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Top 20 Residency Interview Questions (and how to answer them)

While you can’t predict exactly what questions you’ll get in any given interview, you can (and should) prepare for the majority of the most common residency interview questions.
Top 20 Residency Interview Questions (and how to answer them)

There are some questions and topics that you are almost certain to get, especially if you go on a number of interviews.

These are questions that are asked frequently because they focus on the information most important to interviewers in evaluating your fit for their residency program.

Here we’ll provide an overview of the most common residency interview questions and why interviewers ask them.

This will help you understand the big picture of what to expect and what you’re in for.

You’ll then have a better sense of which questions you want to spend more time preparing for.

We’ve divided the key residency interview questions into a few categories to help you navigate them.

Most Common Residency Interview Questions

There are some residency questions that you are likely to get in most of your interviews — even the informal ones.

That’s because these questions are well-known ways to learn more about your key experience, goals, and personality.

Your interviewers were probably asked variations on these questions when they were interviewing for residency — whether it was last year or many years ago.

These questions really get at the information the program needs to know to determine if you’re a better fit than all those other great applicants.

We strongly recommend preparing thoughtfully for each of these.

These questions may be asked with different phrasing in different interviews, but they WILL be asked.

1. Tell me about yourself (or some variation)

Most interviews start with some variation of “Tell me about yourself.” It’s an easy way for the interviewer to get you talking about your background.

They are looking for the highlights of your background, here. This should be mainly professional highlights, but with some personal details as well.

You’ll find that interviewers have different interests in asking this question. Some want your elevator pitch of professional accomplishments. Others have already reviewed your application in detail and are looking for more get-to-know-you details.

This question is tricky because it’s so open-ended. It can be hard to find the balance of professional and personal, to sound confident without sounding arrogant, and to stay focused on the most relevant information.

However, if you prepare well, this question is a terrific opportunity to tell your story and highlight what you want them to know about you. And it’s a great way to start the interview strong.

We have two very in-depth lessons on the “Tell Me About Yourself” question in our Big Interview Medical curriculum which will help you outline an excellent, compelling answer.

2. Why this program?

This is also a really important question to answer well. In every interview, you will be asked some questions about your interest in that program.

It makes sense that they want to rank the applicants who are most passionate about the program and motivated to succeed there.

Most program directors say that “fit” is their biggest consideration in ranking applicants.

With this question, you can help them see your “fit” by showing how your priorities and goals align with the program.

No residency program wants to be your fall-back, just-in-case option.

3. Why this specialty?

Naturally, they will also be interested in evaluating your fit for the specialty. Are you truly committed to this specialty and do you have the skills and temperament to succeed in it?

This question is particularly important if your commitment to the specialty isn’t obvious from your CV — either because you decided on it recently or perhaps are applying to different specialties.

4. What are your future career goals? Or where do you see yourself in 10 years?

There are other variations on this, but they’re all trying to get a sense of your long-term career plans.

Do you already have a sub-specialty in mind? Do you have a strong interest in pursuing research?

It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet. However, you do want to demonstrate that you have given some thought to the future –and that this program aligns with your career goals.

5. What are your greatest strengths? Or Why should we pick you?

We strongly recommend that you prepare to talk about your strengths, what sets you apart. Most interviews will include some question along these lines.

Other common variations include, “What would you bring to the program?,” “What qualities make you a good physician?,” and “What sets you apart from other applicants?”

This question is your chance to summarize your key selling points. Most people don’t take full advantage of this opportunity.

6. What are your weaknesses?

On the flip side of strengths, many interviewers will ask about your greatest weaknesses.

This can be a really tricky question. It’s very easy to go wrong and either blurt out something too self-deprecating or dodge the question with bland generalities.

Next, let’s talk about…

Experience Residency Interview Questions

Typically, a good portion of the interview is spent discussing the details of your background.

You should be prepared to talk about absolutely anything in your application. You never know what an interviewer will focus on.

Most of these are fairly straightforward. They just want to get to know more about you and your experience.

Some of the common experience questions include:

    7. Why did you choose your medical school?
    8. What was your favorite rotation?
    9. What was your least favorite rotation?
    10. Tell me about your research experience.
    11. Tell me about your volunteer experience.

Other experience questions are a bit trickier. If you have anything that could be perceived as a weakness in your application, they will probably ask about it.

And these can be tricky questions to answer gracefully. You may need to explain a negative in a way that counters concerns without coming across as defensive.

Some examples of these tricky experience questions are:

    12. What’s the story with this gap since medical school?
    13. What’s the story with your USMLE scores or attempts?
    14. Why did you get this grade in this rotation or clerkship?
    15. Why did you take time off during medical school?
    16. Why didn’t you attend a U.S. medical school? (often asked of U.S. students who attended an international medical school)
    17. Why did you move to the U.S. or Why do you want to pursue a residency in the US? (for international medical graduates)
    18. Why didn’t you match previously?

We have worked with many coaching clients on addressing these tricky questions in a confident and convincing way.

The key is to be prepared to address the issue neutrally and with confidence, not get too caught up in over-explaining, which can sound defensive, or be too self-deprecating.

They want to hear that there was a good reason for the blip in your application — and feel assured that you have learned from it and will have no issues excelling during residency and passing board exams.

Inside Big Interview Medical

We have created separate lessons in Big Interview Medical that contain specific advice and examples related to how to handle some of the most common challenges that come up with these questions.
Learn More

Behavioral & Situational Residency Interview Questions

You will also get some behavioral and situational questions along the way. The Association of American Medical Colleges recommends that programs use behavioral and situational questions as much as possible in residency interviews.

More and more programs now incorporate these questions, though you may not get them in a very informal or conversational interview.

Behavioral questions are those that begin with “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…”

They dig into the applicant’s past experiences as a way to understand how they might perform as a resident.

For example: 19. “Tell me about a time you had to make a tough decision…”

Behavioral questions work well because they draw out detailed information about key accomplishments and approaches to work.

Situational questions relate to hypothetical situations. “What would you do if…..?” questions.

For example: 20. “Imagine you witnessed a colleague behaving inappropriately at work. What would you do?”

These are less common than behavioral questions and harder to prepare for.

Residency Questions – Personality

Finally, most interviews include some “get-to-know-you” questions — about your hobbies, interests, and personality.

The most common are pretty straightforward — like:
21. “What do you like to do outside of work?”

But you’re also likely to get at least 1 or 2 quirky questions. These are often asked as a way to get you away from prepared answers and really get to know you.

The problem is that people can easily freeze up in an interview situation and have a hard time with these.

Residency Questions – Medicine

These tend to be more philosophical than technical.

Some interviewers will ask for your thoughts on the future of medicine or the future of your specialty. Or perhaps about a current trend or issue in the field.

They might dig into your thoughts about issues related to your research or a recent rotation.

For international applicants, the focus might be on the differences between practicing medicine in their home country, versus within the U.S. healthcare system.

It can be difficult to wax philosophical spontaneously in an interview. We recommend thinking a bit about these questions in case you get one.

That’s the end of our overview of the most common residency interview questions. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t worry! Our Big Interview Medical Curriculum is specifically designed to help you answer all of these questions. We’re here to help you succeed!

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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