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Residency Interview 101: The Inside Story from a Radiology Program Director

In this new series, we’ll speak with residency program directors across the country to get their advice on interviews and the match process. We’re fortunate enough to start our first post off with the director of a top radiology residency. Below are the director’s two cents on some of the most common questions students have.

What are you most looking for during an interview?

I’m looking to see that they are a real person. An interview is just a brief encounter, but I’m hoping to see that they are a genuine person that is excited about a career in radiology and that they have the personality to be a good fit in our program. Beyond that, I’m looking to see if they are excited to be interviewing at our program, if they are polite, and if they are capable of carrying on a conversation.

What are some things that negatively impact your opinion of an applicant during an interview?

While I don’t have many pet peeves, there are a few things that stick out, namely: acting rude, acting uninterested, and not being able to carry on a conversation.  

What do you mean by acting uninterested?

It’s fairly obvious when someone is coming to your program and treating it like a backup interview. It’s like they’re almost rolling their eyes with each question that you ask. If you can’t show up to the interview and take it seriously, then you are better off just not coming at all.

How would you recommend answering a more open-ended question such as “tell me about yourself?”

Treat it like an essay almost. List out 2-3 characteristics that you think make up your personality and provide me with some examples. For instance, you might say something like, “I’m a really hard worker and that has allowed me to take on a lot of research projects while I’m in medical school.”

Is there such a thing as being too honest in an interview?

Absolutely. You always want to tell the truth, but you should think about what your answer might convey. An applicant once explained that he failed an exam because it was the day after his best friend’s wedding. While that might be true, it’s not acceptable. It shows that you’re not the best at scheduling and lack some professionalism.

What do you recommend for students that have red flags on their application – things like poor evaluations, failed USMLE scores, etc.?

Face them head on. I personally think that you should bring it up on your personal statement in order to get out in front of it. From there, whether your interviewer brings it up or not, make sure that you are addressing it during the interview with a concise and honest answer that accepts responsibility for the problem but doesn’t take up too much time dwelling on it.

Whenever there is a red flag, it’s in your best interest to give your side of the story and to show that you are more than those one or two blemishes on your application.

How do you recommend addressing geographical differences – like a student in Louisiana applying to a program in the Northwest?

Again, be honest. If you have specific reasons for wanting to come to that region, try to address them in either your personal statement or the interview process. Even if you have no geographical ties to that area of the country, I think it’s acceptable to say that you’re trying to broaden your horizons and find the best program for you.

What do you recommend for applicants that haven’t heard back yet regarding an interview offer? Is it okay to reach out directly to the program?

It’s definitely okay to reach out, but you want to be smart and professional about it. We’re all busy people, so your initial email needs to capture my attention right away. Something like: I’m John Smith, I went to (insert medical school), and scored ___ on Step 1 and ____ on Step 2 CK. I’m really interested in your program because of x, y, and z. If you’re an applicant with a red flag on your application and think that it is holding you back from receiving an interview, then you should try to address that specifically when you reach out. Your goal is to make me want to pull your ERAS application.

Finally, don’t start stalking the program. Some applicants go overboard and start calling multiple times each week. In that case, even if we do decide to offer you an interview, you’re casting yourself in a negative light before you even show up.

Radiology seems to be a field that attracts a lot of transfers from other specialties (i.e. a general surgery resident switching to radiology after their intern year). Do you have any specific advice for them?

Come up with a good (and true) reason for why you are changing your career to radiology.  Saying something like, “well I was in neurosurgery and I didn’t like it, so I decided to switch to radiology” doesn’t really come off well. You need to be able to articulate reasons why you’re actually interested in this field and why you think you’ll be a good resident in it.

Do you have any last pieces of advice for the applicants?

First – at the point that you’re interviewing, it’s a business. We are trying to find the best applicant for our program. As such, treat your interview accordingly. Try to understand how your answers and attitude will affect others’ opinion of you.

Second – make sure you practice. While some people are great interviewers, other really great applicants may struggle to elaborate on answers or will come off as shy. Try to find someone to talk to that can tell you how your answers sound and can help you improve on your skills.


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