Four Rules for Interviewing for Residency


So, you got the call (or email) to come in for an interview for a residency position. Congratulations! That means you have made it through the first two big steps in the screening process: the USMLE® score hurdle and the Application hurdle. You should be thrilled!

The places you interview are the places you get to rank for the Match. Handling your interviews well is key to getting ranked well by the Program Directors at the residency program you are targeting. As you prepare for your interviews, here are four core suggestions for how to present yourself in the best possible light during your interview.

  1. Be You

We all seem to have an idea in our heads of what the best doctor (or person) looks like. The problem is, none of us really match this idealized image. No two people are alike. No two program directors are alike.

One of the biggest mistakes in the interview process is trying to act like the person you think the program director wants to see rather than the person you are. When you put on a mask and try to present yourself as someone you are not, you are making two mistakes: 1) you risk coming off as phony and 2) the people who would like the person you are will not get to see it because you are hiding.

You should have a sense of who you are. You should be able to talk with clarity and maturity about essential experience in your past and be able to convey a vision of what you want your future to be. The hard work of preparing for you interviews comes not from crafting the fictional self you think people want, but in learning to show and be comfortable with who you are.

  1. Avoid scripted answers

You should think about questions interviewers might ask you and work out what your answers might be, but refrain from memorizing verbatim responses. Giving answers that you have memorized usually feels phony or odd to the interviewer. You come off as stiff and unnatural.

Rather than write out full scripted answers, make a list of key bullet points and work them into your answers. In other words, have a sense of what points you want to make, but be flexible in how you use them. Different program directors will ask different questions and you cannot fully anticipate everything you will be asked. By having some basic themes in mind, you will have a mental store of things to say without coming off as rehearsed or robotic.

During the interview, listen carefully to what you are asked and address the questions directly, but make the points about yourself you want to make in your answers. All of this takes some practice which brings us to…

  1. Practice before hand

Getting used to putting answers together, and getting accustomed to the interview setting, requires practice. No one is born knowing how to interview well; you have to give yourself a chance to learn. Pair up with a colleague and do an interview where they role-play a Program Director and you be you. Video tape the interview and then watch the video. You will notice that you have certain quirks when you are nervous. If you think these are distracting, then work on not doing these in the future. Most of us are not aware how we look to others, and it can be eye-opening to observe yourself.

After the first practice interview, switch roles: now you play the program directors and let your partner plays themselves. Getting a sense of what it feels like from the interviewer’s point-of-view can give you a new perspective and better insight to what the process is about. Remember that the interviewer is not some strange person. They are basically you, but further along in your career. Taking on the interviewer’s role will help the whole encounter feel less foreign.

Keep doing practice interviews until the process seems normal. When you walk in for the first real interview, you want to feel poised and ready to talk about who you are and what you have to offer. Professionals always prepare. Practicing and getting comfortable with the interview experience is part of your professional training.

  1. You should be excited to be asked for an interview. Show it!

An interview is an important and exciting event. Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm. Sitting face-to-face with someone is not just a time to tell them details about yourself, but to connect on a personal level. Remember, the Program Director is not just going to be working with you, but more-or-less living with you for the next three to five years. They need to see your intelligence and professionalism, yes, but also get a sense of who you are as a person.

The enthusiasm you bring gives the interviewer a sense of your energy and dedication. You need to show them that you want this job and help them to see how effective you can be while doing it. Medicine is not just about your brainpower, but, increasingly, about how you interact with and work with others. Teamwork requires engagement and a willingness to go the extra mile. You need to leave the interviewer with a sense that you are that kind of person.

Energy and emotional resonance are what makes us memorable. The emotional connection you make during the interview will keep you in their mind when all the other candidates have faded into a mass of nameless faces. Getting remembered means a greater chance of getting a higher ranking when the time comes. And getting a higher ranking is what this whole process is about.

Be you. Avoid sounding scripted. Practice before your interviews. Show your enthusiasm. Four simple rules to guide you through a successful interview season.