ERAS interview prep is what can really make or break your introduction to the program of your dreams. Is residency interview prep essential for your success? Yes, it absolutely is. Going through sample and answers is a good start, but interview preparation entails much more than practice questions. In today's article, we will reveal the key to successful interview prep and share foolproof tips that will help you match your top-choice program.
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Simply put, it’s very important. When you receive residency interview invitations it means that on paper you are the ideal candidate for these programs. The interview is your chance to demonstrate that you are also an ideal candidate in person. While your chosen programs will still look at application components like your and when making their rank order list, your interview is what makes a lasting impression on program directors and program faculty. According to the latest NRMP data, 98% of programs rank communication skills as one of the most significant factors when ranking applicants. In other words, skills you can truly demonstrate during an interview. Additionally, 94% of programs revealed that applicants' interactions with staff and faculty on interview days are a key influencer of their ranking decisions. Therefore, when it comes to ranking, your interview is a more influential factor than USMLE scores, COMLEX scores, extracurriculars, , and other application components.
Still working on your residency application? Check out our top tips:
Depending on your interview format, whether it's open or closed, your application might be referenced by the interview committee, which means that you should know your application components well. However, as we already mentioned earlier, the interview is also the program's chance to get to know you more, get a feel for your personality and compatibility, and learn about skills and interests you might not have mentioned in your application. Whether you attended one of the or one of the , at this point, only you and your performance in the interview can affect the outcome of the meeting.
Another importance of the interview is that most programs will allow you to discuss any setbacks or gaps in your medical school career. Keep in mind that since you were invited to the interview, the program is probably not too concerned about these gaps, but it might be a good idea to explain any red flags you might have. It’s always better to explain your circumstances and what you learned from a mistake than to leave the red flag “unattended”. If you choose to vaguely skip over any such details, this may hurt your chances for matching. This is why interviews are highly useful for these discussions.
And most importantly for you, the interview is your chance to get to know the program, ask your questions, and determine if this is the environment you want to spend the next few years. Depending on the , it might be anywhere from 3 to 7 years of your life.
These are some of the reasons why your residency interview prep deserves your utmost attention and why you should start your prep early.
According to the , interviews for programs participating in the ERAS application process begin in October and continue through January. Does that mean that you have to wait until the interview invites to start getting ready? Absolutely not! After preparing for your residency applications, you might be dreaming of a break between application submission and interview prep, but you should slowly start getting ready for potential interview invites. Note that we are not advocating for you to obsess over interview prep right after your applications are in, but you should gradually start collecting information about the interview formats used by your programs of choice.
The heavy phase of residency interview prep should start as soon as you get your interview invitation. You should have a good chunk of time, around 6-8 weeks, to participate in mock interviews and hone your communication skills. But information gathering and light brainstorming can start much earlier.
First and foremost, we are certain that you have already done some research into the programs you applied to. Some of your interview prep is already done! Knowledge about your programs' mission and values, their research opportunities, and their faculty is the first source for your interview prep. When you brainstorm answers to common , knowledge of your program's mission and values can help you articulate an answer that would demonstrate you as a great fit for your chosen programs. For example, if your top-choice program is well-known for its state-of-the-art research facilities, then you should demonstrate that you have gained quality research experiences throughout medical school and look forward to working in research at their institution.
What other early residency interview prep can you do? Some programs may also share the interview format they use for interviews on their website. And while the format will be confirmed in the invite, you can slowly start gathering important information about the interview formats you might face. How can this help you? Knowing the interview format and question categories of your chosen programs minimizes the stress of the "unknown". Depending on , you might be facing several interview types that all have their unique elements and requirements. If you research the formats before you receive the invites, you can learn what to expect and where to look for useful information when the invite arrives. Trust us, when you begin receiving invitations, you might be overwhelmed with the amount of travel planning and scheduling you will need to do, let alone practicing in mock interviews, so it’s best to research the formats of your interview beforehand.
Interested in tips for preparing for your ERAS interview? Here is our top advice summarized:
Interview scheduling is also a part of your ERAS interview prep. You need to be very strategic when you plan and schedule your interviews. Your invites can be sent via a scheduling system like Interview Broker or the ERAS Interview Scheduler, or they may be sent directly by the program to your email. Even if the invite is extended via an interview scheduling system, you will receive an email notification. So, here’s your TIP #1: install your email app on your phone. This way, you will not miss any interview invites and can start planning your response right away. Also, don't forget to check your junk or spam email folder. An email from the program or the scheduling system may end up there.
Our TIP #2 is that you need to be very strategic when it comes to interview scheduling. Firstly, respond as soon as you can, thanking the program for the interview invitation. Keep in mind that some programs send out more invitations than interview spots available. Though this is rare, it does happen. This is why planning your interview schedule is important at this moment.
TIP #3: This is perhaps one of the most important tips when it comes to scheduling and ERAS interview prep. If you have multiple interview invites, anywhere from 10-15, schedule interviews with your top-choice programs in the middle of your interview season. Your first 1 or 2 interviews can be used as test runs, so you might want to schedule interviews with programs that are not your top choices first. The experience of the first interview can teach you what can be improved and eliminate the initial stress of meeting program directors. Scheduling your dream programs at the end of the interview period is also not advisable, because by this time you will be exhausted.
There are some other scheduling behaviors to avoid. For example, avoid double-booking yourself for interviews or hoarding all the interview invites you receive. According to the latest NRMP data, to have a >95% chance of matching you should aim to attend 11-12 interviews. Remember that when you were , you carefully chose programs where you were the ideal candidate. When you start receiving interview invites, you might be tempted to accept every offer you get, especially if you applied to some of the - but you should resist this temptation if you applied to over 15 programs. We are certain that you have already evaluated the programs where you are the best fit, where you might have the best chance of matching, and the programs that you do not truly want to attend. Choose to attend interviews you really want to attend. Even if you choose to attend 1 interview as a test-run, do not schedule all offered interviews if there’s more than 12-15. Limiting yourself to 11 or 12 interviews gives you the optimal chance to prepare properly and avoid attending interviews that you do not want to attend, thus saving you time and money.
If you overbook yourself, make sure to cancel the interview in a timely manner. Maybe you are not able to attend because of accidental double-booking, financial constraints, mental and physical health issues, and so on. Some students choose to cancel interviews after they have attended enough programs to feel no need to attend anymore. Whatever your reason is, you must cancel an interview well in advance. Your cancellation should not be any shorter than 2 weeks, but a month or more is of course better. This allows programs to invite another fitting candidate for the interview.
Even this part of the residency interview prep may seem overwhelming! But it’s important to be prompt, selective, and decisive about where you want to interview and potentially attend. Once you schedule your interview, secure a spot, and receive a confirmation, your interview prep must pick up a notch.
Applying to family medicine residency? Check out some tips below:
Now, let’s go through the steps of ERAS interview prep you must take to feel confident during your meeting. Not only will these steps help you practice your answers to common residency interview questions, but they will build your interview behavior and communication skills.
Participate in Realistic Mock Interviews
This is truly the only prep tactic that works. Realistic mock interviews allow you the first-hand experience of your interview format and the kind of questions you will face, as well as reveal what kind of behavior is expected.
Residency interviews are not simply about what you say, although that’s also important. The interview is a chance to see how you interact with others, how you carry yourself in conversation, how well you fit in with your potential colleagues, how well-behaved you are, and whether you possess the necessary communication and interpersonal skills expected of future . For you, the interview is an opportunity to make the first and only impression before the ranking decision is made, so your performance must be outstanding. If your answers are unstructured and contain irrelevant information, if your body language reveals high anxiety and stress, if you forget to greet your interviewers when you meet, if you do not prepare questions to ask the program director – all of these things will affect how the program sees you and result in your low ranking on their list. This is why all of this, and more, must be part of your ERAS interview prep. And only mock interviews can help build and hone these skills and behaviors.
When you participate in a mock interview with an expert admissions consultant, you learn not only how to answer commonly asked questions, but how to demonstrate that you are a professional who is the right fit for the program of your dreams. So how is this done?
Firstly, nobody can articulate your answers for you – you know your experiences and skills better than anyone else. But the right expert can help you learn how to tackle any question you may encounter and which experiences and skills to highlight in your answers. They are an objective party who can advise how to best present yourself to your top-choice programs. Remember, interview prep is not about memorizing your answers to potential questions. Good interview prep will help you devise tactics to answer different question categories, which will allow you to structure and improvise answers when you are in the real interview.
Another important skill that can only be honed during realistic mock interviews is timing. Remember how we warned you about unstructured answers? This can be a real detriment to your impressive . If you ramble on for 15 minutes trying to reply to a question, you will miss actually answering the question and lose your audience. When you practice with mocks, the consultant will keep you accountable to time expectations. They will also help you learn the best answer structures for different question types that will allow you to form a concise but comprehensive reply to any question.
Last but not least, mock interviews allow you to experience the interview environment. You will learn how to properly behave in your interview format, how to best interact with your interviewers, and how to make the best impression. For example, many of our students were surprised to learn that greetings and goodbyes make a huge difference when making a lasting impression! But studies show that including your interviewer's name in your greeting and farewell makes a lasting impression because of the recency effect. These kinds of small elements in your interview behavior can truly make a difference, and only mock interviews can allow you to cement these behaviors and know exactly what to expect on interview day.
Wondering what an MMI mock interview looks like? Check out our video:
Practice with Sample Questions
When you start your initial light interview prep in the form of researching your programs’ interview formats, you will run into commonly asked questions for these formats. You might have already brainstormed your responses, but now it’s time to practice your answers properly. After going through a couple of mocks, you already know the quality of answers expected of you and how to best structure your answers. Use a variety of sample questions and jot down your main talking points. As you practice, these talking points will become the roadmap to your answers.
You will notice that the sample questions you find online may seem quite similar. This is not a coincidence. The same question can be asked in a variety of ways and when you practice, you should modify and improvise your answer on the spot. Your answer should have main talking points and good structure, but it should feel genuine and spontaneous every time you answer a question. This will help you during the real interview if instead of the question you practiced with, such as “tell me about yourself”, you are suddenly faced with “Let’s talk about your journey. How did you end up here?” This is just an example, of course, but our point here is that practicing with many various questions will allow you to develop the confidence to answer questions that you might have not exactly practiced with.
One of the key questions you must be able to answer well and without hesitations is why you are pursuing your . This inquiry will inevitably come up during your meeting, so be ready to impress with your answer. Additionally, practice discussing some of your most significant skills and experiences that can be incorporated into a multitude of question types. For example, an impressive research experience can be the topic of discussion for scenario questions if you are asked about overcoming setbacks or hurdles, or personal questions if you are asked about the most significant experience that led you to medicine. You can practice discussing your talking points for a diversity of questions, every time reinstating their significance for the required context.
Practice with mocks and sample questions should teach you to ease into a conversation. Whether you face an unexpected quirky question or a question about a gap in your medical school journey, interview prep should develop within you a readiness to face anything that's thrown at you.
Additional tip: using sample questions, practice on your own, ideally in front of a mirror, how to articulate your answers, how to keep eye contact with your audience (in this case, yourself), and to watch yourself for any other behavior that might need improvements, such as leg crossing or thumb fidgeting. Your consultant will often be able to point out most of the behaviors you must work on between mocks, but if you have consultations via a computer screen, the consultant might not always see your body language.
Check out some residency interview questions you can practice with:
Have Questions Ready
You do not want to be overly talkative and exuberant during the interview, but you want to be sociable and demonstrate genuine interest. Be polite and engaging when answering the questions you are asked and participate in small talk when feels appropriate. In addition to these engagements, you must also showcase that you have done your research and prepared program-specific questions that will help you decide whether this program is for you.
Depending on whether your interview is in-person or virtual, throughout your meeting with the program, you might be taken to a variety of facilities, meet different faculty, and be shown research labs, so be prepared to look interested and engaged. And most importantly, make sure you have some questions ready. Trust us, it is a huge hit against you if at the end of the interview, or during your tour of the institution, you seem indifferent. Having relevant questions and insightful comments regarding the program, its facilities, or plans demonstrates your genuine interest and dedication.
To compose a good list of questions, you should first research the program and its director online. If you want to dig deeper, you can reach out to your extensive connections in the medical community. Maybe you have an acquittance or alumni who is now part of this program. Maybe you know someone who attended an interview there already? Ask them for insights about the program they noticed and create questions that might trigger a friendly and engaging conversation.
Remember that you can also ask questions about the patient population, location of the program, recent graduates of the program, and more. Asking these questions has a dual purpose – firstly, you will learn more about whether this is the program for you. Secondly, you will leave a lasting impression with your engaging and easy demeanor if your conversation flows naturally. Interviews are never "easy-going", but they should also not leave an impression that you were strained to talk about your interest in the program.
Wondering how to upload your references to ERAS?
You have done everything in your power to prepare for your interview. Great job!
One important tip: after each interview is over, forget about it. Do not dwell on what you did poorly or what could have been improved. You did your best and now it’s on to the next one. Focus on completing your interviews without getting bogged down by your performance in the previous interview. This does not mean that you cannot analyze what you can do better in the upcoming interview, but do not torture yourself by overthinking your performance.
After each interview ends, give yourself some time to write a thank you letter to the program directors and the interview committee. Thank them for the opportunity and reinstate how much you enjoyed your meeting. If you have already made up your mind, you may express to the top-choice program that you are certain about your decision to attend there. This might help reassure the program and help them rank you as their top choice as well.
While you wait for Match Day, if you are still undecided about which of the visited programs is your number one choice then take this time to make that choice. Continue to focus on finishing up your rotations and electives and continue participating in extracurriculars and research. These will be helpful updates if you decide to send a . While this application component is not required by programs, it may increase your chances of matching your top choice. In your letter, include any updates about your successes since the time of the interview and disclose clearly and concisely that this is your top-choice program and that you will be thrilled to be a part of this institution. Make sure to address the letter to the program director whom you met during the interview. DO NOT make the mistake of sending these letters to several programs. Firstly, it’s unethical. Secondly, if you write this letter, you are demonstrating your genuine commitment to the program. Do not use the letter of intent to increase your chances in several programs.
1. Why is the residency interview so important?
Your interview is the first and final impression you will make in-person before the rank order is created, whether you visit the program physically or meet the interview committee online. You might look like a great candidate on paper, but the program directors want to learn whether you are a great candidate in person as well, by assessing your interactions with others and your behavior. According to the NRMP data, 94% of programs consider the impression you make in your interview as the number one factor in ranking decisions.
2. What’s the best ERAS interview prep strategy?
To have the best chance of success, you must participate in mock interviews that mimic the interview environment.
3. When should I start my prep?
You can start with light interview prep after you submit your residency applications by researching the programs and their interview formats online. You should start the heavy phases of your interview prep when you start receiving interview invitations. By heavy phase of interview prep, we mean practice mock interviews and going through sample interview questions.
4. How many interviews should I attend?
The number of interviews you get will depend on several factors, including how many programs you applied to and how competitive your specialty is. To have over a 95% chance of matching, you should try to book 11-12 interviews. Having fewer interviews scheduled does not mean that you will not match! But having too many interviews may lead to double booking and exhaustion.
5. Sounds like I might be traveling a lot. How can I minimize my interview costs?
There is no denying that in-person residency interviews cost a lot of money, but many programs are currently conducting virtual interviews. However, there are some things you can do to minimize the cost of in-person meetings. Firstly, schedule your flights based on the geographical locations of your interviews. Instead of flying all over the US chaotically, plan out a route that would be optimal in terms of money, time, and effort. This means that you should not start in New York, then fly to Seattle, then to Florida, and then to North Dakota. Choose a general direction, for example east to west. This will generally mean shorter flights between destinations, and therefore generally cheaper fares.
Another way to save on costs is staying with friends and family who live near your interview destination. This will eliminate the cost of accommodations. You may also be offered to stay with one of the current residents or faculty of the program where you interview, so you can choose to accept this accommodation option.
6. What should I wear?
This might seem like a commonsense question, but it’s important to remind our students that you must dress professionally whether it’s an in-person or a virtual interview. Women can wear a pantsuit or a pencil skirt with a collared shirt of a neutral color, minimal makeup, and minimal jewelry. Men should wear a collared shirt with a suit jacket. Remember to wear comfortable shoes because you might do a lot of walking if your interview is in person.
7. What should I bring to the interview?
We would advise taking a notepad with a pen to jot down any questions or comments you may have about the program. This will help you engage in more conversation, as well as help you remember significant moments or discussions of the interview when you decide on your rank list.
8. What should I do after the interview?
Firstly, do not forget to send thank you emails to program directors. Make sure to show gratitude for their time. Secondly, your primary task after the interviews is to work on ranking your programs. You might have had a top-choice program already, but maybe the interviews changed your priorities. Now is the time to pull out that notepad you used during the interviews and make your ranking decisions. Thirdly, if you want to do everything in your power to increase matching your dream program, then you can send a residency letter of intent.