The past week I have received a lot of questions about one particular aspect of Interview Season, the pre-interview social activity. Should I go? How important is it? What if I have a prior commitment? Do I have anything in my teeth?
One of the perks of interview season is being able to go around the country to new and interesting places. Certainly there are many serious moments and you are out there trying to impress residency programs, you are also being recruited by programs. It may not be quite like being recruited to play Division I college sports, but often times programs will at least try to host a dinner or some kind of social event the night before interviews. It is a good way for you to get to know the residents and the program a little better (and possibly faculty if they are there) and see if you fit in with the group. It is also a way for them to get to know you and don’t forget that they are always watching you.
Certainly it is a more relaxed atmosphere and they most likely don’t have an official score sheet for your manners and social skills at dinner, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t keeping an eye open for significant missteps. They probably won’t judge you for using the wrong fork, but if you get drunk or are mean or cruel to the servers you better believe that word will get back to the program pretty fast. The residents will not let something like that slip past. Here are some quick tips to consider for activities at the periphery of interview day:
Q: Am I allowed to have an alcoholic beverage?
A: I am assuming that you are of drinking age (but maybe you aren’t) so I think it is fine to do so. But for good measure, I would probably not be the first one in the group to break that barrier. It might also not be the ideal time to challenge yourself to drink the World’s Largest Margarita or order something hardcore that makes the rest of the table wonder if you were the captain of your college drinking team. This should go without saying, but don’t get drunk. You do not want to leave that impression with the group and you don’t really want to be dealing with the after effects the next morning when you need to have your ‘A’ game ready for interview day.
Q: I have heard that some programs will pay for you to stay in a hotel, but what if they offer to put me up at a resident or faculty member’s place?
A: Thankfully, I think this practice has gone out of style. Certainly, there are still a great number of programs that will pay for you to stay in a hotel. It used to be a bit more common to offer to have you stay at the house of a resident in order for you to save money or to make it seem more personal, especially if that resident was from your medical school. In the end, that always felt kind of an uncomfortable set up in general. Because now you always have to be on. I don’t think anyone ever judged an applicant on whether they cleaned up the sink after brushing their teeth or how loud they snored, but still if someone from the program is around, you need to be on your best behavior. Plus, we are not even mentioning the fact that you are staying at the home of essentially a random stranger.
Q: Do I have to go? I don’t really like chatting with people.
A: For the most part, these activities are not required. They are mostly ways to recruit you a little bit, give you a chance to see get to know the residents and have them get to know you. So, while they aren’t typically mandatory, you probably should not be ditching out on them without a pretty good reason. Unless you are under the weather and need to use that time to recuperate in time for the actual interview day or if your travel plans preclude you from making it to the function on time, I would plan on going.
Q: So, then what should I do if my travel plans make it so I can’t go to the dinner?
A: Just like when it comes to canceling interviews, you should definitely be a stand up person and tell them you won’t be able to make it. You don’t have to tell them exactly which residency program interview you are coming from, but you should at least tell them that your plane won’t land until after the dinner starts or your travel plans will prevent you from being there but you look forward to interviewing at the program on the interview day. That way whomever is hosting the event won’t be trying to track you down when you don’t show up. That is not a great way to make a good first impression.
Q: So… um…. [shuffling feet, looking at the ground]… I’m a bit of an introvert and not always comfortable talking to new people. Any tips?
A: It is understandable for you introverts out there that this free form activity might be the most stressful event of the whole interview session. As a secret introvert myself, I am happy to give you some of my tried and true tips to help you through a function like this.
Ask people about themselves. Almost everyone likes answering questions about themselves! Simple, straight-forward questions like: Why did you choose this program? Where do you live in town? What do you and your classmates do for fun? What are the best parts of living in [name of city or state you are currently in]? See where it goes from there, especially if it turns out you have a few things in common.
Pick up a newspaper or watch TV or check on the latest big stories on the Interwebz or social media. Stay away from religion and politics. I hear there is a big movie or two coming out in the coming weeks?
Have a game plan for what you want to get across about yourself during the evening. I am going to talk more about this later in the week, but just like I want you to have a narrative in mind for interview day, consider having one in mind for the night before as well. What side of yourself do you want the residents to see? Funny? Kind? Thoughtful? Interesting? Vanilla, but able to chew with your mouth closed? Whatever your want them to see about you, have a story or anecdote prepared that get at that and you would be surprised at how fast the time flies by.
Interview season is the best thing you never want to do again. you might be seeing new places and new parts of the country, as well as a number of beautiful hospital facilities. Take advantage of your time on the road and see some new things, meet some new people and continue to show yourself in the best light possible!
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...