How to Succeed in Your Residency Interviews

Interviews for residency are generally unlike those you are familiar with. They tend to be more conversational and are at least as much a marketing session for the residency programs as they are an evaluation of you (the applicant). The most common question you will receive on the interview trail is “do you have any questions?” by a country mile.

By receiving an interview, you are qualified academically for that program. It means you have a reasonably good chance of ranking there (on the low end, probably 10%). Just be yourself and see if it’s a good fit. If you had a good interview impression of the program, the converse is probably also true. It’s just as important to strike the right number and balance of interviews as it is to be a charming almost-physician on the big day.

The easiest way to hurt yourself in the interview process is to fulfill a pathological stereotype: the jerk, the know-it-all, the creepshow, etc.

A very brief list of rules to interview by:

  • Be on time (or reasonably early)
  • Look professional (bathed, clean-shaved if applicable, suited). Your appearance should be generally unremarkable (but well put-together).
  • Avoid checking bags (it costs money on most airlines anyway). People show up suit-less every season because of this. They really do. Yes, it actually happens.
  • Be warm and pleasant. Be excited. Look people in the eye. Smile frequently (your cheeks will ache, be strong)
  • Be someone you would want to work with.
  • Don’t be a sycophant, however.
  • Do not complain. Ever. Be nice to all residents and ancillary staff. The secretary is one of the most powerful people you will interact with.
  • Don’t play on your phone. I know you won’t during an actual interview—because you’re not an idiot—but I encourage you to not pull it out to fill inevitable dead time either.
  • Have a repertoire of standard “I am interested” questions. You will be asked for your questions by every person you meet. Don’t be combative in how you ask them.
  • Ask nitty-gritties to the residents and not to faculty: call schedules, moon-lighting, benefits, etc.
  • Do not ask questions that are answered on the website or in the Powerpoint talk. It means you’re lazy or fell asleep or both.
  • When possible, research the program ahead of time and have specific questions/discussion points.
  • Go to the dinner the night before (don’t drink too much) if you can. It is an excellent time to meet residents. The residents are what you will probably base your decisions on (along with location and reputation; not the Powerpoint). Do not fail to RSVP to the interview dinner if one is requested, and do not no-show without notification if you then can’t make it. Some applicants do this, and the programs always notice. It’s rude.
  • The residents will tell you that the dinner is a safe space. It is not if you’re an ass.
  • Trust your gut.

Get Practice

Go over common questions with a loved one or friend to make sure you have solid (but not overly rehearsed). Take feedback seriously. You can also look at my Interview Question Compendium for examples.

If your school has a mock interview night or analogous event, you should go. You may not be aware of interview ticks or nervous habits you’ve developed since your last rodeo.

Further Reading

There are some well-reviewed books on this topic (e.g. The Residency Interview and The Successful Match [which is long, good but repetitive, and pretty exhaustive]) but truthfully, I sincerely doubt most American medical graduates with a reasonable student affairs department and a modicum of common sense have very much to gain from any book-length treatments of this topic. A shorter treatment by the AMA is quite readable, and I largely agree with medfools. A more gunner-like approach is advocated by these folks.

As with all how-to resources, so much of it truly is common sense.

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