10 Tips for the Interview Trail

Author: Sepi Jooniani, MD MPH

As you prepare for interview season, here are ten tips to help you along the way. Most of this advice is purely common sense, and after going on your first few interviews, it will become a routine that is second nature to you. However, if the anticipation of your first interview overwhelms you with pre-interview jitters, it might help to mentally prepare yourself by reading over some pointers.

1. Interview Scheduling

  • When replying to the program coordinator, be courteous. This person is usually the program director’s right-hand man, or lady, and is like family to them. The program coordinator can make or break you. Be sure to treat them with respect, whether it is over the phone or by email.
  • Remember that they have done this more times than you—so they, of course, understand that interview season is hectic and that plans sometimes change. It’s ok to try to change your interview date, or even cancel. Just be sure to do so with plenty of notice so the program isn’t left with an open slot, and so that your fellow applicants may be given your slot instead.

2. Do Your Homework Before Interview Day

  • All programs will give you a long introductory talk before interviews begin. This talk is generally given by the program director and usually covers almost everything you might want to know about the program. Regardless, you want to make sure you’ve reviewed the program’s website before going in to your interview for two reasons:
    • (i) Asking thoughtful questions during interview day is good—asking questions that could have been answered by the program’s website…not so good
    • (ii) The majority of your interviewers will ask you why you want to be at their program. Make sure you can speak to one or two specific things about the program that align with your interests and career goals. And don’t be afraid to also mention family ties in the area.

3. Traveling To Your Interview

  • Always carry your suit with you, as a carry on. Luggage tends to get delayed or even lost, and though most programs are understanding, you don’t want to be remembered as the person who showed up in flip-flops or shorts.
  • Be on time! Driving from your hotel to the hospital the night before to familiarize yourself with the route is often helpful. On interview day, leave earlier than you need to — somehow you always get lost in a new city, even after doing a drive by the night before.
  • Have the program coordinator’s contact information handy. Even if you have planned perfectly, sometimes you will find yourself running late. Make sure you can give the program coordinator a call to let them know you are on your way. If the latter happens, don’t fret … It’s going to be alright.

4. Dress Appropriately

  • In summary, look professional and dress conservatively. Wear a suit, for girls a skirt suit is perfectly acceptable. There is no unwritten rule that states your suit must be black — blue or gray is also perfectly acceptable. Wear whatever color dress shirt you want … within reason, of course. Don’t be afraid to show some personality.
  • Most importantly, wear comfortable shoes! If you don’t, you will learn from experience. Most places take you to several buildings on their walking tours, and your feet will pay the price if your shoes aren’t comfy.

5. Pre-Interview Dinners

  • Dress casually: jeans and nice top will do. Again, be somewhat conservative, nothing too over the top. Be yourself, be social, and get to know the residents. The conversations you have with the residents are quite informal and fun, but remember to maintain a certain degree of professionalism: no swearing, and don’t be shy, you can have a beer, just stick to a 1 to 2 drink maximum.
  • If there is something about the program that concerns you, don’t be afraid to ask for the residents’ opinions — this is where you will likely find the most honest answer to your questions, from someone who is in your (future) shoes.

6. On Interview Day

  • There is usually some down time between the different segments of the interview day where you, the applicants, are left to socialize amongst yourselves. Be friendly, make conversation, and get to know your fellow applicants. These could be the people who will end up as your colleagues for the next 3-7 years.
  • DON’Ts:
    • Don’t talk about your other interviews,
    • Don’t trash talk other programs, and especially not the one you are at,
    • Don’t text or check your phone constantly. In fact, turn your phone off or leave it in the car. Your emails can wait a few hours until your interview day is done.

7. During the interview

  • Be yourself! Make eye contact, and answer the questions you are asked. If something is important to you, bring it up. If you feel strongly about why you belong at that program, be vocal. If your interviewer points out a weakness in your application, be honest and forthcoming, and refocus the conversation by pointing out how you overcame this weakness … don’t sound like you are making excuses.
  • All your interviewers will ask you if you have questions … Always have questions! Unfortunately, most of your questions will have been answered during the introductory info session, so you often have to get creative. My personal favorites and go-to’s included the following:
    • What brought you to this program, and has kept you here?
    • What is your favorite thing about this program? 
  • This gives you a chance to get to know your interviewer better, and understanding the personal reasons why faculty members chose to stay with a program can give you a lot of valuable insight.
  • It’s nice to ask for a business card at the end of your interview so that you have your interviewer’s contact information. Some programs give you this information at the start of the day, allowing you to bypass this step. And if you forget, you can always ask the program coordinator later on.
  • As soon as you leave the room, and before your next interview, jot down some of the major talking points from your conversation. This way when you write your thank you letters, you can write a personalized note pertaining to the things you discussed.

8. During The Tour

  • The tour is often the last thing on the agenda, and by this point in your interview day, you are usually mentally checked out, but try to pay attention. Notice the layout of the ED, the interactions of the attendings with residents, the presence, or absence, of ancillary staff and work stations. Pay attention to the flow of the ED and the state of the waiting room. Do you see yourself working here?

9. Send Thank You Notes

  • It does not matter whether they are hand written cards or emails, just do it! Send them to all your interviewers, and some of the residents you met, and most definitely the program coordinator. It does not have to be immediate, but preferably within a few days of your interview.

10. Take Notes

  • After leaving your interview day, write down some notes for yourself that will help you down the line with your rank list. Most of the logistical information can be found on the website, or in the information packet you were given. So the things to make note of are the intangibles. Write down some of your favorite things, how you liked the residents, your overall impression and the feeling the program left you with. Some of my notes just said, “LOVED this place….”
  • And finally, have a good time and enjoy interview season! All the traveling can get exhausting, but you will probably never again travel to, and try to imagine yourself living in so many different parts of the country, in such a short period of time. Wishing you all the best on the interview trail this year!