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Residency interviews: Successful residents share their 9 top tips

It’s almost residency interview season! Residents who recently matched into their #1 program share their best advice on interviews.


Residency interview season is nearly upon us. Interviews are the final step in the process of fourth-year medical students securing a residency position. As such, interviews play a crucial role in the residency selection process for both residency programs and fourth-year medical students alike.

Needless to say, interviews can be a source of significant anxiety for soon-to-be residents. My hope is to provide information that can help reduce that anxiety.

In May 2022, I wrote an article for The DO in which I interviewed 38 individuals who successfully matched into their #1 residency program choice. One of the many questions I asked these now-residents was what advice they had about residency interviews.

This article analyzes all the responses to that single question. Ergo, it contains the cumulative insight of dozens of previous applicants who successfully accomplished what all fourth-year med students hope to do: match into their #1 residency program choice.

I remember apprehensively preparing for residency interviews just last year. I was worried that other applicants had pro tips or secret tricks that I didn’t have. Having the benefit now of both hindsight from my own experience and interviewing 38 successful previous applicants, I now know that the interview process is less mystical and ominous and more straightforward than I originally thought.

Looking back, there are no little-known, magic pro tips or secret silver bullets, but there are certainly important, basic principles and general guidelines. I hope the information in this article can direct interviewees toward those principles and guidelines and then fill them with the confidence and peace that I wish I had during my interview experience.

Below are the codified and quantified results of the interviews with the #1 matchers. My methodology was simple: I asked, “What general advice do you have about residency interviews?” If an idea, concept or notion was mentioned by an interviewee, I gave that concept a tally. Dozens of different ideas were shared; below are the top results.

Be yourself

The top piece of advice given by these #1 matchers by far was some version of “be yourself.” This included phrases like, “be natural,” “be genuine,” “be authentic,” “chill out,” “relax,” “don’t fake it” and “don’t stress.”

During my own interview season, I received this exact advice. I found it unhelpful at the time. Of course I am going to be stressed, this is my entire future on the line. Interviews are very unnatural, how natural can I even be? And chilling out and relaxing are both much easier said than done and seem out of the question at this point.

After hearing over 20 successful applicants describe this notion to me, I feel like now I have a good idea of what it takes to properly “be yourself” during interviews. Though it is the top of the list and the first item mentioned, I believe that being able to be yourself during interviews is a result of many other things.

First, being able to “relax,” “be natural” and “be yourself” will come from interview preparation and practicing your responses to questions. Second, “chilling out” and “being genuine” will come from a proper understanding of the intent and purpose of interviews for both applicants and residency programs.

As it happens, all top pieces of advice given by the #1 matchers fall into one of these two thoughts. Once fourth-year medical students are prepared, practiced, informed and understand the playing field, then they will be able to relax and be themselves during interviews.

Practice and prepare

Several high-ranking insights fall under the notion of practicing and preparing. The first of which is to prepare responses to common interview questions. Most medical schools have a resource that they provide to fourth-year medical students with common residency questions written down. If not, a quick Google search will direct you to several decent question lists.

Having listened to these #1 matchers, the best way to prepare for interview questions would be this:

1. First, write down answers to common interview questions

  • Answer questions with stories and experiences when possible
  • When appropriate, try to describe what you gained, what you learned or what you appreciated from an experience, story or event

2. Then practice reading your answer to the question out loud

3. Lastly, practice answering the question out loud using your written content, but without looking at it. Try using the content without saying the exact same words in the exact same order every time.

  • Make sure professional, but authentic, language is used

Other ways to prepare include looking up information about a program with which you are interviewing ahead of time. This does not need to be extensive, but it does need to happen. Set a timer for 20 minutes or so and browse their website. Jot down the name of the program director and a couple of aspects that interest you, seem unique or that you don’t completely understand (for a question later on).

Having good questions prepared is also important for interviews. Often, interviewers will save large amounts of time for an interviewee to ask their own questions. Having six or seven meaningful, honest questions prepared will serve an interviewee well. It is also important to understand that questions for program leadership, faculty, staff and other residents will be different depending on the person’s position within the program.

Knowing all the information in your application is also crucial. Briefly reading over your own application the night before every interview is important to do. Many interviewers will ask about the perceived “headlines” of your application, but some will intentionally dig deeper and ask about other things. It will serve interviewees well to be extremely familiar with their own application.

If fourth-year medical students are prepared for their interviews, the anxiety will dissipate, stress will decrease and the notion of relaxing during interviews will seem plausible. Practicing interview questions will allow for students to hone their answers into natural, authentic conversation and genuine expression. Preparation and practice will pave the way for interviewees to be themselves.

Knowing the playing field

It is important to know the purpose of residency program interviews. Residency programs have limited resources and interviews are staff- and time-intensive. As such, if an applicant receives an interview at a program, it is because they have passed significant pre-screening. At interviews, most programs are now trying to assess for “fit.” This is essentially programs investigating if they think applicants will work well with the other residents, faculty and staff in their program.

Similarly, applicants need to remember that they are assessing if a program is a good “fit” for them. Both program and applicant are mutually investigating each other for a potential future together. Knowing that this is the primary purpose of the interview, the interview can be viewed less as a Goldman Sachs-esque weighing-and-measuring interview and more as a professional version of a first date. Both parties are trying to present their best selves and decide if it’s a good idea to move forward.

While for some the mention of a date may be more stressful than an investment banking interview, the notion is meant to put interviewees more at ease. Knowing that programs are also interested in how interviewees will assess their program can take some pressure off you, the medical student.

Hopefully, knowing this will provide students with a shot of confidence and compel them to be themselves – much like they would on a first date.

Applying the aforementioned insights to this dating metaphor provides meaningful comparison. Preparing questions, knowing a little about the program and preparing answers to common questions are appropriately done for both residency interviews and a first date.

Related reading:

Recently matched DOs share tips on applying to residency via ERAS

Audition rotations: Successful residents share 6+ tips

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