Did you know that coming up on Friday it is National Bow Tie Day? You may have noticed from the dashing picture of me on the side of this post or in various official IUSM publications that only wear bow ties. It certainly takes a special kind of doctor to wear a bow tie on a consistent basis. Should you wear one when you are on the interview trail? What are other suggestions for things to wear or not wear on the interview trail?
I will start by saying that you might be surprised that there are some bow tie haters out in the world. For example, when it came to what to wear on an interview, the residency application process book that I mentioned in my post about choosing a specialty specifically mentioned that one should not wear bow ties or bolos because they make you look weird and out of date. As someone who is often worried about coming across as a little odd, I certainly did not want to do anything to look even more weird or out of date. So, despite the fact that all I had worn for the past 4 years was bow ties, I decided to go the boring old regular tie route for interview season and nervously set out to my first destination. The Pediatrics Residency at Washington University at Saint Louis.
There I was, all ready to go. I got to the the right places at the right times and was being escorted to my first actual interview. I set into the doctor’s office and sit down. Now, something you may not know about WashU is that they refer to themselves as “The Harvard of the Midwest” And one thing that a number of professors at Harvard sport is bow ties. Apparently, this is a tradition that carried over to The Harvard of the Midwest because when I went to shake hands with my first interviewer, I noticed that he was most definitely wearing a bow tie. It was right then and there that I decided that I was going to wear a bow tie for the rest of interview season and probably to every interview I ever went on after that. The moral of the story? On the interview trail, you should be yourself.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should have free reign to dress however you would like. While pajamas and a comfy hat may be your preferred style, it may not make for the best impression on an interview.
So what is a medical student to do? Like in most cases, be yourself. But be the best version of yourself that you can be. Be clean. Make sure your nails and hair (facial or otherwise) are trimmed and not scraggly. Wear a suit that fits reasonably well. If that old suit from interviewing for medical school is either too big or too small on you at this point in your life, you should probably invest in a new one. No need to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy one, but a solid, well constructed suit will do you well throughout the interview season. And while you don’t have to go with a boring black suit if that is not your style, now might not be the time to test drive that glittery blue suit either. Same thing goes with your choice of dress shirt color and tie choice for males. Or if you are a female that likes to wear ties, for that matter.
The same general ideas apply for hair style, hair color, make-up, nail polish color, shoe color. If you are a guy or a girl who is a bit independent minded, fashion forward or likes to be known for outlandish colored hair, eye shadow, shoes, nail polish or some other accessory that my boring fashion sense can’t grasp, then you need to consider whether or not that is the impression that you want to give the program when you interview. My personal style is to go with a muted overall appearance and then let your sparkling personality (and application packet) shine through. To me the main question to ask yourself if you have a fashion question is: “Will this [hair style, nail polish color, shoe style, tie choice…] complement the story I am trying to tell on interview day or will it distract from the story I am trying to tell?” If you truly feel that your choice helps you tell your story to the program, even if that choice might turn off a program or two, then more power to you. I certainly decided after that first interview that I was just going to wear my bow ties for the rest of the season and if a program was going to move me down on their rank list because I wore a bow tie, then I probably didn’t want to be there anyways.
For better or worse, the style choices for men are a bit more limited than they are for women. To that end, one of the women from another medical school that I follow on Twitter sent the following question out to the universe. She is trying to match in General Surgery and wanted to know if she should wear a pantsuit or a skirt suit. There was also then a question of whether or not to wear hose. Personally, I had never thought it really mattered. In the 8 years that I have been involved in the ranking process for our pediatrics residency, not once have we judged an applicant based on their appearance or fashion choices. I would love to be able to promise all of you that the answer to that question above doesn’t matter. However, we all know that the world we live in is not a perfect one and women tend to be judged more harshly in these areas than men are. So, I would say on the whole not to worry about these questions and answer them however you feel most comfortable. I truly believe that in most cases, it probably won’t matter. However, if you are someone who is trying to match into a super-competitive specialty or if you are a female who is trying to match into a specialty that skews mostly male (I seriously hate myself for having to type any of this right now…) you may want to consider talking with a trusted advisor in that specialty to make sure that you are not going to accidentally fall into sartorial potholes.
Also, did you know that our very own Alyssa Marcheleta, Support Specialist for Career Mentoring, has expertise in Business Attire? If you have specific questions, concerns or if you have interest in learning more about business style questions, she is more than happy to help out and provide advice. She also is going to be posting some infographics and information on the bulletin boards outside of our office. Plus, look forward to a more in depth interview fashion discussion later in the year from her on this site!
The match climate is a bit more competitive now than when I was trying to match and it certainly is very easy for me to say these kind of things sitting on the other side of the match than you currently are. Like most things for interview season, in the end you should be yourself. Being you has gotten you this far in life and being you will continue to carry you forward. But just make sure that you are putting your best foot forward and you are telling your story and not distracting from your story.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Dr. McKenna is a graduate of IU School of Medicine, where he also completed a pediatric residency. He served as chief resident and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Associate Program Director for the pediatric residency p...