How to make your personal statement interview-ready?
In both panel and MMI interview formats, your personal statement - now question answers as of 2023 - can serve as a central focus of conversation. In both my MMI interviews, I was given a station where an interviewer had my personal statement in front of them and discussed specifics. In my panel interview, they spent half the time asking me questions about and around things in my personal statement. At FutureDoc, we can help you prepare for this through one to one preparation with a tutor, and access to mocks and demo interviews. But how do you first ensure your answers are as interview-ready as possible?
- Specifically include things you want to talk about! Whilst this might sound obvious, it is important to include activities you have done and skills you have learnt from those that you are able to discuss enthusiastically and eloquently. Particularly discuss things that are unique to you and make you stand out - did you have a really interesting EPQ topic or experience on hospital placement that really struck you? Not only does this make you stand out as a candidate, but it allows you to direct their questions towards things you are comfortable speaking about. Since many interviews will have at least one or more stations that focus on the skills you have learnt and the experiences you have had, many of which utilise your answers/PS directly within the interview station, this is a helpful way to actually tailor your own interview. By mentioning things which really impacted you, it will mean that if asked to draw from that and talk about why this would make you a good doctor, you will be confident. Furthermore, if you give a brief introduction to something in your personal statement, you can almost predict you will be asked to expand on it at least once, which means you can prepare your answers well in advance thinking of how to structure your answer and what you want to cover. Whilst preparing for interviews you can make flashcards of the various common questions with bullet points of what you want to cover within the answer, then practicing these with family or friends. This is particularly easy to do for things you have mentioned in your answers and want to draw out in more depth during the interview process.
- Look back! By this I mean, look back through your work experience notes or think back on the experiences you are writing about, particularly trying to remember specific instances, professionals, or experiences that impacted you during your time doing work experience or volunteering. Remembering them thoroughly will help you to structure your answers. Thinking of this with a skills-based approach is the most useful way to go about focusing on these areas. Making mind-maps or lists, whichever methodology works best for you, of all your experiences and linking these to skills can be a good place to start. You can focus either on attributes and skills you have built or learnt, or those which you observed from other people in the medical environment and why these particularly stood out to you in the context of being a good doctor. Link experiences always back to the GMC's core values and attributesdocument, showing how you have built these skills and why they are important as a doctor. This will mean that you are very clear about what exactly you have learnt, and if asked to elaborate in the interview situation, you will be able to easily relate it back to these core values and attributes. If you have particular anecdotes from placements try to use these to demonstrate how engaged you were and to stand out to the interviewers.
- Go through with a fine-tooth comb looking for questions. Whilst at FutureDoc 1 to 1 coaching programme mentors can help you do this, it is also important you try to extract any important questions they could ask yourself too. For example, if you worked in a geriatrics ward, they could ask 'What skills did you build for dealing with difficult situations' or 'what do you understand about end of life care'. Creating bullet points of what you would say in response to this is a good strategy to start with and as aforementioned you can even turn these into flashcards. Even if these questions aren't exactly what is asked, you become more adaptable and able to answer based on similar questions you have practiced. You can also look for parallel angles they could take, using your lateral thinking skills. For example if you have discussed an EPQ or other project, they could ask you about an interesting paper or article in a similar area or specialty that you have read recently. Tangential questions like this which draw on the experiences and skills within your answers or PS are very popular as they are tailored to the individual and challenge your ability to think on the spot. However trying to consider these in advance can mean that you come across as eloquent and well-prepared, and do not actually have to think on your feet. It is important to be really careful with the content you discuss - for example any projects, papers, books you have read, it is very important to have a thorough knowledge of as the interviewer could be an expert in the field or could have also read the book recently. Knowing how to summarise what you have written about in a few words, and elaborate on it to discuss what you learnt is key with things like this. Preparing with others and getting them to ask you random questions from your statement/answers can also be helpful as it lends an alternative perspective and will give you new areas to look into and to prepare for.
- Make sure you know your answers inside out. Read them back frequently during your interview preparation, so that you remember exactly what you wrote and also what you did not write or did not expand on. This means that when asked to elaborate on particular areas you are able to do so. It also means that if asked to expand on things, you should be able to give the relevant information, build on what you learnt from it and what you had written down, and bring it back to why you are the best candidate for that place at medical school. Your answers should as aforementioned relate to values, attributes and skills, so ensure you have memorised which of these you have mentioned and spoken about - if there are others you did not have space to discuss or could not fit into the answers or statement, make sure you remember these too, so that you can bring them up at various points whilst describing experiences and specific instances.
- Write about a few things which need to be built on. For example I almost baited my interviewers into asking me more about my YoungEnterprise experience by writing about it but not going into a huge amount of depth. This meant that at 2 of my 4 interviews I was asked about it, as it sparked their curiosity, and I was able to prepare my answers in advance, thinking about what I learnt from the process, the transferable skills I gained, and my style as a leader, among other areas. If there are activities you want to include but just don't have the space, you can mention them briefly in the hopes of being asked to expand during your interview, once again playing to your strengths. Make sure to then practice these answers, so that you are able to elaborate on these areas in a structured way, thinking of the specific things they are asking you to discuss. Things they are likely to pick up on and ask if not mentioned in much depth include specific extra-curricular activities, prizes won or projects undertaken, books that you have read, or specific anecdotes you mentioned but did not build on. This is truly 'interview-proofing' your personal statement/ answers as it means that you are better prepared for what could be asked of you considering you will have an immense amount to prepare for during the interview process. Within our FutureDoc programmes, tutors ensure that all possible questions and areas that could crop up from your statement or answers are covered with you well in advance and this perspective from an experienced tutor and successful candidate can make a difference.
- Be university specific - once you have finalised your choices try to make sure your answers reflect what the university is looking for. Often on their entry requirements page they will state specific skills and attributes they are looking for in candidates - this is also what they're likely to ask about at interview. If you haven't already mentioned these in your statement or answers you are even more likely to be asked how you have shown these. Whilst it can be difficult to tailor to each of your 4 university choices, many of the skills and attributes will overlap significantly which is helpful as you can focus on a smaller number of them. Creating a spreadsheet of the buzzwords from each of the university pages and then looking at the common themes and overlaps when writing your statement or answers means you will have covered a large amount of what they are looking for before you even get to interview. If there are specific areas they have mentioned for example creative thinking, that you couldn't mention or could not find an example for, this is then something which may be brought up at interview, so once again it gives you an avenue to think about and prepare for such.
It is really important to have a very thorough knowledge of your answers as discussed and be able to discuss in depth various points. By taking some of the steps here you will be well on your way to delivering top-class interview answers focused around your statement/answers.
Written by Catherine Dominic