So. Now for a more serious take on those residency interviews…
Disclosure: I haven’t finished interviews, much less can I say that I have matched and it was all good. So, this is just my humble opinion from one scared med student to another.
My advice is going to be about as corny as it gets: be yourself.
No, really. Just be yourself. Of course, I can only speak for psychiatry interviews. I’d appreciate whatever input anyone wants to give if they have experiences/advice from other specialty interviews.
But, yeah, just be yourself. Unless yourself is an arrogant douchebag without any semblance of being civilized. In which case, then don’t be yourself.
I was scared shitless in my first interview day (and in my second…and I still get a little bit nervous when Program Directors interview me). But it gets very repetitive after a while and you get better and more eloquent/comfortable with each one.
Here’s a list of more specific stuff:
- Say “please” and “thank you” whenever necessary. Although I think that’s pretty obvious…
- Dress the part. And also dress in something you feel comfortable. I chose a suit that made me feel beautiful, elegant, comfortable, and professional. This really helped me stay focused on the goal during those days and not think about “I look like crap” or “I look like a scared med student”. Dress in something that gives you instant confidence. Trust me, it shows. And it helps a bunch.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously. I looked awesome and felt incredibly confident in this pair of heels I wore on my first interview, but I ended up with blisters come the end of the day. Remember: these interview days always involve some sort of tour of the facilities at the medical center/hospital. So either wear comfortable shoes from the get-go, or bring an extra pair so you can change for the tour.
- Don’t be an ass. Again, obvious.
- Talk to other applicants. Be nice. Nice is good. As a side note, I must say, people love to hate psychiatrists, but I have never in my life met a nicer and humble bunch of applicants/residents/attendings than in psychiatry. Seriously, judging from the people who are my “competition”, I would still love to work with them. There are your exceptions, though, like everything in life, it’s not black or white.
- If you happen to come across another applicant from your school, be nice. But don’t just focus your attention on them during the whole day. Remember: this is your interview day as much as theirs, and people from the program are watching you. And yes, I did come across people from my school in some interviews.
- Get to know the residents. They’re going to be the people you’ll be working with on a daily basis. If you don’t get along with the average resident at the program, you’ll probably be miserable for 3+ years. Talk to them. Get to know them apart from just asking the usual “So, what’s the call schedule like?”. Ask about their hobbies, about their interests, experiences in the program. Get to know the people.
- Pay attention to the interactions among residents and also between residents and attendings. It says a lot. If something seems to be off, trust your gut. I’m ranking a program pretty low in part because residents barely knew each other and their interactions were very superficial. To me that’s a red flag.
- Pay attention to how residents look. Do they give you a feeling of being genuinely happy? Do you get the feeling the program has their back or not? This could be you next year, so do you envision yourself in their shoes? In psychiatry they’re usually a happy bunch 🙂
- Basically, pay attention to the residents’ every move! They’ll help you see through the afterglow of the program’s awesomeness so you can actually get a feel for the reality of it.
- Shake your interviewer’s hand. Another obvious one.
- In psychiatry interviews, they usually just want to get a feel for who you are and what you’re like. My curveball questions were mostly with the psychoanalytically-inclined interviewers (“Tell me about your childhood?”, “Describe your parents”, “Do you have a significant other?” —Which by the way, they’re not supposed to ask!). I only encountered 1, maybe 2 a-holes who wanted to mess around with me. All the rest just wanted to have some civilized banter so they could gauge whether or not I was an automaton or an actual Homo sapiens. In summary: relax, it helps you think better.
- Special circumstances: I had the leave of absence in my application. Just be honest about things, but give them a positive twist. In my case, this isn’t very difficult because I truly believe the leave of absence was good for me. I took ownership of that long ago, and I make sure to show my interviewers that. I’ll elaborate more on this later.
- Run of the mill questions you will definitely get: Why this specialty? Why this program? Tell me about yourself (worst question EVER). Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Any particular interests within the field?
- Have a list of questions in mind so you can ask the interviewer in the end. And make a decent list. I had a few moments where I ran out of questions and was pretending to listen to the interviewer answer while internally panicking and scrambling to see what else I could ask. Yes, you can repeat questions with different interviewers. Actually, do it, because different answers will give you a better feel for the truth.
- Send thank you emails or notes no later than 3-5 days after the interview. And personalize them for each interviewer/resident/person/whatnot. There’s only a handful of ways of saying “thank you”, but only you know what you talked about with the interviewer. Reference that stuff.
- Ask questions, but please don’t be annoying.
- Pre-interview dinners: They’re usually with residents, so relax and enjoy the show. Dress casually appropriate unless specifically told it’s more formal. Like I said, get to know them. Don’t just ask questions like it’s a shooting range. You come across as annoying, insecure, and only interested in the minutiae. If you’re extroverted and love the attention, don’t overdo it. If you’re introverted like me, just make sure to give ’em the razzle-dazzle and connect with at least 2-3 people to the point they’ll say “yeah, I like him/her”. Just be nice. Nice is good.
- You can talk about other programs and interview days with other applicants, but keep it on the down-low. I usually kept these conversations to a max of 1 other person, not more, and I make sure to not be loud. Don’t talk about other programs with residents or attendings unless they specifically bring up the topic. I had one attending ask me about another hospital during an interview. It was awkward, but I just gave my honest and slightly diplomatic impression. Point is: he asked for it, I didn’t volunteer that information.
- And, when all else fails: Common sense, people! Use it!
I think that pretty much sums up the basics. If anyone has any questions, gripes, or additional advice, feel free to comment or email.