1. Don’t forget that while the program is interviewing you, you are also interviewing the program.
This may be the single most important piece of advice for residency applicants. Unlike the medical school admissions process, in which applicants often feel like they are completely at the mercy of the Admissions Committee, residency interviews are really more like a courtship. Residency programs use the interview process to impress applicants and convince them to rank the program highly.
This doesn’t exactly give you license to misbehave during your interview, but it does place you on a more even footing than in any interview you have likely participated in to this point in your medical career. The program’s application screeners have already examined your transcript and CV. In all likelihood, they have already decided that you have what it takes academically. Now they want to get to know you personally. Are you someone they would enjoy working with on a daily basis? Are you driven, hardworking, and eager to learn? Can you be warm and empathetic toward your patients? Will you make the program better? Or will you give it a black eye?
2. Make a good first impression.
Choose clothing that is comfortable, flattering, and professional. (More about interview dress below.) Smile, both with your face and your voice. Make good eye contact, and greet your interviewer by name. (If needed, try to ask someone how to pronounce the name. Apologize if you botch it, but relax… you’re almost certainly not the first to do so!) Make sure that you can execute a firm and confident handshake.
3. Play to your strengths.
If you have a compelling personal story, find a way to share it (assuming that you didn’t already share it in the Personal Statement on your application). If you have hobbies or accomplishments and the interviewer seems interested, talk about them. This is your chance to show off whatever it is that makes you unique, so that you’ll stand out in his/her mind after the interview.
4. Be prepared for tough questions.
You may be asked about deficiencies or anomalies in your application, whether it is a single poor grade, a repeated course, or a gap in your work/educational history. It may be that the interviewer is just trying to piece together a timeline of your career thus far, or trying to see how you respond under pressure. But whatever the reason, you should be prepared to explain humbly and honestly whatever that anomaly may be. Do not try to assign blame or make excuses. If you screwed up, say so. Be ready to demonstrate what you learned from that experience and how you have matured beyond repeating any previous missteps. Your explanation should be heartfelt and forthright, but should not seem rehearsed.
5. Show interest and enthusiasm.
During the interview, never give the impression that you are anything less than strongly interested in the program at which you are applying. Even if for whatever reason you’ve already mentally crossed the program off your list, don’t let on. There’s nothing to be gained by seeming bored or disinterested. And certainly don’t go into an interview thinking you’re “too good” for a program, that they would be lucky to have you, or that they had better pull out all the stops in an effort to ‘land’ you. And never allow yourself to be baited into comparing programs head-to-head in an interview.
6. Dress to impress.
There are countless articles and blog posts written about what to wear (and not wear) to residency interviews in great detail. The short version is this: look professional and conservative. You want to be memorable for your personality, not for your unusual appearance. Like it or not, plenty of people will draw very negative conclusions about you if you dress or groom yourself in any way that stands out. Even if the hip young faculty interviewer is completely cool with your green mohawk and matching neck tattoo, there is a good chance that many of the hospital’s elderly patients will not be… and that may give Student Doctor Bland McDrabbington a slight advantage when it comes time to fill out that Rank Order List. (Be advised: acceptable professional attire can vary regionally, so be as generic as possible. One famous example is the bowtie. Bowties may be considered perfectly acceptable in some locales, but in others they give the impression that the applicant is quirky. And generally speaking, “quirky” is not the word you want an interviewer to associate with your file.)
This is part 2 in a 3-part series. Read more from Dr. McInnis:
When Should I Schedule Residency Interviews
How to Interact with Residents During Residency Interviews