The other side of the interview chair: an intern’s perspective

by Kaley Capitano, DO

The holidays. A joyous time full of spirit-lifting decorations, delicious seasonal treats, and opening day at the ski resorts. It’s generally a time filled with celebration and family, but for one subset of medical students it’s the most stressful time of the year: interview season. As fourth year medical students we are provided endless guides and how-to’s for interview day. It is drilled into us like soldiers at boot camp that we must have insightful program-specific questions ready to ask at a moment’s notice. “Your academic history no longer matters,” we are told, “The interview is to show how well you fit in with the program.” But when our entire preparation up until this point has always been about our academic achievements and accolades, how do we switch gears and reflect our desirability from a more personal level? What are the interviewers really looking for in our answers?  

As an intern sitting on the other side of the interview chair, I suddenly had an “Ohhh” moment. It became clear to me what I was trying to glean from the interview and how the more skilled applicants separated themselves from the pack. This blog serves as a guide for future applicants to get into the mind of an interviewer and understand how to rock-it come interview day.

As much as it’s about what you say, it’s more about how you say it.

Can you effectively communicate complex insight into various questions? We want to see that you can synthesize your experiences and take them a step deeper. You should be able to explain multiple lessons a particular experience taught you while ultimately framing it in a way that exemplifies appealing traits in a family physician. We expect that your position as vice president of an interest club taught you leadership skills, teamwork, and time-management. Force yourself to find a specific experience as VP that challenged you. Perhaps there was a good lesson about mitigating conflict between clashing personalities? About having to go along with a plan you didn’t fully agree with? About taking on more than you could chew and needing to reach out for help? Whatever the lesson may be, find one.

A great resource for the attributes valued in Family Medicine can be found in the book The Successful Match 2017: Rules for Success in the Residency Match by Rajani Katta. I am not affiliated with this text but found it immensely helpful when preparing for the match. There are specific chapters dedicated to interview preparation including which attributes are most valued by the various specialties. I highly recommend looking at these traits and findings way to exemplify them through your personal experiences.

Another important interview skill relates to the cliché “actions speak louder than words.” Find a way to show the message you are trying to convey through specific examples. Equally as important, you should have more than one example for each attribute you are trying to convey. A particular applicant I interviewed used one experience to answer all of my questions. While it was a great experience that exemplified various positive traits in the applicant, it made them appear a bit unilateral and unable to synthesize equally valuable experiences more deeply. You don’t have to be the leader or a club or speaker at a conference to show valuable traits. Even an experience as a side member on a project or working with a group studying in the library has the potential to exemplify value.  

When it comes to how you choose to interpret and answer the question, there is no algorithm for the perfect answer. Every applicant has different experiences which dictate their responses. The applicants that set themselves apart are the ones who can show active growth and development regardless of how straightforward or simple an experience seems. At the end of the day, it really is about the program getting an overall idea of who you are as an individual – we want to see that you are more than just a medical machine. You are also our potential future coworker. We want to know that we’ll enjoy working with you for the next few years. Showing us your specific interests and goals shows us you are a dynamic future physician.

Lastly – and you’ve been told this a million times – relax. Your scores, academic history, and letters of recommendation are the reason that you have been granted an interview. The interviewer cares less about those metrics and more about how well you can communicate and what you choose to communicate. Be yourself, be conversational, but come prepared having anticipated the various questions (again, the red book by Katta is an excellent resource for this). Remember that the match is designed to benefit you as the applicant. You are ultimately choosing the program that most closely matches your needs. In the end, you hold the power.  

Kaley Capitano is a first-year Family Medicine resident at The University of Utah. She completed her medical training at Midwestern University in Phoenix Arizona and graduated with a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis. Her professional interests include Sports Medicine, LQBTQ+ care, and in-office procedures. In her spare time she enjoys an array of outdoor sports, curling up on the couch with a good sci-fi book, and spending time with her husband & rescue dog Jazzy.

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