Residency Interviews: From the Other Side of the Table

By Eric Swenson, DPM.

How well do you handle stress under pressure? If you don’t already know, you will definitely find out during residency interviews. I mean, it’s not like they are the most important set of interviews of your life, right? It only partially dictates where you’re going to live and train in residency for the next 3 years; no pressure! Hopefully, throughout externships, you have made or will make connections and great long-lasting impressions at your programs so that everything doesn’t come down to your performance during interviews. That being said, however, you still have to bring your A-game. As a PGY-1 who recently went to interviews, I thought it would be helpful to shed some insight and advice from the other side of the table.


Preparation Advice and Tips

It will never hurt you to ask the residents at a program you are externing at for interview advice.

Case Workups: Practice going over case workups. Your basic residency interview will be a case workup followed up by some social questions, or vice versa. Programs want to see your thought process, and how you work through a case.

Radiographs: You can count on getting radiographs, so practice reading them out loud to better articulate what you see when the time comes.

Classifications: Know as many classifications as you can. You could very well be shown a picture of a wound or fracture pattern and asked to classify it, so know them cold.

AO Principles: Know and understand basic AO principles. Programs can tell if you’ve just memorized things versus if you actually understand them. So really take the time to understand it.

Social Questions: Practice answering your basic social questions. You never know what a program will ask you, so the more questions you have an answer for, the better. Some questions will be to get to know you better and some will be geared towards how you react.

Asking for advice: It will never hurt you to ask the residents at a program you are externing at for interview advice. Not only can reaching out to them give you some insight on how their program interviews, but that action also shows your interest level.

Monthly Summary: Summarize your month at a program after your externship. It doesn’t take that long to write down a couple paragraphs of your experience over the past month at a program. I highly recommend doing this right at the end of your month while your memory is still fresh. Make sure to take note of your favorite case(s) you saw while you were there, and also the pros and cons of the program as it’s easy to forget the pros and cons later on down the road. Write down pertinent things about the program, such as whether a certain attending prefers a Lapidus over a Kalish, or something along those lines. That way, if you’re asked in an interview, you know their style or preference.


Interview advice

Attire: Dress to impress! You are giving your best professional impression during interviews so make sure you plan accordingly. If you don’t own a couple nice suits that fit properly or a tie, it’s time to go shopping. A lot of people wear black suits at interviews, which is fine but you don’t have to wear a black suit, it’s not a funeral! Don’t be afraid to wear other colors, like a dark blue or gray suit, as long as you keep it professional. That being said, don’t show up looking like Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber either. Ladies, avoid wearing tops that show cleavage as well as short skirts.

Personal hygiene: I know this is common sense but have good personal hygiene. Get a fresh haircut, trim your nails, take a shower and wear deodorant. You don’t want to leave a stinky impression! Guys with facial hair should really consider shaving. If you keep the facial hair, make sure it looks professional.

Program Socials: ATTEND ALL SOCIALS!!! Even if it’s only for 20 minutes! If you don’t show up to the program social, the program will interpret your absence as a lack of interest and will not consider you a serious candidate. This can be difficult as most socials are at the same time, so you really have to plan your night accordingly. While at the socials, talk to the residents and attendings, i.e. be social. Definitely talk to the director, especially if you can’t stay that long. We know you probably have other socials to attend, so don’t feel bad if you can’t stay that long. There will be wine and beer at most socials so whatever you do, do NOT get sloppy.

Know your program: Before your interview, familiarize yourself again with the program you are interviewing with. Do you remember all the names of the residents and attendings? Review any recently published work by the program. Also, this is where your monthly summaries come into play. Review your summary of your month at the program and the cases you encountered.

Differences between candidates who externed vs those who didn’t: If you didn’t extern and only visited, your interview will most likely be a little different. You still have a chance at the program if they granted you an interview, however, it might be more difficult. You will probably encounter more academic based questions than social questions. Also, be familiar with your CV. Programs only have your application, CV, letters of recommendations and grades to go off of if they don’t know you that well, so be prepared. As hard as it is, you have to show your personality. We need to get to know you, so be social and have enthusiasm! We are looking for an addition to our team, having a flat affect or poor personality is a big red flag and will not get you far. Lastly, if you only visited the program, then you need to find a way to set yourself apart from others who externed. Give them a reason to choose you over the other candidates. Put yourself in our shoes. Why should we choose you? What can you offer to the program that others can’t? Be able to answer those questions with confidence and poise because it’s likely you will get asked these.

Rankings: Rank your programs based on YOUR preference of where you WANT to go. No matter what anyone tells you, nothing is certain until Match Day. Try not to let interviews affect your rankings. You may think you didn’t perform that well during an interview, but in all actuality, you probably did better than you think. Don’t rank based on where you think you have the best chances of matching, rank based on where you want to go. Once you match, you sign a contract and that’s where your next 3 years will be.

As hard as it is, you have to show your personality. We need to get to know you, so be social and have enthusiasm!


In Summary

The Do’s and Don’ts of Interviews:


  • Dress professionally, have good hygiene and arrive early to all interviews.
  • Show your excitement, interest, and enthusiasm for the program.
  • Have confidence in your answers and in yourself.
  • It’s normal to be nervous, but you need to show your personality!
  • Review your externship month summaries, i.e. know the program you’re interviewing for.
  • Go to all socials, even if it’s only for 20 minutes.
  • Follow up with programs you’re really interested in after interviews. Text residents or email the director thanking them for the interview.


  • Don’t be shy and quiet, we are trying to choose an addition to our team. You have to be social and personable.
  • Don’t be stinky and sloppy, shower and suit up!
  • Avoid saying red flags like “I don’t like the sight of blood” or “I hate wound care.” This is no good.
  • Never be late to an interview.
  • Don’t miss the social. You won’t be taken as a serious candidate.
  • Don’t be cocky or cop an attitude; this will not go over well. This includes externships too.
  • Don’t have a flat affect or be non-emotional. You will be seen as someone who won’t have patient compassion or empathy.


by Eric Swenson, DPM 

Mount Auburn Hospital

Cambridge, MA

Reprint: Originally published February 28, 2019, Hallux Magazine


Residency Interviews: From the Other Side of the Table

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