Written by Pamela Skillings, top interview coach — named "a guru in the world of job interviews” by The Wall Street Journal
Before we start tackling the really intense stuff, let’s take a moment to go over some of the basics.
You may be wondering why you should invest your time and other resources into preparing for your residency interviews.
Simply put; everyone who is invited to an interview is technically qualified. You all look good on paper and meet the requirements.
So what makes you stand out?
That’s going to be the million dollar question you’ll be able to answer with your interview.
This is your opportunity to show--with your stories, body language, personality, and experiences--that you are absolutely the best candidate and should be their #1 pick.
There’s a lot of information out there about how to prepare for interviews. Don’t be misled by the well-meaning advice to just “be yourself” and “not over think it.”
You do of course want to be yourself, but a more polished, confident, and prepared version of yourself.
And of course overthinking and causing yourself anxiety isn’t helpful.
But thorough, mindful preparation makes the difference between being #1 and having to settle for something that isn’t quite what you were hoping for.
We’ve seen it countless times in the 10 years we have been working with clients to prepare for residency interviews.
We’ve helped clients match with great residency programs even when they did not seem like the best candidate on paper or were facing some major challenges.
- Low test scores
- Limited experience in the US
- Struggles with nerves or low self-confidence
- Past failures to match
- Gaps after medical school.
You don’t have to tackle this alone. We can help you knock it out of the park too, so read on!
Behavioral questions have become very common in all interviews. You may not get them in all residency and fellowship interviews, but you will get them in some.
With our approach, you will be prepared for any that come your way.
A behavioral question are those that start with, “tell me about a time…” or “give me an example of…”
They are meant to test your skill in different competencies (leadership, teamwork, problem solving, etc.) and predict how you will respond to a situation in the future based on how you handled things in the past.
In a recent survey by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), residency program directors said that the top qualities they are looking for are professionalism, integrity, interpersonal and communication skills, and reliability and dependability.
Not surprisingly, the most common behavioral questions for residents have to do with these desired competencies.
You can expect some questions about the following:
As humans, we tend to absorb and remember information best when it is presented to us in a story.
The answers you give to behavioral questions are stories. True stories from your work history that illustrate your key competencies in a way that will really stick with the interviewer.
Spend some time thinking back on your work experiences.
Brainstorm situations you were in where you had to use your problem solving, leadership, communication, or any other skills.
Once you have a few good stories, you’ll want to flesh them out using the STAR approach.
Naturally, you’ll start with Part 1, S/T, which is all about the Situation/Task.
The idea here is to give the interviewer some context, some background. Just what they need to know to make the rest of the story make sense.
Resist the temptation to go into too much detail. This is where it’s easy to get bogged down with irrelevant information and veer your question off course.
You only need to clarify your role and ensure understanding of the difficulty, complexity, and/or size of the challenge.
You are providing a foundation so the rest of the story makes sense. What were you trying to achieve and why?
Approach: The A--Approach-- part of your story is where you describe the actions you took to complete the task, solve the problem, address the issue, or improve the situation.
Why did you do what you did? What was the strategy behind it?
This will help show what you're like on the job, how you approach things, and how you think.
In this section, you’ll want to mention relevant skills used and competencies demonstrated, because this can really help to underline your abilities and your strengths.
Again, stay focused on key details and avoid going off on tangents.
Results: The final part of your answer is your results. Every good story has a happy ending. You need to emphasize a positive outcome for this story.
This not only shows that you're results oriented, but it also ends your answer in a nice, crisp, confident way.
If you have tangible results, mention those first.
These could be patients treated, problems solved, efficiency increased--or anything that you can talk about that is tangible.
If you don’t have tangible results, anecdotal results are just as effective. Not every story comes with measurable outcomes.
You can also cite positive feedback from the attending or from a patient, experiences gained, skills learned, or relationships that were improved.
Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to your results.
Outlining your stories, especially defining your R, will help ensure you’re highlighting your experience and accomplishments to your best advantage.
Now that you have a nice, tight STAR story that shows you in your best light, you need to define which competencies were demonstrated in each example.
This will help you categorize your stories and know when to use which examples when asked a behavioral question.
It is great to have stories that are multipurpose, but you have to know which stories are the best fits for each competency area.