Here you are.
After a long journey, you have finally secured your first interviews. And now it’s time to prepare your answers for the residency questions and match up with your dream specialty.
So, what questions do they ask in a residency interview and how can you stand out during yours?
Although practice is key to acing your interviews, it’s essential to first understand the purpose of the interview process and the rationale behind each question.
In fact, understanding why a question is being asked and what the interviewer is trying to assess will help you answer any question that will come your way with confidence.
Are you ready?
Let’s dive in!
Why do you want to join our program?
I like to think of this category as the “Why Us?” question.
Here are some examples:
- Why did you decide to submit an application to our program? (What makes you think you might be a good fit for our residency program?)
- Why would you want to move away from your hometown or the area where you received your degree?
- Why do you want to live here?
- Why are you interested in this hospital?
- Why did you choose to interview here while your [current location] program is strong? Have you had an interview at [your place of graduation]?
- Why is this program over your aways?
- How did you become interested in our program?
- Why did you leave your country? (IMG)
- Why did you decide to come to America?
- Why this specialty?
- What do you think might be the negative aspects of this speciality?
- What are you hoping to get from us as your residency program if you are accepted?
There are, in fact, two purposes to this category of questions.
First, this type of question assesses your incentives, and second, it evaluates how prepared you are for the interview.
So, how can you communicate your motivations efficiently and give the interviewer the best impression?
How to approach and answer those questions
I like to think of this category of questions as the “Why Us” questions because the “Us” doesn’t refer only to the program itself, but also to the specialty and the geographic location.
When it comes to the “Why Us” category, rather than preparing for interview questions individually in this category, try to think of them as a whole.
In other words, try to offer a response that explains why pursuing this specialty, in this program, located in this city, is aligned with your overall goals.
Preparing and presenting a context and a rationale for your incentives will help you answer any type of “Why Us” question and will leave the interviewer feeling that you took the time to gather information and reflect on your choice to pursue your career in their program.
- Carefully read the program website.
- Research the program’s recent accomplishments, rewards, research projects, etc.
- Gather information about the geographic area.
Why should we hire you?
Why should we hire you? What makes you the best candidate? In other words: Why You?
This category of questions assesses two things:
- Do you meet the expected requirements to pursue the program’s residency?
- Are your professional goals aligned with the program’s goals and perspectives?
Before we proceed, it is important to keep this in mind:
At this step of the journey, meeting the requirements doesn’t refer to your USMLE scores nor to how many US clinical experiences you have. In fact, if you’ve been invited for an interview, it means you’ve passed through these filters.
During the process of the interview, the requirements refer to your soft skills (problem-solving, teamwork, work ethic, creativity, adaptability, communication, leadership, etc.)
Whether it is to assess if you have the requirements or to define if your goals align with the program, the “Why You” questions can be asked directly:
- Why should we accept you over another applicant?
- How do you see yourself contributing to our program?
- What are your strengths?
- How will you avoid burnout?
- How will you stand out amongst other residents but still be a team player?
- How do you think you can motivate your coworkers?
- What are your career goals?
- Tell me about a time when you faced challenges and prevailed.
- How do you deal with constructive criticism?
- How do we know you can perform well under pressure?
- What do you expect will be the hardest part of a residency for you?
- What have you learned from a different specialty that will be helpful to you in this one?
- Ten years from now, you look in the mirror – tell us what you see.
- How would your best friend describe you?
How to approach and answer those questions
The “Why You” question’s aim is to convince the interviewer that you are the perfect match for the spot.
While preparing for these questions, it’s crucial to take the time to understand the needs of the program and what they are looking for in their residents.
Is the program located in an underserved area? Do they serve a particular type of population? How much do they value research?
Reading the program’s website carefully, gathering information about the area and population, or following the activity of staff members on Linkedin or Twitter will help you define their goals, needs, and perspectives.
Once you’ve understood the program’s priorities, connect their needs and goals with your past experiences to highlight that you have the skills and experiences they are looking for.
The same goes when it comes to your career goals.
In conclusion, when it comes to answering the question “why you over another applicant?” make sure to understand the program’s vision and goals to highlight elements in your resume that address those points.
Following residents, attending programs directors, or staff members on social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter will help you:
- Establish connections
- Stay updated
- Gather information about the hospital and program activities
- Find topics to create an engaging conversation during your interview
Tell us more about yourself
This category of questions is very broad and diverse and, therefore, tends to scare many applicants.
The underlying purpose of this large variety of questions is multifaceted.
The “Tell us more about yourself” answers give the interviewer an idea of the following:
- Your personality.
- Your values, goals, and perspectives.
- Your backstory.
- How do you adapt to stressful or unexpected questions?
- Your capacity to self-reflect about your past experiences, your values, etc.
- Your ability to communicate effectively.
Here are some examples of the “Tell us more about yourself” questions:
- What made you pursue medicine? Who inspired you to become a doctor and why?
- Tell us about the research you carried out.
- Tell us about your 4th-year rotations.
- Are there any physicians in your family?
- What are your interests?
- What has been your most significant life experience so far?
- If you were asked to describe yourself in three(five) words, what would they be?
- What kinds of people are your friends? Describe your best friend.
- What qualities do you look for in a friend?
- If you could have any superpower, which would it be and why?
- What goals would you like to achieve by the end of your residency?
- What does leadership mean to you?
- Describe important relationships you have had with people.
- Tell us about a patient from whom you learned the most. What was your most memorable patient encounter?
How to approach and answer those questions
How do we answer “Tell us more about yourself” questions?
When it comes to this category of questions, it’s crucial to keep in mind certain steps that should be followed while answering them:
Do not rush:
Take the time to collect yourself and prepare an answer. If you’re not sure about the answer during the interview, politely ask the interviewer for a few seconds to prepare.
Not only will that relieve your stress, but it also indicates to the interviewer that you took the time to reflect on what they asked instead of just blurting out an answer.
Your answers must reflect your true opinions, so don’t lie.
The “Tell us more about yourself” questions present a unique opportunity to say something about yourself that is not on your resume and is special to you. The answers to these questions are what makes you memorable.
Program directors might not remember your scores or how much US clinical experience you have, but they are more likely to remember small anecdotes or stories that you shared during the interview.
During the interview, a challenging question can arise at any moment. This type of question may test your capacity to handle pressure and manage stressful situations.
Here are some examples of challenging questions and how to address them.
Red flags in the application:
- Why do you have a one(two)-year gap on your CV?
- Why did you get this low grade on your transcript?
- Why are your USMLE scores so low?
- Why did you need one or two more attempts at your USME exams?
While discussing red flags during interviews, it’s important to:
- Take responsibility. Don’t make excuses or blame others for whatever went wrong.
- Explain why it happened. Give a clear explanation of why that event happened without getting too emotional.
- Share your hindsight on the event and discuss how this event impacted your journey, the lessons you learned, and how it made you evolve.
- What would you do if a patient refused treatment for a life-threatening condition?
- What would you do if you knew an attending was repeatedly working while impaired(intoxicated)?
- What would you do if you saw a colleague making a mistake with a patient’s medication?
- What would you do if someone senior told you to do something 100% wrong?
Regarding ethics questions, preparation is key.
I highly recommend you prepare for them using the resources used for USMLE exams, such as USMLE Medical Ethics: The 100 Cases You Are Most Likely To See on the Exam.
- Tell us a story
- Tell us a good joke.
Improv might be tricky and challenging, especially when you are not prepared for it. Remember again that asking for a few moments is okay to think about an answer.
The questions you ask
Interviewing is a reciprocal process during which you will be asked questions, and you can ask questions too.
The nature of these questions can vary and cover anything from the schedule and the benefits, to the research opportunities and the city where the program is located.
Here are some examples of questions applicants ask:
- What do you expect from your residents?
- What research projects are the faculty and residents currently working on?
- What are the residency program’s teaching and conference schedules?
- What are the teaching/clinical/research opportunities?
This step of the process is crucial as it shows your interest in the program.
You can find more relevant questions to ask on this PDF share by the AAMC
While preparing your questions, try to limit the number of generic questions and try to personalize them as much as possible, as this will show that you thoroughly researched the program and, therefore, have a very keen interest.