Residency Interview Questions: The Dreaded Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions have become a staple of residency interview questions for many program directors and faculty members. So what are behavioral interview questions anyway?

Behavioral interview questions are questions that focus on asking a candidate to talk about a prior experience and actions based on a specific scenario. The goal is to understand the depth of a candidate’s experience, how they responded to it, and their reasoning behind it. The experience is related to a specific situation that is commonly faced in a workplace environment. In the context of residency interview questions, it may relate to patient care, conflict management, or handling feedback. The idea is that these kinds of questions reveal more about who you are and how you think. It also creates a standardization of questions that allow for better candidate to candidate comparisons.

These types of residency interview questions are often very stressful for our clients. They are just different from the regular path of “tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” in which it is easier to prepare. But, with the right preparation, behavioral interview questions are not that challenging. In fact, we have great examples and strategies in our Video Course

Overall, here are some strategy tips.

  1. Don’t stress about them. The questions do feel “cold” and “standardized” – that is because they are designed to be. It doesn’t mean the interviewer doesn’t like you. I had interviews that were all 100% standardized behavioral questions. Your goal there is to do a great job answer them.
  2. Have a few detailed situations that you can adapt to the most common behavioral questions. It is impossible to have a detailed answer for every behavioral question. What you should have is 3 major professional events in your life that you can adapt to any behavioral question that gets thrown at you.
  3. Be clear and explicit about what you did. The goal is to understand your behavior, your decision, and your action – try to avoid terms like “we” or “us”. The point is for you to show your thinking and your behavior. 

The most common behavioral questions are as follows:

  • Tell me a time when you had to deal with conflict. 
  • Tell me a time when you had to lead.
  • Tell me a time when you received negative feedback.
  • Tell me about a time when you did something unethical.
  • Tell me a time when you did something nice.
  • Tell me a time when you went above and beyond for a patient or coworker.
  • Tell me a time when you had to stand up to your manager / boss / attending.
  • Tell me a time when you had to deal with a difficult coworker.

The interviewer is looking for depth, authenticity, and clarity around what you did in the above situations. Thus, details matter such as names, dates, times, and measurable metrics. It adds authenticity to the answer. For instance, instead of describing a situation where it was a “busy night” – say “we were 105% census on that night” when you had to deal with a conflict. This helps with authenticity and depth. Be clear about what you did – instead of saying “we had to wake up our attending” say “I had to page the attending cardiologist to tell him what was happening.” The clearer, more detailed, and specific you are about your handling of the situation and the maturity you show will distinguish you from other candidates. It will give the program director greater confidence you’ll be able to handle what residency throws at you.