Dr James Moss debunks some of the myths around medical school interviews and shares his personal perspective as a member of the interviewing panel for Imperial College School of Medicine.
Interviewing prospective students is a privilege that our staff and student panel members really enjoy. It makes us the custodians of the medical school, gatekeeping passage into our community. Our panels include staff and students, and every panel member has an equal say (and we don’t always agree!). We have about 20 minutes to interview each candidate and decide if we want to make them an offer.
Myth 1: We’ve got a ‘type’ of student we’re looking for
Not true. There isn’t an Imperial mould and we’re not looking for the finished product. Candidates are often (and understandably) nervous, their voice trembles and their mouth goes dry – that’s OK, it’s the normal physiological response to a high stakes environment. Nerves are not a weakness, they’re natural.
Try to relax and tell us what you know about medicine, why it’s right for you, and what attributes you have that will help you achieve your dream.
Myth 2: We’re trying to catch you out in the interview
Wrong. There isn’t enough time to play games like that! Every minute is valuable and we want to spend it getting to know you better. It’s not an interrogation, and you’re not a rebel spy. After all, you’re also scrutinising us to decide if Imperial College London is right for you, so we want to make a good impression too.
If we’ve invited you for an interview, we must already be impressed with you, so you’re halfway there.
Myth 3: Shaking hands is a test
Rubbish. This is entirely optional, and you are not expected to for any reason, including religious beliefs – just let the panel know when you enter. The way the panel greet you when you come into the room will vary based on the preference of the chairperson (chief interviewer). Some interviewers prefer not to shake hands at all as it takes up valuable time. Me? I’m a shaker. But if you choose not to shake my hand that’s totally not a problem!
In general, the best advice is to follow the panel’s lead.
Myth 4: The interviewers know how many spaces are left
Nonsense. That’s not our job. The Admissions Team deal with the ‘big picture’ of student recruitment, but the interviewers on any given day are dealing with each applicant in front of them, and deciding about them on the merits of their application and interview against predefined criteria. It is, of course, possible that a panel may make offers to all students interviewed in a morning session, for example, or we may not make any offers at all.
Everyone gets the same treatment, regardless of the time of the panel, time of day or time of year.
Myth 5: Beautifully rehearsed and recited answers are better
No, no, no. We are not a School of Performing Arts, and we’re not auditioning for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. It is usually clear who has memorised what they want to say, as it comes across very robotic. This strategy often means you don’t actually answer the question we have asked.
Candidates should listen to the question, take a moment to think, then answer the question honestly and in a natural, conversational way.
Myth 6: Not receiving an offer is the worst thing ever!
Not necessarily. I can appreciate it may feel like the end of the world, but we have a duty of care to our interviewees as well as our students. It is important that we, to the best of our ability, offer to students who we think are ready to meet the academic, professional and emotional demands of the course. Also, university is very expensive, and we want to make sure students invest their money in the right degree at the right university. After all, Imperial may simply not be the right fit for you! People can change a lot, even in a year. Transitioning into university is tough. Alex, one of our incoming Year 2 students, recently shared some of her experiences in her blog. Our students are family, and people look after their family.
If you are unsuccessful, ask us for feedback. You can use that to strengthen your weaknesses. Often, gap years can be used to re-evaluate your interest and aspirations, get more exposure to clinical environments and to reapply.
To those of you looking to apply to Imperial College School of Medicine this year, good luck! I hope to see you at interview.