You’ve made it through three years of medical school, two board examinations and spent countless hours and dollars on your residency applications. Excitement builds as the interview invitations roll into your inbox.
Whether you’re an experienced job-seeker or sitting for your first employment interview, the process requires careful planning and preparation.
Combined, we’ve participated in dozens of resident interviews. We offer these 10 tips to help you with yours.
1. Respond promptly to interview invitations
During interview season, set your email inbox to automatically refresh every half hour to one hour. Often, programs have multiple interview dates that fill up quickly. Keep in mind that the dates may conflict with other programs.
Dates also may be posted on residency program websites and by fellow interviewees on online forums such as studentdoctor.net. Know the schedules and plan accordingly.
2. Practice makes perfect
Attend a mock interview or practice with your family and friends. Avoid fidgeting and filler words like “um” or “uh.” Practice good posture, eye contact, being confident and staying engaged throughout the entire interview just like you will on game day.
Unsure of your presentation? Record the practice session so you can see yourself from the interviewers’ perspective.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask around
Tap your network to find people who interviewed at the program or are current residents in the program. Don’t be afraid to ask them for tips about the interview day and what to expect.
Your goal is to avoid any interview surprises.
We both encountered unexpected situations when we were interviewing; for instance, I (Dr. McHugh) once did not know the interview was blind, meaning the interviewers did not have my file or know anything about me. I brought up a deficiency on my application, but later realized I could have avoided the situation by not bringing it up at all.
Another time, I (Dr. Ho) was asked to tie knots for my fellowship interview. Some of the applicants really struggled with this task because it is not a typical skill of an ophthalmologist.
4. Research the program
Go into the interview knowing the hospitals where you would rotate and make it clear that you understand the general structure of the program. Refer to the residency or department websites to learn about the chairperson and any notable faculty; read their biographies if possible. Finding common ground is a great way to connect and establish a rapport.
5. Know the format of the interview
Typically, you’ll receive an agenda before your interview giving details about who you’ll meet and how the interview will be conducted. You’ll want to think through the structure of the interview.
Will you be in a large room fielding questions from 20 people? Are there multiple rooms with one or more interviewers? Do current residents participate in the interviews?
If you find yourself in a room filled with people and feel intimidated, we recommend making eye contact and focusing on the person asking you the question.
6. Dress for Success
Residency interview attire traditionally includes a black, navy blue or gray suit and tie for male applicants and a dark suit or dress and jacket for women. Unless you want to be remembered for your fashion choices, avoid overly trendy styles and loud colors.
When in doubt, choose conservative, professional attire over a more fashion-forward choice.
7. Be ready for common questions, and prepare a list of questions to ask
There are certain questions that will get asked no matter where you interview: why this program, why would you be an asset, how would you mediate conflict or handle another resident who is not fulfilling their duties, what are your strengths and weaknesses, and what is the last book you read?
Write out your answers in advance and refer to them prior to every interview. Be rehearsed, but don’t sound rehearsed.
You will always get asked if you have any questions for the interviewers. Failure to ask a question could be perceived as a lack of interest or preparation. Have a list of questions prepared for each audience, including the chairperson, faculty and current residents.
8. Know your application—cold
Everything on your application is fair game. Make sure you know what’s on it.
Be able to talk about leadership roles or committees you served on and what you learned from participating. If you did research, review your work and be ready to talk about it. If you list a special skill such as a language or a type of dance, be prepared to demonstrate proficiency.
9. Remember that all eyes are on you
Even while you are not interviewing, you are typically in a large room with other applicants, staff and possibly residents.
Everyone is listening and observing your behavior. Do not let your guard down, and always be polite.
10. Express your gratitude
Thank your interviewers with a firm handshake in person.
After the interview, send a hand written thank you note or an email. Ask the program coordinator for a list of the interviewers and if they prefer snail mail or email. And don’t forget to thank the interview coordinator.