Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Do Not Be Weird

This advice goes out to all of you who may be interviewing for residency soon. I cannot stress enough, DO NOT BE WEIRD. Do not be weird at any point of the interview process, including the pre-interview dinner/social. At my program, I'm part of the recruitment committee, which means I go to a few of the pre-interview dinners and conduct informal lunch interviews from time to time. I didn't realize last year when I was interviewing that these dinners and lunches are all scrutinized. Let's put it this way: if you think they may be evaluating you, they probably are. And if they're not, you should behave as if they are anyway.

My evaluations of candidates are certainly not the thing that makes or breaks them getting into our program. Rather, groups of evals are piled together to give an overall picture of a candidate. If one resident has an off eval but everyone else loves them, the off eval gets discarded. However, if several residents give off evals, this sends more of a message that this person may be a problem.

Cases in point:

1) Dinner started at 6. Applicant walks in at 6:40 (without calling to say they'd be late), surveys the group, asks "where's the pitcher of beer?", and proceeds to order one from the waiter without asking if anyone else is drinking or wants beer. Don't be an alcoholic at the dinner.

2) At a dinner just prior to the election, an applicant walked in wearing a prominently displayed political button. You simply cannot assume that everyone will agree with you at your interview dinner, and is it worth not getting into a program because someone got offended at your button? (This is a trivial point, for sure, but to me this implies that this person will be so passionate about their politics that they may be difficult to speak to without lengthy political harangues--not that I know anybody like that...)

3) Don't make fun of the male resident's choice of beverage by saying "That's so fruity". Do you know if they're gay? For that matter, do you know them at all? How can you possibly assume that person will not be offended by such a comment (unless you know them well)? (I wish I was making this up)

4) Dinner started at 5, applicant walked in at 5:45, looked at all of us eating, and asked "Oh, did you all get here early?" Awww-kward!

5) Don't spend the whole night talking about how amazing some other program is and how every other program in the country needs to adhere to the same standards as this other program and why doesn't your program do x like that program does?

6) Don't wear a denim jacket covered in fringe. Nuff said.

Actually, these comments were all made about 2 interviewees in some order. Any one of these things would have been okay by themselves--put together, they made most of us uncomfortable at the dinner, and several of us emailed the directors to say so.

Other advice for your interview dinner or interview day:

1) Again, DO NOT BE THE ALCOHOLIC. If people are having drinks, fine. If no one else is drinking and you want one drink, fine. If no one else is drinking and you order a pitcher, that's weird. This is psychiatry, we treat addiction all day--why advertise yours at the dinner? (although, maybe I should thank them for doing so)

2) For your interview, you must have a nice suit. Colored suits or pinstripes are perfectly acceptable within reason--no white, purple, or pink suits, please. The goal of your interview suit is to look nice and blend in, basically. People don't often remember the amazing Chanel suit, but they do remember the girl wearing black stretch pants with a turtleneck, because she sticks out (not even kidding, except that was med school interviews).

3) Tattoos and piercings: depends on the program and the specialty. My program has people who have both, including myself, but I didn't flaunt my tattoo during the interview (it's on my backside, so that would have been difficult). Some interviewers will take offense at dudes with earrings, dudes with long hair, people with pink hair, anyone with nasal piercings, etc. I know some people feel that their raging individualism makes it all worthwhile, and they'd rather die than go to a program where their neck tattoo isn't accepted, but again, I feel that the point of the interview day is to make your appearance NOT STICK OUT. They might remember you if you're amazingly hot, but they'll definitely remember large stretched ear piercings, etc. Why take a chance? Cover it up!

Fortunately, the majority of candidates I've interviewed or met at dinner were very nice, and I don't hesitate to pass on that I think so. I'm sure I'll have more to report back after interview season is over, so stay tuned!


chartreuse said...

I get the behavioral stuff -- don't be rude, don't drink to much, show up on time. But don't wear a purple suit? How random is that. I wore a purple suit to all my medical school interviews. Frankly, I'm pretty fat, so I'm going to stick out anyways! There are lots of people who for various reasons have appearances that stick out no matter what they do -- the idea that our goal should be to blend in no matter what is offensive to me. I can't blend in. I do, on the other hand, dress and behave RESPECTFULLY and I think that's what the standard should be, not how much can you look like everyone else.

Casey and Chris said...

Don't these thoughts apply to any interview? I'ld love to see what would happen if some of that was done if you interviewed at an elementary school...especially the political buttons...(remember I work in Killeen, right across from Ft. Hood.)

Tiny Shrink said...


I suppose the RIGHT purple suit would be okay, I was picturing something neon. Mauve can certainly work, and I assume plum or other such colors would be fine. Certainly, the point is to be respectful while trying to look nice. No offense meant.

C&C: absolutely, this applies to most interview situations. You try to express your individuality through your thoughts and ideas, not necessarily your pink hair or by wearing your political ideas on your clothes (unless you're interviewing to work for Kat von D or to work at the political campaign of whomever is on the button).

The MSILF said...

This. Was. Awesome.

I always assumed I'd wear (if I interviewed in a formal-er country) that I'd wear a classy suit, but no black or navy for me.

marcia said...

Sounds like Social Skills 101.

Is your residency program fairly conservative? I don't have a problem with random people having wild hair, gaged ears, and numerous piercings, but I wouldn't feel comfortable talking to a psychiatrist who looked like that (probably because I'm middle-aged and well past youthful trendiness).

Do you also analyze applicants for signs of personality disorder? What steps are taken to ensure a resident is reasonably well-adjusted? I've always wondered about that.

Midwife with a Knife said...

I think "Don't be the alcoholic" "Don't be late" and "Don't be weird" may be the 3 most important interview tips! ;)

Mayhem said...

(it's on my backside, so that would have been difficult)

See you'd think so, but no...not really.

Tiny Shrink said...

(regarding the tattoo on the backside)--that certainly would have made for an interesting interview...

tracy said...

Hi Tiny Shrink,
i thought this was fascinating and i'm not even a med student, unfortunately :(

i just found your blog...thanks!

Xavier Emmanuelle said...

Good tips. It worries me though that a person could get all the way through medical school without having learned those things... they seem pretty straight forward and common sense!

(A couple of piercings or a different hair colour could be okay though I think, so long as it isn't too intense).

Tiny Shrink said...

I actually don't have any problem with a few piercings, just nothing like hugely stretched or spikes in the eyebrow or lip piercings. The little jewel dot on the nose seems to be popular, and I myself have an ear cartilage ring. A friend in med school wore her tragus piercing through med school and residency interviews. I think the overall effect should look professional and not scary.