This week, I sat down one of our medical school admissions consultants, Dr. Omar Sultan Haque, to discuss medical school interviews. With over 10 years of experience advising students, and having served on a medical school admissions committee himself, Dr. Haque has a deep understanding of what makes or breaks a med school interview.

Here are three common mistakes that students make, and some strategies for avoiding theM in your interview:

Mistake #1: Focusing too much on how you’ll be a great doctor. 

Many students go into their interviews bound and determined to convince their interviewers that they are going to be great doctors. This is a huge mistake! First, interviewers typically have years of experience being doctors themselves and have little patience for students’ speculations about what it takes to be a great doctor. More importantly, most students who are applying are going to share many similar qualities that will potentially make them all good doctors. So, instead of focusing on what will make you a good doctor, let that shine in your resume and experience. Spend your time discussing what makes you different and unique as well as a compelling fit for the school to which you’re applying.

Quick Preparation Tip: 

Assume that 85% of each applicant’s candidacy is nearly identical (in other words, everyone is hardworking, compassionate, and committed). What is that 15% that makes you different? What about your background, upbringing, major, research, adversities, and experiences really make you who you are today, and how do those things interact to make you a great med school candidate? 

Mistake #2: Only answering the question that’s asked. 

Your medical school interview is an opportunity to make your candidacy come alive. Your interviewers may have read your application thoroughly and are familiar with the data that you’re presenting about yourself—your scores, grades, resume, etc. The interview is your chance to weave this all together and make a lasting impression. Thus, when asked a question, don’t just answer it with a fact, but rather use it as an opportunity to explain the whys, hows, and who really cares behind your decisions. Your task is to subtly use each question in the interview to reinforce and deepen the narrative you’ve presented in your application. 

Quick Preparation Tip: 

Review your resume and background carefully and ask yourself three questions for every item: Why did I do this? How does it fit in with the other things that I have done? Who cares? Make sure to review and repeat this exercise until you’re capable of starting anywhere on your resume and easily explaining how it connects to any other part of your experience. 

Mistake # 3: Ignoring why you’ll be a great fit for the school where you’re interviewing. 

Med school applications and interviews are a whirlwind, and it’s often difficult to keep up with the sheer number of obligations that you have. This shouldn’t stop you, however, from taking the time to make sure you understand in great detail what makes a school unique, and how your narrative makes you an ideal candidate to fit into a school’s academic and cultural environment. This type of research is hard work, so start early and get specific. If you can’t find enough about the school, or don’t feel like you have anything that connects you to it, reconsider your candidacy there, as it may not be the right fit for you. 

Quick Preparation Tip: 

Make a master list of questions that you might ask about a school’s academics, professors, culture, environment, student body, and research opportunities. Then, using the internet, interviews with students, visits, and any other reputable materials you can get your hands on, spend time answering each question for every school, highlighting what you find to be unique about that school. Then, study these lists carefully so that you can describe in detail what makes a school unique. Connect this with your answers to what make you a great medical school candidate to show how you fit in at that school. 

While getting a med school interview may feel like a huge victory, you’re only part of the way to the end of the race. Make sure to put in the time and energy it takes to prepare effectively, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.