This has been a really interesting month and a half, being on the other side of the table, interviewing candidates for my current PGY-1 position. It’s somewhat like a psychology experiment in a way – learning how to read people, trying to pick up on the smallest of details and idiosyncrasies – anything to help you make this crucial decision to your program and to these candidates who are about to commit a year of their lives to you and, essentially, become part of your “work family.”

At my institution we interviewed over 40 candidates for our PGY-1 and PGY-2 programs. After a while you start to see different types of interviewees manifest. I think it’s just something our brain does – we try to relate new information to previously learned patterns, and we make assumptions based off of our past experience with that concept, or personality type, in this case. I could break down interviewees into 5 main types:

  1. The EXTRA-vert: the candidate who comes off a little too strong. It’s easy to tell they are trying really hard to get you to like them. They may name-drop at random times throughout the interview day or laugh a little longer than necessary at one of your jokes. In some cases they walk a fine line between confidence and arrogance, which is a line you do not want to cross.
  1. The Pokerface: these candidates like to hold their cards close to the chest. They reveal their personality in very small doses, if at all, and only smile when they know for certain that the situation calls for lightheartedness. You try not to count them out too soon – they may be a royal flush.
  1. The Recon Expert: these candidates have done their homework and then some. They have scrutinized every nook and cranny of your website, know all of the research you have published, and have countless questions to ask. You respect these candidates for their exceptional interest in your program but can’t help but be a little creeped out at the same time.
  1. The Awkward Turtle: while we all tend to have baseline nerves on interviews, these candidates may be a bit more awkward than the average person in one way or another. They might have a wet-noodle handshake; engage in prolonged, uninterrupted eye contact; or some other unique mannerism that is only amplified by the stress of interviewing.
  1. The Goldilocks: this candidate is not too hot, not too cold, but just the right temperature for your liking – harder to find than a unicorn in the wild, but once you meet this person, you have an undeniable gut feeling that he or she would fit perfectly with the culture and values of your program.

So…what type of interviewee are you? I can almost guarantee that everyone who has participated in residency interviews has been some or all of these at one point in time. I know I have. As a PGY-1 resident heading into a PGY-2 Emergency Medicine residency next year, I have been through my fair share of interviews, and it is definitely a learning process. Probably the most important piece of advice I could give to candidates would be this: if you want to stand out from the crowd, just be yourself, and be genuine in your interactions with others. It makes all the difference in the world.