10 Top tips for panel interviews
Interviews always seemed so daunting for me as an applying student. I knew it had been an achievement to even get this for. Your whole application journey of work experience, volunteering, personal statements, UCAT, BMAT and in some cases a version of a non-academic form all lead to this point. But at the interview none of this really mattered anymore. Essentially everyone is on a level playing field and this is your time to show why you would fit this medical school.
Personally, I enjoyed panel interviews, as I found that it allowed for a better rapport to develop than on a 5 minute MMI station. However, after completing and reflecting on my fair share of panel interviews, I have compiled a list of 10 things I wish I knew before doing panel interviews.
1. Firstly, expect curveball questions at anypoint. With MMI I found it a lot easier to mentally prepare myself for curveball questions, as I often saw the station topic and so I knew I expected to receive a harder question. I found that if I expected these in any part of the interview and expected any member of the panel to ask it, I wasn’t as thrown off by them as I normally would have been and so performed better overall.
2. A second tip is to practice moving on from mistakes. It is nearly inevitable that you will make some sort of mistake during interviews. However, the key thing is how you handle and move on from them. I find it often easier said than done to say just move on from mistakes. What I found really helped me was to reflect on how I handled mistakes previously during practice and how this affected me afterwards. This meant I was able to recognise what both worked and didn’t work. For example, I found having a drink of water and a deep breath allowed me to calm down, mentally distance myself from the mistake and then move on. Ultimately, I found it was key not to fixate on the mistakes, instead focus on other things like timings or what topics I still expected to be in the interview.
3. Next, I found it key to ensure that you address and interact with all members of the panel equally. What I mean by this is that it is often quite easy to fall into the trap of only directing your answer to one member of the panel. This could be for a number of reasons: you may only answer the interviewer who always asks the questions, or the interviewers may be doing “a good cop, bad cop” routine which may mean you only feel comfortable talking to the “nice” interviewer. You need to be aware that these are often tests to see how you cope with difficult interactions, as these mirror how difficult some interactions with patients can be. Therefore, it is key to remember to look at all members of the panel while answering your question and take care to remember the little things, like smiling at interviewers and introducing yourself. ( Remember don’t be disheartened or thrown off if they don’t respond, this is likely also to be a test!
4. Furthermore, another tip which I would recommend is to practice questions in a panel setting, in the same way you would practice MMI. Sometimes, I found it tempting to just focus only on MMI question practice and just think that would be enough to cover panel interview practice. Although there is a great deal of overlap, I felt like it was important to set aside the time to focus on answering the questions in a panel setting. This meant answering questions ranging from motivation to study medicine, skills like teamwork and communication and of course ethics, asked by at least two interviewers in a set period of time. This meant that despite not knowing what questions would be asked, I felt mentally prepared to be interviewed in that environment, during that time scale.
5. Rereading your application, including your personal statement and any non-academic forms. I found rereading these both the night before and the morning of, were helpful in two ways. Firstly, rereading my experiences acted as a sort of revision for me, which calmed me down and made me feel prepared. Secondly, it was vital during my interview to know what I had written months before, as I was questioned on experiences I had mentioned and asked to elaborate on experiences I hadn’t been able to talk about.
6. Another part of key reading before the interview is to read the university website. I found this was an invaluable resource for the “why this medical school?” question. Personally, what I realised is often medical schools spoke about what they particularly liked about themselves on their websites. Often picking one or two of these points and researching them was quite useful. Other things to look at are the societies you would be interested in joining and the hospital placements. These are useful to research, as you could link your existing hobbies and interests to the societies and researching the hospitals would give you greater insight into the clinical years.
7. Reading the brief is key in preparing for the interview. Medical schools may give varying amounts of information, however usually things such as length and the number of interviewers may be given. Additionally, they may give information on topics questioned in the interview, how the interview is scored and for online interviews the platform used. I found that it was important to familiarise myself with the platforms beforehand, so that I felt confident enough to be interviewed on it.
8. Another tip is to be mindful of body language. In interviews, especially panel interviews, making a good first impression through introducing yourself is key. However, this has to be maintained through appropriate body language. This includes making eye contact, maintaining an open posture (e.g. don’t fold arms) and smiling. These all cumulatively give off the impression of someone who is confident, without being overly arrogant. It is also important to be mindful of the interviewer’s body language, as if they appear disinterested or looking at their watch, this may be a clue to wrap up your answer and move onto the next question.
9. Furthermore, it is key to brush up on wider reading. This includes topics like ethics, NHS hot topics and finding one interesting article and ensuring you can talk about it. I found that not only was it really interesting to research, but considering that these were topics that came up in both my MMI and panel interviews and made up large proportions of both, it was really important to research. When researching hot topics, although Covid is obviously important, ensure you research other things like Brexit, the NHS long term plan and even other vaccines, like the MMR vaccine.
10. Finally, schedule your interviews to suit you. This might come as a surprise to some of you, as it did to me, but some medical schools allow you to book an interview slot so that it suits you. This can be an invaluable opportunity you shouldn’t waste. If you already have an existing medical school interview and you are able to book a slot before or after it, consider a few things. For example, which medical school is your preferred option. If it is the existing interview, consider booking the other interview the day before. If your preferred medical school is the one allowing you to book, book it the day after the existing interview. In either scenario you have an interview the day before your preferred medical school interview, allowing you to perfect your technique. This is because no matter how much you prepare, the best for a medical school interview is a medical school interview. I found this technique really allowed me to get over my nerves in the first interview and then just focus on the interview itself the following day.
Ultimately, it is key to remember that there have to be people, who get offers from medical school and with practice, why can’t that be you?
Good luck on your interviews!
Isabella Kressel 1st year Medic at Manchester Medical School