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13 Tips for Interview Season

Disclaimer: This post was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the interview information may not be relevant during the 2020-2021 & 2021-2022 academic years.

As we start the 2019-2020 interview season, I have had time to reflect on my experiences as both an interviewee and interviewer. This year will be my 7th season of residency interviews- and I would like to share what I have learned!

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Disclaimer: I am an Emergency Medicine physician. I most often advise and interview candidates for Emergency Medicine. I believe most of this advice is relevant to all/most specialties, but some of this advice may not carry over to other specialties.

1. The Basics: Get an Advisor

Don’t go it alone. Applying to residency can be very stressful. An advisor can help guide you through the process. Do a mock interview with your advisor. Go through your application with your advisor. Find the areas to highlight (research, leadership, etc) and the areas to be prepared to discuss (lower grades, failing score, repeated course, etc). You advisor can also help guide you about how many programs you should apply to and interviews you should attend.

2. The Basics: Program Selection

Only apply to programs where you can actually imagine yourself being a resident. Take into account location, program style, and duration (for programs with varying duration such as Emergency Medicine, General Surgery, etc). If you cannot imagine living in a certain city, don’t apply.

3. Travel Logistics: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Flying: I would recommend flying in EARLY the day before your interview. You do not want to be stressed about a very late arrival. Many programs will have their interview dinner the night before and I recommend getting in the night before to attend. Expect flight delays due to weather and/or technical issues, and plan your flights with enough lead time to make up for potential delays. Try to carry on (instead of checking a bag) as often as possible. There is nothing worse than your bag getting lost (with your suit). Carrying on will decrease your costs, time at the airport, and stress. Lastly, consider signing up for an airline credit card ahead of interview season. This way you can earn miles to use during a post-medical school pre-residency trip!

Cars: Consider driving to your interview. Driving often costs less, and can even save time when compared to flying. For drives <5 hours, it is likely worth driving instead of flying. Some cities are very driver-friendly (Jacksonville, FL), and some are NOT (New York). If you are going to drive or rent a car, consider how much parking will cost in your city. Using public transportation and/or a ride-share app may be a better option.

Hotels: If you have friends (or alumni) in the area- consider staying with them to save money. If staying in a hotel- don’t forget to use discount codes the residency program may offer. You may also want to consider using Air BnB (or a similar home share). The benefits include getting a true feel for living in the city- but this can be a little riskier in cities you don’t know very well.

4. Scheduling

Cancel early, cancel often. Every interview spot you are holding, someone else is waiting for. As soon as you decide to NOT interview at a program, cancel your interview. If canceling > 2 weeks out, its ok to just cancel using the scheduling service. If canceling < 2 weeks out, contact the residency coordinator.

5. Interview Dinners

Go to the interview dinner! Get to know the residents! Attending this event is a great way to assess “fit” and to learn more about the program. If your significant other is visiting with you, reach out to the Residency Coordinator about bringing them to the dinner.

6. The Big Day

Do your research. Know with whom you are interviewing. This can help you avoid awkward situations (eg. asking the PD if they are the coordinator, resident, or interviewee)

Don’t OVER research. (eg. I appreciate when someone references SheMD during our interview, but it can be creepy if someone references my undergraduate research project)

7. Dress to Impress

Generally, I recommend wearing a suit (pants or skirt). If you choose to wear a dress, wear a blazer over the dress. Add color if you feel it is appropriate- I would not recommend wearing a brightly colored suit.

Wear VERY comfortable shoes- you may be walking for a while.

8. What NOT to Wear

Do not wear anything too revealing (too low, too short, or too tight). Prior to interview day- put on your suit and sit in front of a mirror. That is what your interviewer will see, adjust accordingly.

9. Be on Time!

I live my life by the motto “early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable.” Practically, this means arriving 30 minutes early to the hospital and approximately 15 minutes early to the interview. This does NOT mean show up an hour early. Confirm with coordinator the week of the interview about the times, as these may change.

10. Basic Etiquette

Be nice and professional to EVERYONE! From the chair of the department, to the Residency Director, to the Residents, to the Residency Coordinator, to the janitor. Each of these people could be your advocate or your assassin. I have heard stories of interviewees being rude to the Residency Coordinator- this did NOT end well for the student.

11. The Questions

What You Will be Asked: Be prepared to answer the most common questions. Don’t be too rehearsed (we can tell) but have an idea of how you will answer the basic questions.

For a great list of questions, check out Dr. Stacy Goldbaum's post

What to Ask the Residents: Many programs will have you interview with a resident (often a chief resident). The residents are a great resource to ask questions- so be prepared for this interview.

For a great list of questions, check out Dr. Stacy Goldbaum's post

What to Ask the Program Director: There are questions that are appropriate for the Program Director and there are questions that are best asked to the residents (eg. I wouldn’t ask the PD the best places to hang out post shift).

For a great list of questions, check out Dr. Stacy Goldbaum's post

What You Should NOT be Asked: There are questions that may be asked but should not be asked during interviews.

For a great list of these questions, check out Dr. Melissa Parsons' post

12. The Follow Up

The practice of sending actual "Thank You" notes may vary by specialty. In Emergency Medicine, this is totally moving out of fashion. If you feel like you MUST send something, an e-mail should suffice (in most specialties).

13. Final Tips: Social Media

Programs may or may not look you up on social media. I don’t recommend taking down your profiles just for interview season. You should not be doing things on social media that you need to remove. If you have inappropriate pictures online, you should take them down whether you are interviewing for residency or not.

I hope these 13 tips help you! Best of luck in this upcoming interview season. Please remember to always be yourself! Feel free to reach out to me on twitter @ALMannixMD with any additional questions.

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