The applicant interview: A two-way street

Residency Program Insider, November 4, 2008

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It’s interview season—again. This time of year seems to roll around quickly, especially for program coordinators who have to put aside other tasks and spend their time and energy on organizing interviews. ERAS data, selection committees, hotels and meals, and, oh, the paperwork—it’s like spinning plates on sticks!  

Ultimately, the whole process comes down to one faculty member sitting down with one candidate, the two alone in the private interview room. When assessing candidates, faculty members usually take the standard metrics into consideration: USMLE scores, grades, letters of recommendation, personal statements, etc. They also spend time thinking about less tangible assessments, such as applicants’ responses to questions and their demeanors.

However, one element rarely gets considered: What might the applicant be thinking, and why is that important to us?  

Many medical students make sixteen or more visits to programs before making their final decision, so remember your program is being interviewed as well—it’s a two-way street. The following questions may cross candidates’ mind:

  • How will I fit in here? An applicant is sizing-up not only your program, but the other applicants as well. Residents work as a team. Is the applicant impressed with the other interviewees and the medical schools they represent? They care about who the other applicants are because those individuals may become their colleagues for the next several years.
  • How organized is my interview time? Certainly faculty might have to reschedule, but generally, students consider the flow of the whole process. Applicants do not overlook major glitches because any slip ups could be a sign that the program does not run smoothly in other aspects as well.
  • With whom am I interviewing?  Do candidates interview with the department chairman or an instructor? There’s a big difference in candidates’ eyes. It clues them in on attitudes regarding how the program values its residents and the candidate.
  • What is the relationship among the staff, directors, coordinators, chairman, and residents? Although overt camaraderie is apparent, applicants can easily pick up on the degree of respect shown among all program staff.    
  • Does the overall value of the program system match with mine? Of course, the reputation of the program drives candidates to initially apply. During the interview experience, candidates will be on the look out for indications about the how professional a program is, how the educational goals are met, and how challenges are ethically resolved.  
  • What are my chances for a fellowship at this institution? Many medical students are already focused on life after residency. They will ask about recent awards and grants, research and subspecialty opportunities, and even future positions. These things are important to them, and interviewers should address the topic openly.   
  • Will I (and my family) like it here? Applicants want to know what living in the area is like, regardless of whether you’re located in a large city or tiny town. Candidates want information on housing, recreational activities, family support, the singles’ scene. A poor match up can be a deal-breaker for the most promising applicant.  

Consider the applicants’ viewpoint, and leave them with the best impression of your program. Make your program stand out as favorably to them as it does to your own institution!    

For additional guidance, the American Association of Medical Colleges offers an excellent procedure called “Steps in the FindAResident Process.”


Sally T. Miller
Fellowship Administrator
Department of Medicine
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Charlottesville, VA

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