How to Talk About Gaps or Weaknesses in Your Application During an Interview

Many residency candidates have some aspect of their ERAS Application that may be perceived as a “gap” or “weakness” in the eyes of programs. While you are preparing for your residency interview, an important step is to identify what parts of your application may raise red flags for programs so you are better prepared to talk about them.  

Some examples of red flags are:

  • Attempts
  • A gap in education or career
  • Low test scores
  • Lack of US clinical experience.

During interviews, programs will often ask a question related to these weaknesses. If you can assemble talking points for any weakness you’ve identified beforehand, you’ll be able to face the questions naturally.

TIP: Do not memorize a full answer for any common interview question. If you memorize a full answer it might sound stiff and unnatural. Instead, have some mental bullet points ready.

Three Rules For Addressing Gaps:


Keep it brief.

Don’t say any more than you have to. You do not want to keep talking and adding more to your answer once you’ve covered the basic details. You want to be able to answer the question quickly so you can move on.

Stick to the facts.

Don’t get wrapped up in the emotion of the circumstances. Programs don’t really want to hear sad excuses, they simply want to hear the reason. You could make your red flag sounds worse than they are by showing the program interview committee your negativity, bitterness or frustration attached to the red flag. Programs want future residents who can face challenges with maturity and strength.

Make it positive.

Show the programs you have changed and grown from your experiences, that your struggles have made you stronger. What did you learn from the experience? Are you a better, stronger, smarter or wiser person?

Ask yourself:

  • What did you learn from the experience?
  • Are you a better, stronger, smarter or wiser person?
  • What have you done improve yourself?
    • For example, if you have a USMLE Attempt because you underestimated the exam, did you learn a lesson in humility and sought help to study better?

Being able to clearly address red flags in your ERAS Application is vital to making a good impression on program interview committees. Residency programs are not always looking for perfect candidates with the best USMLE scores. Part of residency training will be making mistakes and learning from them. How you reacted to your challenges and how you talk about it shows you can be honest but also reflective about your past mistakes and able to move forward in the end.

Also, if you have obtained any interviews in the past, or as you attend interviews this season, please consider sharing your unique interview experience with the residency community. All of your anonymous contributions will also help grow the InterviewLink (I-Link) feature.

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(Content Updated: September 26, 2017)

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