It’s that time of year! You’ve submitted your residency application and the wait for an interview has begun. While most of us can edit and polish ourselves on paper ad nauseum, we may not have the same ability to captivate an audience in an interview. And, unless you’ve figured out the mystery of time travel, an onsite interview may be your last chance to impress the people who can connect you with the residency of your dreams! So let’s talk about some tips to help you prepare for the big day.
1. Walk with a purpose
In your residency, you will likely be working with multiple supervisors, each of whom may be present during your interview. When you walk into the interview, introduce yourself to every person in the room with a smile and a strong handshake.
Prepare a few opening remarks to connect with the interviewers. After all, you may be working with these people for the next year of your life, so it’s a good idea to get to know them before getting down to business. Share an anecdote about your trip, your experience in the facility or what you’ve learned about the program based on your research. It is far more enjoyable to be in an interview where you have established a rapport than an interview where it feels like an interrogation.
2. Nail the basics
In every interview you will be asked a series of “basic” questions that help the interviewer determine if you are a good fit for the program. The three big questions to which you should know your answers are:
1. Why do you want to do a residency?
2. Why are you choosing this particular area for residency?
Answer these first two questions with something other than “because I want to be competitive job applicant.” While this is true, that answer doesn’t make you sound like a competitive residency applicant. Any residency could give you that advantage so why this residency? Your response should convey your passion to learn more about this particular area and gain more exposure so that you can provide better patient care. Don’t be afraid to point out gaps in your knowledge which you hope to fill by partaking in this residency.
3. Why are you choosing this program?
This last question is key. It is important for the interviewers to understand why you are applying to their particular program amongst all of the other sites that host this topic. This is because they want to know if their residency is your top choice rather than a back-up. So, brush up on the history of the program and recognize what makes it stand out from others. Communicate with past and current residents to hear their take on the program, and use those stories to convey your interest in the residency.
3. Prepare cases 1, 2 and 3
No matter what the area of residency is, every interviewer will ask you to tell them about a case (or 3) that you’ve encountered in clinic. They want to understand your clinical thought process, assess your flexibility in management, and feel your passion for patient care. While you present a case, address the following items:
What were your thoughts based on exam findings? You are a clinician not a technician, so you should be able to think and interpret on your feet.
- How did you come with your diagnosis? Explain your thought process as you navigate through each differential.
- How did you manage and treat the patient? Stress patient education.
- What did you learn from this case? Show your ability to self reflect on your knowledge base.
- What could you have done differently? Illustrate your flexibility in management.
The interviewers aren’t particularly interested in whether or not you correctly diagnosed a patient at the first visit. In fact, a case which is a brain teaser and required multiple visits may be the one you want to discuss because it would highlight your thought process and ability to think on your feet.
Additionally, a case doesn’t have to be complicated to wow your interviewers. Even a simple where your treatment substantially improved your patients symptoms communicates your interest in the well-being of patients from all walks of life.
4. Highlight your Curriculum Vitae
Before going to your interview take a glance at your CV. The interviewers will likely have a copy of your CV and reference it during the interview. So get comfortable with talking about the following:
- Work experience: Try to highlight any past teaching experiences and rotation sites where you learned the most.
- Community involvement: Spotlight vision screenings, professional advocacy and conferences that you have attended.
- Accomplishments: Don’t be shy to mention an award that highlights your skills as a clinician.
- Hobbies: Besides your profession, mention a unique interest that exposes your multidimensional personality.
If it’s in your CV, it’s fair game. Hence, make sure to briefly go through the bullet points and familiarize yourself with what you’ve written. Pick out one topic from each category listed above and prepare to elaborate if questioned. Your interviewers want to get to know different aspects of you so don’t be afraid to branch away from professional commitments in your discussion, especially for your hobbies!
5. Strategize for Q&A
In order to communicate your interest in the program, be prepared to ask insightful questions. Keep in mind, answers to these questions should not be easy to find on the program’s website. You want to ask questions that are meaningful to you and keep the interviewers on their toes: after all, you are also interviewing them. Additionally, it helps to show interest in the surrounding area so you can convey an interest in making the move to that location. Some questions to think about are:
- How has the program changed in the past 3 to 5 years?
- What is the program’s biggest weakness and what do they want to improve?
- What is the biggest problem that past residents have encountered?
- What are ways that the program helps resident with professional development? (Jobs, public speaking, paper writing, presentations, etc.)
- What are some fun and unique things to do in this area?
For the closing touch, send a thank you email—or even better, a handwritten letter to the residency supervisor—the week after your interview. In the note, state your appreciation for their consideration and make a unique comment on a conversation you had with the interviewer so they can differentiate you from the masses. This small but thoughtful gesture will keep you on the radar for the position and emphasize your professional maturity.
After the interview, analyze your dynamic with the interviewers and the teaching philosophy of the program. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and pick the residency which will challenge you the most. The next exciting chapter of your life awaits: good luck!