So you’ve received a few invitations for residency interviews and you’re excited but also trembling in your boots. If there are no concrete resources to prepare you for this season because your medical school is offshore, I want to help you. Or maybe you have support already and just need an additional resource, then this is for you.
When I interviewed for a residency position in 2011, I learned the hard way which is by trial and error. Now, you don’t have to do the same. I want to give you free pearls for success. During my year as the chief resident I interviewed IMGs and US grads alike, that was when I saw the other side of the coin. That season left me with a well-rounded perspective on how to really impress « interviewers ». I am going to share some practical advice from my interview season and some from my professional experience. I believe these can help you make an exceptional first impression.
What you really want after all is to make it higher up the rank list. Isn’t it?
I must preface this by saying; an invitation to interview to me quickly means that you look like a good candidate for the program on paper. They will like to train the person they see on the CV you submitted. The interview process then is to determine if you’ll be a true fit for their program after they meet you in person. This is why what you do, how you present yourself and everything else between counts on the interview day.
Here are a few of MY recommendations:
Arrive earlier than the scheduled time. Appearance and grooming do matter. You are interviewing for a physician role, you should look the part. I suggest a solid color suit – Always. Men should always wear a tie. Keep jewelry at minimal or professional to avoid distractions, classics such as pearls for women or lightweight necklaces. You only get one chance at a good first impression. Don’t ruin it. Your future program director doesn’t care about your sense of fashion but they do care about personal hygiene and grooming. To minimize your stress; I suggest you drive to where you’ll interview the night before and get familiar with where you need to go beforehand. You don’t want to arrive late or present yourself frantically sweating and panting because you drove and parked on the wrong side of the medical campus.
After presenting yourself as the successful doctor that you already are, your body language and comportment will speak loudly for you even while you’re quiet. Smile, shake hands boldly and firmly. Maintain proper eye contact (this isn’t always evident for people from different cultural backgrounds). Introduce yourself at any opportunity given and always try to keep a record of every person you encounter. A safe way to be on your best behavior is to consider every interaction as a « plant or a spy». This way you’ll remain consistent with courtesy with everyone you meet. You never know who is in the rank list committee, and their opinion can have a role to play on where you end up on that list.
What you say is as important as what you do. Be sure to choose your words correctly. Avoid unnecessary colloquialism even with the residents. This is foolproof but also avoid profanity. Turn off your phone during your interview day or keep it in silent mode. It is rude to have your phone ringing during a 1;1 interview. Avoid complaining about anything, no one wants to know about your mental instability or lack of resilience. Do not make negative reference to other programs you’ve interviewed at, we will think you’ll do same about us at the next interview. Hello!
4. Talk To People Who Have Interviewed Where You’re Going (Only If Possible).
Remember that each program’s interview day schedule is different. Some may begin with morning report, others with breakfast, some with an informal dinner the night before etc. Whatever the schedule is, knowing a bit more ahead of time gives you perspective on how to prepare and remain on your best behavior throughout the day. Also, plan to be present during every part of the program. This means to engage in conversation and do not skip any parts of it.
If you are invited to participate in any activities i.e. morning or noon lecture then participate. I mean you should speak up and interact with residents, feel confident to respond to questions even if intended for the residents. Your goal is to stand out after all. This way you will stand out and remain memorable for rank meetings later.
5. Read About The Program and The Area Before You Go.
Several IMGs apply randomly across the country without geographic preference in an attempt to increase their chances of matching into a residency program. These programs want residents that will fit into the setting, they also understand that a well-balanced resident will be most successful when they have good work-life balance. So, if you’re not from the area; you need to learn about assimilating into the culture before you interview. Be properly informed beforehand. This way you can ask pertinent questions to your case to see how you fit into the program. There is a lot that can be deducted on a candidate’s genuine interest based on the type of questions they ask. Meaningful strategic questions can lead your interviewer into some insight regarding your depth of interest in their program.
6. Ask For an Itinerary Shortly Before You Go (If Possible).
Beyond being able to relieve some anxiety by having a forecast of what the day will look like, the itinerary will have the names of all those you’ll be meeting. This is important for several reasons.
If you’re shy and never know how to make conversation – you can look your interviewer up on the program website to gain insight into them before you go. Things you can bring up in conversation could include research interests/publications or other medically related topics they’ve identified a niche with. Avoid sensitive personal topics at all cost.
Another reason to have an itinerary is so you can refer to your interviewer by name during the conversation. It will also help you to properly address thank you letters or emails afterward.
7. Take a Copy of Your CV With You.
The last thing you want is to allow anxiety to cause you to freeze when details of your CV are being questioned. Also, take notes on matters you want to remember during parts of the interview.
8. Pre-Interview Dinner Behavior.
Best to avoid alcohol and sensitive topics. Ask applicable questions that can affect your daily life as a resident there. If given the opportunity for dinner, do not skip it – this is part of proper networking and could be an opportunity to leave a good impression. Remember every encounter matters during the 12-24 hours you spend with the program.
9. Have a Plan
You may never know the end from the beginning, but you should have a vague career plan. People like to know about this. So prepare a response to that question. Ultimately the program you interview at wants to know how they can fit into that plan to achieve mutual optimal performance for you and them.
10. How to Tackle Every Question Asked.
Preface: This is not the time to show off your skills in “giving up”.
It is perfectly okay to practice how to respond to common interview questions. Practice makes perfect and that also applies here.
When answering a question; do it like a champ. Avoid babbling. Be sure to directly answer the question posed. You should always try to think like the person asking the question. Always end on a high note and here is what I mean by that. For example, if you are asked about your weaknesses, do not simply spill out a bunch of negative character traits and leave them on the table. Instead, discuss them quickly and end with a scenario that proves you are either overcoming the trait or actively working on it. The interviewer does not want to gloat over your weaknesses but would rather want to learn that you are resilient, teachable, malleable and strong in character. Use this technique with responding to every question.
11. Pray for favor with the authorities – especially if that’s where you want to go.
Proverbs 12:2 A good man will obtain favor from the LORD …
Go Forth & Shine Bright.