You’ve sent in your application. Your anxiety increases. You begin to compulsively check your email account. Your heart skips a beat when you have a new message. Welcome to interview season.
Getting the interview
You will be contacted via email (very rarely by snail mail) if a program wishes to interview you. They will generally provide options for dates, which tend to fill up very quickly (sometimes within minutes).
Respond promptly. An invitation to interview is not a guarantee to interview.
Do not make the mistake of holding onto a less desirable interview without responding while you wait to see if something better comes along. Schedule all interviews at first. Then, as your list fills, you can begin being more discriminating. You may have to cancel interviews. That’s fine, as long as you do it properly (see below).
It is common but somewhat awkward to inquire about your application status to programs. This is especially advisable in the following situations:
- In a couples match when one partner has received and scheduled an interview but the other has not.
- If there is a particular reason you want to go to a program that may not be clear in your application. If you have not heard back from a program after they’ve sent out invitations, it’s common to send a love letter detailing your special desire and asking about the status of your application.
There are often threads on sites like studentdoctor.net where posters share when different programs have sent out invitations. This can lead to substantial neuroses but can be helpful in scheduling interviews and timing queries.
Picking the date
Ideally, you should schedule interviews during the period in which you have taken vacation. You should attempt to cluster interviews geographically when possible to save on travel expenses, though this is often not possible. Join rewards programs for airlines, hotels, or sites like Expedia or Hotels.com. Compare prices with AirBnB if that’s something you’re comfortable with (signing up via a referral link gets you $65 off your first stay). Car rentals are less common in the age of Uber or Lyft, but in more suburban or sprawling cities, a car rental may still be the best way to get around or actually see the place (especially if you’re making a trip of it and are not just there for the day).
December tends to be the heaviest month, though this can vary by specialty.
There are several theories about scheduling interviews:
- Interviewing at a program you are very interested in early in the season is bad because you won’t be polished
- Interviewing at a program you are very interested in late in the season is bad because you will be tired
- Programs will forget you if you interviewed early
- Programs will be exhausted and uninterested by the end
The bottom line is that many programs have looked at their own histories and found no correlation between interview timing and likelihood to match. Residency interviews are very different in content and style than medical school interviews. The programs are often auditioning just as much as you are. Don’t worry.
If you are applying to an advanced specialty like radiology or dermatology (requiring a preliminary or transitional year), you will likely need to take a full two months to interview. The same may true for other fields if you plan/need to interview at ≥ 20 programs (such as marginal candidates in competitive fields).
How many is enough?
The bare minimum of interviews varies by specialty. As a general rule, 12 contiguous ranks in a single specialty will give you an extremely high chance of matching. For most applicants, especially in less competitive fields, even that number isn’t strictly necessary so long as there is a combination of programs of different tiers. Like college, you don’t want to interview only at the ivy leagues. You need a balanced mix of programs for your competitiveness.
Programs will make you feel loved, so don’t let generic praise wash away your due diligence. Interview until it hurts.
If you have fewer than 7 interview offers by late October, you will need to schedule a meeting with whichever dean at your school oversees the match and your mentor to address the possibility of adding a backup plan.
Of successfully matched US students in 2011, 55.4% got their first choice, 16.1% got their second, 9.9% got their third, 5.8% got their fourth, and 12.8% got a choice beyond their fourth. This means that 81.4% of successfully matched students got one of their top three choices. Even including unmatched applicants, the top three number only falls to 77.2%.
If you cancel an interview (be polite!), make sure to receive a confirmation of your cancellation. A short gracious email to the program coordinator is usually sufficient, and they will typically respond back promptly. Do not simply no-show at an interview, as it makes you and your school look bad! People actually do this! Give as much notice as possible, at least one week if possible. Programs remember when people no-show and sometimes hold it against the institution in future years, not to mention that someone else could have used that spot who actually wanted it.
There is a tendency for many students to cancel their later interviews (mid-to-late January) because they feel they have likely interviewed at enough places to match and are generally very tired of traveling. Don’t misinterpret positive feedback from programs as an indication of your place in the match, no matter how blatant or explicit. Students get burned every year. Make sure to have enough programs on your rank list before canceling interviews, because you can only rank programs you’ve interviewed at!