During The Interview
There are some basic guidelines to follow that will help your interview day go smoothly.
Make eye contact with and introduce yourself to everyone you meet and smile naturally! Never call anyone by his or her first name; use his title and last name. If you aren’t sure of the person’s title, it is always safe to start off with “Dr. XX.” Do not extend your hand when you meet someone; instead let him take this initiative since he is senior to you. Have your right hand free so you are prepared and shake hands firmly if presented with this opportunity. Respect the personal space of everyone you meet. Throughout your interview day, be sure to speak at a normal pace, with clear diction, in a normal tone and volume and in a formal conversational manner. Speaking informally or using slang words anytime during the interview day puts you at risk for being perceived in the wrong way.
In The Office
As you enter someone’s office, allow her to suggest where you should sit. If she doesn’t do this, wait for her to sit down first and then sit across from her where it seems most natural. Sit up straight and do not slouch. Place anything you are holding on the floor beside you. If you aren’t sure what to do with your hands, fold them comfortably into your lap. It is okay to use gestures while you converse, but don’t go overboard. Do not forget to smile and try to appear positive, energetic, enthusiastic and warm. Be sure to make eye contact with your interviewer throughout the interview, especially when she is talking. This demonstrates that you are attentive. This behavior will make your interviewer like you—a primary goal. Do not be offended if your interviewer’s pager or cell phone goes off and she needs to answer a call. This is medicine and things come up. That said, your phone should not be visible or audible during interview day.
Make A Good First Impression
Even if it is subconscious, your interviewer makes a judgment about you within the first five to 10 minutes of your interview. An initial positive impression causes a “halo effect” and will affect everything you say in a good way. Similarly, an initial negative impression will cast a shadow, making it tough to redeem yourself. Making a good first impression is based not only on what you say but on your general demeanor. Are you professional, poised, energetic, positive and enthusiastic? Do you smile and make eye contact? Are you well-groomed?
The impression you convey in the first few minutes by your overall attitude, energy, tone of voice, expression and posture will set the stage for everything that follows. Remember never to say anything negative during an interview about other schools or people, which may give a poor impression.
Even small talk at the appropriate time can have an important effect, either positive or negative. You might find yourself speaking with a member of the faculty who is not interviewing you before the program presentation, for example. If this person has a strong impression of you, whether positive or negative, she will likely express it when your candidacy is discussed.
Create Your Own Agenda
By agenda, I mean an outline in your mind (you don’t want to display a crib sheet) of the key things about you and your experiences that you would like to discuss. This is essential because you cannot rely on your interviewer to ask about everything you would like to discuss, even all of your key experiences; you must take responsibility for bringing them up even if you wrote about them in your application. Remember that even if an interview is open file, your interviewer may not have had the time to review your materials. Also, think about how your experiences and values are similar to those of the program and speak about them within this context. Also, if you have any future rotations or experiences planned later in the year that are related to the specialty, be sure to bring them up.
Make The Interviewer’s Job Easy
When I interviewed applicants, the most painful interviews were those that made me feel that getting information from an applicant was “like pulling teeth.” In contrast, the easiest interviews were with candidates who had a lot to say that was pertinent and important. These interviewees were obviously better prepared, which impressed me because it indicated that they were taking the interview seriously enough to practice. Applicants who gave brief answers forced me to dip into my “interview questions bank” since they said so little. Ideally, you should make your interviewer’s job easy by providing her with insights and anecdotes and making segues. You don’t want to ramble, but as long as you stick to the agenda you’ve created, it’s most likely that you will stick to pertinent topics while making things simpler for your interviewer.
Make Segues And Give Complete Answers
Again, this comes back to the idea that you are in control. Make segues to topics you would like to discuss. For example, if you are asked why you want to pursue a certain specialty, explain not only “why” but “when” and “what.” Tell the interviewer when your interest started and what you have done to explore it. If you practice doing this, your segues should become natural and conversational, and your interviewer will remain engaged in what you are saying. By making these references and elaborating, you will naturally inspire further discussion and create prompts for your interviewer.
Try Your Best To Make Your Interview Conversational
The more experienced interviewers will naturally try to make your interview conversational but, just like any conversation, your interview is a give and take so do your best to keep the flow going. At the same time, be sure that you keep an air of formality to your interview even if your interviewer becomes too informal. Also, try not to dwell too much on one topic or to get off topic. Unless you are interviewing with a chairperson or someone who is very experienced and you feel like you have already covered many of the basics of your experience and motivations, it is usually only an inexperienced interviewer who allows the interview to get off track. It is your job to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Interview Length, Schedule & Format
Interview visits typically consist of a “night before gathering” and the interview day itself both of which which are explained in greater detail below.
Pre-Interview Day Gatherings
Many programs have a dinner or happy hour the night before interview days. These events are generally recruitment efforts and are usually attended by current residents and applicants. You should dress in “business casual” attire for these events and can bring a “significant other” only if the program offers this option. You want to be social at these events but do not be too informal. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say directly to the program director. My residents would routinely come to my office the day after these dinners to tell me whom they did and did not like. So, even though you aren’t being formally evaluated at these dinners, it’s wise to try to make a good impression.
Here are some general guidelines for these “evening before” gatherings:
- Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want the program director to hear.
- Don’t spend time chatting with another applicant about another program.
- Order one alcoholic drink if everyone else is having a drink and you want one – but only if you are used to drinking alcohol. Do not order more than one drink.
- If you are ordering from a menu, do not order the filet mignon for $45 if everyone else is ordering a burger for $15.
- Go home after the event. Even if the residents invite you out for more social activities, kindly decline the offer and say, “I really want to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s interview is really important to me.”
- Take note of whether or not residents are at the dinner. Sometimes the guests primarily are faculty, but typically these functions are intended to provide informal opportunities for candidates to talk to the residents. You should be skeptical if your contact with the residents is limited. This may mean that either the residents opt out of events or residents were not invited. In both cases, this may imply that residents are not happy with the program.
Interview Day Schedule
Interview days vary but follow a general pattern. Typically, smaller programs will have only two to three interviews of 30 minutes each. But, larger or very competitive programs, may have up to ten very brief interviews lasting 15 minutes each.
Below is a typical interview day schedule:
- 8:30 AM: Arrive at the interview office
- 9:00 AM: Presentation by program director
- 10:30 AM: Tour of facilities
- 12 noon: Lunch with residents
- 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Interviews
The presentation and tour can give you tremendous insight into a program’s philosophy, structure and stability. For example, if the program director is not present on interview day and the assistant director is is instead giving the introduction, you should be concerned about the program director’s commitment to the program, her organizational skills and the training that you might obtain in this program. Conversely, when the department chairperson makes it a point to speak to applicants on interview day, it suggests that the departmental leadership is invested in resident education. This is essential because the chairperson typically determines how much funding is allocated to the residency, which directly impacts resident education. In addition, the chairperson’s involvement in resident selection suggests that the residency and departmental leadership collaborate, an important aspect of running a department that is truly focused on education.
Do not feel you must ask questions during the orientation and tour. One or two applicants usually dominate these sessions and, unless they have an established rapport with the presenters, these individuals are not usually perceived in the best light. It is best to pay close attention and to show that you are doing so by making eye contact with the speaker. You may take notes during a program presentation but, as mentioned elsewhere in this book, do not take notes during your actual interviews.
Since many programs interview multiple candidates on any given day, a tremendous amount of planning and coordination is required to keep everyone on schedule. For this reason, interviews often run late, residency coordinators knock on interviewers’ doors five minutes before interviews are scheduled to end to “keep things moving” or may even call interviewers when time is up. If a program is seriously behind schedule, however, you should wonder about the overall organization of the program. It is not your responsibility to keep your interviewer on schedule, however. Allow your interviewer to decide when your interview will conclude and to keep track of time. Every program has faculty who are notorious for “going over.” If you are late for an interview because the previous one was longer than expected, you can apologize and say, “I am sorry I am late. My last interview went over.”
You may be interviewed by faculty, residency leadership (including the program director and associate program director) and current residents. Because your interviewer is your advocate and the primary support for your candidacy, it is essential to get on her good side. She (or he) will “sell you” to the other faculty. Your interviewer typically makes or breaks your acceptance. If she thinks highly of you, you will be ranked highly, but if you don’t make a good impression, she will not support you. Remember your interviewer is human and, most of the time, is not trying to “get you.” She wants to find out about you as a person and if you will be a good fit for the program. Because you cannot predict or control who your interviewer will be, it is important to have broad appeal as an interviewee and prepare yourself for multiple scenarios.