It’s mid-January and by now I’ve been to the majority of my interviews. They’ve stretched from New York City all the way to the Midwest and each program I’ve visited has had it’s own unique flavor. A couple of months ago one of the things on my mind was creating a game-plan for tackling these interviews in which I could show the best side of myself. I read Dr. Jessica Freedman’s fantastic book, “The Residency Interview: How to make the Best Possible Impression”, and along with my own experiences compiled this list of tips for next year’s interviewees and as a quick reminder for myself. Here we go!
Know Your Story
I’ve read that a story is a collection of facts arranged in a way that evokes meaning; something that is “greater than the sum of its parts”. Right before interviews began in late October, I looked back at my time in school and all I saw were a bunch of random stories scattered across the span of a few years. A little volunteer work here, some time spent tutoring, classes I did well in or could improve in… The important thing I did for interviews [really for myself personally] was to tie these stories together to create an all-encompassing narrative that I could present as an accurate representation of myself.
I’ve listened to my friend’s stories and each one is as unique as it is amazing. Everyone is so different and motivated by strong experiences and desires to do well. When a program director asks me questions I want a piece of me to be reflected in what I say and for him or her to have these fragments create an organized story by the time I walk out the door. This is only possible if that story exists in the first place.
So instead of memorizing canned responses to the laundry list of questions you’ll find online take some time to reflect. The conversations during interview day will flow much more smoothly.
Prepare for these 3 Questions
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is my favorite question because it givese me the chance to direct the conversation wherever I want. I highlighted my strengths in school and also how I came to like Internal Medicine.
TIP: Unless it’s remarkable, stay away from long-winded anecdotes from college, you won’t have that much time!
2. Why this specialty?
Make it short and sweet and be honest! Once again, I could spend hours talking about why I chose IM but I only had a couple minutes!
3. Why this program?
Out of the hundreds of programs in the U.S you chose this one specific program to travel to. Why? Make sure you spend some time to remember. It looks sloppy talking about your undying passion of matching into a fellowship in a community hospital focused on primary care.
Arrive on time
This begins the day before! Make sure you know the route you are going to travel and also to account for any traffic that may be on the way. You only have a couple of hours to convince a program that you will make a dependable & reliable resident. Showing up on time speaks for itself.
Dressing the part communicates your understanding of social norms [i.e this is an interview]. Black is not a must, I received many compliments on my navy blue.
Act professionally & be personable
The attendings interviewing you will be working with you daily for the next 3+ years during some really stressful times. They want someone that will respect the formalities as well as be enthusiastic about their job. One of the program directors I interviewed with told me something that I’ll never forget. That many times the resident’s enthusiasm re-inspires them. After decades of working you can imagine how great it is to be around people that are genuinely happy to be there!
Residency directors and attendings have been doing this for years. They have a good idea of who you are if your transcript or personal statement hasn’t already given it away. There is no perfect candidate. If you have weakness own up to them and be honest. I’ve done this and have been met with only positive responses.
Residency spots are coveted and you should remind yourself of the many hurdles you jumped to get this far. Appreciating these two facts should shape your persona the day of. Also, everyone interviewing you could be catching up on the day’s work or a multitude of other things. Make sure you take the time to send a follow up email thanking them or a handwritten card if you want to. It may not move you up the rank list, but it’s good manners.