So…you’ve been invited to interview at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Congratulations! What this means is you’ve passed Vanderbilt’s initial screening, and your application has already passed through multiple hands and been approved for interviewing. Now what?
First of all, breathe deeply and congratulate yourself on getting this far already. It is truly an accomplishment in and of itself. Next, plan your interview date. Vanderbilt’s portal will give you several options. I picked December 18, 2013 – a date that was soon enough in the application cycle and during Christmas break so I would not miss class. Travel and housing arrangements are important. Fly or drive? Vanderbilt Student Hosting or hotel? Vanderbilt is 6 hours away from my hometown, so I chose to drive. Farther interviews I chose to fly, so I believe driving or flying is a personal decision. Vanderbilt has a robust Student Overnight hosting program, where all current students receive emails about hosting interviewees like you! This program is an opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of current medical students (spoiler: we study a lot), and also get insight into potential housing options. Let Vanderbilt know that you desire this option, and we will pair you with a student host. If you prefer your own room during interview season, there are several hotels within walking distance to Vanderbilt and nearby restaurants. These hotels sometimes offer free coupons for a second visit (think: moving-in day and bringing family to visit Vanderbilt).
Now that the technical aspects of interview day are in place, you should prepare for the content of the interview. The interview structure at Vanderbilt consists of two interviews – a short interview and a summary interview. Both are conducted by Vanderbilt professors. The short interview lasts 30 minutes and the interviewer only knows your name and undergraduate institution. The summary interview is one hour, and the interviewer has full access to your entire application. How do you prepare? I recommend a multifaceted approach. Most likely, you will have already interviewed at other institutions, and these prior experiences can give you an idea of questions that are commonly asked. The internet is replete with question banks, and your undergraduate Office of Pre-Professional Advising may provide you with questions and mock interviews as well. Additionally, knowing yourself and your résumé will serve you well. Having experience articulating your activities in different ways and thinking about your undergraduate and post-graduate career from different perspectives helps you choose phrasing that sounds smooth and gets the message you mean across. Choose a time-tested professional outfit. Gentleman typically wear jacket and tie. For ladies, I prefer a corporate look. I wore slacks, reliable and comfortable heels, conservative blouse, jacket, stud earrings, and long hair pulled back. There are several variations – knee-length skirts instead of slacks, flats replacing heels, etc. However, conservative clothing is the mainstay in any professional world, so any attire that ladies or gentleman choose should reflect this principle.
My perspective is interviews are meant to meet the person behind the paper. It is an opportunity to expand upon your brand, to reveal the depth of your interests, and to provide themes that unify the various aspects of your application. Importantly, it is a way for you to explain why you and Vanderbilt fit.
Vanderbilt attracted me because of its pioneering role in forming Curriculum 2.0, which has since been adopted by many other medical schools. I liked the risk and leadership involved in creating a curriculum that puts students into the hospitals one year earlier than traditional curriculums. I felt like many of my undergraduate activities reflected a similar pioneering spirit. With that framing statement, I can build my case for generally any interview question, citing many examples of my activities. Having a mental image of my brand helped me communicate concisely and stay focused. The interview time is limited and the interviewer sees several applicants, so staying on point is essential.
The interviews at Vanderbilt are one-on-one in offices. Both interviews were relatively relaxing for me, and both of my interviewers were warm and welcoming. The short interview focuses on what I call standardized “first impressions” type questions. I remember being asked for a time when I had to advocate for something unpopular. This is where thinking of your activities from different perspectives – both the good and the challenging aspects – comes in handy. Remember, you already have your résumé. These questions allow you to give dimension to yourself and your work. The summary interview has a much more intimate feel than the short, mainly because the interviewer has access to your complete application. This is a chance to dive even deeper into your motivations, your aspirations, and your deeper thoughts about your fit with the school. It is a chance to ask questions. I remember being asked if there was a time I had to take risks. This is where knowing common themes about yourself comes in handy. I was able to choose my favorite activities and expand upon how they were motivated by my curiosity and desire to challenge myself. Frequently, this interview will consist of questions sparked by things you say, rather than sticking to a standardized script.
A final word on one of the more nuanced aspects of any interview – your attitude. I firmly believe in being yourself and being genuine. Being yourself will clearly vary from person to person. Generally, I am enthusiastic, curious, and adventurous. I let that shine; don’t force it. Be confident in yourself. Avoid the two extremes – overbearing overconfidence and underwhelming humility. Factor in nerves and a desire to impress and this can be easier said than done. However, I find focusing on my message allows me to speak genuinely. Lastly, don’t worry too far ahead about whether you will get admitted or not during the interview. Focus on the now. You have this incredible opportunity to interview at Vanderbilt – spend your valuable time exploring our faculty, campus, and students! Keep asking yourself till the very end – is this the school for me?