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  • Writer's pictureRajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD

What to Wear to Your Residency Interview

First Impressions are an Important Component of Your Interview

Especially in an interview setting, first impressions are incredibly important. In fact, there’s an entire book devoted to the subject of first impressions called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (and it’s a bestseller).

Why are first impressions so important? In an interview setting, a positive first impression can produce what’s known as the “halo effect“. In essence, an interviewer who forms a positive first impression of you within the first 60 seconds of meeting may have that impression carry over to the rest of the interview.

The Importance of Attire, Grooming, Smiles, and Handshakes

When you think about meeting somebody for the first time, what are you evaluating during those first 60 seconds?

For most people, it boils down to a subconscious global impression. You might notice somebody’s expression: are they relaxed, smiling, and confident? Or do they look anxious, with furrowed brows and a frown?

Is the handshake firm and confident, or is it damp and limp?

Beyond your smile, your expression, and your handshake, your interviewers are going to take subconscious note of your grooming, attire, and general appearance as well.

In the setting of an interview, you want all of these factors to convey a professional message.

Image of residency applicant shaking hands with an interviewer
First impressions are important, which is why it's important to take the time to think about your attire, smile, and handshake.

The Successful Physician:

Professional and with Meticulous Attention to Detail

The message that you want to convey during your interview is that of a future successful physician. In other words, you want to appear confident, professional, neat, and detail-oriented.


What to Wear: Professional Business Attire in Which You Feel Comfortable

Since attire is such an important component of first impressions, you want to take the time to get this right.

In general, professional business attire for an interview (for both men and women) will mean a dark, well-fitting suit. There are certainly variations of this, and nuances, but that should be your baseline.

Also pay attention to the details. Make sure your suit is well-fitted and ironed. You want to make sure there’s no lint, stains, or missing buttons. (I know that sounds obvious, but it’s still worth doing a last-minute check of your suit to make sure everything’s in place.)

Our general recommendations for professional interview attire:

For men:

• A well-fitted suit

• Dark blue, gray, or black

• An ironed shirt that is long sleeved and typically white

• A long tie

• A belt that matches the shoes

• Shoes that are clean and polished

• Matching socks that are mid-calf length

• Well-groomed hairstyle

• Neat and trimmed beard and mustache

• Nails: clean and trimmed

For women:

• A pant or skirt suit

• In general: solid, dark colors

• Blouse: solid color or non-distracting pattern

-• Shoes: clean, closed toe, dark or neutral color, low to moderate heels---hj-

• Hosiery: at or near skin color

• Well-groomed hair style

• Nails: clean, trimmed


Beyond what to wear, it’s also important to know what not to wear

The following list outlines some of the things to avoid when you’re choosing your attire. Although some of these may sound obvious, we’ve seen these mistakes over the years, so it’s worth looking over this list.

For men, avoid:

• Ostentatious rings or chains

• Strongly scented cologne

• Strongly scented aftershave

For women, avoid:

• Excessive or distracting jewelry

• Strongly scented perfume

• Distracting hair or makeup

• A low neckline or short skirt

Basically, you want to be remembered for your strengths, communication skills, and potential: not for your clothing

I’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants, and some of them were memorable for the wrong reasons.

I remember applicants with the dangling, hypnotic earrings, a white dress shirt and no undershirt (it was sticking to his skin), and even strong, overpowering cologne.

It’s not so much that I formed a negative impression of these applicants. It’s more that these factors sometimes distracted from an applicant’s responses.


What about facial piercings, tattoos, earrings for men, long acrylic nails, and other edgy, modern, or similar attire?

All of these fall into a gray area

You definitely want to avoid being sloppily dressed or poorly groomed, because your program is seeking a highly professional, mature physician with compulsive attention to detail.

When it comes to these other considerations, however, there’s a lot more nuance. In the past, we would have advised against facial piercings or long acrylic nails. As standards change, however, it really depends on the particular school or program at which you’re interviewing.

If you’re not certain, I would caution against it. You can also speak to your advisers and current residents in the program to get an idea of what they might consider appropriate.

The bottom line: Residency programs are seeking professional, mature residents with close attention to detail, and your choice of attire and grooming should reflect that.


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 award


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