For many residency applicants, the interview is as difficult as passing Step 1. Many applicants have not had a job before, which means their only experience with interviews was four years ago during medical school interviews.
My neurotic personality led me to “over-apply” in every step of my life: from my first job to medical school to, most recently, residency programs. I have had many opportunities to interview alongside some of the best and worst applicants during these processes. I will share what I have learned about what to wear and how to present yourself so you too can shine as an applicant. While these tips are geared more towards residency applicants, they are applicable to medical school applicants as well.
Read our full Residency Interviews Guide, which includes 7 strategies for preparing for residency interviews.
What to Wear to Residency Interviews
Don’t be bold with your fashion choices. I cannot tell you how many weird outfits I saw during my interview tour. I get it, sometimes I am a “fashionista” as well, but a fashion statement is not worth making a negative impression on an older, conservative program director. Remember, medicine is a conservative field in which professionalism is highly valued.
Choose a navy or grey skirt or pantsuit for ladies, with a two-piece suit of a similar color for men. Invest in at least one tailored outfit—one nicely fitted suit is better than buying a few and not having them tailored. Don’t forget to test out your clothing in advance. Walk around in your interview clothing, practice sitting and standing, and see how it feels after you wear it for a while. You don’t want any surprises come interview day, least of all from your clothing.
Don’t expect you can just jump into the suit you wore on the medical school interview trail. A lot can change in four years. You must try on your clothing again to make sure it is still in pristine condition and everything still fits. If you kept it simple and classy four years ago, you shouldn’t have to worry about it going out of style, but your outfit still needs to fit you correctly. Take your clothing to be tailored if needed or invest in another outfit to make sure you look sharp and professional for each or your residency interviews.
Bring as little as possible with you since it is awkward lugging around a large bag. A folio with several pens and your printed CV is also recommended, but not necessary.
Residency interview attire Dos and Don’ts:
- Do choose neutral colors and shades, such as black, white, navy, and grey.
- Don’t wear bright flashy colors to try to stand out.
- Do keep your outfit simple and professional.
- Don’t overdo it with lots of jewelry, accessories, or makeup.
- Do cover up tattoos and excessive piercings.
- Don’t forget something professional to carry your CV, note paper, pen, etc.
- Do shower and tidy yourself the day of your interview.
- Don’t wear excessive perfume or cologne.
- Do wear professional, comfortable shoes for walking around all day.
- Don’t wear clothes that are uncomfortably tight or revealing.
We share more helpful wardrobe tips in our article: The Ideal Attire for Medical School Interviews.
Make sure you test out your clothing in advance to ensure it’s comfortable and everything fits the way it’s supposed to. Practice sitting, standing, shaking someone’s hand, and walking around. Make a packing list and check it thoroughly before you leave.
It’s important to attend the pre-interview dinner, as it is a great opportunity for you to meet your future colleagues, get the inside scoop on the program, and see if it is a good fit for you. Make sure you have another simple and professional outfit for the dinner. This dinner is casual, but don’t make the mistake of drinking too much. Student volunteers and staff will be watching you for any potential red flags. You don’t want to be remembered as the drunk applicant.
The Interview: Questions You’ll Encounter
Interview questions fall into three categories: standard interview questions, personal questions, and applicant directed questions.
Standard Interview Questions
You must be able to describe what you did, what you learned, and how meaningful each experience on your CV was to you. Remember, an interviewer may ask you about that one activity that you decided to include last minute on your application.
After ensuring you can elaborate on every activity or research project you included on your CV, prepare concise answers to the following questions:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What’s the most difficult time in your life and how did you handle it?
- Who was your most difficult patient?
- How did you handle a disagreement with a coworker or authority figure?
- Why medicine? Why this specialty? Why this program?
- The dreaded “Tell me about yourself question” — Your answer should be about 2-3 minutes. Include some personal details and walk the interviewer through why you decided to go into medicine and what led you to your specialty.
- Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Your answer should match the type of program you are applying to (e.g., if applying to a community program, do not answer that you want to be doing research 50% of the time.) Make sure you can explain the type of practice (academic vs. clinical) that you envision yourself working in.
Curious about what other interview questions you’ll be asked? Here are 21 Medical School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them.
These questions are asked so that the interviewer can ascertain who you are outside of medicine and academics. Be prepared to discuss a trip you took, a book you read, or something that you are looking forward to.
While personal in nature, these questions should not include inappropriate questions about your family background, marital status, or whether or not you plan on having children. Learn more: How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions.
Applicant Directed Questions
This is where you, the applicant, have an opportunity to ask questions. I recommend asking no more than four questions, unless it flows naturally with the conversation. Prepare two general questions that can be applied to any program. Think of what is important to you. Remember, your questions reflect your values.
The other two questions should be specific to the program and thus require a bit more research. Start by visiting the program website, then talk to residents either at the applicant dinner or by reaching out to a medical school alumnus. This is why going to the pre-interview dinners is a good idea. Ask the residents what sets the program apart and what they are currently working on. Programs love to brag about their accomplishments, so this will definitely give you some extra points.
Congrats, you made it through the interview! Now what? Most programs will tell you if you should write a thank you note. I recommend writing a thank you email, unless the program specifically requests that you do not. A brief thank you note that summarizes your interest in the program and highlights a specific experience from the interview day will suffice.
Most applicants are nervous about how much contact to have with the program after the interview day is done. I recommend emailing your top program to inform them they are your number one choice. This may not make too much of a difference, but you may kick yourself if you do not. Warning: only play this card if you mean it.
Not every residency program allows thank you notes or emails. Research the specific residency programs you’re interviewing at to determine if thank you emails are accepted.
Additional Residency Interview Tips
Now that you’ve nailed the content of the interview, here are a few more tips to help set you apart.
- Take notes during the interview. This will make you seem interested.
- Always be positive and enthusiastic, even when you think no one is listening.
- Do not talk ill of your program or other programs. Do not brag to the other applicants. If noticed, this kind of a social faux pas can kill an otherwise great interview.
- Finally, be confident, but not cocky. A lot of interviews are casual, but always err on the side of formal. For example, never call a program director or assistant program director by their first name. (Yes, that actually happened during one of my interviews).
Residency Interview Preparation
The most important part of this process is to enjoy yourself. Remember, you are trying to find a program that is a good fit for you; you will get great medical training wherever you go.
If you want to brush up on your interview skills, participate in mock interviews. Med School Insiders offers Residency Interview Preparation with former interviewers that provides various simulations you will encounter on interview day along with real-time feedback.