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Interview Tips: Talking About Volunteering

You’ve spent all those hours volunteering, but how can you stand out at an interview? Here are 5 top tips!

  1. Talk about specific examples and people.
  2. Structure your response.
  3. Mention the timeframe.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
  5. Include non-medical experiences.

Talk About Specific Examples and People

You are the only person with your individual volunteering experiences. Think back to your work experience diary and notes. Describe specific situations that have impacted on you rather than just vaguely describing things you have observed. Don’t just talk about the positive experiences, challenging situations where things have gone wrong can be the most beneficial learning experiences. The most important thing here is to explain how you responded when the situation went wrong and how you have learned from this. Medicine and healthcare are personal, so keep your responses personal. Also, ensure you don’t name residents or people by name to retain confidentiality.

Structure Your Response

Using a structured response will help ensure you include all the key points in your answer. It will also help you to reflect on skills and qualities that are beneficial within a medical career, focusing on the most relevant points. A good structure to use here is the STAR framework.

Situation refers to introducing the context of the event, task refers to your role or responsibility in the situation, action refers to what you did, and result or reflection refers to what you have learnt from this experience. It is good to link this back to the question.

An example of how to use this framework when asked about what you have learned from your volunteering could be: ‘During my time spent volunteering in my local stroke rehabilitation centre, I developed an understanding of the importance of teamwork for the patient’s best outcome. (Situation) I spent some time talking to a middle-aged gentleman who had suffered a stroke several months ago (Task). At the day centre, he would spend time in the gym regaining his strength, in addition to time spent on a computer for a speech and language therapy course. The best rehabilitation advancements could be implemented due to the support of the personal trainers, technology team, and careers at the centre. (More situation) This inspired me to read further into holistic care in stroke rehabilitation. (Action) Reading through articles and papers made me aware of the immense impact of holistic treatment. Psychological care can create a virtuous cycle for a stroke patient. For the gentleman I was speaking to, his positive mood due to the support he was receiving made him more motivated to exercise, helping him to get stronger. (Action + result) Without the team at the stroke rehabilitation centre looking after all aspects of his health and well-being, it would be unlikely he would have shown as good a recovery. This made me aware of the importance of the team working together to treat the patient holistically rather than for what might appear to be the presenting medical problem. (Reflection)

Just a quick note: make sure you don’t spend too long explaining the situation, and don’t give too much of a scientific response, the most important part here is the reflection. Universities love reflection!

Mention the Timeframe

Be proud of how long you have volunteered for, and if it seems appropriate, mention it! With this in mind, you should still remain humble. Carefully balance being assured with appearing boastful or shallow. Your time spent volunteering will enable you to become more aware of the hard work of healthcare workers. This will give you an insight into the challenges within medicine, so try to be aware and empathetic.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture

Knowing why medical schools want you to do volunteering is important. Think about what skills you have developed and how this differs from paid work. Being aware of this will help with your approach to questions at interview. For example, volunteering in a healthcare setting is a good way to understand the challenges and realities of healthcare, which can help demonstrate your commitment and interest. The NHS states that “medical schools look for applicants who are genuinely concerned for others.” So keep this in mind when undergoing your volunteering. The msag has a useful article on the importance of volunteering, so having a read through this will help you understand why you are doing this. Knowing your “why” will help you to naturally express your passion and commitment for medicine by talking about your volunteering experience.

Include Non-medical Experiences

Skills learnt from non-medical experiences are just as applicable here as medical experiences. Volunteering within your community (e.g. local sports clubs, school events) can give you a range of applicable skills. For example, community fundraising events can demonstrate commitment, organisation and leadership skills. Just ensure that you reflect on the skills developed and pick the best examples to demonstrate these skills.

If you’d like to find out how to smash interview role-playing stations, click here.

If you want help getting into your dream university then also be sure to check out our 1 On 1 Coaching Programme. As part of this programme, you will get in-depth help with the entire application process from whatever stage you join at till you get into the medical school of your choice. This is done through cycle-dependent teaching and the founder of the course, Dr Ashley Hilton is always available for any questions. You can find out more about the Elite Programme here.

Written by Katie Balme