First Impressions are an Important Component of Your Medical School Interview
Especially in an interview setting, first impressions are incredibly important. In fact, there’s an entire book devoted to the subject of first impressions called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (and it’s a bestseller).
In an interview setting, a positive first impression can produce what’s known as the “halo effect“. In essence, an interviewer who forms a positive first impression of you within the first 60 seconds of meeting may have that impression carry over to the rest of the interview.
The Importance of Attire, Grooming, Smiles, and Handshakes
When you think about meeting somebody for the first time, what are you evaluating during those first 60 seconds?
For most people, it boils down to a subconscious global impression. You might notice somebody’s expression: are they relaxed, smiling, and confident? Or do they look anxious, with furrowed brows and a frown?
Is the handshake firm and confident, or is it damp and limp?
Beyond your smile, your expression, and your handshake, your interviewers are going to take subconscious note of your grooming, attire, and general appearance as well.
In the setting of an interview, you want all of these factors to convey a professional message.
First impressions are important, which is why it's important to take the time to think about your attire, grooming, smile, and handshake
The Aspiring Physician: Professional and with Meticulous Attention to Detail
The message that you want to convey during your interview is that of a future physician. In other words, you want to appear professional, neat, and detail-oriented.
What to Wear in Your Medical School Interview: Professional Business Attire in Which You Feel Comfortable
Since attire is such an important component of first impressions, you want to take the time to get this right.
In general, professional business attire for an interview (for both men and women) will mean a dark, well-fitting suit. There are certainly variations of this, and nuances, but that should be your baseline.
Also pay attention to the details. Make sure your suit is well-fitted and ironed. You want to make sure there’s no lint, stains, or missing buttons. (I know that sounds obvious, but it’s still worth doing a last-minute check of your suit to make sure everything’s in place.)
Our general recommendations for professional interview attire:
• A well-fitted suit
• Dark blue, gray, or black
• An ironed shirt that is long sleeved and typically white
• A long tie
• A belt that matches the shoes
• Shoes that are clean and polished
• Matching socks that are mid-calf length
• Well-groomed hairstyle
• Neat and trimmed beard and mustache
• Nails: clean and trimmed
• A pant or skirt suit
• In general: solid, dark colors
• Blouse: solid color or non-distracting pattern
• Shoes: clean, closed toe, dark or neutral color, low to moderate heels
• Hosiery: at or near skin color
• Well-groomed hair style
• Nails: clean, trimmed
Beyond what to wear, it’s also important to know what not to wear in a medical school interview
The following list outlines some of the things to avoid when you’re choosing your attire. Although some of these may sound obvious, we’ve seen these mistakes over the years, so it’s worth looking over this list.
For men, avoid:
• Ostentatious rings or chains
• Strongly scented cologne
• Strongly scented aftershave
For women, avoid:
• Excessive or distracting jewelry
• Strongly scented perfume
• Distracting hair or makeup
• A low neckline or short skirt
Basically, you want to be remembered for your strengths, communication skills, and potential: not for your clothing
I’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants, and some of them were memorable for the wrong reasons.
I remember applicants with the dangling, hypnotic earrings, a white dress shirt and no undershirt (it was sticking to his skin), and even strong, overpowering cologne.
It’s not so much that I formed a negative impression of these applicants. It’s more that these factors sometimes distracted from an applicant’s responses.
What about facial piercings, tattoos, earrings for men, long acrylic nails, and other edgy, modern, or similar attire?
All of these fall into a gray area
You definitely want to avoid being sloppily dressed or poorly groomed, because your school is seeking a highly professional, mature physician with compulsive attention to detail.
When it comes to these other considerations, however, there’s a lot more nuance. In the past, we would have advised against facial piercings or long acrylic nails. As standards change, however, it really depends on the particular school or program at which you’re interviewing.
If you’re not certain, I would caution against it. You can also speak to your advisers and current medical students at that school to get an idea of what they might consider appropriate.
The bottom line: Medical schools are seeking professional, mature students with close attention to detail, and your choice of attire and grooming should reflect that.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.