9 Tips for Residency Interview Success

By Sarah Johnston

You’ve got a lot riding on your residency interviews: a competitive undergraduate academic track + four years of medical training + the thousands you are spending to travel for interviews. The interviews aren’t a cake walk either. Unlike most business interviews where you do not meet your competition, there are often 5 to 10 other candidates (aka the competition!) present at a residency interview. In this high stakes’ environment, preparation and mental strength are the key to success.

Here are 9 tips to help you be more successful during your interviews:

  1. Research

    It’s important before you interview to thoroughly research the hospital and the people that you will be meeting with. Often a program coordinator will send an itinerary several days before the interview as part of your travel confirmation. If you do not receive a schedule, it’s appropriate to send a polite e-mail requesting one. In addition to doing research on individuals, spend time on the hospital website for information regarding the hospital’s patient population, awards, designations and leadership. It’s always a good idea to do a Google news search for public information about the hospital that you might not learn on the interview trail (like if the hospital has had financial issues, is under review for duty hours, or is involved in an embarrassing public law suit).

  2. Identify Behavioral Examples

    To prepare for a behavioral interview, identify 10-15 examples from your prior experience in which you demonstrated top behaviors and skills that your research has indicated your target employer seeks. You should use fairly recent examples if possible for most of the scenarios. Write your example stories down and give them titles. These could include “Handle Stress”, “Stay Organized” or “Difficult Communication Situation”. You don’t want to memorize the stories but writing them down will help you organize your thoughts. Practice answering difficult behavioral interview questions with a friend or a job search coach prior to your meeting. 

  3. Tell Stories

    Behavioral-based interview questions should be structured SITUATION, ACTION, RESULT. Using stories for answers will help you be more memorable. A story needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end. The punch line will be your result. You don’t want your anecdotes to be too long, aim to be able to deliver the story within 90 seconds.

  4. Be Mentally Prepared to Answer These Questions

    • Tell me about yourself
    • Why do you want to go into <insert specialty>?
    • Why are you interested in OUR program?
    • What is your greatest strength?
    • What is your greatest weakness?
    • What do you hope to gain from our residency program?
    • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
    • Are you interviewing with any other hospitals? 
    • Tell me something about yourself that is not on your CV.
    • Why did you choose the medical school that you attended?
    • Describe your understanding of diversity inclusion and why it is important to this position.
    • What makes you more likely to succeed in this role than other applicants? 
    • What are you most proud of in your career?
    • What are you looking for in a training program?

  5. Prepare for Curveballs

    Know that the person interviewing you could ask some wacky interview questions—some with no real answer—just to see how you would respond. I’ve heard real life stories of medical students being asked to conduct the entire interview in Spanish since they listed “fluent in Spanish on their CV”, students who have been asked, “if you were a vegetable, what would you be and why” and “if you had a friend who asked to use your apartment buildings washer and dryer that was meant for tenants only, what would you say”. The key to answering these questions is to remain calm, think about how you can relate the answer to the program or position and say your response with confidence. It’s also OK to ask the person who asked you the question how they would respond.

  6. Get to Know Your Interviewer

    Expressing interest in the interviewer, the hospital, and the program will aid in your likability. Pre-interview research is a great way to leverage your personal network. Check with your friends or professional colleagues to see if anyone knows the interviewer and can give you some background information. I recommend creating a one-page “cheat sheet” for your interview with short notes about each person you are interviewing with. You can refer to this sheet when you have a moment of downtime before each meeting. Having short notes on the person will help you make meaningful small talk at the beginning of your interview to build rapport. For example, if you are interviewing with an associate professor who completed residency at Washington University in St. Louis you could ask them if they are a Cardinals baseball fan (if you personally enjoy baseball). Knowing things like “he is very serious and only wants to talk about research” or “she is a die-hard U of M football fan” can help you connect or bring up topics of mutual interest. During the interview when you are asked questions like “Tell me about yourself”, your responses can be slightly tailored to the individual. For example: “I have a passion for working with the underserved. I volunteer weekly at the free clinic. I was interested to see that you helped start a clinic at the hospital for women and babies without insurance or financial means”.

  7. Dress Your Best

    Choose your attire carefully for the interview. You want to be remembered for your personality and not your appearance so choose conservative and professional attire. Black or dark gray suits for both men and women are ideal. Keep in mind when you are selecting shoes that you will likely do a walking tour of the hospital. Most hospitals have rules in their employee handbooks about tattoos and piercings. From my experience working in hospital HR, most hospitals do not allow more than two pierced earrings per ear and tattoos need to be covered.

  8. Have Reasonable Expectations

    Go into your interview with reasonable expectations. I hear from a lot of medical trainees and physician job seekers that they are often underwhelmed when they meet with the interviewing physicians. Keep in mind that the people interviewing you are trained physicians not trained interviewers. They could have bad technique, be short on time or they could just be having a bad day. If you feel like you did not have the opportunity to show your value because the questions were not as expected, you can send a very thoughtful and genuine thank you note highlighting a few areas that you did not cover in your interview.

  9. Express Your Interest

    Make sure that you show genuine interest in the opportunity. Interviewing for residency is kind of a game and everyone plays it. The hospitals want you to rank them highly because it’s good for their outcomes, and you obviously want to be ranked highly by competitive programs so that you have the best chance matching one of your top programs. Throughout the interview, make it known that you want the opportunity and see yourself thriving in that hospital. For example, the person interviewing you may be wondering in the back of their mind why a guy from Pennsylvania would be interested in a position in Birmingham, Alabama. If you are interviewing out of region or in an area that seems like a personal stretch, it’s important to state that you have ties to the area or that you are familiar with the city in a more personal way. If you are married, you should consider stating that your spouse is open to new areas and already has a network in the city (if it’s true).

9 Tips for Residency Interview Success was published by Student Doctor Network.

About the Author

Sarah Johnston has worked for over ten years in the recruiting and development field.  As a former physician recruiter, spouse of a medical fellow, and the founder of the Briefcase Coach, Sarah is uniquely qualified to assist medical professionals in their job search. In addition to CV writing and job search coaching, Sarah specializes in mock interviews. She is based in Columbus, OH but has clients globally. Sarah is active on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can visit her website www.briefcasecoach.com to learn more.

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