Dressing for Success in Residency Interviews

There is a lot of fuss about the fourth year of medical school, and one of the things on my to-do list at the beginning of my fourth year was to find an appropriate outfit for residency interviews. Here is a bit of the wisdom I have gleaned during the interview season.

ann taylor jacket

Seriously – just buy a conservative suit.

Wear a suit. No matter what anyone tells you about being fashionable, just wear a suit. This goes double for women in male-dominated specialties. Before I settled on OB/GYN, I thought I wanted to do a general surgery residency. During one of my advising meetings, a senior surgeon (and former program director) told me that I needed to learn to “look the part.” What did I do to deserve this? I wore a knee-length, long-sleeved, v-neck dress, and a little bit of makeup (mascara and lipstick). Now, you can make the argument that if they won’t rank you if you wear a dress then you don’t want to go there, but it may not be wise to knock yourself out of the running over your wardrobe choice.

Plan ahead. Guys can typically go to the local department store and find a suit. Gals will have a tougher time. Even though Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and Banana Republic all carry appropriate mid-range ($200-500) suits, most stores don’t stock women’s suiting. You may have to order a couple of sizes online and send back what doesn’t fit.

Don’t cheap out. A basic mid-range suit costs about $200-500. You don’t need to spend $1,000 for your suit, but you shouldn’t choose the $79.99 suit from J.C. Penney. Everyone else at your interview will be wearing a $200-300 wool suit, tailored to fit (about another $20-50, depending on what needs to be done) and it will stand out if you are wearing a polyester number that doesn’t really fit – it happened at one of my interviews. I know ERAS is expensive. I know interview trips are expensive. But you want to stand out for being the one with the great smile and fantastic answers to the interview questions, not for being the guy in the cheap suit that doesn’t fit. 

Assume that you will have to get your suit tailored. Because you will. Many suits come with the pants/skirt un-hemmed, so you will need that done at the very least. This may take several days to a week, so plan ahead!

BR blouse 5

Black suit + white button-down shirt = BORING. Try to be at least a little bit creative without being trendy. A head-hunter told me about the “point system” for business attire, and I think it more or less works.Yes, this is creating a lot of rules for something that you probably already know how to do (dress like a professional). But if you struggle with dressing professionally, give it a shot and see how it works for you. Here’s the idea:

  • Each item that you wear, or each deviation from the standard “black suit, white shirt, plain black shoes” combo gets a point.
  • The goal is to have 5-10 total points for your outfit.
  • Example #1: Male interviewee
    • Black pantsuit – 0 points
    • Plain white button-down shirt – 0 points
    • Red tie – 1 point
    • Plain black dress shoes – 0 points
    • Plain black leather laptop case – 1 point
    • Stainless steel watch – 1 point
      Total points: 3 (too few points = boring outfit)
  • Example #2: Male interviewee
    • Grey pantsuit – 1 point
    • Plain white button-down shirt – 0 points
    • Blue tie – 1 point
    • Plain brown dress shoes – 1 point
    • Plain black leather laptop case – 1 point
    • Stainless steel watch – 1 point
      Total points: 5 (just right)
  • Example #3: Female interviewee
    • Black skirt suit – 0 points
    • Plain white button-down shirt – 0 points
    • Plain black pumps – 0 points
    • Plain black leather purse – 1 point
    • Stainless steel watch – 1 point
      Total points: 2 (too few points = boring outfit)
  • Example #4: Female interviewee
    • Black pantsuit – 1 point
    • Dark eggplant purple ruffled blouse – 2 points (1 for color, 1 for not being a plain button-down shirt)
    • Pearl necklace – 1 point
    • Plain black dress shoes – 0 points
    • Plain black leather laptop case – 1 point
    • Stainless steel watch – 1 point
      Total points: 6 (just right)
  • Example #5: Female interviewee
    • Grey pantsuit – 2 points (1 for color, one for pants vs the more traditional skirt suit)
    • Dark eggplant purple ruffled blouse – 2 points (1 for color, 1 for not being a plain button-down shirt)
    • Diamond necklace – 1 point
    • Diamond hoop earrings – 1 point
    • Brown crocodile print shoes – 2 points (1 for color, 1 for pattern)
    • Crocodile print purse – 1 point
    • Gold watch – 1 point
      Total points: 11 (too many points = too much going on, tone it down)


Buy two interview suits, because sometimes your dry-cleaner loses one the day before you leave for your interview at your top choice program. (Yes, really. No, she didn’t offer to replace it. Yes, we sued her, and yes, we won.)J crew jacket

There are some extra tips if you are a girl because, well, it’s hard to be a girl!

  • If you are a girl, find a purse for your interviews that is big enough to hold a folder. You will get many of these, and you don’t want to walk around holding more separate objects than you have to.
  • Wear comfortable shoes to your interviews. You will do a LOT of walking, since every hospital will give you a tour of their entire facility, and it is NOT worth looking unhappy or disinterested later in the day because your feet hurt. 
  • Makeup should be natural and conservative.
  • If your hair tends to shed, you have two choices: wear your hair up or wear a suit of a color that will disguise stray hairs. Otherwise you will spend the whole day picking stray hairs off your suit (or having your fellow interviewees pick them off for you). For example, with my blonde to light brown hair, having my hair down and wearing a black suit made me look pretty messy.

Think about your luggage. If you are flying, make sure your bag that will allow you to take your suit as carry-on. Luggage gets lost or delayed all the time, and going to the interview in the clothes you wore on the plane is, um, less than ideal.garment bag

Ok, I think that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Happy shopping!

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  • admin

    I recently came across this Pinterest board from the UCSF Office of Professional Development, where they share ideas on how women should dress for residency interviews. It’s definitely worth a look!


  • Thanks so much for the blog post. Awesome.

  • Indy (admin)

    I am always interested in guest posts that would be relevant to my readers. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please send me your post idea (or ideas), a brief summary of your credentials, and a link to any previous posts or blogs that you have written. The best way to do this is through the contact box in the bottom right corner of the page. Thanks for your interest!

  • Indy (admin)

    I agree that each interview day will be structured differently, but dress code is not something that any program said anything to me about, it was all assumed.

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