Did you know that a benchmark UCLA study found 93 percent of a person’s communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal communication, i.e. body language? (Body language accounted for 55% of the effectiveness with voice tone accounting for 38% and the remaining, paltry 7% accounted for by the actual words.) When you consider these numbers, being aware of your body language becomes essential in communicating yourself effectively to an interviewer.

Not all med schools offer applicants a chance to interview. But for those schools that do, it’s an integral part of the process. “The interview provides a glimpse of a candidate’s skills in social interaction and communication effectiveness, and also how well the applicant can work with others,” says Senior Consultant Wayne Shelton, Ph.D. “The committee wants to know not just the academic potential of the applicant, but their aptitude for being an effective participant in the physician-patient relationship.”

Most students applying for the top-ranked med schools will face the interview in some form or another. So how does a student successfully communicate their message without contradicting what they say through poor body language? Check out these tips:

  • The interview starts when you enter the campus – and ends when you exit it. Be aware that you’re undergoing evaluation as soon as you walk in the door. Poor behavior, a bad word or inappropriate comment to the receptionist or even an unfamiliar person in the lobby can easily get back to the interviewer and the admissions committee. So, make sure you are punctual (or arrive early) and use the time to calm your nerves and compose yourself. Don’t conduct a last-minute review of your notes or questions, but instead get a feel for the environment and make sure you’re comfortable. Create the impression that you’re relaxed in the face of stressful events.
  • Always give a firm handshake. If you can, make sure your hands are dry and give a polite, firm and sincere handshake. Otherwise, clammy, limp, noncommittal handshakes only show your nervousness and anxiety. If possible, try running your hands under warm water for a moment and dry them off. This will keep your hands from being cool and clammy and be warm and dry.
  • Master the little things. How you dress, your conduct, and your posture all say something about you. All of these things should reflect your confidence in your abilities and should communicate that to the interviewer.
  • When you talk, be concise – don’t ramble. Use a natural tone and don’t deviate from your normal speaking rate, volume or rhythm. Practice answering generic questions by talking to a mirror and make note of how you talk. If you have points you wish to make, pick the appropriate time and work them into the conversation. Don’t get sidetracked – and don’t dominate the conversation. “I remember one candidate who, upon my first question to him, didn’t stop talking for nearly forty-five minutes,” says Wayne. “Needless to say, his inability to be concise and to engage in a give and take conversation did not work in his favor.” Answer the question, be concise, and allow the interviewer to respond. “Once you’re done, be quiet for the moment. It’s the interviewer’s job to carry the conversation, not yours.”

There’s a lot more to the med school interview than just the non-verbal message. But if you can demonstrate your confidence and sincerity in this ‘silent message’, then it only reinforces you as a strong applicant, and makes you that much more appealing to the school of your choice.

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