Interviews can be an enjoyable part of the process and are important for both the residency program and you to learn about one another. To optimize the experience and to put your best foot forward, it is highly recommended that some preparation occurs before you begin interviews.
- Gather Information About the Interview
- Making the Best First Impression Possible
- Understand the Typical Question Formats
- Identify Sample Experiences
- Practice Describing Your Experiences
- Consider How You May Format Your Response for Behavior-Based Questions
- Tips on Professionalism and How to Be the “Best You” on Interview Day
If possible, get as much information about the interview from the residency program (e.g., your contact person). Aspects of the interview that would be helpful to know in advance include:
- Virtual, hybrid, or in-person
- Live or asynchronous (virtual only)
- Video interview platform (virtual only)
- Number of interviewers
- Interview length
- Types of interview questions
- List of competencies or skills assessed during the interview
- Interview protocol or instructions to follow during the interview
Be well-prepared and log in early. Being ready ahead of time demonstrates your preparedness and professionalism. Nothing is more stressful than scrambling at the last minute to set up your virtual interview or dealing with technical difficulties. Test your equipment, internet connection, and familiarize yourself with the platform in advance. If it's an in-person interview, plan your route, check transportation options, and aim to arrive a few minutes early to show your punctuality.
Project confidence and professionalism during your interaction with the interviewer(s). It's natural to feel nervous, but remember to maintain eye contact, greet them by name, and exhibit a positive demeanor. For virtual interviews, maintain good eye contact by looking directly at the camera and offer a friendly smile. In an in-person interview, additionally, offer a firm handshake while greeting the interviewers.
Maintain professionalism when interacting with current students. Remember that everything you say before, during, and after the interview can have an impact. Even in informal conversations with current residents, be mindful of your words. There may be opportunities to socialize with current residents, such as virtual meetups or attending receptions. If alcohol is offered at any of these events, remember to consume it responsibly or abstain, keeping in mind the professional setting and the impression you want to make.
After each interview, capture your impressions immediately by taking notes or writing a summary of things that stood out to you the most (both good and bad). As you travel the interview trail, the programs start to look alike, and your notes will help you recall your experiences and distinguish between different programs.
Although there are many types of interview questions, most fall into one of three categories.
General questions will ask you to describe yourself broadly. For example, “Tell me why you are interested in this residency program.”
Behavioral questions will ask you to describe previous experiences to demonstrate your level of knowledge and skills and the extent of your experiences. For example, “Please describe a time when you observed a member of the medical team you were working with behave in a manner that was inconsistent with an established protocol. Explain what the situation was, what actions you took, and the outcome.”
Situational questions will ask you to demonstrate your level of knowledge and skill by describing what you should or would do in different hypothetical situations. For example, “Imagine you are on your morning rounds. The chief resident describes a difficult case you and a colleague worked on earlier in the week and compliments your handling of the situation. She gives you sole credit and fails to mention that your colleague played a major role. What would you do?”
If the residency program has provided a list of competencies or skills to be assessed during the interview, reflect on your experiences related to them.
Review your resume or CV and reflect on your experiences and learning before you conduct the interview. Try to identify some situations you think best exemplify your skills or competencies.
Discuss your experiences with your advisor(s) and/or mentor(s). Which are the best examples of your competencies and skills? Your examples should demonstrate your highest level of proficiency.
Consider creating a brief list of experiences that demonstrate your skills and could be used in response to different questions. It may be helpful to have these experiences readily available as you prepare your response to each interview question.
Conduct mock interviews with your peers, advisors, or faculty to practice developing responses using specific examples from your life and experiences. These mock interviews can be done in person or over a web-based application. Practice using the format that you will encounter on interview day. Many medical schools offer mock interview programs through their career advising office(s). Seek these opportunities to hone your answers to commonly asked questions and pinpoint any areas for improvement.
The STAR Method is an approach to responding to behavior-based interview questions wherein the applicant tells a story of the situation by providing the following information:
- Situation – What were the circumstances surrounding your example? How long ago was it? Where did it occur (medical school, work, etc.)?
- Task – What was the task that was involved (a medical school assignment, a project at work, etc.)? What was the goal?
- Action – What steps did you (and others, if applicable) take in the situation?
- Result – What was the outcome of the situation? Was it positive or negative? Was it what you expected? What did you learn from the experience or outcome?
Be sure to address all four of the above components in your response. It is best to focus on one situation in each response instead of speaking about multiple situations in general. Additionally, it is acceptable to use teamwork examples in your response but be sure to focus your response on your individual actions and contributions.
Professionalism is an important quality on which applicants are evaluated throughout the entire interview process.
Always remain courteous, patient, mindful, and gracious throughout your interactions with residency programs.
In addition to displaying professionalism throughout your application journey, it is key to convey confidence and preparedness. Here are four tips to help you interview with confidence:
- Be the expert on you. Know what experiences you included in your application, so you are prepared to further discuss your application. If the interviewer asks about a specific experience, do not repeat what you already wrote in your application. Add depth to your written application and reflect on the experience during the interview with greater detail and insight.
- Convey your motivation for medicine, the specialty you’re pursing, and your interest in the program. Your motivation and passion must leave an impression. Convey your interest in the program by stating why you feel it is a good fit for you and ask questions to further explore fit.
- Prepare, don’t rehearse. The compulsion to memorize and practice answers sometimes leads to too much pivoting in the interview where an applicant doesn’t answer the question asked but gives the answer they prepared instead. The best interviews are conversational and allow the interviewer to explore your experiences, motivations, and reflections, but also your personality. There have been great interviews where the conversation evolved to all sorts of topics not listed in the application that enabled the interviewer to see an applicant’s critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and personality.
- Be a storyteller. Stories are powerful and memorable ways to convey your ideas. Consider your areas of growth, your accomplishments, your past failures, and your motivation for medicine or your chosen specialty. Think about instances of teamwork, failure, disappointment, goal-setting, or resilience. Reflect on growth and meaning as much as possible. How did you change? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?