The 3 Most Important Residency Interview Questions to Nail: Part 3 – Why Choose You?

We’re here at Part 3! In Part 1, we talked why nailing “Tell Me About Yourself” is so important. We hope you found the tips helpful. In Part 2, we gave you some of our favorite questions to ask and gave you some strategies on how to use this to your advantage to sell your interviewer on what they should rank you highly. 

In part 3, we’re going to be talking about the 3rd most common and important residency interview question to nail. The question is: 

Why Choose You? 

Now, this question comes in various different forms. Here are other ways your interviewer may ask this question. 

  • What sets you apart?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Why should we rank you highly?
  • What makes you different?

Personally, I have always disliked this question. It’s a bit aggressive. It’s a question that is also a bit lazy – the interviewer has to ultimately justify your rating / score and your rank position. Although this question is far less common than “Tell Me About Yourself” or “What Questions Do You Have for Me?”, it is in our top 3 because it does get asked and if you do not have a strong answer it really can hurt you in the rank list.

Our Strategy for Answering the “Why Choose You” Residency Interview Question

We really try hard here to give you actionable and meaningful advice to help you do better. For me, I usually like to start this off with a concession to the interviewer.

“That’s a great question – I know that you and this program have a lot of choice of fantastic candidates to choose from. It’s often times difficult to determine who will stand out and be a great resident.”

Why do I say the above? Well, I’m building trust. I don’t jump in right away to how awesome I am – I recognize why the interviewer is asking this question to build rapport and alignment. This interviewer will immediately agree with the above statement because he or she is asking the question because it is hard to differentiate.

I continue this with a little more detail.

“Step scores, and letters of recommendation only tell you so much. I know it can be hard in a short interview to gather more information.”

This just further builds trust. I then transition it to my full answer. 

“But, I feel that I do stand out and if I had the honor of matching here I am confident I will be a successful resident.”

The transition statement above is important. It shows confidence and clarity. You do not want to sound weak or timid. You built some trust already by acknowledging why the interviewer has to ask this question. You then make a statement that clearly states that you are a superior candidate. You make a point about how fortunate you would feel “if I had the honor” if you trained there to further build rapport.

You now have the interviewer’s attention and trust.

I then like to follow up the answer – again, this is a common question and it requires a well thought out answer – with a structure.

“The reason I feel so strongly that I will be successful is for the following 3 reasons.”

You’re helping the interviewer with structure. They know that your answer will be clear, crisp, and organized.

“The first reason comes down to qualifications. I graduated in the top 10% of my medical school class, which happens to be the top 3 ranked medical school in my province back home. I followed this up with strong clinical grades, competitive Step scores, and impactful observerships where I know I have the skills to succeed in a U.S. residency.”

The first and most basic reason to pick you and then rank you highly is qualifications. You may think this is completely obvious – it is. But, other interviewees will not emphasize this point. You want to make sure the interviewer is completely confident in your ability to perform clinical duties. You can do this quickly by accentuating the strength of your training and your confidence. 

This then allows you to move on to the second part of the answer. Talk about anything specifically unique or stands out about you. This maybe a research interest, a clinical interest, or a strong bond to the program. I am fortunate in that I have a lot of research experiences. 

“Beyond my training qualifications, I also feel that my unique research background would be an asset to this program. For instance, I have been well trained in research techniques that include clinical protocol development, recruitment, and biostatistics. I feel that those skills will allow me to explore opportunities here in this residency program to contribute to research and work with the incredible faculty here. Specifically, I have an interest in primary care and quality improvement.”

You do not want to go overboard here – as you probably covered this in a “Tell Me About Yourself” answer – but, it’s always good to remind them of your unique skills and abilities. The more you can personalize it—the better. If your residency program has a strong rural health program, you may want to link your interests or prior experiences to link to that aspect. The same maybe said for subspecialities like gastroenterology or cardiology. 

The last and most important part of the answer is for you to talk about fit. 

“The last reason why I do feel that I stand out beyond my qualifications and unique professional experiences is simply my sense of a strong fit between myself and this program. I can tell this program rewards residents who work hard, are proactive, and seek opportunities to learn and grow. These are characteristics that I have cultivated in myself for my entire professional career. I believe that if I am fortunate enough to match here, I will be able to demonstrate that to you and my co-residents.”

 This last part is important to take it home. Everyone wants to find fit. Programs know they will match a certain kind of competitive resident. Thus, you want to be highest on their rank list for the program’s strengths and characteristics. By emphasizing fit, you really leave the interviewer an impression that you both are great matches for each other.

The “Why Choose You?” question can feel awkward and even aggressive. The best way to answer it is with confidence and conviction. By first acknowledging that picking residents are hard, you gain the interviewer’s trust and build alignment. The residency interview answer then can be broken up into three key parts. Part 1 is to emphasize your clinical qualifications to allay any concern that you won’t be able to fulfill your clinical duties to the maximum. Part 2 gives you a chance to highlight one unique aspect of your background that will be an asset to the program. Part 3 brings it home by emphasizing resident / program fit.

We hope this helps! Check out our Video Course for even more content and video examples.