The Interview: Prescription for Success

Timeline for the Residency Application Process


Late spring of 3rd year – Summer/Early Fall of 4th year


1.                  Using AMA Frieda and program websites as a resource, review programs and information.  Try to apply to all types of programs—university, university affiliated, and community.

2.                  If the program looks reasonable/interesting apply—you have nothing to lose.  Conversely, if the program does not seem to fit your needs, you are under no obligation to actually apply to the program.  Concentrate your efforts and your limited time on those programs that are appealing.

·         Be cognizant of application deadlines.  Remember, lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the part of anyone else. 

·         Give early deadlines (well in advance of actual deadlines) to those who are writing your letters of recommendation.

·         Insure that those writing your letters of rec. have all of the necessary instructions.

·         Include a number where you can be reached during the day and evening.  Since you are out and about during your rotations, make certain you include the Student Affairs number to enhance the likelihood that residency programs can get a message to you.

·         Proofread your materials.  Spell-check materials and then import them into the ERAS file.

·         Include a photo with your application.  This should be your senior medical school photo.  Note:  light backgrounds do not scan well into the ERAS program.  Do not use casual photos of you in an impromptu moment! 


Fall and Winter of 4th year (~ October through January)

1.                  When you are reasonably certain all your information is in, or if you have received an invitation to interview, CALL or email programs to set up interviews. 

2.                  Interview Days are more the norm than the exception.  This means that programs will have set days for interviewing applicants.  You will need to work your schedule around the programs’ if you hope to interview there.  This means that you may not necessarily be able to schedule all of your interviews in one month, and that you will be forced to make decisions between programs that are interviewing on the same day.

3.                  You are likely to have opportunities to interview from November – February--most students conduct the bulk of their interviews in January.  

4.                  Try not to interview around holidays.

5.                  Try not to interview the week prior to Residents’ In-training exams (you can find out the date by asking program directors or residents in the specialty).

6.                  Get your feet wet in the interview process by scheduling your first interview with a program in which you do not feel you have a particularly strong interest.


Winter of 4th year (January – February)

Rank programs realistically.  If the program is reasonable and you think you could be happy there, by all means, rank it.  If you would be miserable in a program, do not rank it…there is always a chance that you could end up in a program at the bottom of your list.


Spring of 4th year (March)

The Match results come out!  Good Luck!


Best-Laid Plans for the Interview



Interviewing Etiquette before the Interview:

·         If you receive an invitation to interview, RSVP!


·         If you accept an interview you are obligated to follow-through on that acceptance.  This means that you are there on time and that you are appropriately prepared.


·         Call the program to reconfirm time and date of interview 2-3 days prior to the interview.  Make certain they have received all the materials they need.


·         If, for whatever reason, you need to cancel your interview, do so in a timely manner—not the night before the interview and certainly not the day of the interview!  Do not send a message with a classmate—you call and you:  (1) extend your apologies for the inconvenience and (2) your appreciation for the opportunity.



Preparation for the Interview:

·         Decide what you want the interviewer and/or program director to remember about you.  Pinpoint the three most important things you want to tell the program.

Hint:  If you were being introduced to an audience, what would the person introducing you highlight?


·         Develop a list of questions to ask the interviewer.


·         Bring “generic” copies of information to be included in your file in the event that you have information to add, or in the event that a program has misplaced/lost/not received something.


·         Make sure you know what time zone you are in!


·         If you drove make sure you know where your interview is and how to get there—do a dry run.


·         Wear or bring clothes in carry-on luggage that would be suitable attire for your interview in the event your luggage is lost.


·         Men, bring an extra tie in case you spill; women, bring an extra pair of hose.


·         Do not try to interview in more than one program in one day. 


·         Do not make tight travel connections.  Interview days always run over.  Give yourself at least a couple of hours after the interview is supposed to be over.



The Interview:

·         The interview is the single most important factor in determining whether or not you match into a program.  You were something on paper that appealed to a program.  How you present yourself and represent yourself in real life will make you or break you!


·         Don’t act as if you are squeezing the interviewer into your busy schedule.


·         Be yourself; experienced interviewers can spot students who say things they think the interviewer wants to hear.


·         Ask questions.  If you have run out of questions, ask the same questions over again (consider it a reliability check).



Interviewing Etiquette During the Interview:

·         Act friendly and professional with everyone you encounter.  Do not talk down other programs or other medical schools.


·         Do not complain to programs about things that went wrong with your travel, your accommodations, or the interview itself--even if your complaints are justified!


·         Demonstrate a positive attitude, and an interest in being at the interview…even if you are dead tired, sick to death of interviewing, and not interested in the program.


·         Thank (in person) whomever set up your interview.



After the Interview:

·         Keep a log of the programs as you meet with them.  Write down:  names; gut reactions; specific details regarding impressions of the residents, program director, facilities, educational program, perks, pitfalls, etc.  Programs will become blurred at the end; this log will serve as a memory jogger.  Year after year, students have said this is was the most important piece of advice they received.


·         Write a thank-you note within 1-2 weeks of the interview.  This is an expected courtesy.  If it is a program you really liked, you may want to mention something specific that you liked about the program.


·         After you have interviewed at a number of programs (i.e., when you are ½ to ¾ done interviewing) and you find that one program that stands out as a favorite, write the program again.  Let the program director know that you are still interviewing, but that his/her program is at this point your number one choice for x, y & z reasons.


·         When you are done interviewing, write your favorite program and let the program director know that you are ranking the program #1 for x, y, & z reasons.  Let him/her know how the program compared to other programs with whom you interviewed (do not name those other programs).


·         If you are torn between several programs, or, if you want the opportunity to see a program again and further demonstrate your interest, ask to visit the program again.  You may want to go in for a full day, a conference day, and/or may even ask to follow someone on call.


Packing and Traveling Tips



Before the interview:

·         Call to confirm your appointment.  Ask if they can give you a number of someone to call in case you run into any difficulties


Packing for the interview:

1.   To the degree possible, if you can carry your bag on the flight with you…do so.  If impossible, make sure you pack the essentials in this bag that goes in the overhead compartment:

·         Change of underwear

·         Shirt change (take your shirts to the drycleaners and have them pressed, folded and boxed there)

·         Sock/hosiery change

·         Toiletries

·         Travel Alarm Clock

·         Essential written materials/directions to the interview

·         Reading materials

·         You can pack your suit into a carry-on bag by hanging it on a plastic hanger, placing the dry cleaning bag over it and rolling your jacket, pants, skirt…whatever.  Make sure you cross the sleeves over the chest of the jacket and that they are laying smoothly.


2.   If there is no way you can carry your suit in your carry on bag, do hang it in a garment bag with the dry cleaning bag over it (the bag enables your clothing to slip around so that it doesn’t wrinkle nearly as much).


3.   Packing tips:

1 - 2 day trip

·         1 suit

·         2 shirts

·         2 ties (men), 1 set simple jewelry that will go with two shirts (women)

·         1 pair shoes

·         2 pair socks/2 hoisery

·         2 underwear/t-shirts/slips

·         light outfit to lounge/sleep in


3+ day trip

·         1 suit

·         1 sports coat

·         1 pair pants/skirt

·         # of shirts, underwear, socks/hosiery, ties commensurate to # of days gone

·         casual wear (for hanging out)—don’t pack too much, a pair of casual pants/jeans and a sweater should do it (you can wear your interview shirt underneath)

·         1 set of athletic wear & shoes (in the event you have time to work out)

·         light outfit to lounge/sleep in



  1. Travel wearing clothing that you could wear to an interview the next day if you absolutely had to.  In most cases, if you wear khaki’s or some sort of pant/slacks other than jeans you should be covered.  Don’t travel in t-shirts or athletic shoes.


2.      Stash some money away (somewhere on you or in your carry on bag) and promise yourself that you won’t use it unless it’s an emergency.


  1. Make sure someone who can be reached (not your medical school roommate who will also be on the road) has a copy of your travel schedule and where you are staying.




Once you arrive at your destination:

1.      Make sure you know what time zone you are in!  Change the time on your watch immediately.


2.      Make sure the clock in your hotel room is set to the correct time.


3.   If you are driving yourself to your interview, make certain you know where you are going.  Do a dry run the night before.  Give yourself an additional 15 minutes in the AM.  If you are counting on a shuttle service or a cab to take you to your interview ask about their reliability, how frequently they run, etc.  Smaller cities that do not support large convention/conference type hotels frequently do not have taxi service readily available.  You may have to call ahead of time and order a taxi.



·         If your shoes/boots get stained from the salt (that pervades every square inch of ground cover in the winter everywhere except the south or southwest) you can get the stains out with a mixture of white vinegar and water.  I know most of you don’t typically travel with vinegar, but if you are staying at a hotel, the restaurant will certainly carry it.  If you need a quick shine to your shoes you can use Vaseline or hand lotion on them.


·         If your clothes are wrinkled, hang them on the back of the door when you take your shower or run the shower on hot & close the door and let the steam do its work.  If still wrinkled, you may actually have to use an iron or use the hotel cleaning service (check prices…they tend to be pretty expensive).



Good Follow-Up Letter







Dear Dr.  :


It was a pleasure meeting with you again in December.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your time and to once again express my sincere interest in your program/


Since our meeting, I have completed my coast-to-coast interview trek across the country.  I even experienced my first earthquake while visiting family in Los Angeles.  Although my vacation time was cut short, it was quite an experience volunteering to help at Cedars Sinai Medical Center after the disaster.


Your program has all the components of an excellent residency; a diverse patient population, extensive operative experience, state of the art facilities, and residents who are team players. But most of all, I was very impressed with the quality of the attending staff and their overall dedication to educating and producing top-notch surgeons.


If there is any additional information that is needed, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I trust that during our discussion I was able to convey my desire to become a highly motivated and successful member of your housestaff.  I look forward to the Match and for the opportunity to work with you, your residents, and staff in July.




The Basics



Wear clothing in which you feel comfortable, in a professional sense that is.

·         Wear colors that look professional—tangerine, fuschia, lemon yellows and lime greens, or their equivalents, are out.  You don’t want to be remembered for your fashion statement or lack thereof.

·         Be well-pressed.  Dry cleaners can press and box shirts so that they travel well.  Use an iron or hang your clothes in a steamy bathroom to help the wrinkles fall-out.

·         Use lint brushes or tape to catch fuzz or stray hair.

·         Do not wear athletic shoes.  Make time to polish your shoes (unless of course, they are suede).

·         Make time for haircuts.  Don’t “mousse abuse.”  Hair should be neat and clean.

·         Women, you don’t necessarily need to pull long hair up and in a bun to look professional, particularly if it is not the way you typically wear your hair.

·         One earring is enough for any ear. 

·         Cologne/perfume should be subtle…you should not leave a vapor trail.  The rule of thumb is that you should not be able to smell whatever scent you applied, on yourself.

·         Nails should be clean and short.  If you must wear nail polish it should be clear or pastel.


Body Language

·         Offer a warm friendly handshake—full hand--not tips of the fingers!  No bone-crushing grip!

·         If you suffer from sweaty hands, the best thing to do is carry a handkerchief or tissue-- discretely wiping your hands on it prior to your interview.

·         Posture:

·         Sit up straight with the small of your back planted firmly against the back of your chair

·         Keep your feet on the floor

·         Do not rest your hands on your face!  Keep your hands on your lap, knees, or on the arms of the chair.  Putting your arms inside the arms of the chair will minimize your size and give you an appearance of insecurity.

·         Look your interviewer(s) in the eyes when you are talking.

·         Don’t forget to smile!



·         Do not drink beverages during the interview.

·         Do not chew gum

·         You may refer to questions in a folder, but do not take notes.  Jot things down once you are done interviewing.


Lost Points


Negative factors evaluated during the interview that frequently led to rejection of the applicant:



Sloppy application

Failure to participate in activities in college/medical school

No apparent career goals

Overemphasis on money

Poor scholastic record

Makes excuses—evasive, hedges on unfavorable issues in record

Condemnation of other programs, past-professors

Doesn’t seem to be a life-long or self-directed learner

Lack of knowledge about field

Name dropper


Late to interview without good reason

Unprepared for interview—didn’t read program materials

Merely shopping around—no real interest in program


Personal appearance

Failure to look interviewer in the eye

Limp, fishy handshake


Inability to express self clearly—poor diction, grammar

Too quiet

Too hyper

Overbearing—overly aggressive, conceited, superiority complex, know-it-all

Lack of interest and enthusiasm—passive, indifferent

Lack of confidence and poise—nervous, ill-at-ease

Poor/undeveloped sense of humor

Lack of tact

Lack of maturity

Lack of courtesy

Intolerant—strong prejudices


Inability to take criticism

Indefinite response to questions

Unhappy in personal life


Parents/partner overly controlling in life decisions


What are the types of things you want to look for in a program?



           conference schedule/who attends/what is its priority in the program?

           graduates of program:  board certification rate, what are they doing, fellowships?

           how many residents haven't completed the program?  reasons?  what are they doing now?

           research opportunities/requirements?

           how are residents evaluated?

           teaching environment?



           accreditation status

           pyramid status

           stability of program leadership/if changing, plans for changes

           vision for the program

           faculty involvement in research

           how much input do the residents have in the program?


Work Environment

           daily duties at each level of training

           who interns are likely to work with

           clinic schedule--how is it run and supervised

           case-load/breadth of operative experience

           call/vacation schedule--how does it change from year to year

           work hours in general

           availability of ancillary teams--e.g. IV and blood drawing

           opinion of nursing staff

           availability and accreditation status of other residencies at institution

           how is the institution positioned in the community?


Life style issues

           satisfaction/happiness of residents

           camaraderie among residents

           satisfaction/happiness of residents' spouses/significant others

           cost of living

           availability/affordability/location of housing


           maternity--how many women have borne children while residents? were accommodations made to support her? policy for maternity/paternity leave

           divorce record of residents while in program

           NOTE:  # of women and minorities currently in program is not necessarily an indicator of whether the program is woman and minority friendly:  (1) if women and/or minorities don't apply to the program it is difficult to have a track record with these groups; (2) look at their long term track record--how many individuals in each of these groups have graduated from the program?

Questions for Applicants to Ask



Ask Program Director:

·         What kind of research opportunities do you offer?

·         Are your residents publishing?

·         How do graduates of your program perform on their Boards?

·         What value do you place on in-training examinations?

·         Where are graduates of your program now and what are they doing?

·         How is a resident evaluated?

·         What will my responsibilities be as a first year resident?

·         How many of your residents are/were interested in fellowships?  How many get into fellowships of their choice?

·         What are the strengths and weaknesses of this program?

·         As Program Director, what have been your greatest sources of frustration and accomplishment in the position?

·         What is the biggest change you have seen occur in this program since you have been in the role?

·         Is this program fully accredited?  When was it last reviewed?

·         Are you planning on staying in your role as Program Director for a while? (If not, what are the plans for finding your replacement?)

·         What qualities are you looking for in your new residents?

·         How do you feel I compare with other applicants you have interviewed thus far?

·         What are the characteristics of successful residents in this program?

·         What are this program’s plans for future growth?

·         What do you like about this institution?  What don’t you like?


Ask Residents:

·         What is your general opinion of the program?

·         What was it that sold you on this program?  Where else did you look?

·         How are the conferences?  Who attends?

·         What is the average number of patients for whom you are responsible?

·         What is the clinic schedule like—how is it run and supervised?

·         Does the hospital provide IV and blood drawing teams?

·         What is a typical day like?

·         What is the call schedule like?  How does it change from year to year?  What is a typical on-call night as an intern?

·         What are work hours like in general?

·         What are the other residency programs in the hospital like and how are the residents to work with?

·         Is the program stable and financially sound?

·         If you had to do it all over again, would you have done anything differently?  Would you have come here?

·         What do you see as being the greatest strengths and weaknesses of this program?

·         How much input do the residents have with regard to the way the program is run?

·         Is the program a pyramid?

·         Are the attendings good teachers?

·         Overall, do the residents in this program work well together?

·         Do you feel you are evaluated fairly?

·         Overall, do you feel you are treated fairly and reasonably?

·         Are you happy here?  If you have a spouse or partner, is s/he happy here?

What do Program Directors look for?


Note:  There will be subtle variations based on:  (1) The specialty.  (2) The competitiveness of the program.  Programs located in desirable geographic regions, e.g., Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, North & South Carolina, & Massachusetts tend to be fairly competitive (regardless of the specialty) due to "location, location, location.”  (3) Whether the program is "unopposed" (meaning it is the only residency training program in a particular institution).



Until Program Directors figure out that the USMLE no longer calculates percentiles for Step 1 & Step 2, your scores will probably continue to serve as “weeders” for programs in determining whom to interview!  They will simply make arbitrary cutoffs based on old percentile interpretations. According to the USMLE, on the 3-digit scale, most scores fall between 160 and 240 with mean scores in the range of 200 to 220. It is important to note that the two-digit score shown on the USMLE transcripts is not a percentile.


So why use them at all?  Program Directors use Board scores to gauge your standardized test-taking skills and your academic capabilities in comparison to a nation-wide population.  This is ultimately important because you will have to pass your specialty boards; graduates of programs who can't pass their boards give the residency program a "black eye."



Most programs will look at your medical school transcript to insure that you have passed all subjects.  If you have had to repeat any preclinical courses or clerkships be prepared to defend the issue.  Similarly, if you have extended your curriculum you will need to defend the reasoning.

           PD's are impressed by honors markers in clerkships--particularly in their field.

           AOA is a "golden handshake"

           Dean's Letters typically do an excellent job of describing and fully assessing the performance of students


Leadership/Extracurricular Activities

           Evidence of meaningful involvement in the community, groups or teams.  They want to see that you can work collaboratively with others.

           Evidence of program development--where you have seen a need and developed a program to address that need or void in the community or the school.

           Involvement in extracurricular activities is a bonus as long as your grades haven't suffered because of being over-extended, and as long as the activities aren't just CV "filler".



           PD's want residents who are self-motivated, confident, and who have a clear idea of why they want to pursue a career in this specialty. 

           PD’s want residents who have appropriate professional and social behavior.







           Is always a bonus.  It demonstrates to a PD that you have a spirit of scientific inquiry, that you have background in the scientific method, that you are organized and interested in furthering your own knowledge base and skills.  Research need not have been published to demonstrate all of this.


Questions Interviewers May Ask Applicants



·         What specific goals, other than those related to your career, have you established for yourself for the next ten years?

·         If you had to do medical school all over again, what would you do differently?

·         Have you always done the very best work of which you are capable?

·         Given what you have read and heard about our program, what sets us apart from other programs to which you are applying?

·         What disadvantages do you see in this program for you personally?

·         Do you have an interest in research?

·         What are your ultimate career goals?

·         What is a major goal you have accomplished and how did you do it?

·         What unique qualities will you bring to this program?

·         What are your strengths and weaknesses?

·         What are the most important rewards you expect to reap in your career?

·         How would you describe yourself?

·         How would a friend describe you?

·         How would a professor who knows you well describe you?

·         What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?

·         Why should I rank you highly?

·         How do you define success?

·         What do you think it takes to be successful in a program like ours?

·         In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our program?

·         What qualities should a successful--------- possess?

·         Describe the relationship that should exist between an attending and those reporting to him/her?

·         Do you think your scores/grades are a good indication of your academic capabilities?

·         What have you learned from participating in extra-curricular activities?

·         How do you work under pressure?

·         What do you know about our program?

·         What two or three things are most important to you in a residency?

·         What criteria are you using to evaluate the program in which you hope to match?

·         What have you learned from your mistakes?

·         How did you hear about this program and why did you want to interview here?

·         With what type of person do you have trouble working?

·         Do you consider yourself to be a leader?

·         Are you a team player?

·         Who has had the greatest personal influence on you and why?

·         Tell me about a particularly interesting case that you have been involved in.  Why was it interesting?

·         Why do you want to be a ----------?

·         What do you do to handle stress?

·         If you were ranking someone highly in this program, what would you look for?


Copyright © 2004 UT-H | Contact: Student Affairs | Last Updated: January 7, 2004