How to Excel in Virtual Residency Interviews as a Medical Student

It's residency interview time! Hear from a graduating MS4 everything you need to prepare for your interview.

You are four years into medical school and have succeeded to not only perform well in your courses, but to also pad that resume with volunteering, research, and extracurricular activities that illustrate your passions and make you unique from other applicants. ERAS is submitted, and those virtual residency interviews are starting to roll in. But like others in your class, your medical school interview was in person. So you ask yourself, “How do I succeed in a virtual interview platform?” Have no fear. Using my own experience and advice from classmates, I am here to prepare you to excel in this virtual maze. 


Like for most things, preparation for a residency interview is important. Be ready for the very common opener, “Tell me about yourself,” and have a two-minute overview response that includes where you come from and what you are passionate about. Look up and practice answering out loud a list of common residency questions for your specialty. Collect and write down some patient/colleague scenarios that can be used for multiple questions. For example, the time you disagreed with an attending because of morals, or the time a difficult patient’s family thanked you for going above and beyond. I kept these and a list of questions to ask on a word doc that I had open on a split screen with Zoom. Remember, it is always okay to say, “Let me think about that for a moment.” Collecting your thoughts is always preferable to rambling. 

I recommend rereading your entire ERAS and supplemental (if applicable) application if it has been a while since you wrote it. This is what the interviewer will probably have recently reviewed, and it is good to have those things fresh in your mind. Know the overview of research you did years ago so that you can intelligently speak about it. Also read ALL of the information on their website and anything that was sent to you so that you look prepared and interested. If you want to get some jitters out, host a practice interview over Zoom with a fellow classmate or even your school’s student affairs. This is good to check both your interview skills and the technology you plan to use. 


The Physical Setup

This is something that you will be judged for either consciously or unconsciously, so it is important to get right. The most important aspect is lighting. Most people recommend buying a ring light or something similar, but you could also use a lamp you already own or a window. Make sure lighting is behind your camera so that your face is bright, and avoid windows in the background. Check for glasses glare. Also, it is very important to consider what is in your background. This is mostly personal preference, but the background should be clean, organized, and simple. You can include a picture of your family or dog as a conversation starter, or some cool art that you can talk about. People will utilize what they see to make small talk; therefore, you have some power to control that conversation. This is one of those things that you might change based on the specialty you are applying to. 


The Interview

The residency interview runs in a fairly typical fashion with each program tweaking small aspects. Some may have breakout rooms with other applicants for a resident Q & A or a presentation about their program or city. The meat of the application is the direct one-on-one interviews with the program director (PD), associate program directors (APD), and/or faculty members. These last from 10-30 minutes and consist of interviewers asking you predetermined questions about yourself and your application, or posing scenario questions where they give you a scenario and you say how you would handle it. 

At the end of almost all of these they ask you if you have any questions for them. This is a really important time to convey to them your level of interest for their residency program and get answers to any questions you have. Remember that questions that would be totally appropriate to ask a resident (call schedule, meal cards, parking) are not appropriate for the PD/APD/faculty. Keep faculty questions more broad and educational. For example, “What is your vision for the program?” Or, “What are you looking for in a resident?”



Keep detailed notes about each program and the things that are important to you. Almost all of my classmates used an Excel sheet to keep things organized. I made separate columns for each program with information exported from Residency Explorer and then added rows for my notes from the open house, social, and interview. Definitely take note of the vibe of the residency program and how well you felt you could fit in there. Some solid advice is to keep a running rank list going. This will make it easier months after your interviews end, so you don’t have to make a long list based on things you have forgotten. I took lots of notes during the interview (when I wasn’t directly being interviewed) so that everything was fresh and I had as much information as possible to make a rank list with. 


Extra Tips

Even virtually, residency interviews are exhausting. Give the appearance that you are engaged throughout the interview by keeping neutral/positive facial expressions at all times, leaning forward a little in your seat, and not crossing your arms. Another pro tip: have a discreet fidgeting item in your hands. I myself had a silent fidget toy I would use when I was being interviewed, and one that was more fun but made noise that I would use during the times I was muted. Always try to be on time, and remember, every once in a while Zoom hits you with updates, so always log into Zoom at least five minutes before your interview begins. Most residency programs utilize a waiting room, so there isn’t any awkwardness for those who are early. IT issues do happen. Know who to call or email if they occur, and keep calm. Programs know it happens, and they will get you back on track. Silence all notifications that come on your computer: not only are they distracting, but the interviewer can also hear the ding of email. Remember to double check all start times and adjust for those pesky time zone differences. 

Although I know no number of “pro tips” will make you any less nervous for your residency interviews, I hope these will make your interviews run smoothly and make you look exceptional. My class commented that interviews were overall more chill than they expected. Different residency programs are looking for different things, but most programs prioritize looking for good humans that will make helpful and positive coresidents, so let those parts of yourself shine. Remember that although you are being interviewed, you are also interviewing them. It is all about finding the right match for both parties, so be yourself and have faith. I know you will do great!

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