A real life example:
Program director: Tell me why you want to do internal medicine.
IMG applicant: I enjoy thinking about each medical condition in a very comprehensive way- giving attention to all possible diagnoses and treatment options. I like to be at the center of my patient’s care and coordinate care with other teams taking care of the patient. I also want to keep my options open to do a fellowship after residency. So I am passionate about internal medicine.
I heard this during a joint interview that program director and I conducted during one match season. I liked the answer- in fact, I was quite impressed with it. My PD asked a few more questions to the applicant and the answers were all pretty good. I felt my PD is going to like this candidate and put him in the ‘rank high’ category.
After the applicant left the room, my PD turned to me asked me- so what do you think? I told him those were some good answers. I think he is a strong candidate.
At this, my PD replied: I hear similar answers all day, especially from international graduates. It is as if they all sit together and prepare the same answers for interview questions. I know how the answer is going to end right when it starts. I interviewed him because I liked what I saw in his file, I don’t like him as much now.
Having said that, he placed the candidate in a ‘possibly rank’ category.
The candidate did not match at our program.
Mistakes most IMGs make when interviewing:
When preparing for interview questions and how to answer them, most IMGs think about what the person interviewing them would like to hear. They think: what would be a good answer for their question?
Even if that may not be the right answer specific to their case, as long as it sounds good, that is the answer they are going to give.
In the example about, that is exactly what the applicant did. He gave an answer that sounded good (at least to me).
But if you hear the answers from ten other IMGs, you will realize very quickly that this is not a right answer. This answer is not genuine or personal to this one IMG at all.
This is a generic answer that many (if not all) other applicants are gong to give.
All this hard work of moving to the US, passing USMLEs, doing research and USCE in undermined because you tried to ‘fit in’ and be a part of the crowd.
By failing to tell your unique story and not being specific enough with your answers- you risk being placed in the ‘possibly rank’ or ‘do not rank’ category despite having stellar scores and credentials.
Think from the interviewer’s perspective:
If you are hearing just one or two candidates, your answers are fine.
But if you are interviewing ten candidates a day, 5 days a week for almost 3 months and if most of them are giving the same answers, you start forgetting them pretty soon. You ignore most of the answers because you know what is coming next.
Most IMGs (including in the example above) spend hours preparing answers that sound good. But since everyone is doing that, your answers are similar in some way to hundred other IMGs.
All the work you have done to prepare those answers will be forgotten the minute you walk out of that room.
Keep reading on to find out how to stand out and prevent the interviewer zoning out while you are talking to him and making sure he remembers you in a good way after your interview.
THE RIFLE APPROACH (WIKIPEDIA)
A NECESSARY (BUT MOSTLY FORGOTTEN) WAY TO MAKE YOUR ANSWERS STAND OUT AND BE REMEMBERED:
Not any fancy credentials, exaggerated promises or flowery language.
Any answer you give, make it a point to go ultra-specific with it.
It is like taking a rifle and shooting the one specific thing it is aiming at.
The more specific you can be, the more likely your answer is going to sound unique and genuine.
You don’t have to lie about it or make up things that are not true. But you have to think of the real reasons why you are doing what you are doing. Your personal reasons are unique to you and are going to be the most genuine answers that the PD has heard all day.
Spend your time preparing for interviews by thinking of the ultra-specific details about your answers. Not memorizing the lines that you or someone on the internet thinks the PD is going to like.
Let’s look again at the example above:
PD: Tell me why you want to do internal medicine?
IMG applicant: I have always enjoyed thinking of medical conditions in a very comprehensive way- giving attention to all possible diagnoses and treatment options. In fact, I maintained this practice in all my rotations. I remember this one time when I was doing an observership in Brooklyn hospital when one of our patients presented with sickle cell crisis and had persistent tachycardia. This rapid heart rate would most likely be attributed to the pain she was experiencing but with the help of my attending, I was able to explore this further and diagnose the patient with pulmonary embolism (a hypercoagulable complication of sickle cell disease). In addition, I have found myself enjoying my cardiology and ICU rotations during medical school so I may want to pursue fellowships in either of those fields after residency. So, I am interested in internal medicine.
BOOM! Target achieved.
No other IMG will give this same answer. Because no other IMGs had the same experiences. The PD is definitely going to remember this answer because he has not heard anything quite as specific all season.
You may not have the same case example as this IMG. You may not have done a rotation in inpatient ward at Brooklyn hospital. But you have your own experiences from your life. Every answer you are preparing, try to think of specific stories, reasons, real life incidents from your own past.
Can you think of something you experienced growing up or in medical college ? Or some medical problems faced by your family members or friends? Did you learn something from your rotations or during your travels moving to the US? An interesting day during your observership?
Take the Rifle approach with your answers.
Dig deep into your past. You have all done a lot of things to get to this point. I am sure there are a lot of stories, unique experiences, strong reasons that need to be told to the PD.
No one can give you a perfect answer for interview questions. They have to come from your own introspection. Give specific examples, reasons, experiences for most (if not all) questions you answer.
The more targeted and specific you can get, the better.
That is how you are going to be genuine. This is how your answers will become perfect.
That is how you are going to be remembered when it is time to rank you after interviews.