This blog looks at a common interview pitfall which is candidates not answering the question posed to them. We explain several reasons why candidates do this and give four tips on how to avoid making these mistakes.

Tip 1 – Do not attempt to answer a question if you did not hear it correctly or fully understand it

This may appear obvious, but for various reasons, perhaps shyness, inexperience or nerves, candidates sometimes make this mistake. If you did not hear a question, did not understand it or are not quite sure what the interviewer means, then clarify this with the interviewer instead of attempting to answer a question that you do not fully understand. You may even forget what the original question was halfway through your answer. In all these scenarios, just relax, stay composed, apologise if necessary and ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question. If you remain collected, then this will not be an issue at all. Asking for clarification is far better than not knowing exactly what the question is but trying to answer it regardless.

Tip 2 – Think before you answer; do not presuppose questions

While preparing for your Medicine interview, you will have repeatedly practised answers to questions that you have anticipated such as “why do you want to study Medicine?” or “what are your biggest strengths?” As you have rehearsed these answers many times; when hearing an interviewer ask these questions you might feel a sense of excitement or relief that this question has come up and feel ready to jump straight into an answer that you have repeatedly practised.

In this frame of mind, and in combination with your interview nerves, it is easy to mistake a question posed by an interviewer as being precisely the same as one you have previously heard or have practised for, when in fact they are asking you something slightly different. For example, if the interviewer asks you “tell me about some negative experiences in your work experience at the women’s hospital” It is easy to jump the gun and answer the question that you have been preparing for instead: “tell me about your work experience at women’s hospital.”

You can avoid this common Medicine interview pitfall by listening carefully and taking a momentary pause to gather your thoughts and really take in a question before launching into an answer. Another benefit of taking this brief pause before you answer is that it will make your answers seem less rehearsed. This is especially true for complex or challenging questions as instantly launching into a long detailed response can come across like you are reading from a rehearsed script. It also makes you appear more confident and relaxed as your speech will appear more controlled.

Tip 3 – Improve your interview technique: an example of a good answer vs a poor answer

Sometimes candidates fail to answer a question properly simply because they have poor interview technique. Candidates with weak technique are still stuck at the point where they can only describe events and experiences in their answer. They do not go beyond this stage and frame an answer so that these events and experiences are related back to the candidate and highlight skills that they possess. These insights are really what interviewers are looking for in responses, not diary accounts or lists of what you did. For example:

If asked, “Do you think that you possess the attributes needed to be a good doctor?” a poor answer would be:

I have done a large amount of work experience working with people such as at community centres and hospitals, and I also keep my knowledge up to date and read scientific and health-related journals.

This is a weak response. It is merely a list of things. They may be good things, but it does not show any attributes or skills that the applicant gained or that they can say they possess as evidenced by these experiences. It also does not even answer the original question. Alternatively, you could view it as only answering half the question. The candidate has listed some events and facts but has not taken the crucial next step of relating those things back to themselves and then explaining how these things demonstrate why the candidate would be a good doctor. A more effective answer would be:

An attribute that I feel makes a good doctor is their ability to effectively communicate with and relate to people from many different backgrounds. They have to be able to seamlessly adapt their style depending on whom they are communicating with and the situation. This is something I feel I am good at and I am always looking for chances to improve. For example, I worked at a community centre during the summer holidays. My role was…

The candidate can then give a few brief examples of their ability to communicate well with people from many different backgrounds and then the candidate can move on to another attribute such as teamwork.

Tip 4 – Relax; but not too much! Use nerves to your advantage

You will likely be nervous in your interview. A healthy amount of nerves actually helps you to stay sharp, heightens your awareness and helps you perform better than if you had no nerves at all. However, nerves can get the better of you if they are excessive. They can lead to the problems we discussed earlier such as not taking a question in fully or forgetting what the question was halfway through an answer. Just knowing that nerves are entirely normal and actually beneficial can go some way to helping control your nerves. For more tips see our blogs on dealing with interview nerves.

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