blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: 5 Common Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

November 10, 2014

5 Common Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is ready and excited for a new week! This week promises to be a busy one for us - N is interviewing in California for a couple of programs and Liv and I are coming along for the trip! This will be my only chance to see some of the west coast before N has to submit his rank list (his list is due before my interviews happen), so I've got lots to see (thanks to many of your recommendations)! 

My earliest residency interviews are scheduled in December, but I'm already feeling a little nervous about them! As many times as I've gone to interviews they are always still a little nerve-wracking! And I know I'm not alone. Although I've done posts about medical school interviews and interview travel tips, you guys still have lots of questions about interviews! 

So today I thought I'd do a post addressing some of the most common mistakes people make for medical school interviews (that likely are the same for any interview really). As some of you know I've helped out with HMS interviews for entering classes and for outreach programs in the past, so most of these tips will come from that experience. I hope you find it helpful, and as always, leave questions or feedback in the comments section!

So let's get to it! On to the mistakes and how to avoid them!

  1. Being too laid-back. Interviews are a stressful time for applicants. But for the most part, once you've been invited to an interview, the school believes you can handle the work; at the interview they want to get down to who you are as a person, what your motivations are, and if you'd be a good fit in their program. So the general advice would be to relax and be yourself. Some people take this a little too far though, and immediately act a little too at ease - either by using vulgar language, making inappropriate jokes, or having a general IDGAF attitude. All not cool. Yes, be yourself, but be yourself on your best-behavior - it is what we as your interviewers are expecting. 
  2. Not taking student interviewers seriously. Many medical schools have interviews where you are scheduled to interview with a faculty member or two as well as a current medical student. Although we all feel a little more comfortable with student interviews, this isn't an excuse to fall into the first mistake of being too laid-back. Treat this interview just as you would any of your other interviews - maintain your professionalism. Again, professional does not mean stiff or cold, trust me you can be professional and pleasant! Student interviews are a great chance to ask what current students like most about the program or why they ended up choosing that program (you should of course wait until your interviewer asks if you have any questions). 
  3. Using a strength as one of your weaknesses. A very common interview question we throw to applicants is "what is your greatest weakness" in some form or another (what challenges you the most, what do you need to work on, etc.). Your interviewers are all real people, and as real people, we ALL know every.single.person has many weaknesses. This question is not a weed-out to find the applicants without weaknesses. So when an applicant says "my biggest weakness is that I care too much" or "I try too hard," I (and many others) do an immediate internal eye-roll. What we want to hear is you being genuine and sharing something that you truly do struggle with, and (most importantly) what you are actively doing to address it. For some people it's that they really do have a difficult time memorizing details, for others its family commitments that cut into your study time, etc. If you're not doing anything about the "weakness," don't share it (and you should probably consider doing something about it just for yourself lol). We want to know that applicants can recognize their shortcomings and do something about them, plain and simple. 
  4. Not having questions. Now, we've all been there, at the end of the interview the interviewer asks "do you have any questions?" And honestly, sometimes you just don't. Especially at the end of a long interview day (or days), we just can't really come up with something to ask. But while this to you may not mean you're not interested in the program, to your interviewer, it can come off as just that.  As much as you may just want to end up at a medical school, or in a given residency, programs want to know that you want to be there. We understand that you're applying to multiple places, but when you ask a good question like "what are common extracurriculars that your students participate in" or, "what have you most enjoyed about teaching here/being a student here," or "are there any planned changes to the current curriculum," and the like, you show that you are interested in learning more about the program, and hopefully the answers can help you a little in getting a better picture of the program. Asking something particular to the program is always a plus - although again, please be genuine. Ask things for which you truly care about the answer - it's hard to do on the spot, but come prepared!
  5. Being negative. Maybe it's just me, but I think it's others too, keep anything negative out of your mouth! Do not bad mouth any person, school, program, specialty, geographic area, anything! You do not know your interviewers or where they are from, what would offend them, etc. and talking negative always brings into question your judgement and attitude. You may have tougher interviewers who almost sound like they want to hear something negative ("what did you like least about xyz"...) but don't give into the negative trap! I stick to my guns. You can answer questions (being evasive is not a good thing either), but try to focus on the positive - whether it's an improvement made, a lesson you learned, or something that you hope to change in the future. I'm all about the positive, and many of your interviewers are, too.
Again - hope this post can help some of you! Keep up the hard work!! 


  1. Love how practical these tips are...thanks for sharing!

  2. These tips are great and even though they're intended for medical-school interviews, i feel they apply for the law school interviewing process as well. Great post !

  3. I have a quick question about point #4, if you don't mind. Whenever I'm asked, "Do you have any questions?" at the end of an interview, I answer, "Yes! I was wondering..... [insert question]." But this transition sounds a bit awkward and forced to me. In your experience, have you heard any better ways to transition into this? English isn't my first language, so I'm not sure if this is just awkward to me or to the interviewers as well though.

    Anyways, thank you for doing this post! Your writing is always so genuine and meaningful. I hope you guys have a great and safe trip to California!

    1. Hi Becky! I actually think that sounds just fine! That's usually the kind of transition people make - sometimes a variation could be something like - "actually yes! I do! I really like [blah blah blah] and was wondering [question]..." It could all sound a little silly if it feels "rehearsed" to you, but hopefully it's more of a conversation.

      Good luck and thanks so much for your sweet comment!

  4. Tks very much for your post.

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  5. Before preparing for an interview we should first take lessons and complete our homework. That how face an interview and how to avoid mistakes and errors; therefore we should follow different ingredients from different sources and hope while implementing these sources we are able skip mistakes. I am sure we should also learn some crucial tips from this article also and get quick success in an interview.
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