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Interview Guide

A primer for residency interviews... The New Physician, December 2008, by Dr. Dan Schidlow "THE HOT SEAT"

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Before The Interview Interview Day Post Interview


Being invited to interview is a key step in the Match process. Now, the residency program wants to meet you to see if you’d be a good fit, learn more about you and particularly, your motives for choosing the specialty. It is also time for you to determine how compatible the program is with your goals and expectations. Is this program a place where you can fit in and be successful?

Preparation for your interview is the most important part of your interview.  Know yourself and why you have chosen to pursue a career in your chosen specialty. Are you able to discuss your personal skills and abilities, strengths and interests? Review your application. Know your application better than the interviewer.  Be prepared to discuss and answer questions about everything on your application. Everything is fair game. Be especially prepared to talk about any weaknesses or discrepancies in your application.  It is highly likely that you will be asked questions on current medical, social, and ethical issues.

Know the program! Review everything about the program, hospital and community on the program's website before the interview. You need to be able to answer the question of why this program? Ask for an interview schedule ahead of time if possible. Know about the faculty, chair and program director.  Speak to Drexel graduates in the programs as well as others you might know. Know something about the city you are visiting.  Why Philadelphia?  Be able to state specific reasons for your interest in the program and how you fit in. The average student considers (but may not necessarily interview at) twenty five to thirty programs. This adds up to a large amount of information to keep organized. So take detailed notes. Periodically review your growing list of programs to compare the pros and cons of each and revise your list as needed.

Be knowledgeable about medicine and your specialty. Interviewers like to ask about the future of medicine, where you see this field in the future and what trends are there in the field. Interviewers will try to assess your interests in the field by how much you know about it.  While you won’t be asked clinical questions, this does happen on occasion. Read the paper, magazine articles, etc. Newsweek and Time magazines all devote a good deal of print to these issues.  The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), American Medical News http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/, and Washington Highlights http://www.aamc.org/advocacy/washhigh/start.htm also address issues concerning physicians today.

Residency Interview Preparation Form -Worksheet to help prepare for upcoming interviews.

Your online persona

Clean up your on-line persona.  If you have a personal website, check it for embarrassing information.  You should think twice about blogging on topics that may not reflect favorably on you. Programs are regularly “Googling” applicants. Beat them to the punch and Google yourself.  You should know what the internet reveals about your past. More importantly, programs/employers are increasingly gaining access to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to see what they can learn about candidates as well.  There are many ways employers can gain access into facebook, i.e. employers are employing current students to do candidate researches. In any case, be sure to remove incriminating photos and any statements on your profile which could be embarrassing.   More importantly, set your privacy settings as high as you can.

MOST OF ALL, know yourself.  Make a list of your strengths, goals, values, accomplishments and abilities to use as a general reference for all interview questions. Make a list of the top 5 things you want a program to know about you.  This will help provide your answers for the majority of the questions you are asked.  What makes you a good candidate? What makes you unique?

Timing of Interviews

There is a great deal of mythology and conflicting information regarding interview timing. For some programs you will have little choice of time. It really does not matter when you interview. The interview process can be quite draining.  To interview effectively, you will need to strategize. Try not to schedule back-to–back interview. Try to schedule interviews in the same geographic area together (travel and hotel costs add up really fast.) If possible, get a few “experience interviews” under your belt before you present yourself to those programs you most desire. As a general rule, the earlier a program receives your application, the more flexibility you will have in scheduling interviews. A late application may arrive after there are no more interview "slots".

Most residency programs invite candidates to dinner the day before the residency interview. This is a chance for them to see you in a less formal setting and for the residents to get to know you. You should be aware that you are being evaluated at receptions held before the interview day. This is part of the interview process.

The Appointment

A few weeks before your scheduled interview, call the residency secretary/coordinator to confirm your interview. Ask for any updated information. Inquire about the schedule of events on the interview day and the names and titles of the people with whom you will be interviewing. Be sure to obtain and write down the correct pronunciation of their names. Ask whether or not you will have free time during the day to walk around and to talk with residents. If not, block some time to do this. Be sure to account for travel time. Also, be sure to get exact directions to the institution and to the department. You do not want to get lost in a maze of hospital hallways on the way to your interview. Go over your checklist the day before your interview. Make a list of questions to ask each individual. Be sure to print and take your confirmation email sent by the program coordinator – very important.  There have been many stories of incorrect confirmation dates being sent to students and missing of interview dates.

Residency Interviews- Cancellations

Most of you will find that you will be offered more interviews than you can possibly attend and will likely need to cancel some interview dates.  You must contact the residency programs in advance if you find that you will not be able to make a scheduled interview.  Follow up with an email confirmation.  "No Shows" reflect badly on you as an applicant and badly on our medical school.  A “no show” could potentially ruin your match.  If you give a program the courtesy of cancelling they can offer the interview spot to another applicant.  You might find yourself in the position of being offered a last minute interview at a prized residency spot and benefit from the courtesy of another applicant.

Appearance and Attire

Appearance creates a first impression and impacts on how you are perceived. Present yourself in a professional manner. Dress conservatively. Interview clothing should be a professional looking suit and shirt or blouse, or classic (not faddish) blazer with pants or skirt (appropriately length). Avoid overwhelming colognes and perfumes. You must be neatly groomed. Do not chew gum. Avoid flashy jewelry. It's about fitting in, not standing out.

The Interview

The purpose of the interview is to provide the opportunity for the interviewer and interviewee to meet and gain knowledge and understanding that cannot be gleaned from academic credentials or program brochures. You will generally arrive around eight a.m. to your interview.  It will take all day, so be prepared. Most interview days begin with a welcome and an introduction to the program. Throughout the day, you will be interviewed by a series of attendings, the program director, and sometimes the chair of the department.  Most interview days incorporate a tour of the facilities and lunch with the residents.

For your interview itself… be relaxed. Be yourself. I know… easier said than done. Maintain good posture, eye contact, and smile. Be aware of the body language you convey when you sit. Remember, 65 percent of communication is non-verbal. Speak at a comfortable level and speed. Try to be clear, concise, and think about your answers. Do not fidget or fiddle with anything. If you don’t understand a question the interviewer asks, ask them to repeat it. Smile and show your personality.

Be Prepared to Answer Hypothetical, Problem-Solving, Situational or Research Related Questions: "What if..." or "Tell me about a time when…" types of questions are asked to get a sense of what you know, what you can do, and how well you do it. A good interviewer is looking for depth, and most will probe if your answers are too superficial. Be in tune with your interviewer – take cues

If questions are focused on your academic record, don't make excuses. Provide the best matter-of-fact information that you can. Explain personal or extenuating circumstances that you may have been facing at the time, but don't make disparaging comments about yourself. Find a way to convey some unique quality about yourself in the interview.

Be nice to everybody, from the department chair to the secretary.  Take notes as you go along; these will serve you in the future after you have interviewed with 20 programs and can’t remember who’s who and what’s what. You cannot tell the program how you are going to rank them and vice-versa, but both parties can express strong interest in each other. Don’t put down other programs or applicants. Pay attention. At the end of your interview be sure to express your pleasure and gratitude for the opportunity to interview.

There is an abundance of questions that you might be asked in an interview. Although you cannot prepare answers to all possible questions; you should prepare answers to a number of standard questions. Rehearse mentally, or with a friend or faculty member. Prepare and think through a broader list of questions, and have a sound understanding of other topics which you might be asked to discuss. Remember, you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you.  Be careful not to ask a question that is already covered in the literature on that program.

The timing of the interviews is different for Military and early match specialties. The interview is the same.

Interview Advice and the 3 Most Commonly Asked Questions by Drexel PD's and Pathway Directors

Frequently Asked Questions

Be able to talk about:

Behavioral Questions

Handling difficult questions should be expected during the interview process. Part of the reasoning behnd these difficult questions is gauging your reactions in stressful moments.

Challenging Questions

*For questions regarding coursework/clerkship/USMLE failures, be sure to include how you've addressed any issues and what you've learned*

Inappropriate and Illegal Questions


Questions to ask

Questions for the Program Director - Your focus here should be upon educational questions. Let the interviewer lead, but get the information you need. Your questions will tell them a lot about who you ar and what you care about most.

Questions for Housestaff - Here you can be somewhat more relaxed and direct. Ask for somewhat specific information and "read" the responses. Don't criticize the program or dwell on lifestyle issues. The housestaff could view you as a potential detriment to the team. The bottom line - are they happy with the program and why? If not, how would they like to see it change so that they would find it better met their hopes / needs.

Lifestyle Questions It is appropriate to ask about call schedules such as “How often will I be taking call” or “What are the expectations for a new resident…” But too many questions about time off will make you look like you’re picking your specialty on the basis of lifestyle, which may not reflect well on you. It is a fine balance.

Do's and Don'ts



The Follow-up / Thank You Letter/Final Communication of Interest

Following your interview and before you leave, thank the residency coordinator for arranging the interview day.  After the interview, write down your impressions of the program and how your interview went. Are there things you can improve upon? What did you do well on? 

One to two weeks after your interview, send a thank you letter to the program director and anyone who helped make your day there enjoyable. Do not send a generic thank you note…personalize it. You may wish to reiterate your interest in the program. If your interview was early in the season, it is advisable to recontact the program either by phone or by another letter to express your continued interest later in the interview season.  It's good manners to send a thank you letter to all programs you visit, whether you are interested or not.

Review your notes. You will most likely remember the aspects of the program that dazzled you and the points that you thoroughly disliked; but it is a good idea to go over all of the information that you noted to keep an accurate and ongoing perspective. Remember that you will have to rank all of the programs in which you are interested, and the nuances and small details will shade your final decision.

Suggestions for the content of your Thank you letter:

Suggestions for Final Letter of Interest and Example letter below
At the conclusion of all your interviews and before final decisions are made and rank order lists submitted, students may re-contact the programs either by phone or email to let the program director know, having completed the interview process, they still remain extremely interested in their program. If you have recently interviewed and already conveyed your interest to your programs you do not need to send another letter/email. The best time to send a final communication is at the end of the interview process, between eary January and February 3rd.

Avoid using ranking language in your communication. There are a lot of way to tell a program you are "extremely interested" in their program and why (include some specific program highlights). Consider some of these phases: that you remain genuinely interested; that you would be thrilled and honored to train among their residents; That their program is a great fit with your career interests and goals; You are excited for match day and the next stage of your training. You could also add…please let me know if you need any additional information and thank them for all their time etc. Attached is an example of a letter of interest that could be email to a program director. Please do not copy this verbatim. Personalize it and make it your own.

Please review the NRMP Match Communication Code of Conduct, Professionalism and The Match and NRMP Applicant Match Tips  

Second Looks

Some programs will offer you the opportunity for a “second look.” Take advantage of the invitations if you think a second look would help. Second looks tend to be specialty specific and are discouraged in many specialties (Internal Medicine) and programs. Second looks should only be used if you need more information to make a decision about your rank list. Keep in mind that a second look is a second interview day and needs to be treated as such.

Under the NRMP Match Code of Conduct the following statements are included regarding post interview communication:

To promote the highest ethical standards during the interview, ranking, and matching processes, program directors participating in a Match shall commit to:

Additonal On-Line Resources

Residency Program Evaluation Guide

Adapt or modify a form like this to your individual needs.
Check List Form