Interviewing for Residency

As you prepare for interviews, try to enjoy the process as much as possible. Reflect on your strengths. Ask hard questions of programs. Interviewing for residency is as much of an opportunity for you to interview programs, as for programs to interview you.

Your main objectives while interviewing for residency:

  1. Determine how well programs meet your goals and how compatible you are with programs
  2. Demonstrate your compatibility with programs to those who interview you: program directors, faculty, residents, and staff
  3. Assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of programs

Ultimately, your goal is to gain enough information to create a solid rank order list.

The Skill of Interviewing

  • Make a list of your strengths, goals, values, accomplishments, and abilities. You can reference these in almost any interview situation.
  • Identify the top 5 key things you want programs to know about you. What makes you a good candidate? What makes you unique?
  • Always be professional, personable, and courteous when interacting with everyone connected to residency programs, including administrative staff.
  • Maintain eye contact as best you can.
  • Think about the impression you want to convey and do your best to convey it. Many interviews are loosely structured so you may need to take the initiative to bring forward who you are and what is important to you.

These questions seek to address the skills, characteristics, and insight of a strong resident, such as leadership, adaptability, problem-solving, and commitment to health equity.

Suggested format to answer behavioral questions:

  1. Situation: Describe the situation with just enough details to set the scene – the task given to you or needed workplace details.
  2. Task: Describe the issue or problem were you confronted with.
  3. Action: Describe what you did to intervene in the situation or solve the problem. This is where you talk about the characteristic/skill/asset you want to illustrate.
  4. Result: Describe the results of your action. Explain how you helped solve the problem or improve the situation.

Sample Behavioral Questions: Tell us about:

  • A time you collaborated on a team to solve a challenging problem.
  • A time you felt connected to your passions in medicine.
  • A time you had a conflict with a team member and how you responded to it.
  • An experience that demonstrated how you managed competing priorities.
  • A team experience in which you demonstrated leadership to effect change.
  • A difficult decision you’ve made in the last year.
  • A time you tried to accomplish something and failed.
  • A situation in which you worked effectively under pressure.

Tell Us About Yourself

  • Tell us a little about yourself and why you think you would be a good fit with this program?
  • What do you see as your top 2-3 strengths? What do you see as your areas of growth?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?
  • How do you like to spend your free time? Tell us about a couple of your personal interests.
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • You mentioned XYZ in your personal statement or your application. Tell us more about it and how it has shaped your interest in this specialty?


  • Why are you interested in this specialty?
  • What most interests you about our program?
  • How do you see your passions and interests connecting in this specialty?
  • What do you think are some of the areas of greatest impact in this specialty?
  • What challenges might you anticipate as a resident in this specialty and what ideas do you have to address them?
  • How would you describe this specialty in two words?
  • Tell us about a patient case that you found interesting and what you learned from it.

Career Planning

  • Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten years?
  • Describe two professional goals and how you see this program helping you achieve them?
  • What types of future healthcare challenges are you most interested in?
  • How do you see research fitting into your career goals?
  • How do you see a fellowship fitting into your career goals?

Cultural Competency

  • Tell me about an instance when you have demonstrated leadership or commitment to equity in your work.
  • Tell us about an experience with a patient whose background was different than your own. What did you learn from them and how did it impact you moving forward?
  • What does a commitment to diversity, equity, and belonging mean to you and how have you demonstrated this during your time in medical school?
  • What is your approach to working with patients from underrepresented communities and what or who has informed your approach?
  • What have you done to further your knowledge or understanding about diverse patient populations? How have you applied your learning?
  • What are some strategies you use to advocate for the challenges faced by patients of underrepresented communities in this specialty?

Addressing Red Flags/Concerns in Your Application

  • Tell us about this challenge you had in your academic record (e.g. a Step fail, a clerkship fail, expansion) and what you learned from it?
  • You have spent most of your life on the West Coast. What compels you to think about moving across the country? (addressing geographic concerns)

Prepare 3-4 Patient Cases

  • Be ready to articulate what you learned from these experiences. Do not use the same case/s you wrote about in your personal statement.
    • One that you found interesting or complex
    • One that was challenging
    • One in which you had a significant learning experience
    • One that demonstrates your ability to effectively work on a team

This exercise, adapted from UWSOM Family Medicine Advising, is designed to help you prepare for the answer to the introduction ‘Tell me about yourself?’ interview question.

Some version of this question is the most commonly asked opening interview question. The question is intended as an icebreaker that gives the interviewer enough information about you and your background and interests to start a longer conversation.

Further, make sure you also have a well-thought-out answer to the corresponding question: ‘Why do you want to work in this specialty?’

Prepare Your Two-Minute Drill

Make this opening answer personal; you don’t need to follow the suggestions exactly. In practicality, you may have 10 minutes of material rehearsed that will allow you to mold your answer to any situation.

This does not have to be talked through in order from top to bottom. Play with it and find a format that works for you.

  • First 15 seconds: briefly review your background and who you are. Focus your content to be specialty-specific and program-specific.
  • Next 30 seconds: review your educational background, undergraduate degree, work experience, and life experience
  • Next 30 seconds: review special attributes from medical school, such as leadership positions, specialty experience, or other experiences that led you to the decision for this specialty
  • Final 15 seconds: review why you’re interested in this residency specifically and what attracted you to this place here and now

What are your areas of growth/weaknesses?

Use an example that you can turn into a positive trait.

  • “I am very detailed-oriented. For example, my history and physicals notes are quite comprehensive. After talking with my mentor, I am figured out how to streamline them.”
  • “I can be soft-spoken, and I like to think through what I say before I offer an opinion. Some people may wish I were more outspoken, but I think that my style can help patients feel at ease. I also hope that this trait keeps me from jumping too quickly to a diagnosis when I have a patient with a complex presentation of symptoms.”
  • “Sometimes I find it difficult to delegate work to others. For example, at patient sign-out. I would much rather finish things up myself then let someone else do it.”

Tell us about your Step or Clerkship Fail

  • “I learned a lot from this experience. When I began medical school, I quickly became involved in the pediatric interest group, as well as a group providing care to urban underserved communities. I also helped organize student panels on health care reform. I have a lot of interests so it was difficult at first for me to realize that I couldn’t pursue them all. These involvements took away from time I could have used to study. After I failed Step One, I worked hard to prioritize my studying, seek academic support and I went on to receive a good score when I retook Step One.”
  • “My family was going through a crisis at this time and I was struggling to balance supporting them and being fully present to the demands of the clerkship. After I failed the clerkship I had to reset and reflect on what I needed to do differently to ensure I could jump right in to learning and fully participating on the team. I worked closely with my mentor and the School’s student support team to prepare to retake the clerkship and I ended up doing really well the second time. While this was a difficult experience for me I learned so much about myself and I am a stronger person for it.”

In the United States, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of age, medical information, height, and weight, race, ethnicity, or color, gender or sex, citizenship, religion, disability, marital or family status, or pregnancy. If you are asked questions about any of these issues, you are not required to answer them. One way to approach this is to briefly answer and then send a follow-up email to the Program Director letting them know what occurred.

If you do choose to respond, you can try to deflect by saying:

  • “My career is my priority right now.”
  • “My focus is on my residency education. I have also been someone who has been able to juggle multiple responsibilities at once.”
  • “I am curious to learn how you manage family/how you negotiated family leave/etc.”

Familiarize yourself with each program’s website and don’t include questions that are already answered on the site. When asking questions, you could begin with, “I found your website very informative. Your description of “x” was particularly helpful. I wanted to get your perspective on a few additional things.

  • What do you think are your program’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What proportion of time is spent in general vs subspecialty rotations?
  • How much elective time is there throughout the residency training and when can it be scheduled? (i.e. PGY-2 vs PGY-3)
  • How are residents evaluated? How are they given feedback?
  • Are there opportunities for teaching? Can you tell me about them?
  • Are residents permitted or encouraged to attend regional or national medical conferences? Are there funds available for this?
  • What percent of residents enter fellowships and how does this program prepare them?
  • What kind of community outreach projects might we be involved in?
  • Does the residency offer any formal exposure to healthcare policy and management?
  • Is there a formal seminar series? Can you tell me about it and what you are most proud of?


Preparing for Residency Interview Season

The interview season is the period of time after application materials are submitted and before rank order lists are due. The season generally takes place November through January, with some starting in October and others occurring in February.

On average, students take 4-8 weeks off from clinical rotations to conduct residency interviews.

NOTE: You must follow all policies in the UWSOM Medical Education Program Handbook, especially the:

Every specialty has its own timeline for offering interviews and for conducting interviews:

  • Specialty Guides provide specialty-specific recommendations for the number of interviews to aim for by a particular timeframe. Typically the target number is around 10-12.
    • Find this information under the ‘Residency Application Planning’ section of the Specialty Guides
  • NRMP Program Director Survey provides data on when interviews are typically offered and conducted (in non-COVID years).
  • NRMP Charting Outcomes in the Match provides data on the likelihood of matching based on contiguous ranks. The more contiguous ranks you have in one specialty, the higher the probability of matching in that specialty.

Follow the recommendation of your Specialty Career Advisor regarding the number of interviews you need for your specialty and manage your interview schedule accordingly. You can find SCA recommendations in the ‘Residency Application Planning’ section of the Specialty Guides.

General Recommendations:

  • For detailed questions about interview season, visit Interview Season FAQs
  • Create a dedicated email account that receives only ERAS-related information for use during interview season
  • Respond immediately to interview offers when they come in
    • If you are on rotation patients always come first
  • Consider scheduling the interviews for programs you are most excited about in the middle of your interview calendar
  • Apply to enough programs to account for the possibility that you may have to turn down some offers
  • Sometimes interview dates will conflict with one another. Send a professional email to the person coordinating interviews, informing them of your situation. They may be able to help rearrange the schedule.
  • As you accept early interviews, know that you can always cancel later if you are offered more than you can reasonably attend, or receive invitations to programs for which you have a greater interest
  • Some specialties may extend interview offers on a national release date
  • Some specialties offer one interview date, and they may only allow for 2-4 interview days in total per season

Responding to Interview Offers

By late September you should plan to have consistent and reliable cell service and email access. As soon as programs have access to your applications be prepared to respond to interview invitations immediately. You may end up on a waitlist if you are late with a response.

Interviews will be scheduled in a variety of ways, with several using third-party scheduling systems. Become familiar with the various scheduling tools used by programs. This information is typically available on individual program websites.

Proactively Planning for Cell/Wi-Fi Access Disruption

It is important to retain reliable Wi-Fi/cell access during interview season. In the event that you will be away from reliable service during interview offer season, designate a family member or friend to serve as your “booking agent.”

This person will need to have access to your email addresses, ERAS account, and your schedule so that they can respond immediately to interview offers.

Communicate your priorities to this person so they know how to best schedule your interviews.

Canceling Interviews

Canceling interviews in an inappropriate way can have significant negative consequences for you, your colleagues, UWSOM, and next year’s applicants:

  1. If you decide to cancel interviews, do so as early as possible. Give a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice to the program when canceling, and at minimum, no less than 1 weeks’ notice. Last-minute cancellations create a negative perception of students from UW and can leave consequences for UW students both this year and next year.
  2. Communicate your decision to cancel to the primary contact person for the residency program via phone or email. Be respectful and to the point – something along the lines of, “After considering the programs further, I have decided to cancel my interview with xxxx program. Thank you for the invitation and I wish you the best in the Match process.”

Please give serious consideration to your approach to canceling interviews as you move through the process.

Approach virtual interviews with the same formality as you would for an in-person interview.

Respond promptly to any required pre-interview or supplemental application components, as required by specific programs

Before Interviewing:

Research programs and salient characteristics

  • Programs may send you digital program materials
  • Review program websites

Gather information about all aspects of your interviews and prepare your technology:

  • Live or Asynchronous Interview?
    • Live: real-time video conferencing to connect you with an interviewer
    • Asynchronous: record your responses via webcam, to be shared with reviewers at a later time
  • Video platform being used
  • Number of interviewers
  • Interview length
  • Be prepared to ask questions. Avoid questions answered on program websites
Prepare your interview location and test technology well before your interviews. Make sure:
  • You have a reliable and stable internet connection
  • Your computer or tablet has a good quality webcam and microphone
  • If possible, use a computer or tablet instead of a mobile phone
  • Your interview environment is private, well-lit, quiet, free from distractions, and is located where you can control the background noise (no public spaces)
  • Identify a backup plan if technology fails
On the day of the interview:
  • Present your best self by being well-rested and focused
  • Present yourself well – conservative attire is a safe bet (dark solid colors suits, blazers)
  • Test your technology prior to logging into the interview
    • Shut down other computer programs so that no alerts or notifications will disrupt you
    • Camera, microphone, and internet connection are working properly
    • Your device is fully charged, ideally plugged into a socket
  • Have relevant interviews materials in front of you for easy reference
  • Arrive to the interview 5 minutes early
  • Treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness
  • Make notes of your impressions during and after the interview – details will start to blur as you complete more interviews
Present a Great Impression on a Video Interview:
  • Angle the camera slightly downward
  • Look into the camera when speaking. This improves the perception of eye contact
  • Avoid watching yourself when speaking – close the self-view window if necessary
  • Sit still, lean forward, and keep hands still
  • Rely on facial reactions, instead of distracting hand gestures. Use exaggerated face and body animations to better communicate in the virtual environment
  • Speak slower than normal. Take your time to provide thoughtful responses
Make Your Environment Look Good:
  • Have adequate lighting
  • Select a neutral background
  • Notes should be within easy reach and limit the sound of paper shuffling

Consider all practical options for securing a quiet, distraction-free space with reliable internet coverage from which you can conduct interviews. 

  • In partnership with the UW Libraries, the main UW Career Center has created a page of tips on access to technology and Wi-Fi    
  • Students can use Wi-Fi on UW campus or via any campus that uses Eduroam, a secure, encrypted Wi-Fi network.  If you are near UW or any other university/college campus that uses this network, you should be able to connect.   

If you are in Seattle during interview season, consider either of these spaces for interviews:

  • South Campus Center (SCC)
    • Open 7 days a week between Sept. 3 – Dec. 13, 2021
    • 7:00 am – 10:00 pm excluding holidays and holiday weekends (11/9-11/11, 11/28-12/1).
    • While the building hours will stay the same, all health sciences students can now access the building via the second-floor doors located off the middle level of the S-1 parking garage. Although classrooms will remain locked, students are welcome in the open lounge areas or in the study rooms on a first-come, first-served basis.
    • Click for more information
  • Main-campus UW Career & Internship Center has private/quiet rooms that students can reserve for virtual interviews.

If you have exhausted all options and continue to have concerns about your internet connection or the environment during interview season, contact  Career Advising for assistance. We will do our best to assist.  

For detailed questions about sending thank you notes and other post-interview communication, visit Interview Season FAQs

General Recommendations

  • Many programs discourage post-interview communication unless you have a specific follow-up question or you want to communicate your commitment to one particular program. Ask your Specialty Career Advisor for advice if you have a specific question about this.
  • Be aware of the NRMP Guidelines for Post Interview Communication.


A Note on Social Media

Maintain a professional and appropriate presence on your social media channels, as programs will review these sites to learn more about those they are interviewing. Consider changing your privacy settings to private, or self-censor your posts.

UW School of Medicine Students are expected to comply with the Social Media Networking Policy and Guidelines set forth by UW Medicine.

For more information: Federation of State Medical Boards’ Social Media and Electronic Communications Guide.