Men's Interview Fashion

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” ~Mark Twain

The application process for medical and surgical residency is long and tedious. You will spend hours of time finalizing paperwork, editing personal statements, traveling and interviewing, creating a rank list, and—of course—praying. Amidst all of this important work, you still have to find something to wear. This part of the process should take place in the fall, leaving plenty of time between the day you buy your suit and the day of your first interview.

Differences in Specialties and Locations
It might sound strange, but there are definitely differences in the type of dress expected and found to be acceptable at various interviews. Anyone applying to General Surgery will be told to dress conservatively, with a goal to simply blend in and not be to “flashy.” This is the same for Medicine and the other generally conservative and traditional specialties. Keep in mind that the prestige of the program (Harvard Medicine, Michigan Surgery) and the location of the program (San Francisco Psychiatry versus Jericho, Kansas Family Medicine) will affect the expectations of the interviewers. Other specialties tend to be more accepting of trendy styles and intentionally noticeable dress: Plastic Surgery, Dermatology, ENT, and Psychiatry for example. Remember that NO program, regardless of specialty, location, or desperation to match residents will tolerate disrespectful, sloppy, or grossly obnoxious attire.

The sections of this article dealing with particular types of dress wear will of course be biased by my own personal tastes, feelings, and interview experiences. This is by no means intended to be the guidebook for men’s interview fashion, nor a replacement for simple good taste, but rather an entry level guide on how not to look like an idiot.

The Suit
The most important item in your suitcase will be your suit (hence the name “suitcase”). If you already own several suits, let this help guide you in the selection of the right one. If you don’t like the suits you have, maybe this will aid in your selection of a new one.
Personal style is important, because the suit you wear should make you feel very confident in your appearance, ability, and accomplishments. If you don’t think you look good, you won’t feel good, and that will come across in the way you present yourself. The suit should be put on, one last look in the mirror should make you think, “hell yeah,” and then you shouldn’t have to be concerned about it for the rest of the day.
Color is the critical. You will all be told that the Dark Grey / Charcoal suit is the only choice. It is truly the traditional interview color, is conservative and safe, and looks good on anyone. This is a great choice and will never be wrong, and 95% of the interviewers will be in one. Other choices are the occasional lighter Grey suit, and rarely someone will sport a Dark Navy suit. I have not seen Dark Brown tried yet, but I think it could be pulled of well. Be careful with these colors, as they can make you look like a used-car salesman. Black may seem like a good idea, but it really isn’t. Interviews are important, but they are not black-tie affairs, nor are they funerals. The only acceptable black suit, in my opinion, is one that is lightly pin-striped and trendy enough that you would never wear it to a funeral. Any other color or pattern (think light blue, Houndstooth, anything your uncle handed-down to you) is dangerous and give the wrong impression. If you put on the suit and look in the mirror and have to debate if it is “too much,” it probably is.
The number of buttons is not nearly as important as color. One button coats are in style right now, but mostly for linen summer suits, black suits ala Pulp Fiction, or those casual enough to be worn to the bar with jeans. These are a bit trendy, but if you can find the right color and it looks good, go for it.
Most suits will have two or three buttons, the traditional style for over one-hundred years. Both look great as long as you remember this important point: the bottom button on ANY suit or sport coat should NEVER be buttoned (Rule: Top-Middle-Bottom… Always-Sometimes-Never). This is a basic, permanent style point and also applies to your white coat. If you close all of the buttons, you will look like you have never worn a suit before.
There is no place for 4 button coats in an interview. These are for weddings and special events. No suit should ever have more than four buttons, in any arrangement, for any reason.
If you own a double-breasted coat, throw it away, stop putting mousse in your hair, get in your car, and drive to the 21st century. These have no role in today’s society except in MC Hammer videos.

The Shirt and Tie
This is where your personal style gets to flourish, and my advice is minimal. Make sure that the shirt and tie match each other and the suit. If you have any doubt, ask a woman who knows about fashion. Better yet, take the suit jacket with you to the store, and ask the man working there to help you - they are usually excellent at this. Most interviewers look like the president – dark suit, white shirt, red or blue tie. Don’t be afraid to deviate from this with taste. Avoid pink, purple, or pastels in an interview.
I have a friend from medical school who was red/green color blind. He would honestly take all of his suits to the store and have someone pick his shirts and ties for him. He looked great. There is no shame in this, and you will be rewarded in how good you look, especially if you are not that interested in fashion but want to look spot-on for the interview trail.
Make sure that the knot you tie matches the type of collar on the shirt. Big knots go with spread collars, skinny knots with point collars. Learn how to tie several knots for your tie – this will not only make you versatile, but it’s something any man with style should be able to do. The length of a tie is easy to perfect – the point should touch the top of your belt buckle – that’s it. Be smart with ties, men. Even if you are interviewing for Pediatrics, do not wear anything with cartoon characters, bottles of hot sauce, or any form of nature scene. Keep it simple.
Put collar stays in your shirt to keep the points crisp all day. Tie clips and bars are back in style, and help to keep the tie from blowing in the wind or soaking up MRSA while leaning over your patients on rounds. Never wear a collar chain unless you are an evangelical preacher. French cuffs are very cool no matter who you are and require cuff links, which are another place for personal style to shine through. Again, conservative places and specialties are not going to be impressed by your bling, so be careful not to be obnoxious.
Iron your shirt in the hotel if it gets wrinkled in your garment bag. If you can’t iron a shirt, learn how.

Unless you are Joey Tribianni from friends, you should always wear a belt, and it should always match your shoes. The buckle should match the color of your jewelry, and should be visible beneath the length of your tie. Suspenders should not be worn with a belt, and many will argue that they should never be worn at all.
Shoes are a personal choice. I was told by a General Surgeon at my home program that my square toe Kenneth Cole shoes made me look like a Backstreet Boy, and would prevent me from matching. I bought a pair of round tip Johnston and Murphy’s and brought them both. She was wrong. Black shoes belong with dark and light gray suits. Red-Brown shoes and belt can be worn with the right dark navy suit. If you dare to branch out with dark brown (I personally wouldn’t) be sure to wear brown shoes and belt. Tassels died with 1994, and pennies should never be seen in a shoe. Make them look nice boys, poorly cared for shoes will be noticed. Get a coat of polish on ‘em in the airport before your flight. Socks should be simple, unless trying to make a statement, and in general should be darker than your suit but lighter than your shoes (unless black).
Jewelry is seen in varied amounts on the interview trail. Wedding rings and Class rings are acceptable, as is the occasional fraternity ring, though I would avoid wearing all three at once. Pinky fingers should be clear of jewelry, as they seem to subtly say, “Hire me or I will whack you.” There is no excuse for any jewelry of the head and face, and you deserve to scramble for a position if you wear any to an interview. This goes for all earrings, piercings, grills, tongue rings, or colored contacts. All jewelry should match in the sense that it is gold or silver/platinum. A necklace should not be visible, a tasteful bracelet is ok. A man cannot have a good time without a good watch.
Remember that these interviews are all in the winter time. I came from a warm weather place and had to buy a coat for interviews. I suggest a nice black wool overcoat. Make sure it is cut to wear over a suit jacket. As the black overcoat will be worn by every male present, be sure to have an identifying marker on the inside, potentially even a name and phone number. Trust me; this is the most often lost/stolen item.
You will be told it is necessary to have a black leather interview portfolio containing copies of your papers, CV, research proposals, etc. I bought one and carried it around for months, and was never asked one single time retrieve anything from it. Go cheap.

Personal Appearance
You will be expected to look your best, well rested and perfectly groomed for each interview. This isn’t little league, and unless you are interviewing for a more liberal specialty (Psychiatry) or in a more liberal part of the country (Seattle) I would strongly encourage you to shave off all facial hair. An exception may apply if you are over 40 and have a great ‘stash. No beards, no chops (although simple sideburns are fine), and no goatees. God help you if you sport one of those half goatee things from high school, or dare to wear a soul patch/flavor saver.
Keep your nails well trimmed and cleaned, especially if you are a future surgeon.
Haircuts should be recent and tasteful. It’s ok to have a cool haircut that requires a little product to keep it where you want it. But avoid anything that requires a flat iron, Kool Aid for color, or rubber bands to keep it out of your face at soccer practice. I am all for personal style, but you have to make concessions about hair length at interviews.
Enjoy your visits to new cities, especially if you go out the night before and party with the residents and/or fellow applicants. Those interviewing you will be glad you are having fun in their city, and making friends in the area. But make sure you get rest and don’t show up late, show up smelling like alcohol or random local sex, or stinking like cigarettes.

The Night Before
Some specialties have two days set aside for each interview session, including an event on the evening before the formal interviews. For Plastic Surgery, these events would vary from casual drinks at the chairman’s house, a “resident and applicant drinking and truth-telling” activity, or even a black tie affair with tuxedo-wearing servants. The attire expected for such an event varies, and you should call the Medical Education ladies at the program to find out what to wear. Don’t get stumbling drunk, don’t hit on the resident’s girlfriends, and DO NOT start a fight. I wouldn’t mention these things if I didn’t have reasons to.

What’s Important
The purpose of clothes is to hide your nasty, naked body, and to give you confidence in your interview that you look like a doctor should. Show some style where allowed, but don’t over-do it. If people continue to start conversations with you about something you are wearing and “how interesting” it is, don’t wear it again. Wear clothes you like and that allow you to be comfortable and self-assured, so you can show your true personality when you speak, which is the whole purpose of the interview.

“Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” ~Epictetus

Website Thanks

Our site was built with major help from Michael Leung and El Diablo.

We'd also like to thank Ross Smith, who made our fancy new logo.

We also love