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My Advice on Interviewing for Residency

Around this time each year, my inbox and iPhone are flooded with messages from current and former students asking for my advice on their upcoming residency interviews. Everyone generally has the same overarching question:

How do I nail my interview, stand out from the crowd, and guarantee that I’m near the top of the rank list everywhere I interview?

As a brief aside, let me start with my own personal experiences. I’ve interviewed for two specialties (obstetrics & gynecology and internal medicine) and have had interviews at both community programs and very prestigious academic institutes. My interviews have ranged from informal, relaxed conversations about the Packers latest defensive woes to an outright interrogation pushing me on every detail of my personal and professional life.

At the end of the day, there is nothing you can do to guarantee a great interview – but just like anything else in medicine, the more prepared you are, the better your chance for success.

Be prepared, but not rehearsed.

In terms of being prepared, the best thing you can do is talk to friends who are currently going through the interview process; or even better, interns who just went through the match. Try to find out the types of questions different programs ask as well as the interview styles of particular programs you may be interested in. Moreover, spend some time thinking about your answers to some of the commonly asked, yet more difficult interview questions. Some of the questions I’ve encountered include:

• What is something unique that you bring to this program?
• Why do you want to come to this program?
• What is your biggest weakness?
• Tell me about a time you had to deal with conflict?
• Tell me about a time you failed or messed up?

Still, while I advise you to think about your answers to these questions and to even work in a practice interview—one of the most common mistakes I witness is an applicant appearing rehearsed, or worse: fake. With that in mind, make sure you’re practicing your interview skills with a faculty member or school advisor that can give you some honest feedback.

“What is your biggest weakness?

This question always seems to trip people up. I was conducting an interview once and had an applicant tell me, “I really have a hard time showing up to work or rotations on time.” While I did appreciate his honesty—I did not appreciate it enough to overlook the major red flag of a potential co-resident telling me that he will likely not be showing up to work on time. On the other end, I dislike when people offer up the cliché answers of “I work too hard,” or, “I care too much.”

Instead, I encourage applicants to think of an example that highlights something you are trying to work on personally—but something that wouldn’t be considered a major weakness. A good example: “I tend to have a hard time saying no and can often get taken advantage of, agreeing to step in and pick up work for others.” This answer could highlight that you’re a team player, but that you’re working on building a backbone.

Have Questions.

I cannot stress this enough: Get to know the program BEFORE you interview there. Prior to your interview, you should have reviewed the program’s website and taken note of the residency curriculum, common rotations, and different research opportunities. In doing so, you can prepare questions above and beyond that of a typical applicant. Trust me, asking how a residency director thinks a specific curriculum change or new rotation will affect residents sounds a lot better than something generic like, “Do your residents do research?”

Relax.

Finally, relax! You’ve gotten here for a reason. While there may be exceptions, at the point when you’ve been offered an interview, everything becomes a blank slate. At the interview, the residency is looking to see if your personality and career goals will align with the program to create a successful match. On your end, you should be doing the same. Be yourself (or at least the best version of yourself) and take care to make an honest assessment of how your personality and career goals will align with a given program.

At the end of the day, the residency with the best name is not always the best fit. Rather, focus on finding a residency that you feel that you could be happy with.

Going forward, please comment below with any questions that you might have on the residency application process. As always,  we’re happy to help!