What you need to know about interviewing for residency
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Wasn’t pressing submit on your ERAS application so satisfying?!
If you are participating in the couples match, check out our separate post outlining the specifics (A guide to the couples match)! We also have another post on preparing for applications as an MS3/4. Otherwise, here we’ll focus on the interviews themselves and the timeline for applying to residency.
Consider making a separate email for ERAS (preferably Gmail). This way, you’ll know that all of the emails that come through are only interview-related. Gmail also allows you to do text forwarding, which we would highly recommend so you never miss an email.
If you don’t start receiving interviews right away, don’t worry! Specialties tend to send out invites at different points in the season. In general, more competitive specialties send out interviews later in the season, so be aware of that. Specialties including family medicine, internal medicine, radiology, etc. often send out interviews earlier. However, more recently, there has been a push for a universal interview release time so certain specialties have started doing this, so keep this in mind.
Interview spots fill up quickly (within minutes!), which is why it’s so important to be on top of your phone/email. Often, programs will extend more interview invitations than spots available. If you’ll be on a rotation where you won’t be able to access your phone (i.e. surgical rotations where you'll be in the OR), give your login information to a family member or friend who can respond to interview invitations for you. Give them access to your calendar too so they can know when to schedule without conflict! Be sure to throughly teach them how to sign up and which logins to use since it can be difficult to navigate. Whoever you trust in helping you with this process should be as well versed in it as you are!
Unfortunately, interview invitations are not sent in a uniform manner. Some programs will email you and you will respond with your preferred date in the body of an email, some will send through ERAS and you sign up via their calendar, and some will send via Thalamus, Interview Broker, or another service. Again, respond as soon as you get the email. The best way to stay organized is by adding your interview dates to your Google calendar or the calendar on your phone so you can quickly access when you get an email.
Emailing programs to request an interview
Some people find this to be controversial, but we did this for couples matching and we were so glad that we did. If you are hoping for an interview from a particular program or are interested in a location, go ahead and send a letter of interest! Our philosophy is that there is no harm in asking for an interview because the worst case scenario is that nothing changes and you don't get an interview and best case scenario is you will! We each received multiple interviews this way and were so happy that we did it. Remember, you have nothing to lose!
Tip: Check out our email template attached at the bottom of the page.
Traveling for interviews
This aspect of interviews has obviously changed in the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so depending on if your specialty will be doing virtual interviews, you may be able to save a lot of money!
For us, this was the most exhausting and expensive part of the interview season. There was one week where one of us had 5 interviews in 5 states! If possible, try to be strategic and don’t schedule flights right away because you may end up canceling if you have a conflict with a more desirable program. Try to cluster interviews in similar locations if you can. Even though it would be great if couples matchers could save on expenses and travel together for interviews, this often is not possible due to differing interview timelines for certain specialties.
Tip: Get a credit card with good rewards prior to interview season to rack up points to redeem later!
Prepare for your interview
Do your research. Look up the program online the night before and try to familiarize yourself with the faculty, residents, unique aspects of the program, curricula, etc. Questions to ask faculty/residents will depend on the specialty.
Some common topics you should address for diagnostic radiology include: opportunities for procedures starting early on, diversity of pathology, volume of cases, independent call, number of fellows, opportunities for mentoring, the locations you'll be rotating at as a resident, and the amount of graduated autonomy each year as a resident.
Good surgical specialty topics to address include: opportunities to scrub cases as an intern, attending availability during call especially as an upper level resident, whether residents subspecialize with fellowships or tend to stay general, having access to multiple vendors/implant companies, and typical number of cases residents perform.
Do your best to go to these (even if virtual)! Although it’s challenging to plan your travel around these dinners, it’s very worth it to go and meet the residents. Plus, free food, right?! Take this opportunity to get to know your potential future co-residents, see how they interact with each other, and ask them questions. This is a great time to ask about call schedules, moonlighting, rotations, and any other topics that you might feel uncomfortable asking about on interview day. Think to yourself: Are these people you would want to spent the next few years with? Do they have a good relationship with each other? Attire is typically business casual (always better to overdress than underdress!) but if you’re unsure you can always ask either the coordinator or whoever sent out the dinner invitation.
Try to relax and get a good night’s sleep the night before. Typically, attire will be business professional for the interview, meaning suits for both men and women. Personally, I (Catherine) opted for suit pants over a skirt because I knew I would be more comfortable, but it’s an individual preference. Try to stick with neutral colors for your suit (black, navy, or gray). I found flats to be much more comfortable and practical especially with the tours, but again, personal preference. I (Wade) also opted for suit pants over a skirt, but for different reasons. My legs just don't look as good in a skirt.
The interview day will likely be either a full day or a half day where you will either sign up for the morning session or afternoon session. The day often consists of a tour/informational session, the interviews, and a luncheon. You will usually interview with the program director, assistant program director, residents, other faculty, and/or ancillary staff. Most interviews will be about 20 minutes depending on how many you have. Make sure to leave yourself enough time for travel and try not to rush out of there. You don’t want to be stressed about travel and be thinking about that during your interview!
Tip: keep notes (whether in PowerPoint form, a spreadsheet, or in a notebook) on different programs after you interview with them! When you rank it’s helpful to have something to reference instead of just relying on your memory about specific programs.
In terms of interview questions you may be asked, that tends to be specialty specific. There are many examples online that we would encourage you to check out (including examples from the AAMC). Many times, the interview is just used to get to know you and put a face to your application. They want to make sure that you are someone the faculty and residents would enjoy working with for the next several years. Never bring up anything controversial during the interview day or bad mouth another program (including your medical school). That is extremely bad form.
Know your application backwards and forwards! They can ask you anything in regards to your application, especially when it comes to research. When asked interview questions, be thoughtful and use specific examples to back up your statements because it makes your answers more powerful and memorable. Always put a positive spin on every experience, talk about what you learned from it and what you are doing differently now because of that experience. If you know who you are interviewing with ahead of time, look up the faculty and see what their interests or subspecialties are! Even if you don't know who your interviewers are, tailor your questions to their area of interest during the interview if possible.
Tip: consider doing a mock interview if possible! Some schools offer this for free and it can help build your confidence.
Thank you notes
Sending a thank you note (or email) is a personal preference! We did because we felt that it was usually appreciated and, honestly, we thought it couldn’t hurt to send one. If a program asks you not to send thank you notes, then definitely don’t send them. In general, we would say most people responded and were grateful for the note.
Enjoy this time and even make a trip out of it if you can! It’s fun to visit different places and meet people on the interview trail. We still are good friends with some people we met on the interview trail. If you're still interviewing virtually this year, be glad that you get to save a ton of money!