It is now past the mid-September application submission date, which means it has been two years since I submitted my ERAS application for residency. I feel like I blinked and the entire intern year went by; I’m already at the end of my fourth month as a second year, senior resident. I’m currently on my program’s Recruitment Committee and I cannot wait to start meeting candidates for next year’s intern class! Congrats to everyone who submitted their apps and are waiting for interview invitations to roll in, or who are starting the interview process!
Interviews can be so daunting; for many years now, residency slots have been harder and harder to get. There are far more applicants than there are slots, which is making even “non-competitive” specialties, like my beloved Pediatrics, more competitive. You have to be able to make a great impression on your interview day, and many 4th year medical students are facing their first real job interviews (because this is NOT like medical school interviews at all).
First: You’ve got to get the interview invitation and lock in your interview date. Interview dates fill up quickly, so as soon as I got the invitation (through ERAS, Interview Broker, email, or phone call), I booked a date. This was especially tricky with email invitations, because they often give you a small set of available dates, and you have to email back your top choice for dates ASAP, so I always advise applicants to have blank email templates ready to go with the Subject line of “Interview Invitation”, and an intro with name on it so that you can enter a date, the corresponding email address, and hit “send” as quickly as possible.
Practice, Practice, Practice! If your school offers mock interviews, DO IT. Even though I’ve been through interview bootcamp, it was good to have low-stakes mock interview to point out some of the subconscious things I do when I’m nervous, plus it helped me practice some of my storylines I wanted to use during interviews. You don’t want these things to feel weird rolling off your tongue during a high-stakes real interview, so practicing them in a similar setting is invaluable.
With every single program where I interviewed, I had a list of things I wanted to leave them with to give them a solid idea of who I was and why they wanted me in their program. You have to sell yourself and your story; for introverts like me who don’t like talking about themselves, this can really be hard, but now is NOT the time to be timid or modest.
The Basics that you have hopefully heard from everyone by now:
Dress well. Know how to press a suit. Bring a second set of clothing to wear under your suit in case of emergency (like when the hotel iron on “low” melts your favorite shirt… not that that has every happened to me the night before an interview….). Never, never, never be late. (I was late to my very first interview due to a wreck that cost me an extra 20 minutes on what should have been a 5 minute drive. I was so mad. But it all worked out!) No chewing gum. Smile, smile, smile. Resist the urge to check your phone, and it had better be on silent (I once scheduled an interview while in the restroom during an interview day….). Be polite to everyone. When I was a 4th year, the advice I got was that pediatrics programs care how you treat people, and this includes everyone from the program coordinators through emails, the hotel staff, other applicants, and everyone you meet at interview dinners and through the interview day. Every. Single. Person. It is tough to be “on” all day, but it goes by quickly.
Small talk: Read a non-medical book. Binge watch some Netflix or Hulu. These are all great topics so that dinners with residents aren’t awkward and can come up in interviews as well. I am a natural introvert, so having talking points helped me a lot, as small talk is the bane of my existence.
Research the program and its people. Most programs will give you a list of people with whom you are interviewing in advance of your interview day. (There were maybe a couple of programs that didn’t, and that still wound up being ok.) Where I interviewed, the fewest number of interviewers I had was two, and the most was five. Look these people up prior to your day; it will give you fodder for interview questions and you can tailor your questions to that person’s interests (always, always, always link it to something on your application that makes you look good that also meshes with their program). Know your reasons for applying to that program. Sometimes, the honest answer to “Why are you interested in our program?” may be “You have a program and I need a job next year…”, but this shouldn’t be the case for the majority of your programs, and there needs to be something that this program has that you would be a good fit for. Every answer needs to show you in a good light and how you would fit into the program or how it would build upon your strengths/meets your career goals.
If you aren’t using the NRMP’s PRISM app, you should be! You can keep track of your interview dates, programs, and it even has a handy rating tool that I used immediately after each interview that made a preliminary Rank Order List for me. I will definitely be using it for the Fellowship Match next year.