Getting accepted into a neurosurgery residency in the United States is one of the hardest things one can achieve in his or her professional medical career. It is not impossible, but it takes careful planning and a great amount of work. It involves a very delicate and strict formula, and to achieve this goal, you have to get your checklist ready for this “amazing race.” One of the most important components of this formula is how to interview. We discuss here how to interview in general, whether you are applying to a research position, a subinternship, or even your residency interview, which is the most important one of all.

The day has come, you have received an e-mail or a call to interview for a position. Congratulations! However, your work has just begun. First, consider the question, what will make a program director or a lab manager hire you? Turn the table and put yourself in his or her shoes. You must convince him or her that as an international medical graduate (IMG), you are more than capable and that they can count on you.

Even the smartest and most qualified applicants need to prepare for their interview. Interview skills are learned and obtained over time and with practice. There is no second chance to make a great first impression. The following are some tips and techniques on how to excel in your interview; most important to remember is that it is never wrong to practice and practice and practice. For more information, please also see Interviews Chapter in this Atlas. 

  • Practice your verbal communication skills—Your verbal/English communication skills are the first thing that will give an impression about you when interviewing. Practice your English constantly, and remember that it is important to be clear and well understood when speaking. You do not have to “sound American;” you just have to be clear and accurate.
  • Keep your curriculum vitae (CV) ready and updated—Always keep an updated copy of your CV ready. Also, make a short summary of your CV (resume) (no more than 1 page.) Bring copies to the interview in case it is needed, but do not offer it during the interview unless specifically asked.
  • Spend time learning about the program and the faculty—It is extremely important to know as much as you can about the program for which you are interviewing. The fastest and most easily accessible source is the program’s website. Use it to learn about the faculty and various people there. Also, read about its activities, research, strategies, and mission. Other potential sources include research papers published from authors at that institution and news articles about the institution.
  • Prepare for common interview questions—Every “how to interview” article on the internet has hundreds of common interview questions, and chances are, you will encounter some or many of them in your actual interview. Thus, it is worthwhile to give some of these articles a quick read, and practice your best way to answer the possible questions as applied to your specific situation in the field of medicine.
  • Dress professionally—It is recommended that you wear clothes with solid colors (navy blue, grey, or black are most commonly used; avoid very shiny or flashy colors.) Keep jewelry and cologne to a minimum. Most important of all is to wear a confident smile.
  • Practice your nonverbal communication skills—Good nonverbal communication includes giving a firm handshake, showing calm confidence, sitting at attention, not fidgeting, and maintaining eye contact. These are your first nonverbal impressions, and they can be a great beginning to your interview. Remember that you can achieve the foundation for a successful interview within the first few minutes.
  • Listen carefully to your interviewer—Your interviewer might start the interview with some information about the program before asking you questions. Let the interviewer speak first as much as he or she wants, and never interrupt; interrupting will only make you seem rude. 

    When it is your turn to speak, be humble and do not talk for too long. Give appropriate yet brief answers. Speak with passion and sincerity. Never be arrogant or speak in a negative manner about any other person or institution/program, even if the interviewer does so. Although extremely rare, do your best to avoid discussing any nonprofessional topics that may arise, such as religion, politics, intimate details of your personal life, etc. On the off chance that an interviewer does raise such a topic, do not view it as a negative reflection of yourself; just try to guide the conversation back toward professional topics related to why you would potentially be a great neurosurgery resident in their program.
  • Ask questions—Toward the end of your interview, your interviewer typically will ask if you have any questions. It is not recommended to answer this question with a “no.” Always ask a few well thought out questions, because it shows that you are resourceful and interested and have done your homework about the program before coming to the interview.
  • Last, be confident, and feel proud that you have made it this far. Believe that you can do it. Practice and prepare yourself, and you will be ready. Best of luck.

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Ahmed Habib, MD

DOI: https://doi.org/10.18791/nsatlas.v13.8

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