What are interviewers looking for?

The purpose of the interview is to determine whether you display the traits and skills that the university expects its medical and dental students (as future health practitioners) to have, like honesty and problem-solving skills. Since many of these traits can’t be identified through written assessments alone, the interview is an opportunity for interviewers to identify them in person.

For example, skills like communication can be assessed a lot more accurately during face-to-face conversations; if a student’s communication skills were assessed only through writing, even students with poor communication skills could claim to be good communicators.

So when it comes down to it, what interviewers are looking for isn’t candidates who are ‘likeable’, ‘sociable’, or ‘charismatic.’ Since the interview is used to identify whether candidates possess the traits of a good doctor or dentist, every interview question is carefully designed to give them an opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve developed those traits to a high degree.

So which traits exactly are interviewers looking for?

The traits that medical and dental schools are looking for can be grouped into five main types: attributes, skills, motivations, values, and goals.

Attributes are the inherent qualities you possess that influence the way you execute tasks (e.g. empathy, compassion, responsibility, and decision-making). For example, an empathetic person is likely to speak to and treat others differently compared to a non-empathetic person.

Skills refer to the ability to complete a task in order to achieve a desirable outcome (e.g. problem-solving skills, effective communication skills, leadership, and teamwork). Unlike attributes, skills aren’t inherent qualities: they need to be developed. They’re also not directly transferable, meaning you need to adapt them to fit different contexts. For example, leadership skills used by students at school are very different to the leadership skills doctors need to lead teams and solve problems. During the interview, you need to make sure you’re demonstrating not only the right skills, but also the right versions of those skills (i.e. the medical/dental version).

Motivations are the driving factors behind why you are interested in medicine—more specifically, why you feel that the way in which medicine involves science and helps people is more suitable and rewarding for yourself than how other fields involve science and help people. Motivations are usually very personal, so you’ll need to personally derive, review and assess your own reasons for pursuing medicine or dentistry if you want to get through the challenges of medical/dental school and make great contributions during your professional career. Having a high level of motivation makes you more resilient and dedicated, and it also comes across during the interview in many intangible ways.

Values are the philosophies by which you live your life every day (e.g. ‘treat others the way you would like to be treated’, or ‘help those who are less fortunate’). These are the things that form the foundation of your identity and make you who you are. Working in the medical and dental professions is challenging and can require many sacrifices, so it won’t be personally rewarding unless you truly care for others.

Goals are the things that you want to achieve in your career as a medical or dental practitioner (e.g. pursue a particular specialty, or practice medicine in a rural area). These usually stem from your own unique combination of the other four types of traits. For example, if you have empathy (attribute), highly developed problem-solving abilities (skill), a clear reason for pursuing medicine (motivation), and a strong desire to help people who are less fortunate (value), you might have a goal to improve aspects of the healthcare system that disadvantage a particular community.

To see how interviewers assess your attributes, skills, motivations, values, and goals, check out the mark scheme here.

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