Making the Most of Each Interview

Congratulations! You made it to the interview phase of residency applications. After combing through thousands of applicants, someone thought you might make a good fit for their program! But still, they are interviewing a couple hundred applicants that are very qualified—just like you. In fact, your interviewer alone will probably talk to 20-30 people throughout the application cycle. So how do you get noticed?

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What the interview will be like

Your interviewer will presumably read your application. They might want to find out more about you and some of the extracurriculars you participated in, but mostly they want to see how you would fit in with the other residents and attendings. What do you like to do? Can you carry on a conversation with them? Of course, there will be the standard interview questions “why do you want to do this specialty,” “what makes you stand apart from other applicants?” and occasionally some more intimidating questions such as “teach me something” or “describe your favorite surgery/procedure you learned during medical school”. However, the majority of interviews I experienced, as well as my peers, were more conversational. Make the most of the conversation and talk about things you’re passionate about—you will be remembered for discussing things you’re interested in.

Remember to ask questions

Another way to stand out is to ask the interviewer questions at the end. What made them choose their specialty? What do they like most about working with the residents at this program? What do they like most about the institution they work at? If you’re sent your interviewers names ahead of time, look them up and see what they do—what’s their subspecialty and where did they train. Find something you have in common with them to ask them about. Just like in dates, people leave a conversation feeling more positively about it if they have the opportunity to talk about themselves.

After the interview

After every interview I quickly jotted down in a note on my phone, or a physical piece of paper, the name of my interviewer and a few key words to remind me what we discussed. You may have anywhere from 3-15 interviews in one day and it’s easy for them to all run together. Use these notes when you send a follow up email/letter. You want the interviewer to remember your interview when reading your follow up too. Whether you choose to do a handwritten physical letter or an email depends on how you felt about the interview day and your personal preference. An email is more likely to get a response, but a physical letter stands out. I personally wrote a thank you letter to program directors and department chairs, but emails to my individual interviewers during the day. Regardless of what you choose, follow up emails don’t directly influence the rank list—but a reminder of you in a sea of applicants is helpful when making a rank list.

As you begin the interview process, make sure to practice, review the typical interview questions, and smile—see our other blog posts for more tips. Keep the end goal in mind, finding a program that you fit in well at and that wants to focus on training you. Be yourself and trust the process.

Back to more interview tips.

Bailey Roberts, MD
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