Preparing for Residency Interviews—2021 Guide

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Residency interviews are your chance to demonstrate how you have grown professionally. Learn After nearly a decade of hard work and dedicated study, you have built a stellar residency application that’s been recognized by your dream residency programs. You’re nearly there—you’re almost a full-fledged doctor!

But before you can be accepted into residency, you first have to contend with interview season. Residency interviews are your chance to demonstrate how you have grown professionally over the course of medical school, deepened your dedication to medicine, and sharpened your focus to determine what area of medicine you want to specialize in.

In this guide, we’ll share common residency interview questions, 7 strategies for preparing for residency interviews, what to wear, and additional resources to guarantee your success.

For more expert information on the entire residency application process, read our complete ERAS Residency Application Guide.

 

ERAS Residency Application Timeline

Residencies provide on-the-job training designed to help prospective doctors acquire their medical licenses so that they can become practicing physicians. The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) is the centralized online application service for applying to residency programs.

While ERAS season technically begins in June, it’s imperative that you deeply consider your residency application long before then. Use the earlier part of the year to prepare for application season, then in the spring, think about which schools you want to apply to, acquire letters of recommendation, and consider the direction you want to take your personal statement.

You can only submit your ERAS application once. Do not certify your application until you are absolutely sure it is complete and exactly what you want to send.

ERAS Residency Application Timeline

ERAS starts accepting applications in September, and it is vital that you submit your application well before the deadline. Applications are released to programs at the end of September, and interview invitations can be sent out as early as the next day. This means that if you submit your application close to the day ERAS releases your application, you could miss out on the first round of interviews.

Read our 9 Essential Tips for Applying to Residency.

Interview season for residency programs begins in October and lasts until February. Ideal interview slots fill up fast. Keep your calendar updated so that you can pick optimal dates as soon as they become available.

Prepare for your interviews throughout the ERAS application process. Don’t rely exclusively on the skills you picked up interviewing for medical school. Interviewers aren’t looking for prospective medical students; they’re looking for young professionals. Your interview performance must reflect this maturity.

 

Common Residency Interview Questions

Residency Interview Questions

While interview questions will certainly vary from one program to the next, there are some common questions you can expect and should prepare for. Very likely, they’ll be similar to the questions you faced when originally interviewing for medical school.

The residency interview “tell me about yourself” question, for example, is a common opening to the interview that will set the tone of your conversion. In 2-3 minutes, you should touch on why you decided to go into medicine, what led you to your specialty, and other interesting accomplishments you hope they will ask more about. This is your chance to guide the conversation, not rehash what they already know about you.

It’s crucial that you prepare for residency interview questions so that you’re not caught off guard. Here are some common questions you should know how to answer before entering residency interview season.

  • Tell me about yourself…
  • Why did you choose to study medicine?
  • Why are you interested in this specialty?
  • Why do you want to participate in this program?
  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • Describe how you handled a disagreement with a coworker or other student.
  • Describe how you handled a disagreement with a professor or authority figure.
  • Describe X activity/experience from your application.
  • Describe a difficult time in your life and how you handled it.
  • Describe your most difficult patient and how you handled them.
  • What was the last book you read?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • Describe your hobbies outside of medicine.
  • Why should we choose you over other candidates?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? (Make sure your answer matches what would be expected of the specific program you are applying to.)

 

Preparing for Residency Interviews

1 | Create an Interview Study Guide

Prepare your own personalized study guide for residency interviews that you continually update over the course of the interview process. As you learn from mistakes, gain experience, and answer more unique questions, add them to your document.

Add any important notes and details about the work and volunteer experiences, publications, awards, and personal details you included on your CV. These extra details will enable you to have a greater working knowledge of your prior experiences, meaning you can more ably and gracefully discuss them during your interview. Your study guide should also include common questions that come up during the course of your interviews and how you hope to answer them. Stick to key points, as you don’t want to completely memorize your answers.

Review your study guide before each interview. Utilize the idle time you spend in transit or in the hotel room the night before your interview to study your notes. Keep a folder of any publications or abstracts you cited on your CV so that you can re-familiarize yourself with them before the interview.

2 | Make Program Coordinators Your Ally

First thing’s first: the program coordinator is not the program director. You likely won’t encounter the program director before your interviews, as they are an attending physician with clinical, research, educational, and administrative responsibilities. That said, you will very likely meet them on interview day.

The program coordinator is the program director’s assistant. They are your point person in the interview process—they deal with everything from recruitment to research to rotations to interview day logistics to so much more. You want this person to like you. Be kind, warm, and friendly to each of the program coordinators you encounter. They have the ear of the program director as well as other faculty. Not only that, but they’re also well connected to other programs in the same specialty and geographic region.

3 | Thoroughly Prepare, but Don’t Memorize

The key to a successful interview is adequate preparation. Each interviewer is going to ask you a range of similar questions, such as, “tell me about yourself,” “why are you the right fit for this specialty,” and so on. It’s important that your answers highlight your maturity, growth, and deepened dedication to medicine, as well as what you hope to accomplish with your specialty.

Don’t assume you’ll be able to touch on each of these points on the fly; since you already know the kinds of questions you’ll be asked, it’s vital you prepare answers to these questions in advance.

Practice in front of people you know and trust, such as friends and mentors, and invest in mock interviews. Exposing yourself to as many of these tangible experiences as you can will help you get familiar with the true interview process and give you an accurate impression of how you will behave under pressure.

While it’s important to thoroughly prepare and practice your answers, you shouldn’t memorize them. Responding to interview questions with answers that are obviously rehearsed will make you appear rigid and robotic—and you’ll be more likely to slip up. If you get a question you’re not prepared for, you’ll be less able to adapt and adjust—you’ll flounder and sputter like a robot who has just been given an order that doesn’t compute. Plus, while the questions may be similar, each interviewer is different.

Prepare foundational answers to common questions so that you can adjust your style to suit your interviewer.

4 | Adjust and Adapt to the Interviewer

You must be able to adjust your answers to suit your interviewer’s questions and reactions. If they take an interest in a certain aspect of your application or experience, dig deeper into that. If a question doesn’t go so well, adapt along the way so that you can transition to another topic you’re more confident with.

If the interviewer is a little more reserved, tone down your volume while still illustrating your enthusiasm. If they are boisterous and energetic, match that energy. You can also physically adapt to your interviewer by subtly mirroring their movements and mannerisms. This is a natural way to make yourself more approachable and likable to someone.

5 | Watch Your Body Language

Your body language is just as important as what you say during an interview. Poor body language, such as slouching, crossing your arms, keeping your hands in your pockets, and not making eye contact, can make you seem disinterested, intimidated, shy, or aggressive.

First impressions are important, especially during an interview. If you appear nervous or apathetic, it suggests to your interviewers that you will either crack under pressure or don’t have the passion and personal investment it takes to pursue a career in medicine. These are each deeply unappealing and unsettling qualities in a prospective doctor and could torpedo your chances of being accepted into your dream program.

Practice confident posture and body language in front of a mirror, record yourself answering questions and watch the footage, answer questions in front of trusted friends, family, and mentors, and participate in mock interviews. Evaluate your own body language and ask others to do the same.

Practice standing and sitting up straight, use hand gestures when you speak to showcase your enthusiasm, and demonstrate active listening by nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact while someone else is speaking.

6 | Have Questions to Ask Residency Interviewers

Demonstrate your sincere interest by asking your own thoughtful questions. You should be proactive about asking questions that require the interviewer to offer more than a superficial yes or no answer. Have questions prepared for the interviewer in advance and ensure they aren’t generic enough that they could be for any program.

If you’re stuck for ideas, do further research into the program. You can reach out to current residents, including recent alumni from your school. Going to any pre-interview events or dinners is a good idea since this will give you a chance to speak with actual residents. Ask them questions about what sets the program apart and what they are currently working on. This type of proactive engagement will make you look good, and it can give you ideas for what to ask in your actual interview.

7 | Send Residency Interview Thank You Notes (If Allowed)

Just like when you were applying to medical school, it’s important to send thank you emails to your interviewer(s) as well as anyone who took the time to help you, such as the program coordinator, program director, tour guides, residents that offered advice, and so on.

This time around though, you’ll need to find out if you’re allowed to send thank you emails. Not every residency program allows thank you notes or emails, so you’ll need to research the specific residency programs you’re interviewing at to determine if thank you emails are accepted.

Tangibly expressing gratitude to these people makes you stand out and helps ensure you stay at the forefront of their minds. Use the email as a chance to remind the person of the interesting conversation you had or follow up about something they recommended. Keep it simple and concise—the thank you email should be no more than 100-200 words.

Since you will be sending several of these emails, create a template for yourself that includes the following:

  1. A respectful greeting
  2. An expression of gratitude
  3. Any unique and important moments or talking points from the interview
  4. A reiteration of your strong interest in the program and how you will contribute to it based on your past experiences
  5. Another expression of gratitude

For more information, read our guide on How to Write a Medical School Interview Thank You Email.

 

What to Wear and How to Pack

Ideal Attire for Interviews

You’ve been through the medical school interview process, so you know the score. Dress sharply and professionally, but avoid any eye-catching colors or accessories. Don’t try anything new and exciting on interview day; instead, keep it simple and professional.

Make sure you prepare your attire and test out your clothing in advance. It’s vital that your clothing be breathable and comfortable, as you will need to be able to comfortably participate in walking tours throughout the day without getting sweaty or developing blisters.

  • Invest in a tailored suit/outfit
  • Choose neutral colors/tones
  • Keep your attire simple and professional
  • Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes
  • Don’t wear anything too bright or flashy
  • Avoid overly tight clothing
  • Avoid revealing clothing
  • Keep accessories simple
  • Remove unprofessional piercings
  • Conceal any tattoos
  • Get a haircut at least a week before to ensure you like it
  • Wear simple makeup
  • Avoid loud, clanging, or dangling jewelry
  • Keep perfume and cologne to a minimum

For more wardrobe tips, read our guide to the Ideal Attire for Medical School Interviews.

Make a detailed list of everything you need to pack for your residency interviews. Do this in advance to ensure you don’t forget any essentials. The interview process is both exciting and chaotic, so be sure to double-check your packing list before heading out.

We recommend packing everything you need in a carry-on bag. This will save you a lot of time at the airport, and you won’t have to worry about the airline potentially losing or misplacing your luggage. After all of your preparation, you don’t want to be running around the night before looking for a new (and potentially ill-fitting) suit.

Learn How to Pack a Suit in Carry-On Luggage.

 

Residency Application Editing and Mock Interviews

Med School Insiders can help you prepare for residency with application editing, interview prep, and mock interviews. We offer a number of Residency Admissions Consulting Services tailored to your specific needs.

We also offer a number of free resources, including guides on the entire residency application process, how to choose a specialty, how The Match algorithm works, and more.

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