A Guide To Body Language For Your Medical School Interview

This guide is about body language for your Medicine interview. This includes facial expressions and your voice. This guide covers:

• How important is body language for your Medicine interview?
• How much do you need to learn about body language for your Medicine interview; is it worthwhile reading extra books or attending a course?
• Practical tips on body language which you can use in your Medicine interview, e.g. sitting positions and personal space; what to do with your hands; eye contact; handshakes etc.

Your goal at your Medicine interview is to convince a group of strangers that you would make a good doctor. The only information they have to make this judgement about you is your UCAS form and how you come across at your interview. How you come across is determined by how well you communicate.

The content of your speech is only one component of communication. There are other components besides content which determines how effective your communication is and subsequently how charismatic, intelligent, convincing etc. you appear. These include your gestures, posture, facial expressions and how you use your voice (for example; your tone, speech rate/rhythm, how you take pauses etc.)

An experiment on a channel four programme (a UK TV channel) provides an excellent demonstration of how communication is much more than the words you use. In this programme, an actor was asked to record two dating videos, which were played to two separate groups of women. In both videos, the actor was reading the same script word for word. In one video he was upbeat and warm, and in the other, he had a flat delivery and appeared unenthusiastic. Regarding what he said; some of his statements were self-centred and a little controlling. However, the group which saw the upbeat delivery had very positive things to say about the actor and largely overlooked his negative comments. The group which saw the dull, downbeat delivery had negative views of the actor, and unlike the other group, they very much picked up on the negative statements he said.

To what level do you need to learn about and practice body language for your Medicine interview?

This guide is important as body language is a factor in your Medicine interview success. However, body language is not something you need to study in great detail beyond reading this article and doing some practice. Most people, will not need to attend courses or buy particular books on body language. There are other things which you can spend your interview preparation time on instead which will be more useful. This is for several reasons.

Firstly, at the age and level of experience that medical school applicants are typically at – although the level and calibre of candidates is very high – interviewers are not expecting perfectly polished masters of persuasion and influence with the perfect body language in every single scenario. You are not a public figure, who has many cameras on them and has every gesture and micro-expression scrutinised. The panel will also give you some leeway for being a little nervous. That is not to say body language is not important – it is indeed very important in creating an overall impression of what kind of candidate you are. However, body language will mostly take care of itself if you are well prepared, in a confident state and know a few basic rules of body language to follow and a few things to avoid doing. Having a good grasp of these basics is what is important – not the minutiae. This is what the following tips cover.

Body language tips for your Medicine interview

Here are some tips and advice about body language for your Medicine interview. The first one is about your mindset while the other tips are about the specific mechanics of body language such as eye contact; what to do with your hands; how much personal space to leave; your voice; handshakes etc.

Prepare well and be in a confident and relaxed state

We start off with this tip as it will underpin every aspect of your body language – be in a confident and relaxed state of mind. If you are in this state, then the mechanics of body language will mostly take care of themselves. You do not need to worry about appearing relaxed and confident if that is how you actually feel. Also, many problems such as speaking too softly, too quickly, or not being able to pronounce words correctly will not occur in the first place if you are feeling confident and relaxed.

Whilst feeling confident and relaxed will make your body language appear this way, this also works to an extent in reverse: If you follow the tips below and get yourself into confident and relaxed body language postures (you can do this right from the start of your day, on the train, in the waiting room etc.), you are more likely to end up actually feeling confident and relaxed too. You can prove this to yourself – hold a huge smile which goes from ear to ear for five whole minutes and then try to feel sad while holding this smile. It will be very difficult. You will likely feel happy even if you do not have anything to be happy about as your mind will follow your body.

Being well prepared and doing a lot of practice will also help you to feel more confident and relaxed at your Medicine interview. If you feel confident inside from this preparation, you are more likely to show this with your body language too.

Our blog, “five tips if you are feeling nervous about your Medicine interview” is a useful read even if you think nerves are not an issue for you as it advises how to be confident and relaxed and control your emotional state. It also covers the power of visualisation, which is a technique many athletes, actors and other performers use to make sure they perform at their best at the time of their performance.

The Medicine interview handshake

There is no need to overthink this – simply shake the interviewer’s hand with a regular firm handshake and make eye contact while you do so and smile. Stick to the middle ground – do not be too soft as it conveys tepidness but do not give an overly firm handshake either – this is not a power contest. Rarely interviewers have been known to purposefully decline a candidates offer of a handshake. This is usually to test their reaction. Do not be flustered by this, simply put your hand back to your side and sit down.

Eye contact in the interview

Eye contact is one of the most important things in building a rapport with someone and is necessary to appear engaging and interesting. Look the interviewers in the eye but do not stare at them constantly as this will appear disconcerting and aggressive. You need to break your gaze occasionally and naturally. This is done in several ways. Firstly, when being asked a question, you would typically maintain eye contact with the person who is asking you the question. However, when answering the question, you should look at the different members of the panel from time to time also. Looking only at the person who is asking you questions could make the others feel overlooked or that you have poor awareness that they are there. Secondly, to break gaze, when you need to look away, look slightly to the side or up avoid looking down at the floor.

Advice on where and how to sit

Usually, the chairs and tables in a Medicine interview will be in the right place and are sometimes large and impractical for you to move. Sometimes though, particularly if they are lightweight or foldable chairs, the chairs can be a little out of position as they have been moved throughout the day by candidates coming on and off. Make sure that you are not too far from the interviewers or too near to the interviewers. Small chairs can be brought forward or backwards very easily. More often than not, the problem is that you are too far away which can make it harder to build rapport so just bring the chair forward as you sit down.

Make sure your body is facing the direction of your interviewers or other candidates if it is a group task. Leaning in a little indicates engagement and interest. If there is a table, do not rest too far away from it or too near it. If you lean too far into a table, you could be invading the space of those on the other side, but if you are too far away, you may become less noticeable in a group discussion or appear too casual. A little lean in is ideal. Particularly in group tasks make sure that your chair positioning makes you visible so that you do not fade into the background.

Sit with either your feet around shoulder-width apart or closer together if you prefer. Males typically prefer the former and females usually prefer the latter. Do not cross your legs. Completely avoid power/ dominance gestures such as spreading your legs very wide and taking up a large amount of space, or for example, resting your foot on top of your opposite knee. Dominance is not something you are trying to demonstrate at all in your Medicine interview. Instead, you want to appear relaxed, confident, competent, a little warm etc.

What to do with your arms and hands

If you use your arms a lot in your everyday speech, then it is perfectly fine to do so in your Medicine interview as long as they are not excessive and distract from what you are saying. If using your hands is not your style, then do not force it. When sitting down on a chair, you can put your hands together, with fingers interlocking each other, and resting in front of you. This is a comfortable resting position and allows you to easily open your hands up and outwards when you want to in your speech and then close them back again and rest them in front of you. It will mean your hand movements are more controlled. This is an ideal way to control your hands if you feel that you use your hands too much or in a haphazard way which distracts from your speech. This position also helps to reduce nervous habits such as knuckle cracking and nail-biting which you should entirely avoid.

Avoid touching your face and hair when you speak

These gestures can make you appear untrustworthy or dishonest, particularly in an interview scenario because you are being asked personal questions. The tip above about resting your hands in front of you should help you to avoid this.

Relax your muscles and feel your toes!

You should sit up straight and avoid slouching, but you should make sure your muscles are relaxed and not holding tension, i.e. you do not want an upright, tense military posture. One way of relieving tense muscles (including your face and jaw) is by taking a few deep breaths and with each exhalation, actively relaxing your muscles and letting go of tension. With each exhale try to increase your relaxation even further and let go of even more tension. Relax and let your shoulders sink down as you do this. You can even imagine the tension being breathed out down your abdomen, into your legs and out through your toes. You can do this on your way to the interview, on the train, in the waiting room etc. to relax you throughout the day.

Another tip is to take a second to feel the sensation in your toes without actually moving your toes or touching them. People are not normally aware of their toes. If you do this correctly, you should feel a pleasant tingling sensation in your toes. Focus on this instead of focusing on your tense muscles or fast breathing. Bringing your attention to the sensation in your toes is a good tip for quickly reducing muscular tension particularly in your upper shoulders and jaw. It is also a great way of calming you down if you are restless, anxious, feel flustered, tense or are breathing too fast.

These are exercises you can do at any time. In the days before your interview; on the day of your interview; when you wake up; on your journey to the interview; in the waiting room etc. Remember, no matter how tense or nervous you feel, inner calm and composure is only ever one breath away.

Using your voice

As we said earlier if you are feeling confident and relaxed, your voice should take care of itself, and you do not need to do any specific practice for it. If you think you do struggle generally with a very quiet or soft voice, then you can take some time to practice speaking louder. Have a more upright posture and breathe from your stomach rather than your chest. This should help to project your voice. If you feel you struggle with tripping up over certain words or regularly mispronounce words, you can try practising a few minutes of tongue twisters every day for a few weeks.

On appropriate questions, take a brief moment before answering

This will give you a moment to gather your thoughts and will make your answers sound less rehearsed than if you immediately launched into a lengthy answer. Usually, you would not pause on a straightforward or matter of fact question as this would appear unusual or in a worst-case scenario could make you seem confused or lying.

Make sure you are comfortable – if you are not then change something to become comfortable.

It is difficult to have good body language if you are uncomfortable. For example, you are becoming very warm in your suit jacket or realise that your tie, which you rarely wear, is too tight or if the sun is in your eyes. In these instances, make the necessary adjustment: take a moment to put on or take off another layer; loosen your tie; move away from under the air conditioning etc. Throughout the day make sure you stay hydrated and go to the toilet when necessary.

Summary of this guide

We have covered various aspects of body language for your Medicine interview in this article. Remember to focus on the basics rather than the minutiae. This includes getting into a confident and relaxed state; good sitting posture and seat positioning; a good handshake; eye contact and controlling your hand movements. Practice these things during your interview preparation as you want them to be second nature; you do not want to be thinking about them in your Medicine interview.

Being confident and relaxed will make your body language confident and relaxed. Similarly, in reverse, exuding confident and relaxed body language will help you feel this way internally. Remember, that no matter how nervous or tense you feel you have the ability to change this and reset at any moment with the breathing exercises we mentioned in this article. A state of inner calmness and confidence is only ever a breath away.

Medicine interview coming up? Medicine Answered can help

You can explore body language or any other aspect of Medicine interviews in more detail with our one to one Medicine interview tutoring. This is delivered only by doctors who passed all four of their own Medicine interviews and can be done online or in person. We also provide one day Medicine interview courses delivered across the country.