interviews where the interviewer refused to maintain eye contact with me (intentionally, I think!).
This was quite disconcerting, but regardless of the attitude of your interviewer, ensure you stay friendly and maintain good eye contact however difficult this may be, as they may just be assessing your reaction to an uncomfortable situation.
Sometimes you may be faced with more than one interviewer (panel Interviews and Oxbridge Interviews). It’s important you don’t neglect the other interviewers in this instance.
Focus your eye contact mainly on the interviewer who has specifically questioned you, but make sure you also look around to the other interviewers while you’re answering, before returning your attention to the interviewer who asked the question.
A (Very) Quick Summary
To put everything above into simple terms, how you think and how you act have a huge impact on your overall performance at the Medicine Interview. Don’t underestimate how important this is.
Make sure you feel confident, worthy and positive about your Interview before you have it. And once you’re at the Interview, show positive signals, and SMILE!
You’ve already been chosen for Interview because the university thinks you are the right kind of candidate, all that’s left is for you to show them they’re right 🙂
I hope I’ve been able to convey the significance of mastering the inner and outer game and that the tips given will be of some benefit to you.