A successful residency interview requires careful planning and follow-up. It is a process that begins before - and continues well after - the interview day. Here are some simple tips for a successful interview experience:
Interview season takes place primarily during November, December, and January, so try to schedule clinical clerkships to accommodate interview days. It can be helpful to ask graduating 4th year students which rotations are most accommodating or flexible at your institution and request these in anticipation of interview season. Many applicants wonder if the interview date helps to determine selection by a program, but L. Martin-Lee and colleagues suggest that interview date does not correlate to match list position in the EM Match (see Acad Emerg Med 2000 Sep;7(9):1022-6). However, some applicants might find it helpful to schedule interviews at the programs where they are most interested after they feel more comfortable with the process.
When scheduling interviews, be courteous and promptly reply to invitations to interview. If you decide to turn down an interview invitation or cancel an interview, do so promptly so that another applicant can accept the interview slot. While it is best to cancel an interview with adequate notice, canceling even the day before is better than simply not showing up. Never, never, never “no-show” to an interview and always be honest about your reason for cancellation if you provide one. This cannot be stressed enough; EM is a small community and word gets around.
Well before the interview day, research the program and know the basics. It can be helpful to start with a broad look at the programs available; resources such as EMRA Match and AMA Frieda are great options. EMRA Match is particularly valuable as it allows you to search available EM clerkships, residencies, and fellowships.
Be aware of the departmental leadership and some of the unique characteristics of the program, such as areas of research expertise or clinical excellence. Most programs have websites with a wealth of valuable information about the program and the institution(s) where residents train. This information is critical to the conversations that you will have on interview day, and is the best way to determine how the program fits your goals and interests. Seek to find a program strength that aligns with particular interests or goals you have - this can be a great talking point during the interview day and help you determine fit. When possible, attend and participate in events scheduled for applicants to learn more about the program and its culture off paper.
The first impression is everything. Professional dress and appearance, as well as body language and speech, are all ways that you can communicate about who you are as a person and as a candidate. Remember that this starts the moment you board the plane or arrive in town; you never know who is seated next to you! Take care to treat any residents and administrative staff with the same respect and courtesy - all residency team members can and will share their opinions when it’s time to rank candidates. The interview is your opportunity to prove to the residency program that you are the best candidate for the job.
You should have a copy of your curriculum vitae with you during your interview. Expect questions about anything listed on your application and curriculum vitae. The interview allows you to elaborate on what makes you an excellent EM candidate. It also allows you to discuss the parts of your application that require improvement in the future, so be prepared with language that can explain any difficult areas and place you in the most positive light possible. This includes but is not limited to failed rotations or exams, issues of professionalism, or unexplained leaves of absence.
Most importantly, however, you should be prepared to be yourself so that the program becomes acquainted with you, and not simply with your application. To that end, often programs may ask you to share something about you not already noted in your application - have an answer ready! It is also advisable to have specific questions to ask that help you to learn something about the program that is important to you. While you may prepare questions before interview day, note what is shared with you during presentations that day so as not to ask something that has already been answered.
Consider thank you cards or emails within one week of each interview
Thank you notes are a common courtesy to show appreciation to interviewers and are also a great way to show your interest in a program. These are not strictly necessary and the format, if you choose to do so, depends on the applicant and the program. You may elect to do this for programs or interviewers with whom you felt a particular fit or connection.
Follow-up and keep in touch
Post-interview emails or typed letters restating your interest can be helpful in the case of your top few programs. Let the program directors know of your continued and sincere interest in their program. Some programs might also be willing to have you return for a follow-up visit after your interview. Never communicate to a program that they are your “number one” or “top choice” unless they absolutely are your number one choice. As previously mentioned, the EM community is small and word of perceived dishonesty may travel.
It is your responsibility to take control of the interviewing process and make it a positive and beneficial one. Remember, you are interviewing the program as well. The key to success is preparation, courtesy, follow-up, and confidence in yourself and your capabilities.
Initially distributed November 18, 2002 by Norma Laurel, MSIV (2002-03 MSC Regional Coordinator), Texas A&M College of Medicine
Chadd K. Kraus, MPH, MSIII
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Editor, Medical Student Governing Council
Deena Khamees, MD
Director of Education, EMRA Board of Directors
Medical Education Fellow
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Michigan