Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Acing the Interview

Your applications are in and interviews are rapidly approaching, so lets go over how to ace the interview

Firstly, lets address interview etiquette:
In recent years faculty have noticed some disturbing trends - from the moment you accept your interview you are representing yourself and your school.  Avoid unprofessional behavior by following these recommendations.

When you receive an invitation the majority of programs will be using an online service for booking. Go on line when you are off duty. Choose a slot that works for your schedule. Avoid doing this while you are working clinically - your patients deserve your attention when you are duty. For index details see our page on scheduling.

If you find that you need to change or cancel your interview, do so as far in advance as possible so that another applicant has the opportunity to take the slot. Never cancel within a week of your interview - you will be costing another applicant an interview and insulting the program that has been saving you a spot. Cancelling at the last minute is considered unprofessional behavior and may even be referred back to your own program or dean. If you realize you will not attend an interview for any reason notify the program as soon as you know.

Not showing up for a scheduled interview is absolutely unacceptable. If there is an emergency notify the program immediately.

Suits are expected - try your suit on and ensure it fits. Wear comfortable shoes - you will be walking.

Plan for travel and weather - Nearly all programs have a pre-interview event the night before you interview. Plan 2 days per interview - meaning you can fit 2 per week easily, but 3 will often lead to issues. You want to be early so leave plenty of time and dress appropriately.  When flying don’t check your bag to ensure your suit makes it to your interview with you. The Interview Day page gives you in depth answers to all your questions on the day itself.

Success is achieved with knowledge and planning:

Be realistic 
  • Similar to your applications the goal is targeted interviews that allow you to compare and contrast programs and find your fit. More is not always better. 
  • You should aim for 10-12 interviews this gives you a 95-99% chance of matching and is the best you can do.
  • Most students match in their top 3, so 12 is plenty for almost everyone.
  • It is expensive and time consuming to interview - don’t accept more than 12 interviews:  you will either cancel them or not be at your best when attending. 

Be yourself 
  • You want to be you. The interview is your opportunity to see how you fit at each program. This only works if you are yourself (the non-trash-talking, well dressed version of yourself).
Be enthusiastic 
  • While this sounds easy it can get hard after you have been on a bunch of interviews.
  • Use your body language to show your interest. Lean forward, make eye contact, and smile (in a not creepy fashion)
  • Ask questions that you care about. 

Be Informed 
  • Do your research ahead of time to understand each program and develop questions specific to each program. Again, they should be questions that matter to you, so you can reflect on the individual program.
  • If you know who you will be interviewing with look at the program website and learn what their role is. Then you can better ask questions to their interests, experience, and strengths.
ALiEM has a great Do's and Dont's post that goes into the many pitfalls of residency interviewing.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • Does it matter if I book an interview at the beginning or end of the season?
    • No. Programs realize you are booking when you can attend. We will not read disinterest if you book and interview later in the calendar.
  • Do I have to answer questions about my marital status, family planning or sexual orientation ?
    • No. We should not ask you personal questions that are not directly referenced in your ERAS application. Only if you choose to bring them up will they be discussed.
  • Should I schedule my top choice last?
    • It makes little difference what order you put your interviews. If you will feel more confident having a few already done before your dream program go ahead and schedule that way. Most students find that their dream program changes and becomes clear regardless of the order.
  • Do I need to go to the pre-interview dinner?
    • Yes. Make every effort to be at the pre-interview event at each program. This allows you to meet residents in a casual setting and get a real feel for the program. It also shows the program how you interact in a social setting and gives them a picture of your fit with their residents.
  • What if I checked my bag and it was lost?
    • Let the program know. It happens every year and we understand, but avoid this by carrying your bag on.
  • What should I wear to the pre-interview event?
    • These events are usually casual - a nice outfit you would wear to go to dinner with friends will be fine.
  • How many interviews do I need?
    • 10-12 predicts better than 95% of matching, but you only need one. The NMRP has data for match success by number of interviews feel free to peruse. 
  • What is the biggest mistake you see in interviews?
    • Swearing, talking poorly or disrespectfully toward another program, and appearing disinterested. The sloppily dressed candidate, slouching with no questions, and who doesn’t want to have a conversation is not appealing, no matter how good they look on paper.
  • What questions should I expect?
    • Expect to be asked about your interests, research, and experiences both clinically, academically, and those outside of medical school. If it on ERAS it is likely to come up at some point. 
    • If I have a red flag will it come up during interviews?
      • Yes, programs will want to hear in your own words how you have dealt with adversity. 
    • Should I rehearse my answers?
      • This can help and hurt. You want to be comfortable and honest, but don’t rehearse your answer word for word to where it seems practiced or insincere. If you get the chance, do a mock interview with an advisor or use the HireVue pilot study to get some common questions under your belt. 
  • What if I’m not getting enough interviews?
    • First Trouble shoot the common errors that hold up interviews:
      • Check your spam folder - that is where all of mine were. 
      • Check ERAS and make sure you have released your USMLE/COMLEX transcripts and designated your letters. Ensure everything you can control is uploaded and available.
      • Make sure you have time open in December and January for interviews that may come in later.
    • There are a few options. if you have a late letter that might not have been seen, target a few programs you are really interested in that you feel you are a good match for and email their residency coordinator to give them a heads up to recheck you application. Do this at only a few programs - do not bombard your entire list.
    • Talk to your advisor and have them look over your application. They can’t tell you what your letters say but they can help try and trouble shoot your application and see if there is anything that you can do specific to your situation.
    • Consider a back-up plan. You don’t need to enact it but think about what you will do if you don’t match, so you have a plan in place.
  • Why not just apply to another 50 programs?
    • While this is tempting, shock and awe rarely works. If you are not getting interviews, more this far into the season is unlikely to fix the problem. 
    • There is a steadily diminishing return for applications beyond 30. This costs you money and is unlikely to help.




In short be professional, sign up for 10-12 interviews, be a non-trash talking, well dressed, interested version of yourself. Plan ahead for pre-interview events, weather and traffic so you are on time and get the full experience. As you go through your interviews, allow yourself to focus on how you fit at each program, and what matters most to you during this next phase of your training.


Lucienne Lutfy-Clayton MD FACEP
Associate Program Director EM UMMS Baystate

True story - literally every interview offer she received was rejected by her medical school email account - it took her until November 1st to figure it out and finally start scheduling. Interviewed at 10 programs and she matched at her #1 choice. 

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