Being Kind: Med School and Residency Interview Edition

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Interview season can be stressful. For one thing, our future is riding on our performance. An amazing interview can be the difference between matching at your dream program and not matching at all. On top of that, you might be traveling across the country, navigating cities and even cultures that you are not accustomed to. On top of the dry cleaning and Uber rides and chaotic logistics, there is the need to be “on” from the moment you step inside the door of the pre-interview dinner until your final sign off when you leave campus. Stressful indeed.

    What does it mean to be “on?” Is it enough to give excellent answers to questions that interviewers ask? What if you gave absolutely perfect, stunning answers to every single question that you were asked, and had a glowing application to support your smooth style? What could stand in your way?

    There’s a simple and overlooked aspect of the interview experience that is crucial in order to be held in high regard when it comes to ranking applicants. It’s got nothing to do with your academic pedigree, your clerkship honors, or your h-index. What must you do? You’ve got to be wonderful to everyone. EVERYONE. 

    Conjure up the following image: The picture-perfect student didn’t hold the elevator for the random person who asked… and it happened to be the Department Chair’s administrative assistant. The environmental services employee who greeted the student as he arrived received nothing in return. And the program coordinator who bent over backwards to re-arrange the interview schedule at the student’s request received no thank you or acknowledgement. These snubs don’t go unnoticed, and can seriously work against you as a candidate.

    Being “on” means being cordial. It means smiling throughout the day. It includes being friendly with the other interviewees. They shouldn’t be viewed as competition, but rather as potential future colleagues. The candidate sitting next to you might match to the same program as you, or might even be able to help you get a job in the future. They will more likely go out of their way to help out an amicable acquaintance than someone who wouldn’t give them the time of day.

    While all applicants are outstanding in a number of different ways, most share an incredible amount of similarities. They likely have good-to-great test scores, have numerous extra-curricular activities, and have exhibited the desirable character traits that programs look for in residents. Because candidates are so alike, it is these small red flags or demerits that can really speak volumes about a candidate’s true character.

    While you should be wonderful to those around all of the time, if nothing else, find a way to do it for the 24 hours of your interview experience. You have worked incredibly hard for the last handful of years, and in a lot of ways, it culminates with these interviews.

    The most difficult part of this task is exerting the effort it takes to be on, all the way through your interview, and ultimately, through the whole interview season. Interviewing is exhausting, and having your smile on throughout the whole experience requires even further energy and self-awareness.

    As always, there is a caveat. Don’t let your good nature start to step across the line of being phony or affectatious, If you pour the pleasantries on too thick, those around you will be quick to identify you as such. You don’t need to pull out chairs for your interviewers, or attach dark chocolate squares to your thank you letters. Just be normal and caring… that’s all it takes. Be a great human being. Hopefully your true self is already aligned with maintaining a sense of humility while treating everyone around you with respect, and your interviews will just be another day in the life.

    “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” ~ Fred Rogers