Research the job and organization
Before an interview, you want to make yourself as knowledgeable as possible about the organization you are meeting with. This will lead to a more informed and meaningful conversation during your interview. Spend some time on the company website and reviewing the job description. After researching you should have some familiarity with the organization's product/service or customers, the things that make the organization unique and how your skills and experience uniquely pair with the organization and job description.
Before the interview, do an inventory of your skills and experiences. The goal is to have a menu of stories and examples you can draw from during an interview, depending on which strengths and characteristics you want to emphasize.
Use our Interview Brainstorm Sheet (PDF) to prepare before your interview.
Prepare questions for your interviewer
It is a good idea to prepare some questions you would like to ask your interviewers during the interview. Most interviews will conclude with "do you have any questions for us?” It’s good to have 2-4 questions ready.
- What do you like best about working for this company?
- What does a typical day look like in this position?
- What is the timeline for the hiring process from this point?
- What are the skills or characteristics of an ideal employee for this position?
- Are there any points from my interview that you would like me to clarify or expand?
- How is success determined for this position?
- What are this company’s goals over the next year (5 years?), and how does this position contribute to those goals?
- Is there any additional information I can provide to help make this hiring decision easier?
- What are the top priorities for this position over the next 3 months? 6 months? 1 year?
- What is the hierarchical structure of the organization? Who is the supervisor for this position?
- How would you describe this company’s culture or work environment?
Before a job interview, think through some of the logistics of the interview day:
- Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early. Consider transportation and parking beforehand.
- Plan to dress professionally, in clothes that are appropriate for your field.
- Prepare to bring additional copies of your resume, a notebook and pen.
Answer questions effectively
A good interview answer is:
- Relevant to the job
- About 1-2 minutes long (not too short, not too long)
- Backed up by examples (don’t just say you are a good communicator, give an example of some times when you’ve used communication skills)
- Positive and focused on your own actions, skills, accomplishments
Use the S.T.A.R. method to answer behavioral questions
It is becoming increasingly common for interviewers to ask behavioral interview questions. Behavioral questions inquire about actions you have taken in past situations to predict how you might behave in your future work environment. Answering these questions often involves telling a story from your past as a means of demonstrating a certain personal quality or skill, such as leadership, ability to multitask, or resilience in the face of obstacles. An example of a behavioral question is "Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a coworker, and how you handled it".
When answering one of these questions, it is important to tell a cohesive story that demonstrates the situation and your actions. Using the S.T.A.R. method can help you stay on track with these answers:
- Situation: describe the situation and context
- Task: explain the challenge or issue
- Action: describe the action YOU took in the situation
- Result: tell the result of the situation or what you learned from it
Example of S.T.A.R. in action:
Question — Please describe a time when you had a lot of things to accomplish in a short amount of time.
Answer — (Situation) As a full-time undergraduate student at University of Idaho, I was also working part-time as a waiter at Joe’s Diner. My senior capstone project required that I spend a lot of time outside of class in order to complete the project on time. (Task) Throughout my capstone project I had to carefully balance my time spent working on the project with my work schedule. (Action) I created schedules and utilized a planner to set aside specific time to work on my capstone project while still maintaining my work hours and coursework from my other classes. (Result) Through planning and time management, I was able to keep my work hours, maintain a 3.6 GPA, and complete a successful capstone project that was very well received by my professor.
Send a thank you note
Within 48 hours after an interview, you should write a thank you note to each interviewer(s). Express gratitude for the interview opportunity, comment on some positive encounter or topic you enjoyed from the interview, and, if applicable, reconfirm your interest in the position. Either an email or a handwritten note is appropriate.
Reflect on your performance
Every interview is a learning experience, and you will become better at interviewing with practice. After each interview, spend some time reflecting on your performance to guide your own improvement.
- What went well?
- What did you convey positively about yourself?
- What didn’t go so well?
- Did the interviewer ask questions for which you were not prepared?
- What do you wish you said when asked a question?
- What can you do differently next time to improve?
If you do not hear from the interviewer by the time he or she indicated, or within a reasonable amount of time from your interview (1-2 weeks), call or email to inquire about the hiring process status. If a decision has not been made, ask the interviewer when he or she believes it will be made. If you have another job offer but would like to know about this interview outcome before making a decision, tell the interviewer. It may speed up the process.
It is becoming increasingly common for organizations to conduct at least a portion of their interview process over the phone or through web-based video platforms such as Zoom. Distance interviews require the same preparation steps as an in-person interview, however, they can also involve some unique considerations. Learn tips for success specific to phone and web-based interviews.
Other Types of Interviews
- Give accurate and detailed contact information in your cover letter.
- Know which job you are interviewing for.
- Practice. Have a friend call you to do a mock phone interview or schedule an appointment with Career Services. Email us or call 208-885-6121.
- Make sure you are in a place where you can read notes, take notes and concentrate.
- If you can't devote enough time to a phone interview, suggest a specific alternate time. It's often to be the one who calls back so you can be mentally prepared.
- Consider using a phone interview log to record notes or observations.
- Consider keeping some notes in front of you to remind yourself of key points you want to cover with the interviewer. However, be sure responses don’t sound scripted.
- Have your resume in front of you to remember highlights of your experience.
- Ensure that you can hear and are being clearly heard.
- Consider standing when being interviewed on the phone. Some experts say you’ll sound more professional than if you’re slouching in an easy chair.
- Consider dressing nicely for the phone interview. It will help you mentally and you will project a more professional image if you’re dressed the part.
- Create a strong finish to your phone interview with thoughtful questions.
- Don't have a silly or long greeting on your answering machine or voicemail.
- Don't feel you have to fill in silence.
- Don't panic if you need a reasonable accommodation for an interview If you are hearing-impaired, for example, phone interviews are still possible.
- Don't snuffle, sneeze or cough. If you can’t avoid it, say “excuse me.”
- Don't chew gum or food, or drink anything noisy.
- Treat the interview as a traditional, in-person interview.
- Dress up and have a well-groomed appearance.
- Keep a copy of your resume.
- Have notes with experiences or skills relevant to the position for reference.
- If the interviewer is calling you, be near your computer five minutes early.
- Perform a test call to ensure you can successfully call a PC and a Mac.
- Speak clearly.
- Sit a comfortable distance from the camera — too close can be uncomfortable, too far away will make it hard for the employer to see you.
- Maintain good eye contact. Move the Zoom window below the camera to help this and look directly into your camera, not your computer screen.
- Sit in front of a clear, non-distracting background
Informational interview are used to gain current, regional and/or specialized information from an insider's point of view. Unlike job interviews, information interviews do not require that you sell yourself to an employer and do not depend on existing job vacancies.
What do they accomplish?
- Gain valuable information for job hunting and career planning.
- Learn about an organization, how you might fit in and what problems or needs the employer has.
- Gain experience and self-confidence in interviewing with professionals.
- Network with professionals and ask for referrals.
Arranging the Interview
- Call or email the professional in the field preferably with common academic major/interest, in the work setting you prefer, in a geographical area of interest.
- Explain your request for an appointment to learn more about his/her profession.
- Mention any mutual acquaintances if possible.
- If questioned, indicate clearly that you are conducting career research to help you make better decisions.
- Try to schedule a 20-30 minute appointment, to be conducted by phone or in person at their convenience
- Request to speak with the individual in person and avoid letting your phone call to schedule the appointment turn into the actual interview. Be prepared, however, to conduct the interview over the phone .
Questions to Ask
- Background: Tell me how you got started in this field, education background and helpful experience.
- Rewards: What do you find rewarding about this line of work?
- Potential: Where do you see yourself in a few years? What are your long-term goals?
- Salary: At what salary level would a new person start? What are the fringe benefits and other forms of compensation (bonuses, commissions, securities)?
- Hiring Decision: What are the most important factors used to hire people? Who makes the hiring decisions? Who supervises the boss? When I am ready to apply for a job, whom should I contact?
- Demand: What types of employers hire people in this line of work? Where are they located? What other career areas do you feel are related to your work?
- Referral to Others: Based on our conversation today, would you recommend I talk to others in the profession? May I have permission to use your name when I contact them?
- Do you have any other advice for me?
Things to Remember
- Dress as if it were an actual job interview. First impressions are important.
- Arrive to your appointment a few minutes early, and be courteous to everyone you meet — secretary, receptionist, etc.
- Take the lead in conducting the interview.
- Ask open-ended questions that promote a discussion and cannot be answered with one-word responses. Take notes.
- Look around: What kind of working environment is it — dress style, communication patterns, sense of humor, etc? Is this a place you would want to work?
- Send a thank-you letter to your contact for his/her time and information.
- Explain how this interview helped and how you plan to use this information as you enter the job market.
- Record the information obtained including names, comments and new referrals for future reference. Make appointments to interview referrals.
- Evaluate your experience. How did you manage in scheduling and conducting the information interview? How well did you prepare? Did you get the information you sought? What information do you still lack? What do you need to do next?
Most medical schools interview with a single interviewer for 30-60 minutes before moving on to the next interviewer. Generally, interviews consist of one to three such meetings. Some medical schools holds panel interviews where candidates face two to four interviewers.
One-on-one or panel interviews may be either open-file or closed-file. Interviewers in an open-file interview have reviewed your file including grades, MCAT scores, personal statement, letters of recommendation, etc. In closed-file interviews, the interviewer has either seen nothing in your file or just your AMCAS or AACOMAS personal statement (or an essay in your secondary application). The point of the closed-file interview is to remove any bias that might exist in your file and address how you come across to someone who does not know you. In either case, be very sure you can discuss any and all comments you made in the AMCAS/AACOMAS and secondary application essays.
- Before going into any interview, reread the essays that you transmitted to that program. Also, be prepared to discuss any problems with your application such as a low MCAT score, some low grades or inconsistent MCAT scores and grades. Know what mistakes you have made and what you have learned from them.
- If you are asked a question, the answer to which you truly do not know, admit it - do not try to bluff your way through it. The interviewer does not expect you to know everything about everything.
- Tour the campus ahead of time and know exactly where your interview will take place.
- Expect to be nervous. If you are taking the interview seriously you will be somewhat nervous and anxious – that’s ALRIGHT. Keep in mind that everyone else is nervous and that the interviewers take that into consideration.
- Make eye contact and do not fidget. It is generally not a good idea to jot down extensive notes
- Pay attention to the name of the person interviewing you. If you can, use that person’s name once or twice during the interview.
- The interviewer may not have taken the time to go through your file, so do not say, "Like it says in my application…"
- If you do not understand the question, ask for a clarification. When asked a question that is totally unexpected, many students launch into an answer and quickly begin to ramble. Pause and organize your thoughts before speaking.
- It is important to be flexible so as to serve the patient. You must act in the best interests of your patient even if that requires some bending on your part; if scruples stand in the way, refer them to another physician.
- There is a set of questions to which you MUST have an organized, well thought out, logical answer:
- Why do you want to pursue a career as a physician?
- Why are you applying to this medical school?
- Considering the large number of highly qualified and impressive students applying to our program, why should we choose you?
- Do you have any questions for me? Any questions about our program?
- What is your plan B?
- What do you see yourself doing in 5, 10 or 15 years?
- Is there anything that we have not discussed that I should know about you? Is there anything that you would like me to know about you?
- If you are applying to the D.O. programs: Why are you interested in osteopathic medicine?
- Who was Andrew Taylor Still?
Questions About You
- Tell me about yourself.
- How did you develop your personality?
- What is your biggest weakness? What is your biggest blunder in life?
- What one word would your friends use to describe you?
- What kind of leadership qualities do you have?
- Do you have any blemishes in your academic record? If so, what are they and why did they occur?
- If you were locked in a library overnight, in what section would they find you in the morning?
You as a medical school applicant:
- How do you know you’ll enjoy spending time with sick people?
- What excites you about medicine in general?
- What travels have you taken, and what exposure to other cultures have you had?
- Tell me about a patient you have taken care of?
- What qualities do you look for in a physician? Can you provide an example of a physician who embodies any of these ideals? How do they do this?
- How will you handle death? What experiences have you had with death and dying?
- Tell me about your grades/MCAT scores. Your MCAT scores dropped by 1 point the second time you took the test. Is there a reason?
- What makes health care so expensive?
- How should society deal with the problem of child abuse?
- How do you think national health insurance might affect physicians, patients, and society?
- What do you feel are the social responsibilities of a physician?
- Are you aware of any current controversies in the area of medical ethics? List and discuss some of these.
- A 75-year-old man is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and is given between 6 months and 1 year to live. He requests that you prescribe enough painkillers for him that, if taken all at once, would end his life. He does not explicitly say he will commit suicide, but you know that he will do so if you prescribe the medication. What do you do?
- Do you think that health care funds should be more focused on the expensive development of new technologies, or on providing adequate care for the masses who aren’t insured?
- If you had an 85-year-old patient with Alzheimer’s and failing kidneys, would you prescribe dialysis?
- Transplant a human brain: comments?
- Do frozen embryos have rights?
Underrepresented Group/Admission-Related Questions
- How do you feel prepared to meet the diverse needs of a multiethnic, multicultural patient population?
- To what extent do you feel that you owe a debt to your community?
- To what extent do you owe a debt to those less fortunate than yourself? Please explain.
- You are the editor of Time magazine and it is December. Who’s going to be your person of the year and on the cover of Time magazine? Why that person?
- What is a dromedary? What is the difference between a camel and a dromedary?
- Describe with words (not using your hands) how to tie your shoes.
- One of our students had a 1-hour interview during which the ONLY thing the interviewer said was "Tell me about yourself" — the interviewer was silent after this comment, never called for clarification or elaboration — nothing.
*Revised from the Pre-Medical Student Manual, University of Idaho
Interview Kickstart Video Series
Career advisors each share their own interview advice in several fun videos!