Behavioral Questions used during the Interview


During and interview, it's easy for an applicant to say “I'm a really hard worker” or “I am very reliable”.  

Anyone can say it...   we want you to prove you have the traits  that we are looking for in a future resident.

As things become more and more competitive, many programs are starting to use “behavioral questions” during the interview. Behavioral questions are open ended questions that require you to go back into your past and provide a story that demonstrates how you handled a situation. This can give the interviewer some insight into your thought process. We want to see how you acquired the trait or skill and how you have used it.


Here are some examples of open-ended behavioral interview questions:


  1. Tell me about a time where you went “above and beyond the call of duty” without being asked to...
  2. Nobody is perfect. Give me some details about a time that you did some work that you knew wasn't your best. What did you do?
  3. Nobody gets along with everyone. Tell me about a time where you have to work with a someone (student, nurse, attending) that you didn't get along with...
  4. Nobody gets along with everyone. Tell me about a time where you had a conflict with student/nurse/attending. How did you handle it? What was the resolution?
  5. Sometimes people make their own way. Tell me about a time when you observed someone not following the rules...
  6. Tell me about a time where you were under an intense pressure to get something done..... How did you get thru that situation?
  7. In medical school we all do rotations that we don't like. Tell me about the rotation that you disliked the most and why... what did you do to get thru it?
  8. We all make mistakes. Tell me about a situation with a colleague that you wished you handled differently...
  9. Tell me about the worst rotation (or most challenging rotation) you had to do in medical school...
  10. Tell me about a time where you had to work with a nurse or student who was not very friendly with you. How did you handle that?
  11. “See one, do one, teach one” is the saying. Tell me about a situation where an attending or other professional asked you to do something that you did not feel proficient in doing...
  12. There are times when we can't get everything done that we need to. Tell me about a time where your responsibilities got totally overwhelming.... What did you do?
  13. I'm looking at your USMLE score. Tell me what you would recommend to a new student who is preparing for such a comprehensive exam...
  14. Your the chief resident. A new resident is not pulling their weight and other residents are complaining that they have to cover for them. How would you handle the situation?
  15. Tell me about a time where you really struggled to build a relationship with a patient. What did you do to overcome that?


As you can see... these are not easy questions to answer on the spot!  The key to shining on these questions is PREPARATION!  You have to think of stories in your life that demonstrate the skills and traits you exhibit. If you are prepared to talk about these examples, you can use them to illustrate the key skills that interviewers want in a resident!   It will be like music to their ears! :)


Classic “STAR” Strategy for Answering Behavioral Interview Questions


Situation:  Give a description of a situation from your past that you want to use to answer their question.

Task:  Next describe the task that you needed to complete.

Action:  Now describe the actions, skills, abilities, and the thought process that you used to handle the situation and complete the task!

Result:  Finally, describe the results you obtained from your efforts.


Here's an example:

Interviewer: “Nobody gets along with everyone. Tell me about a time where you had a conflict with student/nurse/attending. How did you handle it? What was the resolution?”


Situation:  I knew early in medical school that I really wanted to do Ortho. So I tried really hard to be the best student I could be. There was another medical student who also wanted ortho and he made it his mission to try to beat me in everything.

Task:  For the first 2 years it wasn't a big deal as exams are taken by yourself. In the beginning of third year, we were assigned to do an OB/GYN rotation together. It was a real challenge because he purposely tried to sabotage me and make me look bad.  It was very frustrating to say the least.

Action:  I was taught early on in life by my mom that it is very important to be very nice to the people who often treat you meanly as they have their own issues and challenges in life that they are dealing with.  I saw my mom go out of her way to be nice to people who were mean to her with astonishing results. Since this was ingrained in me, even though I was angry at him, I didn't have on urge to recipricate the sabotage but rather to help him.  So I helped him on rounds by getting his labs when he was overwhelmed. I also showed him how to do a arterial blood gas draw since I had done so many on the prior rotation and he hadn't.

Result:  I don't think that anyone had ever helped him before and by the end of the rotation his attempts to make me look bad had vanished. I'd love to say that we became best of friends but that didn't happen. He was too competitive for that. But I felt good knowing that I had tried my best and did what my mom taught me.


This is a true story by the way.  Once you have written down the key parts of your story you will often notice that you can use the same story for many purposes. I could use this story to show:

  • how I handle conflict,
  • how I am a team player,
  • how I help others,
  • how I handle stressful situations,
  • how I posses leadership and team building skills,
  • how I am a good teacher,
  • an example of my work ethic, etc.


Keys to Answering Behavioral Interview Questions

Prepare in advance. Write down the key points of some situations in your life that illustrate your skills, abilities, and traits.  Then practice telling the story.

Pause before answering! Take a moment to gather your thoughts before jumping to answer the question. Take a breath or maybe a sip of water to give yourself a small pause before answering. It shows that you are really thinking about the question. It also gives you time to think of which story would best illustrate the answer to their question.

Use the STAR strategy. If you follow that format it really makes it easy to give a good, cohesive answer without going off on tangents.

Keep a Positive Frame. You are going to be asked about your failures, challenges, and diffuclties. It's easy to go negative here and dwell on what you did wrong. Remember to state the negative but quickly switch to the actions you took to overcome the problem, what you learned and the abilities you gained from the bad situation, and the positive results you achieved.

Make it a 2-way street. The interview should be a two way street.... a conversation... like a great date... you want to get to know each other. Ask thougthful and meaningful questions during the interview that engage the interviewer. Questions that show that you have some insight into the program.


Critical Mistakes

#1 Mistake: Not preparing ahead of time with a number of good examples. Nothing harder then trying to answer these questions during the pressure of the interview.

#2 Mistake: Writing out your story word for word and then trying to read the story back on the interview.... it sounds fake and not genuine. You want to list the key points and then practice saying it in different ways so you can spin the story as you need to on the interview.

#3 Mistake: Never... Never... EVER... Lie! Always tell stories that are true. As you tell your story the interviewer can ask questions about what you where thinking or why didn't you do XYZ? If it isn't a true story and it didn't actually happen then it is so easy to poke holes in it. The last thing you want is for the interview to become an interrogation. Besides who would want a doc who isn't truthful!!!!


Final Thoughts...

Interviewing isn't easy but with practice you can shine.   Remember that.... they want you!!!   That's why they asked to to fly in and interview.   So relax and tell your stories so they can see the great resident that you will be!!!

Good luck Hunting!



PS: I would love to hear about your experiences from your interviews!

Category: Interview

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