Lesson 3 of 3
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Conquering Challenging Interview Questions

By now you’re aware that the pathway to medical residency or fellowship is long and challenging. You have made it this far – and that’s something to be proud of! You’re preparing to take the next step: interviewing for a residency or fellowship position We’re here to make that interview a little less stressful with helpful tactics and strategies you can use right away.

You should have already watched the first two modules and taken the time to prepare answers to a couple of difficult interview questions. We’ll review those in a bit.

The goal of this module is for you to apply what you learned from the first two modules – the basics of body language and nonverbal communication, how to best present yourself to your interviewer, mistakes to avoid while interviewing, and answering common residency interview questions – with some new, more difficult questions.

These questions are designed to trip up candidates like yourself – it’s important not to get discouraged if progress in answering them takes time. Remember: practice makes perfect.

These are difficult questions that are open-ended – while they might at first seem impossible to answer while speaking positively about yourself, with a little thought and practice you’ll find that these are really opportunities to share professional elements of yourself that you are actively working on improving.

Remember that the whole reason you’re going into medical residency or fellowship is to learn and improve as a doctor. Part of how you answer these questions will show the program director interviewing you – and eventually managing you – how you handle adversity and opportunities for growth.

Think positive, keep an upbeat mindset, and always practice your answers ahead of time, and you’ll come out ahead of the competition.

Let’s get started.

At the end of the last module, we had three questions to think about and practice:

What is your biggest weakness?

Why should we take you into our program?

Tell us which aspect of your application you would change if you could.

Did you record your answers to these questions? Have you looked back at the recordings? Think about how you answered: your tone of voice, your rate of speech, the things we covered in module one. Think about the mindset you had when you answered: were you looking at these questions as opportunities to demonstrate professional improvement?

Let’s get started with strategies to answer these questions positively.

“What are some of your weaknesses?”

The purpose of this question is for the interviewer to determine how much you have been working on your perceived weaknesses.

The ideal answer is to discuss a weakness that you have identified and that you have been working on improving. This should be something you’re slowly turning into a strength. Come up with some examples on your own right now and then choose one of them as your answer.

Remember – don’t write them out as a script. Bullet points will keep you thinking spontaneously and answering naturally.

Don’t make the mistake of talking about multiple weaknesses. Pick one and focus on how you have grown as a result of recognizing this weakness. The mentality should be that the weakness was a motivator for you and has been a stimulus for your growth.

Talking about some specific steps you’ve taken to improve or eliminate this weakness show that you can address problems and work proactively to fix them.

Having an answer in the first place shows that you’re self-aware. You can recognize shortcomings and work to address them, even if they’re difficult.

Our second difficult interview-style question is:

“Why should we take you into our program?”

The purpose of this question is to see how you sell yourself and demonstrate how much you believe that you belong in this program. The interviewer is trying to determine if you are a great fit.

Convey this by doing research on the program in advance:

  • What is the program looking for?
  • What are their previous residents like?
  • What are the interests of your prospective interviewers?
  • What is the mission of the program?

The key is to demonstrate how you fit into this program and give an opportunity to go deeper into what you want to do to make a significant impact.

For mock interview purposes while you practice at home, choose your number one program and answer the question as if asked by them. Don’t forget to prepare ahead of time for your other interviews though. You don’t want to get caught unprepared just because you’re not interviewing with your first-choice program.

We will finish off with an overview of how to deal with negative interviewers and adversity.

Some of my students have had interviewers tell them “I don’t think you’ll be a good fit for our program” or “you have a history of too many failures and red flags on our application. I don’t think we will be taking you into our residency program.”

Should this happen, you’ll be prepared – and you’ll be able to show yourself in a positive light, just like those previous students did.

These negative statements are actually questions in disguise and are meant to unsettle and discourage interview candidates. They have the potential to set up a downward spiral for the rest of the interview.

Rather than getting discouraged right away though, let’s think about why the interviewer is bringing this up.

You already have an interview with this program and there are limited interview spots available. The residency or fellowship program wouldn’t waste a spot on someone who they know for sure they are not going to take.

Knowing this, you must realize that they are testing you for confidence, resilience, and belief in yourself.

Do you identify with your failures and fold, or do you emphasize how far you have come and how you have dealt with your past difficulties to become an even better candidate today?

Evolution and progress are only achieved through adversity: highlight this. Instead of becoming nervous and reacting negatively to the question, take it as an opportunity to sell the best parts of yourself and your application. Once again, take a pause and take a breath. Do so with a smile and enthusiasm and this will go a long way.

Now, we will discuss five qualities that are essential to determine your readiness for future interviews. Think about how comfortable you feel with each, and make a plan to practice those you feel you need help with.

  1. Ability to smoothly answer mock interview questions.
    How well do you gather your thoughts and build them into coherent answers? How well do you transition from one answer to the next, making the interview feel more like a natural conversation? How well have you rehearsed your answers, without memorizing them word-for-word?
  2. Ability to improve on weaknesses progressively.
    Are you recording practice interviews and watching them to find elements to improve? Are you seeing positive changes in your demeanor and answers?
  3. Ability to handle difficult, unexpected questions.
    How well do you handle the difficult questions we covered earlier in this module? How prepared are you to go off-notes, and talk about elements of your career so far that you haven’t explicitly prepared for?
  4. Confidence and enthusiasm for future interviews.
    Are you making positive eye contact with your interviewer? Are you speaking clearly without rushing? Do you feel comfortable while speaking? If not, take a minute and think about why.
  5. Optimization of body language, attire, and ambiance.
    Are you sitting up straight? Have you followed our tips for competent, confident, credible, professional dress? If you’re interviewing over a video call, is your environment set up for success?

Your progress through these three video course modules should illustrate mastery of these five qualities and answer all of these questions positively.

With practice, you’ll feel comfortable with each of them. Remember that these videos are here for you to use to refresh your skills at any time.

Remember that interviewing practice never ends; even after a great interview, reflect on what happened and figure out how to be even better next time. By following the guidelines in these three video modules, you will have an abundance of interested programs to choose from while completing your rank list and will raise your chances of matching into medical residency or fellowship significantly.

You know how to act, how to dress, and how to conduct yourself. You can set up your computer and space for a successful online interview. You’re ready to answer common questions, and a few that are meant to trip you up.

Congratulations! You’re now able to impress your interviewer and move one step closer to your goal of medical residency and fellowship.