Preparing for Your Residency Interview
Getting ready to interview with residency programs is at once exciting and stressful. Taking the time to prepare for your interview experience will benefit you during your interviews and afterwards, when you are comparing and considering programs. Here are some tips on how to prepare before you set foot on campus.
Most programs participating in the National Residency Match Program (NRMP®) schedule interviews from September through January. You will hear some differences of opinion as to whether it is better to be one of the first, middle, or last candidates that a program interviews. Because no evidence demonstrates that timing makes a difference in how the program ranks a candidate and you don’t have complete control over the timing of your interview, try not to be anxious about it.
The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS®) has developed an interview scheduling tool that allows programs to send interview invitations to applicants in the ERAS system and gives applicants the ability to schedule, waitlist, cancel, and decline interviews in MyERAS. However, programs that participate in ERAS don’t have to use the ERAS Interview Scheduler, so be sure you find out the preferred interview scheduling method for the programs in which you’re interested.
If you're able to coordinate interviews geographically, you may be able to maximize your travel time, particularly if you're traveling far from home or school to visit programs. However, be careful not to schedule so many back-to-back interviews that you are too tired to represent your best self.
If you open a credit card to earn travel miles or hotel rewards on during the match, do your research first. Credit cards, especially those that claim a 0% interest rate, can be unforgiving if you miss a payment or only make minimum payments.
Many family medicine programs will offer assistance and support for travel-related expenditures, for example, free lodging.
Confirm Your Appointment
Call to confirm your appointment about a week before your scheduled interview. This will give you an opportunity to reconfirm the place and time of your meeting, who you are going to meet first, and perhaps some other details such as where you should park, etc.
Plan Your Time
Typically, an interview will take one full day, though you may be invited to meet with one or more residents and faculty for dinner the night before. If your travel schedule permits, allow some time to tour the community outside the program and/or spend some informal time with residents or faculty.
If your spouse or significant other will be accompanying you on your interviews, you may want to schedule additional time to assess other aspects of the program and community important to him or her. In general, spouses and significant others are welcome to participate in the interview process, but you should clarify this with the program ahead of time so that the schedule can be structured to accommodate this. Some programs specifically provide for the participation of spouses and significant others with organized tours of the community, etc.
Do Your Research
Review What You Know
Just before the interview, take time again to review the information you’ve received from the family medicine residency program and any material you may have gathered from other sources. Write down the “facts” that you want to double-check as well as any initial impressions you may have formed based on the written material. Pay special attention to the names and positions of people you are likely to meet.
Check Out the Community
Learn about the local community before you arrive by visiting websites that provide information about cultural offerings, community problems, the housing market, and job opportunities for your spouse or significant other. This may include local news sites, job postings to consider career opportunities for your spouse or significant other, the local chamber of commerce, and others.
You should also learn about the residency program's patient community. Understand the program's mission and who it serves. Residencies care deeply about their patients and you should, too. They would rather hear about your interest in your patients than your interest in their city or geographical area.
Know What Questions You Want to Ask
Remind yourself of the specific questions you had about this program and write them down in a convenient place so that you will be sure to ask them. It’s a good idea to have some thoughtful questions prepared to let your interviewers know that you’ve really given some thought to the qualities of their particular program. Interviewers get tired of answering the same questions just as you do, so try to think of a few that reflect your own special interest.
You may have already formulated a list of standard questions that you want to ask every program for comparison, or you may have developed a checklist of program characteristics to fill out in each interview.
Do a Literature Search
You can impress interviewers—faculty, resident, or other—with knowledge of their areas of research. Plus, you may find out you have some common interests!
Practice and Be Prepared for Anything
Think about what questions you might be asked during interviews and take time to practice some answers. Consider ways to work your personal narrative throughout your responses. This is an especially useful strategy to employ if you're at an interview where you don't feel like you're being asked great questions. Keep in mind that you don't want to over-rehearse. You'll feel uncomfortable and stifled if you don't respond naturally to questions.
Prep yourself to be asked questions from many different angles, too. One style of interviewing that is becoming more commonly used is behavioral interviewing. If you're asked behavioral questions, for example, "How would you handle a scenario where you made a mistake?" be ready to share an anecdote or example that showcases your values and decision-making process.
Some programs are also piloting video interviews for first-round candidates. If you're invited to do a video interview, make sure that you have a quiet and clean place to join a virtual call. Don't sit in a swivel chair. Do consider what the people interviewing you can see in the background.
The AAFP's Match guide, Strolling through the Match(13 MB PDF), has more advice to help you get ready for your interviews.
Keep in mind your goals for the interview in order to establish the right frame of mind. Again, you want to project a positive, confident, and enthusiastic demeanor without being overbearing or insincere.
If you keep in mind that the interviewers have their own agenda to fulfill, you won’t be dismayed or intimidated by the tougher questions that try to find out more about you. In fact, if you’ve thought about what the interviewers are trying to get out of the interview, you will have already anticipated their questions and have a well-thought-out answer ready.
Try to be open and honest. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let your nervousness hide your personality.
Interview Advice That Never Fails
- Dress professionally and comfortably. Wear something business appropriate that adds to your confidence level without competing with your personality. Also, travel can be tough on clothes, so make sure your outfit is neat and clean before you leave for your interview.
- Be early. Allow yourself time for finding a parking space, getting to know your surroundings, and catching your breath.
- Make sure you have what you need. Before you leave the house, make sure you have everything you need for the interview such as your notes, paper and pen, tablet or laptop, and an extra copy of your credentials.
Updated for 2020: Strolling Through the Match
This practical resource from the AAFP is a must-read for students interested in a career in family medicine. Get your copy now for updated information on navigating the Match process, access to helpful timelines, and tips on applying to and ranking programs.