Medical school interviews today come in different forms–from highly structured Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) to unstructured one-on-ones with faculty, student, or staff who have volunteered to serve the medical school admissions committee. Often times, you’ll feel relief after an interview, like you accomplished the next feat in your journey to medical school. But sometimes an interview will feel like it went wrong, or something just didn’t feel right or normal about it – it could be an adverse interview. Today we walk through the difference between an ideal interview and an adverse interview, and what to do if your interview leaves you questioning what happened.
The Ideal Interview
Whether the interview is blind to your application, partially blind or fully complementary to it, the interviewer asks thoughtful questions and gives you a chance to autonomously build on your responses and fully address the prompt, question, situation or idea. When you are asked challenging questions–or questions about challenges and weaknesses–you are given a chance to provide a complete answer and receive validation from the interviewer that she is satisfied with your response. While you are bound to be nervous, you can expect to feel that you got a fair chance to present your candidacy in person. If you are as good a fit for the school as the admissions committee thought you were when they extended the interview, you can expect to be given the chance to confirm their initial confidence with you. When you exit the interview, you should feel better than when you walked in. I relate this to give you a sense of what is normal behavior and responses in an interview.
Characteristics of the Adverse Interview
Sometimes things don’t go well in the interview. You walk out thinking and feeling that your expectations for a complete, fair or impartial review were not met. You doubt that the interviewer supports your candidacy. When you experience this, it’s best to discuss with an advisor as soon as possible. More often than I would like to remember, I have received an urgent text message from a restroom stall right after an adverse interview. Sometimes an applicant gets rhetorically cornered into making a naïve stand that the interviewer considers a red flag. There can be misunderstandings. Sometimes interviewers are known cannons (unintentional bullies or unconscious perpetrators of implicit bias) and the only recourse to be fair to the applicant is for the admissions committee to add more information to the file to make a better decision.
Reasons to Report Your Adverse Interview
Be open to the possibility that your interview was just tough and the interviewer wanted to challenge you. They could have written you a glowing review afterward. After giving yourself a chance to allow for that, and in consultation with an advisor, here are some reasons that you may want to report your interview as adverse to the admissions office.
- You sensed implicit or explicit bias. Examples of this include questions that touch on stereotypes about your ethnicity, gender or other essential attribute. For example, two Asian American women at one school were asked what they thought of the tendency for undergraduate Asian Americans to “self-segregate.”
- The interviewer praised you, even effusively, but wanted to talk about something other than your candidacy. For example, an interviewer asked an applicant to explain his entrepreneurial family’s successful business model. Another told an applicant at the outset that she would receive his highest marks for the interview and wanted to spend their time together talking over how he might help his daughter get into the applicant’s prestigious undergraduate school.
- The interviewer was late, distracted, disorganized, apologized for not reading your file when he was expected to, or seemed to think you were someone else entirely. You had less than half the scheduled time due to the interviewers’ schedule to conduct the interview.
- You just felt weird after the interview and were unable to strike up anything resembling a natural conversation. Think about why that was, and if it was partly your responsibility, make sure to include that in any request for another interview.
How to Report an Adverse Interview
The first thing to address is: What happened? Either tell someone and ask them to write it all down, or voice record it, or sit down immediately and write out everything. Review it all: the good stuff as well as the discomfiting moments. Balanced reporting gives whomever guides you through the aftermath a chance to sift through the experience and detect the elements that may make it worth reporting to the admissions office in the hope of giving you a second chance. In other words, start with your subjective experience and work toward an objective focus.
You will need to make a decision to report the adverse interview to the Director of Admissions or the Chair of the Admissions Committee––usually the Associate Dean for Admissions––within two business days of the interview. Consider it an incident report, not a complaint, and ask for a telephone call. Don’t put everything in an email because you need to show that you can conduct a serious conversation in real time, and because the admissions official may have some input that will change your report. Try to depict the interview as it transpired, indicating where it became adverse for you and sharing candidly how you felt at various points, and how your feelings changed.
Requesting Another Interview
Remember that when you report a problem, you need to be prepared to request a solution. The only solution that can really change what happened is for you to be offered a new interview. If you are not offered a new interview, do not despair. It is likely that the admissions office has determined that your interviewer’s rating did not adversely affect your candidacy. Trust them on that.
In the rare case that the person you report the adverse interview to leaves you feeling that they treated you or your concerns in a demeaning or condescending manner, you may need to appeal to another person who has greater decision-making power. This is rare. The only reason I mention it is so you know that you can appeal.
If your interview was truly unfair or biased, in nearly all cases the admissions office will want to give you another chance without any negative repercussions.