Everyone agrees on the importance of arriving on time and dressing professionally, but those who understand what is going on behind the scenes at elite institutions are in the best position to leverage that information to their advantages. The following are some tips to help you have a great medical school interview:

Are you the one who worked with Mother Theresa?

Most interviewers take the medical school admissions process seriously. They understand you have spent a lot of time, effort, and money to show up on your interview day. But these same faculty members – as earnest as they are – are interviewing scores of other applicants. Treat every interview as though it were a “blind” one. It’s your responsibility to distinguish yourself from all of the other candidates, and the best way to do that is by showcasing your achievements.

The interview process is a persuasive one. Your role is to convince medical schools that you deserve a slot at their institutions. The best way to persuade is by sharing facts, just as a lawyer does when she is trying a case in front of a judge. Saying you are compassionate or hardworking is not convincing, and it doesn’t distinguish you from the scores of other people the interviewer is meeting. You need to prove your value and your distinctiveness with your academic, clinical, research, community service, leadership, international, and teaching achievements.

The bottom line is that you are not special unless you make yourself special; not differentiating yourself with your achievements in a medical school interview is a lost opportunity that will hurt your candidacy.

Schools are people too. (And they want to be liked.)

When I was at Harvard, we had a residency applicant about whom I was very enthusiastic, but when we sat down to talk about the candidate’s credentials, one of my colleagues put a kibosh on the applicant’s prospects. As it turned out, the candidate had made it clear that he did not want to leave California. “If he’s not interested in us, why should we be interested in him?” my colleague asked.

Although you hope that schools will like you, keep in mind that institutions want to see that you are serious about them as well. There is a psychological principle: People tend to like those who like them. Apply this idea to schools when you interview. Be so familiar with the institution that you convey to the interviewer that you are excited and sincere about spending the next four years there. Know details about the school’s curriculum, extracurricular opportunities, location, associated hospitals, and students. Have very specific questions to ask your interviewer that demonstrate your intimate knowledge of the school and your belief that you could be a contributing member of the class.

Dine, but don’t whine.

In an effort to attract desirable applicants, some medical schools invite candidates to social events immediately before or during the interview day. These events may include dinner, lunch, or an optional hospital tour with students. Attending shows schools that you are serious about their programs, affords you the opportunity to score social points, and allows you to gain valuable information about student satisfaction.

Be sure you act professionally even if you think what you say will not affect your candidacy or get back to admissions. If you had a bad experience on the interview day, have a significant other who doesn’t want to move, or know your first choice is a different school, these social events are not the time to reveal that information. This rule is especially true for those applicants who choose to stay in students’ houses or dorms. Be friendly, but don’t blab.

But he promised he’d call.

In the heat of the moment, interviewers may make commitments they can’t keep. Although flattery is nice, don’t assume that any comments about your prospects are accurate, and certainly don’t make decisions (like foregoing an interview at another institution) based on what you have been told about the strength of your candidacy. In most institutions, one interviewer does not have the power to change the course of a candidate’s application.

Often, the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.

A few years ago I was advising a very strong applicant. He had been rejected from a top medical school he was very interested in, and he felt that he would have been a good fit at the institution. He called the medical school and convinced the person he spoke with that he deserved to be reconsidered. The school offered him an interview, and, after he interviewed, he was offered a position at the elite school!

In six years of professional advising, I have only seen this happen once, so this is very far from typical; however, the story reinforces the value of being assertive. After your interview, showing strong interest with well-crafted thank you notes and a letter of intent reinforcing the distinguishing characteristics of your candidacy can also help.

Stars are made, not born.

You only have one chance to make a first impression. Ensure you find a trusted advisor who has medical interview experience. Sit down with the person for one or two hours both to review how to answer bread and butter questions and to confidently formulate responses when you’re thrown a curveball. Learn to comfortably respond to questions about potential weaknesses in your application so that your lasting impression is one of polish.In summary, the interview process is important and less standardized than you might think. Now that you know how the sausage is made, remember the following:

  • Let your story show your glory.
  • Show them some love.
  • Assume what you say over a beer will get back to the nutty professor.
  • No ring, no thing. (Take guarantees of admission with a grain of salt.)
  • It’s okay to be a shy person, just not a shy applicant.
  • Sweat now to be cool later. (Practice, practice, practice.)
Dr. Michelle Finkel is the founder of Insider Medical Admissions. For help with your medical school candidacy, contact Dr. Finkel directly at InsiderMedicalAdmissions.com. “Like” her at Facebook.com/InsiderMedical.