More Lessons from The Interview Trail….

Warning: This post is extremely long but after spending so much time writing it I’m too lazy to break it up. Sorry. On the bright side, some of you may find it helpful. Or, you may just want to skim and check out the funny pictures. Proceed.

Lesson #2: Guess what, after Planning, it’s all about Preparation.

Prepping for the Big Day(s)

1. The clothes.

  •  Picture this. I walk into the lobby where we’re supposed to meet the Program Coordinator on my first interview day. I get off the elevator and get a first look at the other applicants. They are all, males and females alike, literally, wearing black pant suits with some variation of a white button-down underneath. I, am wearing a gray, knee-length dress, with black tights, black patent heels and a puce cardigan with ruffles. Oh. H*ll.

Lesson learned, Interview Day is not necessarily the time to show case your individuality with fashionable wardrobe choices.

Personally, I find this incredibly boring and frustrating, but it seems The Interview Suit still rules. I broke down and wore the old black pant suit with a button down to the next interview and blended right in. I just couldn’t do it for the next, so I compromised with a drapey pink top and over-sized pearl jewelry paired with the suit. I suppose the morale is, you have to wear something you are as comfortable as possible with, but don’t go crazy. You want to look professional and not outlandish in any way, so you can go with the total blend in approach, or you can attempt to tweak the look with subtle (subtle is the key word here) embellishments that save you from feeling like a complete applicant drone.

Time to suit up people!

NOTE: On one interview I heard a horror story from an applicant who lost their luggage, and interview duds, en route to their interview. If you are flying, pack your interview clothes in your carry-on.

  • You also need to plan on an outfit to wear to whatever meet ‘n greet activities are planned. Most programs are fine with jeans at such events, but some definitely are not. Make sure you have an idea of how formal the events are and how formally they expect you to be dressed.

2.The program.

  • You need to research the program you are interviewing at before you go. In the last Lessons, I talked about researching programs to find ones you’d like to interview at. Refer back to these sites, or the residency program’s web site before you hit The Trail. Personally, I think people come off looking a little silly (and lazy?) if they ask questions that are easily answered by a 30 second web search on Interview Day. Examples: How many spots are available each year? Are there any fellowships offered? What kind of benefits do they have? Where is the program? You get the picture. I hope.
  • It also can’t hurt to know a little about the faculty and current residents at the program if you feel up to researching them. Who are they? What are their areas of interest? What schools do the current residents hail from? Any from your school? I don’t think it’s really necessary to spend too much time on this before ID because most programs are good about handing out bio info on residents and faculty to quickly peruse (Note: you should definitely peruse this information if it is handed to you, it is painstakingly prepared and handed to you for a reason) before your interviews. This information is a veritable gold mine for Stuff To Talk About during interviews that can potentially help you establish rapport and stand out (in a good way) with interviewers if you have interests or experiences in common.

3. The questions.

  • Before you get to interviews you should also research, think about answers to, and probably practice common interview questions. HERE is a good resource with bonus residency prep info. Trust me. You do not want to get into an interview and struggle to come up with something, anything intelligible to say. Most interviewers are reasonable human beings and will give you a few seconds (not 15 minutes mind you) to squirm/ponder a response, but you are going to be nervous (okay, I am always nervous) and few seconds is not enough time to come up with something completely brilliant, articulate, and sparkling unless you’ve given the (or a similar) question more than a few seconds thought ahead of time. Unless you are a genius. In that case, please stop reading my blog, because there is nothing for you here.
  • Make sure you are also well acquainted with what you’ve put in your CV and personal statement. They will have your CV and PS in front of them, many may have actually looked at them before hand, and they will often use them to come up with questions. Be prepared to talk about what amazing things you have accomplished. Because you are amazing and you have the (hopefully non-fictionalized) CV and PS to prove it. Now, tell me more about these 14 publications you have…..
  • Additionally, you are going to be asked if you have any questions about the program A LOT, during interviews. It is important not to forget, that as much as you are being analyzed as a potential future resident, you should be analyzing the program as well for how much you like them. And apparently they really want to you to analyze them, in depth, because you will be asked for questions about the program all throughout your interview day and at any meet ‘n greet festivities.

So I suggest before your interviews, you form and refine as you go through, a stable of reasonably intelligent sounding and potentially helpful questions to ask faculty and residents about different programs. When I say ‘reasonably intelligent sounding’ I am referring back to my own Don’t Ask Obvious Questions That Could Be (and probably should have been) Answered By A 30 Second Web Search Policy. For example, a couple questions I have come to regularly ask are:

 – “What do you see as the strengths of this/your program?” – I usually ask this question of several different people during an interview to get a good feel for the program’s focuses, like a big emphasis on general OB/GYN vs. exposure to subspecialties, or lots of protected didactic time vs. go-look-it up learning.

 – ”What kind of support do you have in place for resident research?” – I ask this one because I’m a research virgin, every program requires research, and I’m going to need help, lots and lots of help.

– And if I’m feeling bold, “So, would you say this program is ‘family friendly’ (i.e. do you make life miserable for residents who dare to procreate during residency years)?”.

– I also often ask residents about life in the residency program and in whatever city the program is in. Figure out what is important to you that you can’t easily discern on your own from a web site and get ready to fire back.

  • Lastly, in this section I’d like to bring up Behavioral Interview Questions. Because I recently encountered BIQ at my last interview. Now, one of my classmates mentioned something about BIQ several months ago, how they were nervous about them, how they worked, blah, blah, blah, scoff, scoff, look at me with my list of the most frequently asked residency interview questions, I’m so cooooooollll….. Yeah. I was COMPLETELY UNPREPARED for BIQ, and, as result, probably (most likely) looked behaviorally like a big jack*ss during the interview. It, was not pretty. Especially because that was a program I am (was) really excited about. Excuse me while I go over here and kick myself. Again. Not being a fan of self-flagellation in general, let me save you the self-hatred and flames of regret by giving you a link that explains BIQ. Why they do it, how it works, what they are looking for, and how not to end up looking behaviorally like a big jack*ss.

Even the bear would have taken the time to look up BIQ.....

4. How interviews work.

  • All interviews are going to be set up and conducted at least slightly differently. So far I have experienced everything from relaxed, one-on-one chats to formal, full-on BIQ panel parties. I believe that is the general range. I have also interviewed with anywhere from eleven to just three different interviewers in an interview day. Unless you know someone at a program or someone who has interviewed at a program, and you can ask for sure how it’s going to go down, be prepared for any plausible interview scenario.
  • In general, you will get to your interview site the afternoon/evening before interview day and have some sort of meet ‘n greet event, usually a dinner with current residents. These are mostly “informal” events; however, do NOT be seduced by the word “informal.” The minute you step into the event, your interview starts. Be on your best behavior. Act as you will on Interview Day. Be polite, engaged, unfailingly pleasant, and most of all (unlike one med student I heard about last year which is why I still feel compelled to state this completely obvious rule) DO NOT be drunk and then hung over at your “formal” interview the next day. Make an effort speak to the residents and (it starts here) ask questions about the program. Also, use this chance to prove your sociability, abilities as a team member, all-around great human beingness by talking to other applicants.

An unanticipated but happy bonus of chatting up fellow applicants is that I’ve actually made friends with several of them that I keep running into at interviews. When you think about it, getting to know the other applicants is a great idea, as these may well be your/my eventual intern comrades. Not to mention it’s a great chance to share stories, tips, and tricks from The Interview Trail. Just keep any negative comments about programs/experiences on the down low, as, in front/earshot of the residents and faculty we are, let’s say it together now, unfailingly pleasant. Excellent.

  • Its Interview Day. First and foremost, you have to be on time. Plan accordingly. The night before ID it’s not a bad idea to at least drive by the place you have to meet (probably, very, very early) the next morning. If, like me, you cannot function and certainly cannot maintain any, much less unfailing, pleasantness without coffee, it’s also a good idea to figure out where you will get your fix on the way to Interview Day the next morning. Do not underestimate the importance of this move. Like I did on Interview Day #1. Combined with the Outfit Disaster, I spent most of the day quivering like a junkie underneath my unfailingly pleasant façade. Le shudder. Next, as I said before, be sure to quickly peruse whatever packet materials they give you, and with your confidently prepared list of questions in mind, have at. There are usually three or four sets of 30-ish minute long interviews, with any number of faculty and/or residents, with breaks in between. You are also usually free to take notes during presentations and interviews, or furiously scribble them at break times if you so desire. There is usually lunch provided, and the day usually lasts until about 3 o’clock. At which point you are usually free to run willy-nilly to your car (once out of faculty/resident sight/earshot) to make it to your next destination.

5. What to do (or what not to do) during your interviews.

  • I’m pretty sure this implicit in what I’ve said above. Just remember: ask and answer questions intelligently (because you are prepared), be polite, engaged, attentive, positive, and (here it is again, because it’s important, okay****) unfailingly pleasant. And once again, in case you skimmed this part and in any way think it might be acceptable at any point during your interview experience, DO NOT be drunk. Or hung over. I’m just saying. You can’t blame me now if you are. Dumb*ss.

More Pollyanna, less Snookie. Trust me.

6. Giving Thanks.

  • But wait! Your interview experience does not end with the post-ID free-for-all 100 meter car dash. Soon after interview season started one of my classmates called to ask me if I thought we had to write thank you’s for all of our interviews. The short answer is, Yes. If you are even the slightest bit interested in a program, you absolutely have to say thank you. It is an opportunity to express your enthusiasm for the program and another, invaluable, chance to make a good impression. Plus, even if you didn’t really like the program, it’s just polite. I mean, they took the time to see and speak with you, probably fed you (several times), and may have even given you an assortment of commemorative gewgaws. Reach down deep and find the manners.
  • What format should you use to say thank you? Well, that’s up to you.You can write and send thank you’s via snail mail, or I have chosen (after the interview where I spoke with eleven different people) to send emails. This seems to be a fairly acceptable format for thank you’s nowadays and most programs will make interviewer email addresses available. Or you can email or call the program’s coordinator to get the appropriate contact info.
  • So who do you send thank you’s to? That again, is up to your judgment. Speaking of residency program coordinators though, I think it is always a good idea to send them a note of thanks. After all, they are the ones you have been in contact with, who set the whole party up, and keep it running smoothly. Maybe it’s the nurse in me, but I think they are also sometimes underappreciated and deserve all the props they can get.  After that, I would say you should send thank you’s to anyone you interviewed with one-on-one or two-to-one. For my big panel interview experience I just sent a thank you to the program director because I didn’t really have personal interactions with any panel members.
  • And what should you say? Well, whatever you want that expresses your thanks and sincere appreciation, aspects you like about the program, why you think you/it would be a good fit, and personal details that might help them remember/like you come rank day. There are examples of residency thank you letters online. The ones I saw were really long and formal and after skimming like two, I completely disregarded them. You might want to fire up Google and have a look. My general thank you goes something like this:

Dr. SoAndSo,

It was a pleasure to meet and speak with you at my interview. I am impressed with my interview experience, and with the program at SuchAndSuch. The curriculum seems to be a great balance of general [your specialty here] training, exposure to sub-specialties, and research experience. I am also very impressed with the positive outlooks, kindness, and great relationships between faculty, residents, and support staff. [Some personalized/special aspect of the interview/program/chat with interviewer.] I would feel very fortunate to join the ranks of the residents at SuchAndSuch next year. Thank you for your time and consideration. If you, or anyone, would like any further information from me please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Nurse, MD
My Med School Here
My email
My digits

  • It doesn’t hurt to have someone read and proof your letters before you send them out. And I’m not going to say anything about spelling and grammar because you all know that had better be correct. Or you’re going to look like a ding-dong. But you all know that. So I’ll stop.

Except, one last thing…..

****Lest I forget. THE #1 THING I’VE LEARNED AT RESIDENCY INTERVIEWS. They don’t really care about your GPA, board scores, or amazing feats of amazingness. You made it to the interview, so that stuff is pretty much one big Check. THEY WANT TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY NICE, GET ALONG WITH EVERYONE AT THE PROGRAM, AND BE A DECENT PERSON TO WORK WITH IN RESIDENCY. PERIOD.****