There comes a time in every optometry applicant’s life when they come face-to-face with the all-encompassing interview. It can be a fearful time, especially if you’re prone to over-talking when nervous (ahem, that would be me). Thankfully, I have some helpful hints that I’m happy to share with you as you begin your interview journey. The good news is that these hints will serve you well in all of your interviews; they’re not school-specific. Think of it as a basic recipe for guacamole in which each school has their own special “twist” (maybe one school adds garlic and another adds onions?). Before we get too hungry, let’s take a step back and discuss wisdom from “The Medical School Interview: Secrets and a System for Success,” by Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA. Dr. Fleenor’s main premise is that there are two questions that the interview seeks to answer, but they will not be asked outright. It is for this reason that he calls them “sneaky.”
During the interview process, there are two sneaky questions that the interviewer is trying to get at. They are not asked directly, but are interwoven throughout the entire interview process. As you answer each interview question, you should also be answering at least one of the two sneaky questions. The sneaky questions are as follows:
#1. Are you doctor material?
#2. Do you have the motivation it takes to get through four years of a demanding program?
Knowing these sneaky questions ahead of time will help when faced with interview questions you haven’t thought of before. For instance, during my interview I mentioned a quote from a book I had read and my interviewer asked a follow-up question about what books I was currently reading. Naturally, I blanked on the names of the books (forgetting important names at important times, my specialty!) but I was prepared because I knew what the interviewer was essentially asking. She wanted to know if I spent my free time reading and learning. She was trying to assess if I was doctor material. And what do doctors love to do? Learn! We wouldn’t be going to school for years and years if we didn’t have an interest in learning. By letting her know that I read literature in my free time, I clued her into the fact that I have a passion for lifelong learning, and therefore, I am doctor material.
Take time to sit down and write out what it means to be a doctor (better yet, a GREAT doctor) and also what it takes to make it through another four years of school. Once you come up with your own definitions of what it means to be doctor-material and what it takes to make it through the program, you’ll have a good foundation. Now, incorporate your definitions into some practice interview questions. An interviewer may ask how you balanced school and a part-time job, when in reality they are asking Sneaky Question #2. When answering this question, you could say something along the lines of, “I managed school and a part-time job by creating a time-management system for myself in which I scheduled out each day’s activities and penciled in my prioritized tasks, such as finishing my homework and studying for my exams. This process was made easier by the fact that I kept my goals in mind, my goals being to graduate and to be employee-of-the-month.” Not only are you answering the interviewer’s question, but you are also answering Sneaky Question #2. You are alluding to the fact that you have the motivation to succeed by mentioning your goals. Our goals of being optometrists are what keeps us motivated and ready to come to class each day despite difficult classes and busy schedules. By mentioning your time management system, you are making it known that you not only have the motivation to succeed, but you also have a proven system in place.
The answers to these questions may seem obvious, but keep in mind that you only have a short amount of time to show the interviewers that you’re ready to be an optometrist. Even though you may feel in your heart that you are doctor material, the interviewers won’t know that. Similar to standardized tests and beauty pageants, you are judged on what you bring to the table. So now that you are equipped with the Sneaky Questions of the interview process, you’re one step closer to acing your interview and becoming an optometrist.