What Should I Wear for a Residency Interview?

Daniel J. Egan, MD

Disclosures

November 12, 2013

Question:

I have residency interviews now. What should I wear? What should I bring?

Response from Daniel J. Egan, MD
Associate Residency Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY

The first thing I'd like to say is, "Congratulations!" I hope that your interview season goes well. I remember that time very well. It is a time in medical school when interviews are the topic of conversation. Everyone wants to know where you have applied and where you are interviewing. It can be a stressful time, but it can also be one of the most exciting times in your medical career. You have the opportunity to travel, visit new cities, meet other medical students from around the country who are interested in the same things as you, and learn about the various residency programs in your chosen specialty. It is also another transition point in your medical career that requires a round of interviews. They won't be your last, for in a few short years you will go through the process again when you are looking for your first job (or fellowship).

Your question today is what to wear and what to bring with you on interview day. Although there are no clear rules about this, I think that it is safe to assume that there are accepted norms for interview day.

What to wear. Having gone through my own interview process and then during the 4 years of my residency having the chance to "meet the applicants" each season, I can safely say that most applicants wear a suit. This is gender nonspecific. On the whole, I can probably count on a single hand the number of times that I saw an applicant wearing something other than formal attire. A suit is the safe thing to wear. We have all heard stories of applicants who chose not to follow the norm. Certainly the person who does not follow the unwritten but accepted strict "rules" will be remembered, but it is questionable whether that is a good reason to be remembered. That being said, a former chief resident of the residency program where I trained departed from the norm. He did wear a suit to his interview day, but he added purple plastic clogs to the outfit. This was intentional and not because of luggage lost with the airlines (which certainly has happened to applicants and is understood if you are unfortunate enough to experience it). Despite his "unique" accessories, he obviously went on to do very well and convince the faculty that what he had to say and his previous accomplishments were much more valuable than the shoes he chose to wear. It worked for him.

For most people, however, taking a risk is probably not the right thing to do with your appearance because you only have one chance to make a first impression. That first impression can be on your entrance into the waiting area when you meet the residency secretary (by far one of the most important individuals you will meet that day) or as you enter the room to meet your interviewer. People are impressionable and it is in your favor to have your appearance create a positive impression as opposed to one that calls anything into question.

What to bring? There is probably no right answer to this question, and you may get different advice depending on whom you ask. Through most of my interviews (medical school, residency, and ultimately for a job), I found that I always brought many things with me but infrequently used any of them. However, I am a believer in the idea that I would have rather have something on hand if I am asked for it than to be without it. For instance, although you put all of your vital information into your residency application (most of you did this through the electronic application called ERAS), some of the faculty interviewers may not have had the opportunity to look through everything carefully. Additionally, it is always possible that an interviewer cancelled at the last minute and the person filling in does not know your file. They may ask to see your curriculum vitae (CV), which is slightly easier to navigate than the pages of material they get from ERAS. So, having several copies of your CV printed on professional stationery is a good idea. Furthermore, this allows you to have updates in case something has happened since you submitted your applications. Perhaps you won an award or gave a lecture that was not in your initial ERAS material. If you wanted to bring that up or let them know, it could be a way to transition into giving the interviewer your CV (which always has a nice professional feel to it). However, I would advise you to only give it to the person if they ask or if it makes sense at the time. If you have a dialogue about something that was not on your application, it may not be necessary to also supply a written copy.

Many of you and your colleagues have worked hard to have abstracts or full papers published. When I interviewed, I always brought a copy of those with me. Research always comes up and if the conversation is stimulating and the interviewer seems interested, you could provide them with a copy of your article. This would be something for them to look at more closely after you have left.

If you have brought something, be careful about immediately offering it to the interviewer. I have had students walk into my interview and throw down copies of their most recent publication. Although some might find that academically productive, it is also possible to put off your interviewer if you exude a certain confidence that may be thought to border on arrogance.

Ultimately, however, my thoughts are that as you go through the interview process, you need to be able to discuss anything on your CV. If you have hard copies of items you have listed, it is probably worthwhile to bring them with you. You never know what you will be asked, although deep down I think it is unlikely to happen during your interview season.

By far the most important things to bring with you to your interview are answers that you have practiced in your head, as well as several questions that you can ask. There is nothing better than a prepared interviewee. Having been on the interviewer side of things, there is a somewhat fine line between an applicant who is confident and able to easily answer questions and the applicant who sounds rehearsed. However, the worst thing when meeting an interviewee is giving them the opportunity to ask questions and encountering silence or the phrase, "I don't think I have any questions; everything has been answered for me." As the applicant, you should always have questions ready that you want to ask. This shows that you have prepared for your interview, have researched the program, and are genuinely interested. I would recommend general questions that you ask to each site you visit and then site-specific questions that show the faculty member that you have investigated their program seriously. Interviewers want to meet and ultimately choose residents who are interested in their program. Anything you can do to give them the sense that this is not just another practice interview but one that you have taken seriously will put you in a better place than someone who seems disinterested.

All in all, it is a stressful time, but all applicants get stressed. You are not alone if you are feeling that way. Try to bring your true personality with you and simultaneously convince your interviewers that you are likeable, hard working, and someone with whom they would like to work. If you can do that, you will succeed. Good luck and have a good time.

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