Residency Interview Insights from an Associate Program Director

Residency Interviews Blog

Residency Interview Insights from
an Associate Program Director

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Interviews are, perhaps, the most important aspect of the residency application process. The interview is what really shows a program who an applicant is as a person: how they interact with others, what drives them, and what has shaped their career path. In this blog, we will discuss insights on the residency interview process from a former associate program director.

What Are the Commonly Asked Residency Interview Questions?

Some of the most common questions asked in a residency interview include the following:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why did you choose this specialty?
  • Why did you choose our program?
  • Tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict; how did you resolve it?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What will you bring to our program?
  • Questions about application red flags
  • Questions about their CV
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?

These are the commonly asked residency interview questions. However, there are endless possibilities of questions and scenarios you might get during your residency interview. That is why we prepared a full blog about 200+ residency interview questions.

200+ Residency Interview Questions

Tell Me About Yourself

This is one of the most important questions to be prepared to answer, as it is often the first one posed to the interviewee. It can mean the difference between being ranked high or being at the bottom of the rank list. Thus, it’s important to avoid some common mistakes.

In general, there are three points an applicant should hit when answering this question:

  1. Who you are, where you graduated from college/medical school, and any notable accomplishments or accolades you’ve received in your academic career.
  2. Why are you a competitive candidate? This section should touch on your research publications, clinical exposure, and any other relevant experiences that contributed to your desire and ability to be a resident in your chosen specialty.
  3. Why are you here today? Why did you apply to this program?

The interviewee should make sure that their response is no longer than a minute or a minute and a half. It’s important to be concise, so as not to risk losing your interviewer’s interest.

The applicant should avoid answering this question by solely talking about where they were born, where they lived, and what their hobbies are. Instead, they should answer the question in a way that convinces the interviewer why they should hire you/admit you to their program.

Please note: one can NEVER safely assume that their interviewer has had significant time to review your CV. That’s why when answering this question, it is okay to touch upon aspects of your CV, but it is necessary to narrativize them as opposed to just listing off the CV line by line. For example, while it’s okay to talk about one’s accomplishments, singling out every individual publication or every award is not an effective approach. Instead, one should highlight a couple of major accomplishments and weave them into a narrative that reinforces their interests in their chosen specialty and the program to which they are applying.

For sample answers to residency interview questions, get our Interview Preparation Sample Guide.

Why This Specialty?

In answering this question, there are two important facets to consider:

1) What are your values, and how did they align with the specialty you chose?

    a. For example, if applying to internal medicine, your answer should be more profound than saying that you like “puzzles”.

2) What evidence do you have to prove you would be well suited to this specialty?

    a. In citing evidence, you can discuss clinical experience, including core clerkships/rotations and electives, as well as research, and any other formative experiences that tie into the specialty.
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Why The Program?

This question assesses the level of FIT for a particular candidate. Fit is a two-way street. Programs want to know if a candidate will be a good fit for them and applicants want to know whether the program will be a good fit for them.

For example, if an MD/PhD graduate interested in a career as a basic scientist and practicing clinician applies to a program with limited research opportunities and that is primarily clinical, the program will rightfully question why they are interested in training there. Conversely, if someone has no interest in research, but extensive scholarly activity is practically a prerequisite for the program to which they are applying, this will raise similar questions. If the reasons for applying to the program are genuine, an applicant can still explain why they would be a good fit.

Furthermore, applicants should use this question to explain their connection to the program, whether it be their understanding of its clinical strengths, or a personal connection such as a previous clinical experience, location in a particular geographic region, etc.

Interviewers like to see applicants go beyond general statements and word fillers (i.e., “your program provides excellent clinical training and patient care”). These kinds of answers can signify that the applicant has limited specific knowledge of the program to which they are applying. Instead, answers should be personalized based on research that the applicant has conducted, whether by talking to current residents, alumni, or by reading the program’s website to understand what kinds of people the program currently trains and what their professional outcomes are (i.e., do most of them end up in academic or private practice? Do they pursue fellowship, and if so, what kind?).

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What are your weaknesses?

One of the greatest pitfalls in answering this question is that instead of answering with a real weakness, applicants will answer with something that is really a strength in disguise. For example, many applicants say that “they are too detail oriented”; this is not a weakness, but rather a quality that many programs want in their candidates.

Therefore, the best strategy for answering this question is to mention something that will not exclude you from residency but still presents an opportunity to show that you are learning from it, overcame that weakness, and describe how you did so. For example, an applicant might offer that one of their weaknesses is that they have a hard time saying “no” to requests, which means that they overcommit themselves to activities without sufficient time to address all of them. The applicant can then state that, to improve upon this weakness, they have had to limit themselves to a few, high-impact tasks at any time in order to produce higher quality work and to occasionally deny additional projects or requests, no matter how tempting they might be.

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions are a way for interviewers to gauge an applicant’s personality and their response to ethical conundrums and other problems that they are likely to face in their clinical training and careers. In asking these questions, the interviewer is really testing how the applicant responds to uncertainty and how they would hypothetically act when faced with a challenge.

In answering these questions, it is important that the applicant remains positive and demonstrates thoughtfulness (i.e., answer with both regular and emotional intelligence, including expressing empathy when the situation calls for it). The so-called sandwich method (i.e., starting with a positive statement, making a critical statement, and then ending with another positive statement) can be a good rule of thumb for tackling tricky behavioral questions/scenarios.

Tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict; how did you resolve it?

In answering this question, there is one caveat to mention. Often, interviewers will ask you to describe a time you experienced a conflict. It is important that you NOT answer this question by describing a scenario in which you had a different opinion on a medical case from your colleagues. Differences in opinion or perspective, especially in medicine, are not necessarily conflicts but rather an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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Do you have any questions for me (the interviewer)?

All applicants should have at least one question prepared for their interviewer, though it is essential that they don’t ask the same question of each of their interviewers. This can come off as scripted or disingenuous when the interviewers come together to confer on particular candidates.

Also, it’s important that the applicant ask questions that will actually help them in choosing a program, not just “filler” questions posed for the sake of asking a question.

There are also some important questions to avoid asking your interviewer, including:

1. Questions on how you performed in your interview or how you stack up against the applicants.

2. Questions that you can easily find the answers to on the program website or official program materials.

3. Questions that solely focus on wellness and work-life balance.

    a. While wellness is crucial, focusing on that during your residency interview might give the impression that you do not want to work hard during residency.
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Are Residency Interviews Important?

Yes, residency interviews are extremely important. The interview can make or break a candidate, pushing them ahead of the other applicants such that the program ranks them highly or, conversely, diminishing their chances of matching.

How Are Residency Interviews Conducted?

Most interviews vet between 10 and 30 candidates on a single day, cycling them between multiple administrators and faculty members involved in the residency program. Candidates may only have 15-30 minutes with each interviewer, so it’s important to make this time count.

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How Are Residency Interviews Scored?

Every residency program has a ranking/vetting system. Many use a scoring sheet or formalized criteria to assess applicants for a wide array of qualities including their penchant for teamwork, their honesty, professional integrity, and ability to think on their feet, as well as their fit with the program and whether their interest in the program is genuine. In some programs, different interviewers focus on different key points.

While practicing for an interview is essential, one should also try to avoid giving scripted answers.

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What Happens After Each Residency Interview?

Each program is different. Commonly, there will be a debrief meeting for an hour or more, and each interviewer will discuss their notes on each applicant and score them accordingly. Typically, applicants are scored on metrics for behavior, professionalism, program fit, personality, and academic achievements. Each program has its own approach, but most have a well-defined internal process for evaluating and subsequently ranking candidates. At the end of the interview season, some programs meet again to discuss the final rank list while others use the scores from their prior meetings and rank applicants fully based on these scores.

Get Sample Answers to Residency Interview Questions

Submitting an Incomplete Application vs. Applying Late?

Submitting a late application could greatly hinder your chances, as interview slots may already be filled, reducing the likelihood of Program Directors reviewing additional applications. Therefore, it is better to submit an incomplete application rather than submit your application late.

I hope this helps you master your residency interview! For those gearing up for their first interview, don’t miss our interview preparation packages! There are different tiers of interview preparation that include real-time mock interview and feedback about your performance! 100% satisfaction guaranteed! All by expert physician advisors! Learn more Here!

And don’t forget to grab your Free Residency Interview Questions and Answers Guide Here.

At the end of the day, the best way to succeed in your interview is to be yourself, be sincere, be confident, and show that you are interested in the program to which you have applied. Good Luck with your residency interview and don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any questions.

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