Virtual Interviews are the norm for residency interviews
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How to Ace Your Residency Interview: Tips and Tricks from a Current Chief Resident

With the 2022-23 United States residency application and interview season closing, I remember how stressed I was 30 months ago when I was an applicant myself. The residency interview is an opportunity for the applicants to showcase their skills, knowledge, and personality to the program directors and faculty as part of the residency selection process. To maximize your chances of success in this competitive application process, it is essential to be well-prepared and put your best foot forward during the residency interviews.

Having gone through the application and interview process three times now, here are some of my tips to help you ace your residency interview and make a strong impression.

Research the Program

Before your residency interview, research the program thoroughly. Read the program’s website, mission statement, and other relevant materials to understand the program comprehensively. Familiarize yourself with the program’s faculty and the type of patients they see to help you tailor your responses to the specific needs and goals of the program. If you have any friends or colleagues who are faculty members or current residents of the program, do reach out to them to gain some insight into the program’s culture so that you appear well-informed on the day of the interview. I used the AMA Freida and the program’s description on the ERAS section and the program’s website to do a comprehensive review of the program. Remember, many programs have Instagram and Facebook pages; hence checking them out prior to the interview will give you more experiences to talk about!

Prepare Relevant Questions

Asking relevant questions during the residency interview shows that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the program. Consider asking about the program’s educational philosophy, opportunities for research or publications, the role of residents in patient care, and any other questions specific to the program. The most frequently asked question during the interview is, “Do you have any questions for me?”. Please come prepared with a list of questions and have something ready to ask all faculty members and residents that you interview with. These questions are usually conversation starters, and interviewers typically remember candidates who ask interesting and insightful questions.

Dress Professionally

Your appearance is important during the residency interview, as it reflects your level of professionalism and respect for the program. Dress appropriately in professional attire, such as a suit and tie or business attire for women, to make a strong impression during the residency application process.

Invest In Your Set Up

With most residency interviews being conducted virtually, invest in a good webcam and lighting setup. Most laptops have built-in webcams, but they are of poor quality; hence you can consider buying a good webcam for roughly 100 dollars. People usually purchase a ring or diffuse white light, but natural light would be the best, if feasible, in your setup. Have privacy in your room and a door that can be locked to avoid interruptions. If the background or room is cluttered, you can invest in a room divider, giving your video backdrop a professional look. I also had a backup internet connection via my cellphone’s mobile internet tethering in case my wifi suddenly became choppy.

Be On Time

Arriving on time for your residency interview shows that you are punctual, responsible, and respectful of the program’s time. These small signals usually offer great insight into a candidate’s professionalism. So be punctual and precise with your pre and post-interview communication. With virtual and zoom based interviews being the norm nowadays, log in at least 15 minutes early to account for unplanned technical delays like a failed laptop or internet connection. If you cannot make it to the planned interview slot, inform the program as early as possible.

If you are having trouble logging in, immediately call the program coordinator and inform them, and do not wait. Remember, often, the people who assist you with the interview process, such as the program coordinator, have a considerable say in who the program decides to rank and maintain professionalism throughout your email communications, phone conversations, and during the interview itself.

Show Enthusiasm and Genuine Interest

During the residency interview, be friendly, enthusiastic, and sincere. Let your personality shine through and show you are passionate about becoming a physician and contributing to the program. If you have a spouse, family members, close relatives, or friends in the area, be sure to bring it up during the interview, as that will be viewed positively by the program leadership and would add a lot of weight to your perceived interest in the program.

Highlight Relevant Experience and Achievements

During the residency interview, be prepared to discuss your relevant experience and achievements, including any rotations, research projects, publications, or presentations. Emphasize how your experiences have prepared you for a residency program and how you plan to use this training in your future career. It goes without saying that anything on your application packet and CV is fair game, so know your experiences and publications inside out!

Be Confident and Articulate

During the residency interview, answer questions clearly, concisely, and thoughtfully. Many people tend to speak fast when they are nervous. Usually, making a conscious effort to talk slowly can have a big difference in how you communicate. Try to make eye contact as much as possible. In the virtual world, practice looking into the camera intermittently while speaking so that it appears as if you are making eye contact.

Speak confidently, using proper grammar and avoiding filler words such as “um” and “ah.” Be sure to listen carefully to each question before answering to ensure that you address the question fully. I like to take a beat, take a five-second pause to fully understand the question, and form an outline of my answer before speaking. Even the interviewers appreciated this form of slow down, as it felt like a natural conversation instead of a question-and-answer session.

Show Good Interpersonal and Teamwork Skills

Residency programs are looking for candidates who can work effectively in a team. During the residency interview, demonstrate your interpersonal and teamwork skills by highlighting your experiences working with others in a clinical or educational setting.

Demonstrate Your Knowledge of the Field and Current Events

During the residency interview, be prepared to discuss current events and trends in the field of medicine or your specialty. Stay up-to-date with the latest medical research and developments, and be ready to discuss how these advancements may impact patient care in the future.

Discuss Your Long-Term Career Goals

During the residency interview, be prepared to discuss your long-term career goals and how the residency program fits into those goals. Show that you have thought about your future and have the plan to achieve your goals. During the residency interviews, program directors like to get hints into your future career plans such as fellowship, hospitalist or primary care job, staying in the United States versus intent to move overseas to work, etc.

Express Gratitude and Follow-Up

After the residency interview, be sure to thank the program directors and faculty for their time and consideration. You can send a follow-up email or handwritten note to reiterate your interest in the program and thank them for the opportunity to interview. However, post-interview communication is becoming increasingly discouraged by programs these days. Unless the residency program asks explicitly for no post-interview communication, a small thank-you email to everyone you interviewed with will show your professionalism and appreciation. It can also help keep your name fresh in their minds during the residency application process.

Following these tips can increase your chances of success during the residency application and interview season. Remember, the residency interview is not only a chance for the program to evaluate you but also a chance for you to evaluate the program and determine if it is the right fit for you and your career goals. If you liked this article, and you are an IMG, then consider checking out my Ultimate USMLE Guide for the IMG! Good luck!

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