If you’re applying to residency in psychiatry (or any field, for that matter), you’re probably in the thick of the interview process. I remember flying and driving around the West coast, doing my best to impress as many programs and people as possible as to give myself the best chances during the match.
Now that I’m in my second year of residency, and more involved in the applicant recruitment process, I want to share some insights into how to put your best foot forward when you’re interviewing. Residents at UCLA are very involved in the recruitment process and in creating the rank list, so I wanted to share some helpful advice to help you guys do the best.
Always be “on”
There is no “off” time on your interview day. At every moment you are being evaluated and judged. It may not be fair, but it’s true. At no point, no matter to whom you are talking to or in what context, is it a good idea to be rude or stand off-ish. I’ve seen comments that applicants made at the happy hour following our interview day make a difference in where they’re ranked. Think about it this way – when you’re a resident, you’re going to have to make it through a lot more than an 8-hour interview day with a smile on your face (think 24+ hour shifts), so if you can’t hold it together for your interview, it will be held against you.
I’m not saying to overthink it – be your normal, friendly and professional self. Remember – you want to be the type of person that others want to work with.
Be ready for tough questions
For the most part psychiatry interviews are very low key and casual (this was overwhelmingly my experience when interviewing). Sometimes, though, attendings or residents will ask you tough questions in order to assess how well you think on your feet. If you are confident without being arrogant it will reflect well on you. If you bumble through your answer, or get defensive or rude (bad!), it will not. I’ve heard that our program director will purposely ask tough or strange questions in order to test the applicants reaction.
Be honest about any deficiencies on your application
The interview is a good time to speak candidly about any holes or deficiencies in your application, if you have them. It’s best to address whatever past issues you’ve had in a forthcoming manner because whatever is in your application is fair game to come up during the rank meeting. If you’ve explained to your interviewer any extenuating circumstances, he or she will be able to defend you when those issues come up.
Know why you’re interested in the program
It’s assumed you’ll be interviewing at multiple programs in difficult geographic areas, and that you may not know what your top choice is. If you come across as arbitrarily having checked off a box on your ERAS program, however, — especially at a formidable program like UCLA — it won’t reflect well. There was an applicant a few weeks ago, who despite having great scores and grades, came across as so disinterested in UCLA that she was ranked low enough as to have no chance of matching. You should be able to state why you’re interested in the program, such as the reputation, the people, the research opportunities, the therapy training, etc. You’re allowed to say the weather plays a part (let’s be honest – it does!), but don’t make this your sole reason for applying.
Grades & scores don’t matter as much as you think
Now don’t get me wrong – great grades and scores will help communicate that you’re a strong applicant. BUT, they are not necessary nor sufficient. I’ve seen applicants with more mediocre grades and scores be ranked highly because they were so personable, mature and articulate in their interviews. I’ve seen the opposite happen too. If you have an interview, the playing field is largely level, so present yourself like the superstar you are.
If you did a sub i, the interview doesn’t matter at all
So yeah, if you did a sub i at the program you’re interviewing at (which I highly recommend if it’s your top choice), you essentially already did your interview. If you did great (which I’m assuming you did, since you wanted to make a stellar impression), your goal is just not to mess up that impression. If you gave a medicore performance on your sub i, then no amount of awesomeness during your interview will save you. I feel compelled to mention this because I was surprised this year to see sub i’s rotate through who were unenthusiastic or lazy, basically relegating themselves to the Do Not Match list. Don’t be that person.
Being shy doesn’t need to work against you
I do think the interview process is weighted against introverts, who may feel less comfortable with all the socializing that occurs on interview day. Even if you trend toward shyness, you still need to demonstrate you can hold a meaningful conversation with another person (kind of a key part of being a psychiatrist). If you’re shy, though, it is more valuable to make sincere, close connections with a small number of people as opposed to superficial connections with a whole bunch of people. Those people you connect with and who like you can be your advocates during the rank meeting.
I hope this helps during your interview process. When in doubt, 1) Be nice and interesting, 2) Be articulate and reflective, and 3) Be someone a person like me would want to work with ;-).
Photo by Roger Imp