Episode 26: Interview Tips


Joni discusses five important tips for the medical school interview.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call or text (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]


Episode 26 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hey folks. Welcome to Episode 26 of the Pritzker Podcast. I am joined as always by Joni Krapec who is one of the Directors of Admissions & Outreach here at the Pritzker School of Medicine. Hey Joni.

Joni Krapec: Hey Ben. How are you?

BF: Good. Seeing as how the interview season at Pritzker is slowly winding down to a close here in 2009 and 2010, we thought we might be interested in giving you some interview tips from our perspective. Just some things that we’ve noticed people doing over the years at Pritzker that we thought would be useful to talk about and things to keep in perspective when you’re going on further interviews. And if you’re applying next year then it’s stuff to keep in mind for next year as well. So Joni, what have you got?

JK: I kind of tried to create my top five. My top five easy quick tips to be able to get–

BF: It’s manageable.

JK: Yes, something that you can remember. So the first tip that we always have is before you make any of your travel plans or try to sort out what you’re doing when you go to an interview, make sure to read everything that the school sent you. We try to be as helpful as possible. We tell you exactly what we need you to know, like you can bring your luggage here–we have a place to store it; try to fly into Midway–it’s closer; those different kinds of tips. And amazingly, a lot of students don’t tend to read that information and they wind up making their travel much more difficult than it needs to be. So my number one tip is read everything that the school sent you. If you have questions, of course call us and ask us. We try to make this as easy as we can for you. But read everything we send first because chances are the information will actually be in there.

BF: Okay. If I could just stop you there and go back to the Midway issue and also maybe the O’Hare issue, a question that comes up a lot is what is the earliest time that people should schedule their outbound flight?

JK: What we always say is to plan to be on campus until 5 o’clock.

BF: Okay.

JK: So if you’re flying out of Midway, you could get a 7 o’clock flight pretty easily. If you’re flying out of O’Hare, an 8 o’clock flight pretty easily. It is most likely the case that you will be finished with your interview probably by 4 o’clock. But unfortunately when you’re working with physicians, they get called into surgeries. And so it could be the case that we had to rearrange an interview and the only time that the faculty could do it is at 4 o’clock that afternoon. So most of the time you will be done by 4:00, and if you absolutely have to get somewhere else, let us know that as soon as possible so that we can try to schedule you accordingly to get you out in enough time. But we always say to plan to stay until 5:00. Realistically, you’re probably going to be done at 4:00.

BF: Okay, cool. How about number two?

JK: So number two, and this sounds so simple: Make sure that you practice having a good handshake. And the two that are kind of the most difficult to be on the receiving end of is kind of the cold, dead fish handshake where you get kind of this very limp collection of fingers.

BF: It’s terrible.

JK: It’s really–it’s just uncomfortable. And then the other is kind of the one that we call the queens’ curtsy where somebody kind of gives you their fingertips. They don’t use their full hand and I always kind of start laughing internally because I think I feel like this person wants me to kiss their hand instead of actually shaking it. And it sounds silly to actually practice a good handshake, but you’d be amazed in terms of first impressions what a good strong handshake can do for you. Don’t worry about your hand being cold, don’t worry about your hand being clammy; neither of those things are really under your control. But just deliver a firm handshake, don’t also then hold it for longer than a couple of seconds. That’s been interesting as well when somebody’s kind of shaking my hand for what feels like 10 minutes. So just a quick, firm, full-hand handshake, a couple of seconds, and then release, and that really helps to convey a good, confident perspective both for you and for the person that you’re shaking hands with.

BF: Yeah, I would say a good handshake isn’t going to get you into a school, but a bad handshake really, I think, sticks in peoples’ minds. It’s like sometimes when I shake people’s hands and they do one of those things, it’s like I just want to do it completely over, you know?

JK: Exactly!

BF: A good handshake feels good and a bad handshake feels really bad.

JK: It definitely does. And like you said, it’s not going to keep you out of medical school, but it’s something that we can definitely think. If there’s other hints during an interview, you know, well, maybe this person isn’t very confident in their abilities. If it started with a weak handshake, you don’t want that to be kind of already a question mark in the interviewer’s mind like is this person confident enough to start working with patients one year from now.

BF: Right, right. And the other thing I’d mention is that this goes for guys and girls alike, you know? If you’re a girl, you’re not exempt from giving someone a good, firm handshake.

JK: Exactly.

BF: It’s expected from everybody at this point.

JK: And if you’re a muscle-bound male or female, please don’t crush your interviewer’s hand either.

BF: Right, right.

JK: So make sure it’s firm although not painful for the person that you’re shaking hands with.

BF: Yeah, one guy I once knew was actually a wrestling coach, and he would shake your hand and he would try to crush your hand and it would be for the entire conversation.

JK: Oh, wow.

BF: And he would just sit there shaking your hand the entire time and it was terrible. So don’t do that. Okay. How about number three?

JK: So number three is, again, it sounds very simplistic: When somebody introduces themselves to you, introduce yourself back. There are a lot of times that I will greet an applicant and tell them what my name is and welcome them to campus, and the applicant will say, “Oh, hi.” I kind of need to know who you are, especially if you’re first entering our building, because I have a checklist of knowing who’s supposed to be coming to interview and I need to know who’s here. So I will always say, you know, tell me your name but it’s always just good practice that when somebody introduces themselves to you, you state your name back in a way that is clear and also gives both your first and last name.

BF: Sure. And, you know, it’s helpful too when you see a long name on the application, but someone comes to interview you, if you go by a different name, then tell them that name.

JK: Exactly.

BF: A lot of times when people come here from other countries or maybe they’re not originally from the United States, they have names that are not traditional American names, and so it’s hard for some people to pronounce those names. And if you can assist them with the pronunciation or if you go by something different, then certainly tell them that.

JK: Exactly. Or if you’re somebody who has a very traditional name, but you tend to go by your middle name as opposed to your first name, that’s always good for us to know as well.

BF: Right, because if someone’s writing their interview report using your first name and you go by a totally different name, it gets confusing.

JK: Exactly. Or if when you get here, you tell me your middle name and I’m expecting somebody with your first name, it’s always good to kind of introduce first with your actual legal name and then tell me what you go by as opposed to the opposite; and I had to say, wait a second, there is not a James on my list for today, and you’re like, “Oh, no, no, no. My first name is actually Patrick but I go by James.” Oh, okay.

BF: Right, right. And, you know, something to throw in here as part of the introduction: a good handshake.

JK: Exactly.

BF: Yeah. Okay, how about number four?

JK: So number four is to absolutely engage with the other applicants who are there on your interview day. And there’s a two-part reason for this. One is if you’re at a school like Pritzker and we have a collaborative environment and we want our students to be able to work well in groups together and to be friendly with each other, if you are simply sitting by yourself reading a book or working a crossword puzzle or whatever it might be during the entire day while other applicants are around you chatting and conversing and kind of hanging out with each other, it causes us to question to a degree are you somebody who likes to work on teams? Are you somebody who likes to be collaborative? Will you be a good contributor to your class environment? So that’s kind of the first part of it.

The second part is you learn a lot about a medical school based on who they bring in to interview. So if you are conversing with the other applicants and you’re starting to think, you know, hey I really like these people and could see myself at a medical school with these types of people, then that’s often a good indicator of what your fit might be for that medical school as well. So definitely take the opportunity to engage with other applicants, both because it obviously demonstrates to us that you like working with people, which is important, but also too because it starts to give you a flavor for the personality of that school.

BF: Right. If I could throw in one caveat here, though, I have–so my caveat is don’t be too involved with the other applicants such that you get inattentive to that person who’s actually interviewing you.

JK: Exactly.

BF: I’ve had a lot of people who I finish the interview, I go drop them off back in the little seating area in the OME, and once they see the other applicants, they just go straight to the couches and I’ve had people actually forget to say, you know, “Bye, can I have your email address?” or whatever the closing of the interview is. I’ve had that happen to me several times.

JK: Exactly.

BF: And it’s sort of off-putting because there’s no, sort of, closure to the interview and it’s a little strange.

JK: Right. And I’ve had it be the case too that somebody is so busy chatting with another applicant that one of us goes to kind of get that person for an interview, and they are having us wait while they finish their conversation with the other applicant.

BF: Right.

JK: That’s never a good idea either. So you want to be chatty and conversant but as you said, Ben, interview first and make sure that you’re paying attention to that interviewer.

BF: Right. Just remember why you’re here and all that other stuff should be secondary, I think, at certain times of the day.

JK: Right.

BF: Okay. How about the last one? Number five?

JK: So the last one is to absolutely, fully involve yourself with every aspect of the interview day. There is a reason why we set up what we set up, why we have a tour, why we have a lunch with our current students, why we have three interviews. It’s important that you don’t make the judgment that one portion of that interview day is more or less important than another portion. So some examples is we’ve had students who have, you know, really love the faculty and the staff interview; when they interview with the student, they kind of blow it off because they think it’s not very real because it’s the student interview. Don’t fall into that trap. Similarly, don’t be at the lunch with current students and think that it’s okay that your boyfriend who traveled to the school with you can come in to lunch, or you would rather meet a friend that you have on campus for lunch so you’re going to dive out for our lunch component and instead go meet that friend of yours who maybe you went to school with or something like that. And similarly too when we’ve had people on the tour who are not paying attention to the tour and who are instead checking their phones and doing different things, it just conveys that you’re not very interested in the school. And so don’t ever take it upon yourself to decide which portions of the interview day you would like to give importance to. They are all important and we set them up very intentionally for a reason. And so it’s good to make sure that you’re giving equal credit to each portion of that interview day and not just what you think is the most important.

BF: That’s great advice. I couldn’t agree more. So I think on the next episode, we’ll be potentially talking about some more financial issues with Sylvia Robertson who is one of the Deans of Admissions here. And then in a future episode, we’re still trying to schedule it, but we’ll be talking with Funmi Olopade, who is a physician here, a breast cancer researcher, and she’ll be talking about a lot of the international opportunities and potentially some of the multicultural aspects of Pritzker. So stay tuned.

JK: Excellent. So those are my top five.

BF: I hope that it’s helpful for people.

JK: I hope so too.

BF: Take care.

JK: Bye Ben.

Posted on January 11, 2010 to:

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