Residency Interviews Blog

Residency Interview Day and
Travel Strategies + Tips

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Navigating the complexities of the residency interview process can feel like uncharted territory. This guide delves deep into the intricacies of both in-person and virtual interviews, providing valuable insights on how to excel on the interview day. From what to anticipate at pre-interview dinners and on the day itself, to essential travel hacks for smooth journeys, this comprehensive overview is your roadmap to success. Whether you’re stepping into a physical room or logging into a virtual platform, these tried-and-true tips from seasoned professionals will ensure you present your best self.

What is the General Layout of IN-PERSON INTERVIEWS? What Should I Expect on my Residency Interview Day?

Pre-Interview Dinner

The pre-interview dinner is usually held in a restaurant the night before your interview with residents and program staff in attendance. It is best advised to dress in business casual clothes and remain professional as if it were another part of your interview day.

Be sure to socialize with other interviewees as well as conversing with residents and faculty.

Residency Interview Day

On the actual residency interview day, you will have an introductory session with the program director where they will go over everything their program has to offer. During this session, you will be with all the other interviewees.

Make sure to pay close attention to this introductory presentation as this might have answers to some of your questions that you were planning on asking later. Do not make the mistake of asking these questions if they have been answered earlier during the interview day.

After this, you will go into breakout rooms with your interviewer for your one-on-one sessions. There are typically 3-5 one-on-one sessions, one of them usually with the program director but that is not always the case.

For virtual interviews, you will join the meeting with the other applicants and the program coordinator and director. The interview day usually starts with a brief introduction from the program director after which you will be sent into different breakout rooms with your interviewers.

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Tips for your Residency Interview Day

  • Arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of your interview! You do not have to go directly into the facility where the interview is being held but stay in an area close by within good walking distance to the actual interview site. If your interview starts at 8:30 a.m., the earliest you should arrive at the actual interview site is 8:20 a.m.

  • Be presentable. Iron your clothes, make sure there are no stains, and your shoes are polished. Make sure to take all the necessary steps to ensure proper hygiene.

  • Introduce yourself to the interviewees and others present in the room and have light conversations with everyone before the interviews start.

  • Make sure to smile, and be respectful and courteous to EVERYONE you meet on your interview day.

  • Overall be enthusiastic and excited for the opportunity to interview with the program, talk about why you are passionate about this career and how the program will help you achieve that goal.

  • WORD OF CAUTION: Do not discuss controversial topics and never say anything negative about another specialty, program, or person.

  • When going in for your interview, smile, and have a welcoming posture (avoid crossing your arms when sitting across from your interviewer, and avoid a defensive posture), shake their hand at the start and end of your interview (avoid doing a soft, half-hand shake).
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Residency Interview Travel Tips

Residency Interview Flights: Using Google Flights or Expedia will allow you to compare prices for multiple travel sites and get rates on flexible dates. Before you book any travel, take a look at Skiplagged or Hopper, which will allow you to get the best deals on flights!

Flights on Southwest Airlines might not show on some flight search engines and you need to check the Southwest Website separately for that.

Book your flights with a reliable airline that will not cause any delays in your travel time!

Residency Interview Hotels: Hotels can also be booked through Google; however, sites such as Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline, and Trivago may have better deals. “RotatingRoom” and Airbnb are also good options for non-hotel stays.

Points: Opening a credit card specifically geared towards travel (my favorite is Capital One Venture X), can also be useful to get additional travel bonuses. By booking through their portal, you can accumulate significant points which can be redeemed to finance your future flights. You can sign up for this card HERE.

Try to use the same flight or hotel chain when booking travel to get points that can be used for future trips and expenses.

Transportation: Transportation will depend on the setting of the program. For big metropolitan cities, there are many public transportation options (subways, buses, taxis like Uber or Lyft). For suburban and rural areas, Uber or Lyft may still be useful but you might have to book a rental car through Zipcar, Hertz, or Enterprise

For public transportation, you can simply put your destination into Google Maps and select the public transport option to navigate different cities.

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How do I Prepare for a Virtual Residency Interview?

Minimize distractions: You want to minimize distractions during your interview day. If your home isn’t conducive to a distraction-free environment, consider renting a room at your medical school library for a quiet setting. For pet owners, entrusting a friend with your pet’s care or secluding them in a separate room ensures you remain undistracted and can focus fully on the interview at hand.

Background: Your background can have a picture/painting/plant (anything you are passionate about) and that will often be a conversation point during the interview. Make sure if it is in your background, you are prepared to discuss it.

Lighting: Make sure lighting is coming from the front and not the back. Also, do not rely on natural lighting as sometimes fluctuations will change how you appear on the camera.

Eye contact: Make sure to look directly into the camera, not the screen. That gives your interviewer the impression that you are looking at them. This is sometimes difficult to do as it does not seem natural to not look at the person you are talking to, so it is best to practice this skill before your actual interview day.

Name and photo: Make sure to have your full name on the display as well as your ERAS headshot that will show whenever the camera is off. Do not make the mistake of having an unprofessional photo as your display photo.

Outfit: Be thoughtful about choosing your interview day outfit. There is a balance between standing out and being unprofessional. Most students will typically wear black, navy, or gray blazers. It is perfectly okay to show your individuality and deviate from that slightly by choosing a dark green or plaid patterned blazer, however, avoid wearing any neon colors or loud patterns that will distract from the overall interview day.

Many applicants will only dress professionally waist up for virtual interviews but do not make that mistake. There have been various scenarios where applicants have been asked to reach for the painting in the back or show their plant to the interviewer which requires them to get up.

Do a quick mirror check before your interview to make sure your hair is kept properly, there is nothing stuck in your teeth or nose!

Practice on Zoom: Before your interview day, make sure to practice on Zoom/Microsoft Teams (whatever format the residency program is using) to test your camera, lighting, and sound quality. It is best to do this with a friend and practice answering some questions.

WORD OF CAUTION: Please do not have a document on your screen that you are reading off of. Interviewers can always tell when the applicant is reading from a document and it is a major red flag. Be confident, natural, and authentic in your answers!

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Residency Interview Tips

Research the Program and Interviewers

  • Before your interview, browse the program’s website regarding its overall mission, educational format (didactics, rotations, etc.), fellowship placements, and current residents.

  • Many times, programs will tell you who is going to be interviewing you so you should try to get to know your interviewer before your interview day. Where did they go to school? Where did they do their residency? What are their hobbies? Do they have any research studies that can be of any interest to you? This will help to facilitate your conversations with your interviewer and allow you to be more personal when asking them questions. This can also sometimes help you find similarities (same city, same school, etc.)

Practice Common Interview and Behavioral Questions

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Prepare Specific Questions to Ask Programs

  • Researching your program will help in formulating the questions you will ask the leadership during your interview day.

  • PRO TIP: For example, you do not want to ask what unique rotations they offer if it can be found on the website by a quick Google search. This could lead to a bad impression. Therefore, it is highly recommended to take the time to curate your questions for each program, even for each interviewer.

  • Regardless, there are some general interview questions that you should ask all programs some of which include, how they give feedback, their goals for their residents after residency, upcoming changes to the program, etc.

  • If you are interviewing at a community program or a program that does not have good fellowship placement, focusing on research and fellowship opportunities might not be ideal!

Know your Application Well!

  • This is obvious but many times applicants are not able to clearly describe a certain research project or volunteering activity they listed on their ERAS.

  • Practice talking about each activity that is listed making sure to highlight what you learned from that as well as any lessons or skills you picked up during that project that will help you in residency.

Answer questions with complete responses and be organized in your thought process

  • You want to be confident in your answers without sounding rehearsed. It is natural to be nervous during your interview day but the above-mentioned steps should help calm your nerves and help you feel more prepared. Be concise and organized in your thoughts and try not to ramble on.

  • PRO TIP: If the question is to describe a difficult scenario you encountered during your training, describe the issue clearly and complete the thought process with how you solved the situation and more importantly, what you learned from it and how you will navigate similar situations in the future.

  • Use clinical and non-clinical scenarios that you have experienced during your training to answer your questions, always tying it back to what you took away from that experience and how it helped your growth as a learner.

  • ALWAYS GO BACK TO “FIT”. You want to emphasize why you are a good fit for the program and why they are a good fit for you!

  • If there is a question that you are unable to answer at the moment, it is okay to take a quick pause to formulate your response or even ask your interviewer if it is okay to circle back to that question later in the interview. It is always better to have a thought-out response than saying the first, incomplete thought that may come to your mind.

  • Practice saying your response out loud before the interview!

  • Be prepared to answer difficult questions related to any gaps or shortcomings in your application. Be honest and sincere with your responses and mention what you learned from them.

  • If you are ever asked an “illegal question” during interviews, you can simply respond by saying you are not comfortable discussing that question.
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  • At this stage, you should already have a list of questions ready to ask your interviewers, some personal and some general as mentioned above. There can be many times when the interviewer will ask you one or two questions and the rest of the time will be you asking them questions.

Have A Discussion

  • Avoid jumping from one question to the next like you are going down a list and instead use the interviewer’s answer to create a discussion or follow/up question related to the first one. This shows critical thinking skills and allows for smooth transitions and conversations.

Who to ask What?

  • Remember that certain questions should only be asked to certain people. For example, if you want to know about the overall goals of the program or any upcoming changes to the program, that question is best reserved for the program director or the assistant program director rather than residents or faculty.

  • Many times, you will interview with a senior or chief resident and that can sometimes feel less formal than your other interviews. Be sure to remain professional and ask appropriate questions. It is acceptable to ask about resident lounges, if residents hang out together outside of work, or resident wellness activities. However, you should avoid being casual as residents have sometimes as much of a say as any other faculty during the interview day.

  • PRO TIP: One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is something about the program that has changed based on resident feedback?”. This is a great question to ask both program leadership and residents.

  • Overall, AVOID asking overly personal questions to anyone on the interview day!

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Thank You Emails

  • Many programs will tell you that they do not want thank-you emails sent to them. In that case, follow their lead and do not send any emails. In my experience, thank-you emails do not hold much meaning and only add to the overall work of the program.

  • If you wish to send a thank you email afterward, it is best to do it within 1-2 days business days after your interviews. Keep it short and simple.

  • PRO TIP: You SHOULD email a program post-interview if any of your questions were left unanswered during the interview day or if you had any technical difficulties that caused your interview to be cut short.

Letters of Intent

  • Of course, outside of thank you emails, it is beneficial to send a letter of intent to your top choice and that should be sent mid-end of February. Remember to only send this to ONE program!!!

  • Your letter of intent should be clear and concise, list the reasons why you are choosing them as your number one choice, and be addressed to the program director and admissions committee.

  • You will not always get a response after sending your letter of intent so do not expect one. If a program does reach out and tell you their intent of ranking you highly, always take that with a grain of salt when making your rank list!

As you embark on the significant journey of residency interviews, remember that preparation is key. With the insights and strategies provided in this guide, you’re now better equipped to present your best self, whether in-person or virtually. Take each step with confidence, knowing that every interaction, every choice, brings you closer to your desired residency program.

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Best of luck, and may your dedication and passion shine through in every interview.

Shriya Tanti, MD; Malke Asaad, MD

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