The Interview Day: How Do I Stop Being So Anxious During My Residency Interview?
Updated: Feb 10
Although Anxiety is Normal, You Need to Learn to Project Confidence
Some applicants are under the impression that interviewees shouldn’t be nervous.
That’s not at all true.
If you speak with accomplished individuals who are veterans of the interview experience, you’ll realize that even the most experienced continue to feel nervous during interview situations.
In fact, it’s common and completely natural to be nervous. Of course! Your residency interview is a high-stakes event.
Having said that, you need to work to reduce, or at least mask, your own anxiety.
Think about what schools and programs are seeking. They're looking for applicants who can handle the stresses of residency. They're looking for calm, confident professionals.
When you're thinking about the image you want to project, it should be focused on this: you’re an extremely well qualified applicant, and therefore you are calm and confident.
What Effects Does Anxiety Have on Your Residency Interview?
In evaluating interview performance, interviewers take note of both what you say and how you say it. High levels of anxiety have been shown to adversely affect a variety of factors, including:
In her article, “Anxiety patterns in employment interviews,” Young wrote that “anxious individuals are less likely to be hired… possibly because interviewers perceive highly anxious people to be less trustworthy, less task-oriented… than low anxiety interviewees.”
The First Step in Conquering Anxiety is Interview Preparation
The first -and best- way to conquer anxiety is thorough preparation. Interview preparation should involve:
Learning about the residency interview process
Rehearsing with friends
Performing a mock interview with an advisor
How to Calm Your Nerves and Reduce Your Cortisol Levels Before Your Residency Interview
Despite extensive preparation, anxiety can remain a significant problem for some applicants. We have a few additional suggestions for the days before an interview. These are techniques used by broadcasters, professional speakers, actors, athletes, and many other professionals who must prepare for high-stakes presentations or situations.
1. Utilize stress-reduction techniques. Many articles and books provide specifics on effective techniques utilized by actors, professional athletes, and public speakers. Such techniques include:
Progressive muscle relaxation
One of my personal favorites is progressive muscle relaxation. You'll find apps or podcasts that can walk you through this technique.
I'm also a big believer in breathing techniques, because research has demonstrated that they can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to reduce sympathetic nervous system activation. One of the simplest is the 4-7-8 breathing technique made popular by integrative physician Dr. Andrew Weil. Simply put, breathe inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale for a count of 8.
2. Channel your nervous energy into concrete, positive action. One example would be focusing on action items for interview preparation, such as re-reading the program information or practicing some of your responses for anticipated questions.
3. Direct your nervous energy into action that is unrelated to interview preparation. You’ve heard of the fight or flight response. Expend that extra adrenaline by heading to the gym or going for a run.
In clinic, I sometimes find my own adrenaline levels rising. It might be an angry patient or a distraught parent or realizing that you're half an hour behind in clinic; whatever the stressor, your body registers this with a faster heart rate and a faster respiratory rate. One of the quickest techniques for me, beyond breathing techniques, is to quickly take the stairs. A quick burst of exercise can help burn off that extra adrenaline.
4. Look over your CV to remind yourself of your accomplishments. The program would not be interviewing you if they weren’t impressed with you. You have a great deal to offer a school or a residency program, and you should be specific when reminding yourself of what you can bring to a program.
5. Your career does not ride on your performance at one interview. Remind yourself of this fact. For most applicants, other interviews will follow.
The bottom line is that interviews are high-stakes events and are inherently stressful. It's normal to feel anxious. That's why it's so important to work on interview preparation and institute the techniques that will help you overcome that anxiety. Your goal is to project the image of the calm, confident, highly qualified applicant that you know yourself to be.
We wish you all the best in your interviews.
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.