Residency interview tips from a Chief Resident

I never realized before how much work goes on behind the scenes to prepare and conduct these interview days, but I sure do now. As a Chief Resident, I schedule residents to attend the applicant dinners, lunches, and tours, and to spend time with the applicants our lounge. This makes the actual interview days go by much smoother, because two of us are present at all times to speak to applicants and answer any questions.

I’m always fascinated by applicants who go through medical school later in life. Since I started at the UMKC 6-year BA/MD program, I really had no real-life experience when I went through this process. I’ve met many applicants who have had previous careers and decided, after years of being in the work force, that they wanted to pursue medicine. I really admire people who take the risk (and pay cut) to go back to school to fulfill their goals. As someone who conducts interviews, I can attest that these applicants often are very prepared and are great to speak to. I look forward to talking to them about their previous endeavors and what exactly made them come back to medical school. I always ask if it was worth it, and everyone says yes … then again, I am interviewing them for a job, so who would say no?

I’m fairly new to “this side” of the interview process, but I wanted to share some tips that I’ve thought of so far for any current applicants. I’ve adapted some of these from the AMA website as well.

1. Be on time. Whether you know it or not, the day has a schedule that many people rely on. If you are going to be late due for any reason, let somebody know. We have had applicants email a few days before their interviews to request a phone number for somebody in the program – just in case they get lost or have any issues. This shows us they are prepared and want to keep us informed if anything comes up.

2. Research the program. It’s a given that somebody is going to ask you why you chose to interview with their program. If you have done your research, you will have an informed answer. Even if you are interviewing at your “home” program, know the details about what has changed or is changing to make sure your interviewers know you were paying attention.

3. Look your interviewers in the eye and offer your hand. As a girl, I was never really taught handshake etiquette, and I don’t even know if I have that down now. Many people will ask for a firm handshake, but I won’t comment on that. Please look the interviewer in the eye even it its not in your nature to do so normally. When interviewees don’t look at me, it makes me feel awkward myself – I feel like they are being evasive for some reason.

4. Prepare a few questions beforehand. We hate asking you repeatedly if you have any questions, but we have to do this to fill the silences. We want to make sure you are informed before you leave. We are available all day to ensure that you can assess our program adequately. If you have a few generic questions prepared, you can ask them throughout the day whenever things get quiet — it makes you appear interested. It’s also nice to have questions ready, because each of your interviewers will likely ask you if you have any! Play this one by ear: If your interviewer appears rushed or mentions they have to be somewhere, he or she might not be the best person to ask that extra question, but most people would appreciate answering one question at the end of the interview.

5. Interact with the other applicants who are interviewing with you. We don’t just want to hear what you have to say; we are also watching how you interact with your peers. In our program, being social is very important because we tend to spend a lot of time together outside of work. Being antisocial or extremely introverted is a negative in our eyes.

6. Don’t use your phone or computer on your interview day.  This boggles my mind. It is rude and unacceptable. I hate when people do this. Even if you think we won’t notice during the tour or during a quiet moment – we always see it. If you need to check in for your flight or make a quick call, ask the Chief Resident or coordinator who is with you if you can step away for a moment. Better that they think you are being formal in asking rather than the alternative – thinking you are rude and judging you for being on your phone or laptop.

7. Don’t opt out of any of the interview day. Even if you are interviewing at your home program, go on the tour. Along with this, I would also say not to make travel arrangements that force you to leave early. Not being present for part of the day automatically makes me think that you aren’t interested. Even if you have walked those halls 1,000 times, if you were truly interested in our program, you would take the tour and be excited about it. We understand sometimes you can’t schedule travel perfectly, so, if this happens, let the coordinators know as soon as you book your flight so they can plan your day in advance.

8. Thank the program coordinators. As the Chief Resident, I get many thank you cards/notes from applicants, and I understand why, but the true credit for the interview day should go to the program coordinators.  They work so hard behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly for you and for everyone involved. They are the unsung heroes of this process and deserve a lot more credit.

I hope some of these tips help those of you going through this process. Any career decision is important but don’t stress yourself out. I suggest making a list of all of the things you would like your future program/workplace to have. At the end of every interview, write down what the program had and didn’t have on your list. This makes the decision easier at the end, and, who knows, you might end up choosing a program that it fits all of your needs/expectations but that wasn’t on your A list. I’d love to hear what other interviewers look for and recommend.

Gopi J. Astik currently is serving as a Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  She blogs at Insights on Residency Training, one of several blogs that can be found at Journal Watch.

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