Show up to your interview prepared to put your best foot forward. Use these questions to create an answer bank of statements and curated stories that you can pull from that create a flattering picture of who you are.
Think back to a good first date. When trying to impress that special someone without scaring them off, you artfully navigate conversation to drop little anecdotes about yourself to highlight your successful (The last time I met Dr So and so for coffee, she told me …), insightful (If you liked that book, you might enjoy…), and adventuresome (that reminds me of when I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro…) self and leave out comments that betray your procrastinating (yeah, my closet looks like a disaster because I had to try on 3 shirts 5 minutes before I was supposed to meet you here), disorganized (the first two were too small because I accidentally threw them in the dryer), and stress eating (who am I kidding? They’re small because I habitually eat cookies during call shifts) self.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This open ended question is often the hardest! While it may be tempting to recite your CV or talk you’re hobbies, what they’re really asking is “who are you and why are you interviewing here?” Another version of this question is “Why this speciality?”
Here are some questions that may help you come up with themes in a brainstorming session. Where did you grow up? What qualities would your friends and family say define you? What did you want to be as a kid? Why did you go to medical school? How did you decide on this specialty? Who are your mentors? What insights have they given you about your suitability for the specialty?
This is your “elevator pitch”. Keep it concise. Develop a one minute statement about what life events/personality traits motivated you to pursue to this specialty and why you’re suited to it. Imagine that you just stepped into an elevator with someone has the power to change your life. Their smart phone is only an arms reach away and the office is only 4 floors up. Go! When the elevator stops, will they step out ready to set up a meeting with you or are they already checking their email inbox?
2. What are your strengths?
Successful real estate agents know that they’ve made a sale when the buyers walk through the house and picture their furniture in the home. In the same way, you want your interviewer to start picturing you in their program. Pick a one or two key characteristics about yourself to highlight throughout the interview. Giving them too many characteristics washes out your personality and makes you generic, making it harder for them to envision what type of resident you would be. The best way to promote yourself without sounding arrogant is to use stories. Besides being a smooth way to talk about your accomplishments, they will make your strengths memorable and believable. Read about the STAR method for help on building good interview stories.
3. What are your weaknesses?
Handled well, a good response to this tricky question can make a real impression. Self confidence tempered with true self awareness translates as maturity. Do you have a bad habit that has affected your aspirations? When did you realize that it was a problem? How did you address it? Has that method been successful in preventing further similar setbacks? Skip the cliche weaknesses (I work too hard, I’m a perfectionist, etc). Deep dig and show some vulnerability (without raising red flags). Tell a good story. It’s no coincidence that this is what good movies are made of.
4. Who is your hero? If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be? What is your favorite book, movie, etc?
On the surface, these are the types of questions that look at how well rounded you are. Do you have enough bandwidth to have an interesting life outside of medicine? However, they are a great way to loop back into highlighting one of your chosen strengths. Write an answer for a your favorite book, hero, most recent article, etc. The key is to give it some depth.
For example, one of my heroes is Benjamin Franklin. A prolific inventor, he created in many different fields, including the first library system and the first flexible urinary catheter (his brother had recurrent nephrolithiasis). He also knew how to influence the right people to get things accomplished. Born into a family that could only send him to school for two years, he ended up in the halls of Versailles, securing aid from the King of France that ultimately led to the successful founding of our country. I see that curiosity and drive to create reflected in myself and am working on my socialite skills. He changed the course of history and I hope I can apply the same principles to my medical career.
5. What makes you different than the rest of our applicants? Why should we take you?
Being hard-working, smart, and easy to get along with is hopefully more of a commonality than something to hang your hat on at this point. What experiences have you had that set you apart? Did you have a job between medical school? What did that develop in you? Do you have an experience as a patient? As close family of a patient? How has that given you a special perspective on medical care? If you’re a nontraditional applicant, this is where you can really sell your unique circumstances.
6. Tell me about a time you had to deal with an ethical dilemma. What would you do if…
This question is essentially asking, “What are your values?” The key here is to identify the two contradicting values that make up the dilemma and then walk them through your decision process. Do not waffle back and forth. They are interested in your ethical values but also your ability to process information and make tough decisions.
7. Tell me about a time you had a leadership role.
Comb your CV for a couple of extracurriculars to highlight. Use this question type to distinguish those activities from the “filler” that everyone uses to pad their resumes. Once again, tell a good story! How were you key in getting results? How would that event be echoed in your future performance as a resident? As a practicing physician? Circle back to those top characteristics you’ve been highlighting all along to build that comprehensive picture of yourself.
8. Tell me about something less than stellar in your application.
They won’t ask you to volunteer incriminating information but look carefully at your application and preemptively prepare for any hard questions they might ask. Are your board scores low? Have you had to repeat courses? Do you have a judicial record that you had to disclose? Do not play the blame game. Instead be prepared to talk about these issues with the same formula you used for your weakness answer. What have you learned about yourself through those experiences? What tools have you implemented? How will this impact your future performance? By addressing it candidly rather than becoming defensive or feeling defeated, you demonstrate maturity.
9. What do you like about this program? What questions do you have for us?
Here, they are looking to see if you’ve done your homework. Are you the type of candidate that wants to make educated decisions on what kind of training you get? Or are you just going through the motions? A good interviewee will have explored the website, talked with residents or fellow students who have experienced the program, and come up with a few points that they like and points they would like clarified.
A really good interviewee will also be able to loop back on something that they saw or experienced that day. For example, “I had read about this program’s dedication to research on the website and after talking to Jane Doe today about her experience while working on her project looking at carpal tunnel releases in diabetics, I’m really excited about what research I can accomplish here.” or “Earlier, Dr. McDreamy showed us the arthroscopy simulation lab. How often do the residents get to use the lab? What percentage of our hands-on experience is done in simulation labs verses in the operating room?”
10. Specialty specific case study questions
There may be some time dedicated to accessing your medical knowledge and ability to process and recall information while under pressure. This will vary by specialty. The more traditionally friendly specialties would never dream of such brute tactics but other specialties, typically surgical specialties, have a whole block of time set aside for the colloquial “pimp session. There are however some general principles that apply across specialties. Stay calm. It is much harder to access your educational reserves in panic mode. If you don’t know the answer, make an educated guess while outlining your thought process. If you have no idea, graciously concede and move on. Remember that there will be questions designed to ruffle your feathers and ruffled feathers make more of an impression than missed answers.
These 10 questions are a good start. Listen closely for variations of them and be ready to use one of your answers when it fits. These answers will allow you to be comfortable enough to actively listen, engage with your interviewer, and adapt to whatever they throw at you,
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