Med Student Mentor: Standing Out in a Residency Interview

Nov 6, 2015

Residency interview season is here, and you’re probably getting nervous about an interview you’ve secured. How do you make yourself stand out from other applicants and put your best face forward? We interviewed Dr. Caroline Milne, the residency program director for internal medicine at the University of Utah to ask for advice.

Transcript

Interviewer: Congratulations. You're a fourth-year medical student who's just secured an internal medicine residency interview, but how are you going to make yourself stand out in a sea of qualified candidates?

Find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Navigating your way through med school can be tough. Wouldn't it be great if you had a mentor to help you out? Well, whether you're first year or fourth year, we've got you covered. The Med Student Mentor is on The Scope.

Interviewer: So residency interview season is here and to help you prepare for success, we have Dr. Caroline Milne, the residency program director for internal medicine at the University of Utah, and today she'll talk to us about how to launch yourself to the top of a program's applicant list with your interview. So Dr. Milne, name three attributes of a stellar, must-have residency applicant.

Dr. Milne: I think that the first attribute would be a passion for something. I have a very large training program. We are definitely not looking for one particular type of person. We'll match about 55 residences here so, obviously they're a very diverse group of people. But most people do want to see a passion for something and it could be anything. It could be some community service organization. It could be research. It could be almost anything, but a true passion for something. So that would be one.

Two, I would be remiss if I didn't say that past performance is very important. People that have excelled throughout their early careers we think will predict success in later portions of training. If there's been something on your record that you're not delighted with there are ways to work around that, but every program director is looking for the highest performing applicant.

Three, would be people skills, which definitely include being able to work within a team. Medicine is now very, very much team based and we want to see people that have been very professional and have good communication skills because we think that predicts success in a clinical specialty like ours, which is internal medicine.

Interviewer: Right, and you can definitely demonstrate those communication skills during an interview, too.

Dr. Milne: Yes, you can.

Interviewer: Okay. You always hear that, on average, interviewers establish their opinions on an interview candidate within the first few minutes of the interview. So what can an internal medicine residency candidate do to make sure that the first few minutes of their interview are a success?

Dr. Milne: I think it's great to be unique. I don't think you want to be terribly unique. Appearance is important and you never know who your audience is going to be and what they're going to think of your level of uniqueness.

So maybe the interview is not the time to reveal something that some people might find unprofessional, whether it's unprofessional or not to the general public. I think that a conservative approach to appearance is definitely important and, for good or for bad, that's just the way it is and there are lots of studies that have looked at that.

I also think some sort of confidence with humility. You don't want to appear overly confident but you certainly don't want to appear under confident and you want to display some degree of humility. And interest. You definitely want to be interested in being where you are.

Interviewer: Okay. What do you think medical students struggle with most during an interview and are there any ways we can avoid this pitfall?

Dr. Milne: I think you need to make sure you know everything that's on your CV. It's surprising to me how many times I've picked up something that's on somebody's CV that it becomes very obvious within seconds that they know nothing about what they've written. It may have been a research project that they worked on in undergrad or the fact that they love basset hounds.

You never know what I'm going to ask you or what the interviewer is going to ask you but, whatever you have on your written application, you need to make sure you know the depth. Do not say you love Russian literature because you don't know if the person in front of you has a Ph.D. in Russian literature if you truly don't love Russian literature.

That's what I like to tell people that I'm mentoring as they're going into their fourth year is don't put anything on your CV that you're not very comfortable talking about extensively.

You can go through an entire interview season and people might not ask you about it but there might be somebody that asks you about something. You say you speak advanced Spanish and they start speaking Spanish to you and you really only speak beginner Spanish. That's a mistake.

Interviewer: That's some solid advice.

You were saying how you like to see interview candidates who are passionate. Is there such a thing as an interview candidate who is too enthusiastic?

Dr. Milne: I think so, but I think that experienced interviewers can tell if that's just somebody that's nervous. I would definitely rather see somebody that's overly enthusiastic than somebody that's under enthusiastic because if you in any way appear bored and, believe it or not, there are people that will yawn during interviews, you almost can't believe it. That actually may be a sign of nerves as well.

Even if it isn't a place that you want to be or you've decided already that this is some place that isn't going to work out for you, I think you want to represent yourself and the university that you're from in such a way that later people will speak highly of both of those things if it would ever cross their path again.

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