CaRMS interview prep, just like any other residency interview prep, is an intimidating and daunting process. Most medical school students just do not know where to begin! In addition to researching your programs of choice and practicing with sample residency interview questions, you need to have a competitive edge that will secure your spot at your top-choice residency program. In this blog, we will reveal the secret to acing your CaRMS interview and outline what you need to do to ensure you match to your dream program. We will go over the entire prep process and give you failproof tips for how to ace your CaRMS interview!
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How to Prepare Before You Receive the Invites
You might be wondering why and how you can prepare before your interview invitation even arrives! In fact, this is a very important step in getting ready for your meeting. You may receive very short notices or multiple interview invites, which will make your interview prep even more challenging. This is why starting even before you receive the invite is advisable. This does not mean that you have to spend hours on your CaRMS interview prep, foregoing all your other responsibilities; but it does mean that you should start collecting the necessary information in advance.
For example, depending on how many residency programs you applied to, you might be facing a variety of interview formats. The most common residency interview formats are one-on-one traditional interview, panel interview, and the MMI. Your traditional or panel interviews can be open-file, during which the interviewers have access to your residency application, semi-open, during which the interviews have access to some components of your CaRMS application, and closed-file, during which the interviewers have no access to your application. Your first step in CaRMS interview prep should be figuring out what kind of interview formats and styles the programs of your choice use. To learn all this information, make sure to do the following:
When you find relevant information about your programs’ interview processes, create a spreadsheet where you record this information. This will help you gauge what kind of interview formats you might be facing. Remember, if you are invited to the interview, most programs will send you all this information in the invite, but if you gather it early on and keep track of which program uses which format – you can manage your expectations and start preparing for your interviews in advance.
Knowing this information will also help you research potential residency interview questions. The format of the interview will determine what kind of CaRMS interview questions you should get familiar with, such as MMI questions, traditional questions like "tell me about yourself", and so on. Keep in mind that you do not have to start practicing your answers at this stage. You are just gathering information. Knowing what questions are possible during your interviews will allow you to brainstorm potential talking points. Forewarned is forearmed, so any information you can gather from legitimate resources is greatly helpful in your CaRMS interview prep.
Looking for a summary of what you need to do when you recieve a CaRMS interview invite? This infographic outlines steps clearly:
How to Prepare When You Receive the Invite
Replying to the Invite
Responding to programs and scheduling your interviews is the second step in your CaRMS interview prep. In general, you'll know whether or not you've been invited for an interview from late December to early January. Each program you apply to will update their interview offer status through CaRMS to let you know if you've been selected for an interview or not. If you haven't been selected for an interview, you may receive an explanation from the program but, unfortunately, not all programs inform applicants of why they were not selected.
If you have been selected for an interview, you will receive an email from the program within a few days of your status change in CaRMS, which will confirm your interview and will include information about the interview such as interview type, location, duration, etc. If you don't hear from the program via email by the start of the interview period, between mid- January to mid-February, but your status on CaRMS shows that you've been invited to the interview, be sure to get in touch with the program as you may have been missed from their email list. It's very important to keep this email safe as you'll need to reference this information as you begin scheduling your interviews.
Be sure to reply right away to all email invitations you receive, thanking each program for the opportunity. Some interviews will take the form of a video interview, while others will require you to be there in person. Most programs will give you around three weeks' notice for an in-person interview to allow time for you to make travel and accommodation arrangements. Plan your arrangements carefully!
Check out our MMI interview tips to prepare:
Scheduling Your Interview
Firstly, let’s quickly recap how interview scheduling in CaRMS works.
There is an established interview period for Canadian medical grads (usually from February to March), but the interviews for international medical graduates or IMGs, can take place anytime between the opening of file review (usually late January) and the rank order list deadline (usually late March).
For Canadian grads, CaRMS interview scheduling is very specialty-dependent. Some specialties have a cluster of dates that occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the interview period. Other specialties move from East to West across Canada. Programs typically give candidates a limited range of dates within the interview period they have, and the candidates are allowed to select times and dates within that range on a first come first serve basis. Other programs may simply assign a date to you. If you are invited to multiple interviews and the times conflict, you should contact the programs directly to make arrangements. Most programs will try to accommodate you, but this is not always possible.
Planning Your Travel Arrangements
If you have multiple in-person interviews, plan your interviews in an order that makes sense. For example, you definitely don't want to fly from BC to Newfoundland to Alberta to Nova Scotia all within a couple of days turnaround. Try to schedule your interviews in a way that would allow you to travel east to west or west to east so that you're not doing any unnecessary travel in between. So ideally, your travel route can look like this: Halifax-Toronto-Winnipeg; or Vancouver-Calgary-St. John’s. Interview season can be exhausting, so make sure you simplify the areas that are within your control.
It's also advisable to arrive at your destinations at least a day before your interview. First, this is a good idea as many programs will have socials the night before that are worthwhile attending if possible. This is much more important, or even expected in small, intimate programs. Residents and faculty want to select individuals that they get along with and feel comfortable working with closely for the next 3-7 years of residency, so socials are a good way to get to know applicants on a more relaxed basis. Keep in mind that even though the socials’ settings can be friendly and relaxed, it is still part of the interview. Be polite, conversational, and behave appropriately.
Remember that socials are also your chance to get to know the programs. You'll be spending just as long with your colleagues as they will with you, so it's important for you to determine if you think their program is a good fit for you.
The second reason you should arrive a day before your interview is because you don't want to burn out and throw all of your CaRMS interview prep out the window simply because you're exhausted. Arriving the day before gives you a chance to check into your hotel, do a run-through of your route from the hotel to the interview, determine parking, and most importantly, wind down and clear your mind so you can get a good night's sleep.
Check out our strategy for answering "Tell me about yourself" in a residency interview:
How to Prepare for Your CaRMS Interview
As soon as you have an interview invitation, you need to begin intensive CaRMS interview preparation. Securing an interview is a huge step towards matching with your dream program, but the reality is, all the time and effort you put into your residency application will be irrelevant if you don't ace your CaRMS interview. Remember, The Match works by matching medical students and residents to postgraduate training programs based on these three factors:
The first factor is out of your control, but you have the power to influence the second and fully control the third. Your main two goals when attending CaRMS interviews are to determine if you're interested in the program and to convince the program that you're the best match for them. The only way to do this is to perform extremely well during your CaRMS interview. So how can you do this? Follow these important steps below.
Learn how to prepare for any residency interview:
Participate in Mock Interviews
The good news is that you already know what interview formats your programs of choice use and what kind of questions you can expect in each format! You have done the groundwork in the early stages of your prep! Furthermore, you might have already brainstormed some of your talking points, so you are ready to test your strength! If you have not had time to brainstorm, no worries! This will be incorporated into our prepping strategies as we go forward.
The first thing you need to do is participate in a realistic mock interview. Mock interviews are the #1 secret to CaRMS interview prep success. Do you know how an athlete doesn't become good at a sport without practicing and how a presentation can be painful if the speaker didn't adequately run through their speech multiple times? Well, the same goes for doing well on your CaRMS interview. There is no better way to prepare for your interview than by participating in real-life mock interviews that will simulate the actual interview environment you'll be experiencing.
Firstly, participating in a mock interview will help you practice accurately with the correct interview format. As we already discussed, CaRMS interviews can be conducted in a variety of different formats. The formats are very different, so simulating the appropriate format is essential in preparing effectively. You must be absolutely prepared for what to expect when it comes to the format – if you have never gone through the process of an MMI interview, you will not do well in the actual interview. Knowing the theory of what the MMI consists of and actually going through the stations are two completely different things! You must experience how the prompt is presented, how long you have before you greet the interviewer, how long you are given to answer, how to answer the follow-up questions, and how to leave the room appropriately. Without actually going through all these things yourself, you will not ace your MMI!
On the other hand, if you have a panel interview, you must experience how you can have a discussion with multiple interviewers at the same time, how to navigate their different interview approaches, their demeanors, and how you can engage all of them at once.
All of this knowledge and skills can only be honed via realistic mock interviews.
Secondly, mock interviews will really help you identify and practice important residency interview question types that will appear on almost every CaRMS interview. The most common question categories are:
The third greatest advantage of realistic mock interviews is personalized feedback. During excellent simulations, you'll have the opportunity to virtually meet with trained medical school admissions consulting experts. You will have the opportunity to ask your questions, practice answering sample questions, all while practicing in the correct format. This means that if your residency interview will be an MMI, your simulation will be in the MMI format. Each response will be timed, evaluators will not respond or gesture in any way, and you'll be automatically moved to the next station when the time runs out.
Practicing in this way is particularly necessary to perfect not only the content of your response but the timing. Depending on the program, interviewees will have between 4-8 minutes at each station to discuss the prompt. If you haven't participated in mock interviews, you'll have a very difficult time getting the timing of your response right without rambling or finishing after speaking for only a minute or two. These simulations will also cover very common residency interview questions that you can expect to come up during your actual interview.
As you receive personalized feedback on your responses, the structure and content of your responses will get better. While finding a list of residency interview questions to practice with is a good start, if a professional isn't evaluating your responses, how will you know if your sample answers are considered strong or weak? What if your response isn't really answering the question appropriately? What if your answer would be red-flagged for being morally or professionally inappropriate? What if it doesn't show the best version of you? What if it comes across as insincere or robotic?
The reality is, you are not a professionally trained admissions expert, and most likely, neither are your friends or family members. The best way to ensure your responses are excellent is to receive feedback that is specific to your answers. This way, you'll know exactly which areas you need to improve so you can reduce or eliminate your weaknesses and ensure no matter what question is thrown at you in the interview, you'll be able to nail it.
Once you experience the interview format first-hand and receive appropriate feedback, you can gauge your progress and work on your interview skills to address any areas of weakness. Continue to go through practice mock interviews and receiving tailored advice – this is your number one priority, and in-between you can do some additional CaRMS interview prep by following the steps we outline below.
Practice with Sample Questions
Practicing with sample residency interview questions is a great way to supplement your mock simulations. The more common interview questions you can practice with, the better because it will help you continue practicing the strategies and techniques you will have learned in your mock simulations. Namely, you'll perfect your answering strategies so you can answer any interview question, no matter what type it is.
You absolutely need to be able to answer some of the more common interview questions such as why our program, why this specialty, and so on. The feedback you receive in mock interviews will help you recognize the question types and articulate your response. Even if the question you face during the real interview differs slightly from what you practice on your own, you will be able to tackle it without any problems. Now that you know what kind of questions to expect in your interview, focus on brainstorming the points for each question type. For example, while you are practicing your answer for the "why this specialty?" question type, brainstorm why you chose this medical specialty and what kind of skills and experiences support your candidacy. Prepare your answer in bullet points for each specialty you applied for.
As you go through practice questions and mock interviews, you will notice a pattern in the kind of questions you are asked. Brainstorm some points for each question type and practice incorporating them in your answers. Do not try to memorize answers to common questions! This is a step towards failure! You must focus on using answer strategies, rather than memorizing what you say.
Check out the best residency interview questions to practice with:
Prepare Questions for Your Interviewers
That's right, part of your CaRMS interview prep will involve having some questions prepared to ask your interviewers when they turn to you and ask “So, do you have any questions for us?” Not only does having good questions prepared to ask your interviewers make you look good to the evaluators, but it's also a tool that you possess to help you determine if you're truly interested in their program, and to what level.
What's unique about CaRMS interviews is that while the interviewers are interviewing you, you also have the opportunity to interview them. In order for a match to happen, both parties need to be interested and rank each other highly. It's therefore important for you to do your research prior to the interview. Go onto each school's website and research the programs that you've applied to and compile relevant questions. You could ask questions about the program, location, city, province, staff, and residents. Once you finished your interview, try to note down the responses to some of these questions. If you're lucky and have many residency interviews to attend, it can become difficult to distinguish one program from another and your experience at each when you're creating your rank order list. You'll find the ranking process a lot easier if you have notes to look back on to help jog your memory.
Here's a list of sample questions you could ask your interviewers:
The Golden Rule: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Before we jump into some other tips that can help you before, during, and after the interview day, we would like to reiterate one simple truth. To fully round off your entire CaRMs interview preparation, you need to practice with mock interviews repeatedly, until you can answer any interview question and question type confidently.
The right practice really can make perfect, or as near to perfect as is possible. The most important part of your practice is that you don't want to recite your residency personal statement and residency CV or memorize your answers at any point. Memorization is bad news all around and memorized answers come across exactly as you'd expect: canned.
The whole purpose of a residency interview is for program directors and residents to get an idea of who you are as a person, what your experience is, what motivates you, and ultimately if you'll be a suitable match for their program. To gauge all of these factors, they want to get to know the real you and want your genuine response to their questions. Memorized answers unfortunately just don't come across as genuine, and they can really hurt your chances of getting into your dream program. In addition to being insincere, memorization often backfires because if applicants are asked different variations of questions they prepared, their stilted answer is often not appropriate. Lastly, it's very easy to experience memory blanks with memorized answers. If you end up missing a word or a sentence, which is especially likely under the pressure of an interview, it can be near impossible to pick back up where you should because your mind has learned to memorize in a certain way. Once you're thrown off, you could be thrown off for good.
So, instead what you want to do is rehearse, ensuring you're hitting a few target points that you've brainstormed. During your rehearsals, you should notice that your answer is flexible and dynamic. Yes, you want to ensure you're hitting those important points, but the rest of it can flow naturally. It's a good idea to practice either in front of a mirror or in front of a camera. The reason being is that you want to be on the lookout for any nervous behaviors such as touching your face and hair, making nervous expressions, or even fidgeting. On your interview day, you want to come across as confident and you don't want to be distracting your interviewers from hearing what you have to say. You want to be remembered for your fantastic responses and unique personality, not as the person who kept playing with the buttons on their shirt!
Are you an IMG looking to match? Check out our ultimate guide below:
Additional Tips to Help You Ace Your CaRMS Interview
Brainstorm your answers
This is a given. You must brainstorm the skills, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses you want the program directors to know about you, and you must practice how you speak about them in front of the interview committee. Incorporating solid examples of your skills is essential when you answer CaRMS interview questions. Instead of vague answers, make sure to give examples of how and why you acquired a skill. Also, keep in mind that there is a proper way to speak of your strengths without boasting, and there is a way to outline your weaknesses without hurting your candidacy.
For each question type you face, brainstorm activities and skills you possess that make you a great candidate. For example, reflect on what makes you a unique candidate for this specialty, why you would fit in with this program, are there any connections between your experience and this program’s research focus? Jot down these ideas and practice using them in your answers. Remember to always support any claim you make with solid examples of your experiences and skills.
Your weaknesses, setbacks, and growth are also a big part of your journey to becoming a doctor. Make sure to name real weaknesses, not something like "I work too hard" or "I care too much". Talk about a time you experienced a challenge or a setback and focus your answer on what you learned and how you grew as a person and a professional.
Make sure you can answer why you are pursuing your chosen specialty
The question of why you are pursuing a particular specialty is inevitably going to be part of your CaRMS interview. This is one of the most important questions that give a glimpse into your experiences and skills that make you the right candidate for your chosen program. The interview committee needs to not only see what you have done to pursue this specialty (such as your personal statement and CV) but also hear you talk about your experiences. You might not realize this, but the committee will be able to tell from the way you talk about your experiences whether the specialty you are pursuing is truly a passion and a conscious, deliberate choice. They will also be able to tell if you are pursuing this specialty for external reasons, such as money, prestige, or convenience.
It is normal to have a first-choice and a second-choice specialty. Most med school students strategically choose a specialty they dream of and a specialty they also love and enjoy, but that is not their #1 choice. But this does not mean that you cannot speak of both in a dedicated and convincing way. For example, if your dream specialty is anesthesiology, but your back-up is internal medicine, it's important to practice demonstrating why you love both of these specialties and what you have done to prepare yourself as a professional in these disciplines. What kind of extracurricular have you participated in? What did you learn? What kind of skills did you hone? Or was there a particular rotation that changed your perspective on what you want to do in medicine? Do you have a reference letter from an attending from this rotation? Did you pursue further activities after this rotation to solidify your choice?
These are the kind of questions you should ask yourself when you prepare your answer to this important CaRMS question.
Do not cram your answers
You have done so much over the course of your journey to becoming a doctor. College, med school, and now residency is just around the corner. We are sure you have a lot to say about your experiences and skills! However, it's important to stay selective. When you answer questions about your suitability for your chosen programs, do not simply list a bunch of activities as if you were listing your CV. While it's important to know your application and reference it if you are having an open-file interview, the interviewers are looking for vibrant and more detailed information about why you would make the right fit for their program.
Interview answers should ideally tell a holistic story about you and why you are going to make a great physician. In order to do that, you need space to provide details of your skills and experiences. Instead of listing 10 experiences that make you a great candidate, focus on 1 and explain how this significant experience highlights your suitability. For example, if you are asked about a time you demonstrated leadership, do not list all the clubs you presided over and every volunteer activity you organized. Rather, give a context of 1 experience where your leadership skills shined, and explain the outcome and how your presence truly influenced the situation. This strategy will be much more effective than listing a bunch of activities and giving no context.
Don’t be afraid to interact with your interviewers
While the CaRMS interview is a formal interview, it is also your chance to demonstrate your communication skills and personality. The program directors will be impressed with a confident and articulate candidate. Therefore, do not be afraid of asking for clarifications or follow-up questions if you are not sure what is being asked of you. It is better to ask for clarification than to give an irrelevant answer. Additionally, do not be afraid to be personable: greet your interviewers, ask their names, repeat their names throughout the interview when reasonable, and ask them questions when the time comes. This will demonstrate to the committee that you are interested in this program!
On the other hand, do not interrupt or take too much time to answer questions. Being unnecessarily chatty or demonstrating too much familiarity is not appropriate. Practicing with mock interviews will allow you to gauge this kind of behaviour!
Test your equipment
If you are having a video interview, make sure to test your interview equipment. Make sure that whatever device you are using for the interview is working properly, that the sound and video quality are good. If you are wearing headphones during the interview, make sure they work and that your interviewers will be able to hear you when you plug them into your computer.
Make sure that your internet connection is solid and have a backup in case your internet stops working during the interview, such as a wi-fi hotspot on your phone.
Conclusion: Forget About the Interview When It’s Finished!
Do not torture yourself after your interview! You have done everything possible to ace your CaRMS meeting, so now take some time to relax and prepare for the next one, if you have one scheduled. Do not reflect on what you could have or should have done during the interview. Do not analyze your answers and do not try to find mistakes! The interview is done and now you must move forward. Take some time to enjoy this brief period of calm.
1. What kind of format can my CaRMS interview take?
The most common CaRMS interview formats include a one-on-one traditional interview, panel interview, and MMI.
2. Should my CaRMS interview prep be tailored for each interview format?
Absolutely! Each format has its own nuances and challenges. Your interview prep must take into account the format your program of choice will use. For example, MMI interview prep and panel interview prep, while they have some overlap, will differ significantly.
3. How should I schedule my CaRMS interview?
For Canadian applicants applying to programs that are not in the institution where they got their MD, there's a set period where all the interviews happen (February to March). Some programs allow you to choose your preferred date on first come first serve basis, while others simply assign a date and time slot to you. For IMGs and those applying to their own institution, the program schedules the interview directly with the applicant, so there's no specific set of dates.
4. How long does the CaRMS interview last?
Your official interview will last around 30 minutes. However, the interview day and tour will take additional time. There is a variety of events that may be included in the interview day, such as meeting with the program director, information sessions, a social, and so on.
5. What kind of questions should I expect during my CaRMS interview?
There are three main question types you can expect: personal/past experience questions, scenario/situational, and specialty-specific.
6. Will I be asked about my knowledge of a specialty I am applying to?
It is possible. You may be asked about a common approach to a condition often seen in that specialty, for example.
7. What is the best CaRMS interview prep strategy?
The best way to prepare for your interview is to practice with realistic mock interviews and receiving personalized feedback. This will help you get used to the interview format, hone your communication skills, and help you grow in confidence. The feedback will help you work on your weaknesses and eliminate any red flags.
8. How can I prepare for my CaRMS interview?
In addition to mock interviews, which should be your primary prep method, you should familiarize yourself with commonly asked residency interview questions and practice your answers in front of a mirror, or better yet a camera. Note your composure, facial expressions, and how you come off to the viewer.
However, getting personalized feedback and mock interviews cannot be replaced by practice questions.
9. What can I do to prepare even before I receive my interview invite?
Search the CaRMS directory and the programs’ websites for information about the interview and what programs like to see in their candidates. You can tell a lot about a program by reading their mission, values, research projects, and what kind of opportunities they provide to their resident doctors.
If you want to learn more about the program, you can also try contacting a graduate from your medical school who recently joined your chosen program. They will be able to tell you about their personal interview experience.
10. What are some of the questions I should expect?
You should definitely expect questions about why you are pursuing your chosen specialty and why you applied to your chosen program. You should also prepare for some general personal questions, like tell me about yourself. Don’t forget to practice answering a variety of questions about your experiences, skills, and passions. The interview committee will want to learn about your candidacy beyond your application. Make sure to not simply recite your CV.
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