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4 Characteristics of the Successful Interviewee

Updated: Jun 12

Whether you are interviewing for dental school or dental postgraduate residency programs, there are some universal traits I believe all program interviewers are looking for. Perhaps even more important than academic grades or accolades is the applicant's attitude, which is highly indicative of his/her potential to integrate into a new professional environment. After having interviewed at schools from all over the country (e.g. UCSF, UCLA, Harvard, UW, Texas A&M, UAB, USC...etc.) and observing other applicants, I noticed a few shared commonalities amongst those who were highly successful:

1. Under pressure, they stay calm.

It's fairly agreeable to most clinicians that dentistry can be a highly stressful profession. Even with ample preparation and experience, there always seem to be unforeseen or uncontrollable challenges, both clinical and interpersonal, that clinicians must deal with on a weekly, if not a daily basis. This is especially true in a learning environment, since students are often times tossed into new situations for the very first time in a sometimes "sink or swim" manner. Hence, it is very important for interviewees to exude an appropriate level of stoicism and lightheartedness, so they can demonstrate to the admissions committee that they have the inner strength to handle the rigors of professional training.

So how do interviewers test for this? They utilize the element of surprise during the interview, whether it is an unexpected question or task. The secret to surviving this portion of the interview is to stay calm, pause, take a deep breath, and/or even chuckle to acknowledge the somewhat humorous situation you are now in. Stay positive and know that the attitude you approach the situation in will be far more memorable than the "correctness" of your answer.

Refrain from showcasing any signs of stress/nervousness and don't assume that the interviewer is out to get you. Treat the unexpected question/task as a fun challenge rather than an arduous situation.

2. They are humble.

If you can secure an interview for dental school or residency, chances are that you are highly qualified. But so is everyone else who has come before you and the peers you are interviewing with. Be reassured that the best way you can stand out at this point in your application is not through your accomplishments, but is in fact how well-liked you are. There is always one person in your interview cohort who comes off as arrogant and blatantly thinks too highly of themselves - don't be like that.

For example, when you are praised by the interviewers on your successes, do accept their compliment with a confident "thank-you" but also mention the mentors/family/friends who played a part in your achievements. If you are asked to qualify yourself (e.g. "Why should we choose you?"), do confidently state the reasons and skills you have, but again consider concluding your response on a thankful note to those who helped you along the way. This demonstrates that once you are accepted into their program, you will continue to share your success/honor with those around you, instead of taking all the credit in your own name.

3. They make an effort to interact with everyone.

Although programs do not admit to this, the general consensus amongst students who have gone through the application cycle before is that you are being evaluated the moment you step onto school campus. One school of thought is that you must assume everyone you interact with can affect the outcome of your interview, whether it's the front desk person or your student tour guide. You want to be polite to everyone you come across, and take the initiative to say "hi" even if you think the other person has no connections to the program.

However, the biggest advantage to adopting this frame of mind is that you are conditioning your mind to act in the same way that confident and charismatic people act. Throughout the day, as you are the first to introduce yourself to other interviewees or staff members at the program, it will become increasingly effortless to do so. This high energy you bring to the table will serve you well in the interview room, since you have become accustomed to talking with strangers with friendliness and confidence.

While this year's interviews will be held virtually, there is no reason to throw this positive mindset out the window. Take the initiative to say "hi" first in the group video chat. Acknowledge the different people (if there is more than one interviewer) in each zoom meeting room using their names frequently to keep your interviewers or other people engaged.

4. They are well-prepared.

There are so many aspects in becoming well-prepared for interviews. We've written several articles in the past on this topic, some of which I'll list here:

The main approach I suggest to friends and mentees, which I've successful used myself, is to craft answers for every possible question I can think of. These preemptive answers need not to be rehearsed word for word. Rather, I will say out loud my thoughts several times so I can hear what I sound like and what the flow of my response is. You must develop a natural flow of speaking, or else you either lose the listener's attention or even annoy your interviewer if you speak too aggressively or ramble on with no awareness. If this concept seems daunting or foreign to you, simply reach out to a mentor or friend to conduct a mock interview for you. You'll be surprised to see your nervousness kicking in, despite interviewing with someone that already knows you!

If you feel you need professional help in achieving better and more natural pacing, improving your interview presence, and/or want to craft the best answers possible, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at to schedule a mock interview session. We'd love to provide customized guidance and advice specific to your strengths and weaknesses.


Final tip: It's important to walk into interview day prepared. I recommend purchasing a padfolio to keep these major things:

1. Resume/CV

2. Visual examples of any art you want to share ie. paintings, photography, creative hobbies that show manual dexterity

           3. Pen/Paper for notes

           4. Business card to share contact information

Virtual interview must have: Tried and true by yours truly and many of my colleagues in dental school and residency as we wear the badges of the COVID era, I highly recommend investing in a ring light attachable to your laptop to automatically enhance professionalism in the interview setting.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases through affiliate links support the blog at no additional cost to you. I appreciate your support!


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