MST Mailbag: Residency Interview Edition

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Kind of. Whether you love them or loathe them, it’s time for interviews. Time to dust off your suit, brighten your smile, and wow every program with your charm. And, in this day and age where every question that crosses one’s mind can be answered by querying the internet at large, you have landed here. Excellent choice. We’ve dug through the MST mailbag to answer some often asked questions, big and small, that students have about interviews. Read on to maximize your chances of matching with a stellar interview performance.

    Q: What do I wear?

    A: As we said, no question is too small. Wear a suit. Wear a clean suit. While we are on attire, it’s important to know that this is not the time to buck the trend and show how fashion-forward you are. Pick a classic muted color like charcoal or navy, a gentle tie for guys, non-ostentatious shoes, and don’t wear wild accessories. Smell good, but not too good (i.e., don’t bathe yourself in cologne/perfume). Keep this as your mantra: I will not be the [insert fashion faux pas here] guy/girl.

    Q: What questions should I ask?

    A: The ones you want the answers to! You should not worry about asking “the right” questions. Keep in mind that your interviewer has probably been asked by every other applicant, “What can you tell me about research? What is the accreditation status of the program?” Before you arrive, think long and hard about what you actually want to know. Here are some examples of less traditional but worthwhile questions:

    I’ve got one night in Chicago/Boston/Portland. What do I absolutely have to do? Where do I have to eat?

    What is it like to be Program Director/Chair of Education/a brand new attending here?

    I have focused a lot of my past on leadership/outreach/education. What sort of avenues exist here to facilitate my development in said field?

    Think very carefully about the language you use when asking your questions. There is a parsec of difference between “What sucks about the program?” and “What changes are you employing to improve the program?” Remember, a program director’s job is to constantly improve the residency program that they are directing. They do this by fielding resident and faculty concerns, and trying to keep everyone happy. A better program results in better recruiting which in turn results in a better program. Even if it’s already great, find out what’s driving the program in a sunnier direction; there is always room for improvement.

    Q: Should I do a mock interview before the real ones?

    A: Absolutely. No matter how strong a candidate you are, sitting down face-to-face with someone and going through a dry run will only improve your performance when it counts. Your answers might sound brilliant in your head, but often times, the words don’t come out like we planned the first time around. An objective source (like one of our residency advising consultants or an honest friend) can help you identify weak points in your responses that you didn’t even know were there, or can make sure that you are articulating how great you are in a way that everyone can appreciate. They can also clue you in to any nervous habits you display (e.g., hair twirling, beard stroking, “um’s”).

    Q: What’s the deal with this pre-interview dinner?

    A: If a program offers a dinner the night before the interview, you should make every effort to go. This is a great way to get to know the residents as well as other applicants, in a more casual, relaxed atmosphere. Just remember to not get too relaxed (drunk). A drink or two is within normal limits. Becoming acquainted with the residents is probably the best way to get a sense if you are a good fit for the program. You will also get a sense as to whether or not you can tolerate, or perhaps even enjoy, working with them for 80 hours per week.

    Caveat: You might be told “whatever you say or do here doesn’t get to the attendings.” But think about it logically. If you say something unforgivable or get plastered, it will certainly get held against you. On the other hand, if you make a phenomenal impression and everyone loves you, the higher-ups will almost certainly find out. Be yourself.

    Stay tuned for Round 2 of the interview mailbag!