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  • Writer's pictureRajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD

Mock Interviews and Body Language for the Residency Interview

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

If you’re preparing for your residency interview, mock interviews should be a key part of your interview preparation. These are very helpful when assessing your verbal communication as well as your non-verbal communication skills. In this blog post, we’re going to:

  • Review how to evaluate your nonverbal communication during a mock interview

  • Highlight a mock interview rubric that you can use with your advisor to help evaluate your nonverbal communication

  • In our next post, we review the use of mock interviews to evaluate your verbal communication skills

The importance of evaluating your interview body language

What kind of message does your body language send? Think about these different mock interviews (*all details changed):

  • Angela is a highly accomplished medical student. As I ask her “tell me about your research”, she gives a really lengthy answer, during which she rests her head on her hand.

  • Jung is also a highly accomplished medical student. While he’s answering the question “tell me about your strengths“, he starts tapping his pencil on the desk, repeatedly.

  • Steve also has a strong academic record. When I ask him to tell me about himself, he repeatedly looks away.

As you’re thinking about these students, it probably doesn’t matter how strong their verbal communication skills were in that moment.

  • Angela looks tired and unenthusiastic

  • Jung looks nervous and anxious

  • Steve looks nervous and, since he’s having problems making eye contact, we’re also having problems making a connection

This is what we mean by nonverbal communication.

Body language that sends a strong, positive, accurate message

Now I want you to picture an interview where body language is in sync with verbal communication.

  • Angela, as she’s telling me about her research, is leaning forward and gesturing excitedly.

  • Jung, as he’s telling me about his strengths, is sitting up straight, looking me in the eye, and speaking confidently.

  • Steve, as he’s telling me about himself, is smiling and appears relaxed and confident.

The bottom line is that this body language is in sync with the message that all applicants should be aiming for: that you are a mature, confident students who is certain that they will be a strong asset to this program.

Body language for interviews

Are you personally aware of how you communicate nonverbally?

Most applicants aren't. When conducting mock interviews, we've found that most of our applicants focus their attention mainly on their verbal communication.

They don't tend to focus much on their nonverbal communication, also known as body language. However, your non-verbal communication is a key component of your communication and your overall message.

Image of applicant in a residency interview with poor body language
In a residency interview, your body language is an important aspect of your non-verbal communication and overall message

Your body language during interviews sends an important message

It’s estimated that 65% to 90% of every conversation is interpreted through body language. We have personally worked with many qualified applicants who interview poorly. Sometimes, this comes down to the fact that their nonverbal language simply isn't in sync with the content of their answers.

In all personal interactions, communication occurs in two fashions: verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal communication can be as important, and in some cases more important, than verbal communication.

For example, body language cues can overcome the content of your interview answers, especially if your body language conveys hesitation, uncertainty, or a lack of conviction.

Mock interviews are a critical part of residency interview preparation

How can you get a clear evaluation of your nonverbal language? We recommend participating in a mock interview. This is an excellent way to learn about how you communicate nonverbally. How do interviewers analyze body language? Most of the time this is done on a subconscious level. Any inconsistency between verbal and nonverbal communication may raise red flags. For example, we’ve interviewed applicants who can’t send a consistent message.

  • While their self-proclaimed greatest strength is passion and dedication, they’re slouched in their chair, leaning on the armrest, and looking a little bored.

  • Others say the right things, but seem to lack sincerity. In response to a question on why a resident is switching fields: “I found that my passion lay not in spending hours in the operating room, but in spending time in an outpatient setting speaking with patients.” Although the content of the answer was fine, the poor eye contact suggested insincerity.

  • The applicant who keeps smiling and laughing, even when discussing a sad patient case.

  • Or the student who maintains such a blunted affect that it’s difficult to tell if they’re bored, tired, or just at baseline.

You’d be surprised how often such cues can lead an interviewer to make snap judgments about a candidate’s qualifications.

Prior to your mock interview, do a self-evaluation

Your own evaluation of this type of communication should include a conscious awareness of several items.

  • What are you doing with your hands?

  • How is your posture?

  • Are you maintaining eye contact?

While you can perform a self-evaluation, mock interviews are critical in evaluating your nonverbal cues

Mock interviews can be staged with colleagues, family members, older students, professors, advisors, or interview coaches. Your feedback should include specific attention to your nonverbal communication skills. Mock interviews can be videotaped as well, which we highly recommend. Just note that reviewing your performance can prove uncomfortable (but enlightening!).

Successful nonverbal communication includes these basic rules of body language during an interview

Weiten, in his book Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century, wrote (citing the work of Riggio) “it has been found that interviewees who emit positive nonverbal cues – leaning forward, smiling, and nodding, are rated higher than those who do not.”

Some basic rules to be aware of:

  • Stand and walk with erect posture and shoulders back.

  • Shake hands firmly. Avoid a limp or crushing handshake.

  • Your facial expressions should be relaxed. Avoid indicators of excessive anxiety, such as the furrowed brow or tense jaw.

  • Maintain appropriate eye contact. Don’t stare down your interviewer.

  • Hand gestures should be appropriate, and not overdone.

  • Avoid excess. While you should smile and nod occasionally, some applicants exhibit nervous laughter or excessive head bobbing.

Equally important is avoiding nervous and distracting habits

We could list endless examples, but here are a few of the most common:

  • Looking down or glancing away

  • Tapping the foot or drumming fingers on desk or chair

  • Leg shaking

  • Fiddling with jewelry or other accessories

  • Twirling the hair

  • Glancing often at the watch

Image of applicant in a residency interview with poor eye contact
Failure to maintain eye contact suggests a lack of confidence, although prolonged staring can also send a negative message

Body Language 101

What should I do with my hands?

  • Rest your hands in your lap. It’s acceptable to clasp your hands together, but don’t clasp too tightly or make a fist.

  • Avoid folding your arms across your chest. This can create an impression of rigidity, unapproachability, disagreement, or even dishonesty.

  • Do not cover your mouth or touch your face while you speak. Touching the face may give the impression of dishonesty.

  • Avoid touching your tie, tugging at your collar, or straightening your clothing. Fidgeting, playing with hair, and adjusting clothing are signs suggestive of anxiety or uncertainty.

  • We also recommend that you not hold your pen in your hand. Many applicants end up fiddling or tapping with it.

How should I sit?

  • Posture can weigh heavily in how others perceive you.

  • Maintain an alert, straight posture while you sit, stand, and walk.

  • Leaning forward slightly demonstrates interest.

  • Applicants who slouch can sometimes appear unmotivated or disinterested.

What should I do with my feet?

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. You may cross your legs at your ankles.

  • Do not rest your ankle on your opposite knee.

  • Constant movement of the legs can be irritating to interviewers.

Mock interview rubric for non-verbal communication

As you get ready to participate in a mock interview, you may wish to receive more structured feedback from your advisor or colleague. This assessment form can help. Feel free to print out, using our printable PDF, or to share, using our word document.

PDF_ Rubric NonVerb
Download PDF • 86KB
Word Doc_ Rubric NonVerb
Download DOCX • 39KB


Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of The Residency Interview 101, the online course that helps applicants quickly and confidently prepare for their residency interviews. She is also the co-author of The Successful Match: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match and served as Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.

Dr. Samir Desai is the author of 20 books, including The Successful Match and The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 20 years and has won numerous teaching awards.

If you'd like to receive a free 100+ page excerpt of The Successful Match, please sign up here.

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