4 essential tips for residency interviews

I have just finished another round of that dreaded process that we call “the interview process.” Without fail, this process has haunted me almost cyclically every 3 to 4 years in the last 11 years of my life. First, there were medical school interviews, residency program interviews, and then lastly, fellowship interviews.

You would think that after so many rounds of applying, it would get easier. You would think after I answered, “tell me about yourself,” for what feels like the umpteenth time that it would be easier to respond to. Well, it can.

Based on my experiences, I feel like I accrued a few valuable tips that I hope help someone else along this journey.

1. Be honest.  You hear this many times, but it took me many trials to get this right. Yes, our CV is up to date, and our scores listed are all perfectly accurate. But to be honest with our full ambitions and shortcomings is something entirely different.

When I applied to medical school, everyone expected me to have a “story.” You’ve heard this before, “what’s your story for going into medicine.” Or when you sit down to write that dreaded personal statement, you think to yourself “what over-exaggerated story can I give to illustrate my epiphany of why I want to do medicine.”

I struggled with this immensely because, to be honest, I never had a story. I was never one to make my decisions in life based on solitary moments. My husband, on the other hand, had an honest, true experience that changed his life and directed him into medicine. I called him “lucky.”

The truth for me is that I never had a moment. But I had a series of seemingly “normal” experiences, and moments in time that strung together made my story for who I was and why I wanted to go into medicine. By the end of my most recent interview process, I called my ambitions very “organic,” a string of different experiences simply with certain patients and certain instructors that showed me how much I loved my field.

Be honest. If your ambitions for your field are illustrated in an epiphanized moment of time, then share that moment. But if not, it is OK, and your honesty about that will be appreciated.

2. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. I remember the first interview I ever did for medical school. I showed up in my black suit (as many others did), and I did my best to look “serious.” What that looked like to others, I will never know. But to myself, I told myself to show my interviewers my full devotion to medicine and nothing else. I’m pretty sure I was waitlisted at that interview.

By my recent last interview, I was telling my interviewers that in my free time, I fall off my surfboard, obsess over my indoor garden, and idolize chefs like Richard Blais. When told I had incredible research, I told them it was the nicest surprise. I shared stores of my early benchwork lab days struggling over mice cerebellar slices and fumbling with a microscope.

These stories did nothing to detract from my passion for medicine. If anything, my stories falling off my surfboard showed that I will never give up and that my stubborn persistence echoes in many parts of my life. My obsession with my indoor garden speaks to my attention to detail, my meticulousness, and care to many beings in my life, including my patients. My appreciation of certain chefs reflects my admiration of those with limitless passion and vision for greatness. And my challenges in my early research days show my growth as a clinician and researcher. And now, because of the mentors and projects I have done, I have adopted a true love and passion for advancement in my field.

3. Practice. It is true what they say: Practice makes perfect.

Your first interview will likely not be your best. That is natural. How often are we asked to perfectly illustrate who we are in a few sentences? After I answer “tell me about yourself,” I always think to myself, “did I say too much” or “did I say too little.” Then I think, “my interview is pausing, did I say something wrong?” Interviewing is a strange experience. You are asked to expose your deepest experiences and ambitions to someone who truly is a complete stranger.

So practice. Every interview process, I grabbed anyone I could to ask me the simple questions that you should always have ready to answer. Tell me about yourself? Why do you want to go into this field? Tell me about a strength? Tell me about a time you failed? Tell me about this club you joined? True, many times, I would walk out of the room without getting asked this at all. But just the practice of speaking about yourself comfortably is something that will only benefit you.

4. Enjoy yourself. Every application and interview process is stressful. You’re walking around a suit you only wear once every four years, and for me, in heels I absolutely never wear. But be reassured that the whole day is really just to know who you are. So enjoy it as much as possible! You’ve made it to this point. Use this day to celebrate who you are and be proud of yourself.

Vivy Tran is an internal medicine resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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