My very first interview was in a community program in Texas. I prepared for this interview in the usual way that most IMGs do. I showed up at the interview thinking I was prepared. And I made a ton of mistakes. In fact, one of the attending told me during the interview that he did not think I was interested in the program at all and I had wasted his and my time interviewing at the program. And he was right.
I had managed to secure 11 interviews despite my low scores and other red flags. I still had ten other chances to improve my interview performance. I prepared better for subsequent interviews including my social skills and answers to common and tricky interview questions. I did much better in the next interview and with each passing interview, I learned new techniques to get better at interviewing.
But what if I didn’t get 11 interviews? What if I had just one or two more interviews?
As an IMG with low scores, needing a visa and limited research experience, I could not afford to make any more mistakes.
And neither can you.
You don’t have to make the same mistakes as I did. You can learn about my unconventional interview preparation here. By the end of this article, you will know some very powerful tricks that learned during my interviewing journey and you can start using in your very first interview.
These tricks will put you in a very good light in front of other IMGs (and AMGs too) who interview at the same program.
Here are some tricks to ace the interviews.
1. Thank the program coordinator.
We are so focused on impressing the PD, attendings, chief residents that we forget this one very important person in the program.
She is the first person you came in contact with in the program. Before the attendings, PD, residents or anyone else, you heard from her. She set up the interview for you, she booked your room in the hotel you stayed last night and she has made sure your visit to the program is well taken care of.
She is also going to talk to the program director after the interview day is over to let him know you came by to thank her.
When I was interviewing for residency, I would always go to the coordinator’s office and personally thank her for everything she did and my trip was smooth and enjoyable because of her. After I matched, the program coordinator told me she was touched by my genuine appreciation of her work at the time of the interview.
2. Alway be asking questions.
Asking questions shows you are interested in the program. Questions also lets the interviewers know about your goals and passions. If you ask a question about fellowships after residency, the person interviewing you will know that you are interested in further studies after residency.
A few points to remember about asking questions:
Know what questions to ask who. Questions you ask the residents (after work life in the town, call schedule) may not be appropriate for the program director and vice versa. Reserve specific questions to ask each interviewer. It is okay to repeat same questions with other interviewers to get a different side of the story.
Ask meaningful questions related to the conversation happening . You don’t want to be the silent face in the crowd but you also don’t want to be the obnoxious person asking random questions at random time just for the sake of asking.
If you know the attendings who are going to interview you, look up their information online. Are they involved in some kind of research that you are interested in? Have they traveled to certain countries on a mission trip ? Are they passionate about a hobby that you share too? Ask them about it.
Prepare questions in advance but also pay attention to what is being said to give space for new questions to rise.
3. The power of a conversation piece
You don’t have to absolutely do this. But if there something that points back to an achievement or a hobby or an aspect of your medical school, proudly wear it on your suit jacket. This could be a brooch, tie pin, pen etc. The attendings will ask you about it and will start a conversation. It will also help them remember you.
4. Wear your suit or interview dress before the actual interview.
Can’t tell how many times I have seen candidates who look locked in their suits. Looks like they are wearing a space suit and can barely move in it. Or girls in those high heels killing them after the hospital tour. Your suit. dress and shoes should fit and feel like your second skin. Have it ready well in advance for the interview and wear it for thirty minutes once during the mock interview/practice and once on the night at the hotel before the interview.
5. Prepare an elevator pitch.
This is your personal statement in short.
This is also the answer to the infamous interview questions: “tell me about yourself”
And, this is also your answer when the senior resident asks you what are your hobbies while you guys are chatting during the pre-interview dinner.
It is a short 1-minute intro about where you grew up, what you passion is career wise and what takes up your free time (hobbies, family) when you are not pursuing your career passions. This needs some practice. Record yourself using the sound recorder on your phone. See how long it takes and how you sound. Improve over time. Find a close friend or family member and practice with them.
5. Socialize with five new people a day.
Make this a practice starting now. Don’t wait to test on your conversation skills at the time of the interview. Start early. Say hi to the cashier, person bagging your groceries, the server at the restaurant, the person sitting next to you on the subway or flight . Start up a conversation with them. This will help your social fluency (vocal tonality, body language, remembering names of people) and all other sub-communication that happens even before you start talking
6. Get the content for thank you notes during the interview.
Try to remember one interesting thing about each conversation you had during the interview. For example, you talked about the how primary care is lacking in most parts of the world and possible solutions for it with one attending or you talked about one specific Indian restaurant in New York that sells great chicken tikka masala with a resident – remember that. Mention this when you send them thank-you note after the interview.
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