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Letters to the Editor

Preventing Illegal Interview Questions: The Need for Training Skilled Interviewers

Clancy, Aisling MD, MSc

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000126

To the Editor:

I read with much interest the August 2013 article by Hern and colleagues1 regarding potentially illegal questions in residency interviews. As a female candidate I was asked about ethnicity, family planning, and relationship status during my own interview process. One interviewer systematically listed each program in the region to solicit my planned rank order list. This type of questioning is not unusual, and one study2 found that 56/671 (8.3%; 95% CI = 6.4%–10.7%) of emergency medicine residency applicants were asked such questions by program representatives. Providing interviewers with targeted training to prepare them to conduct ethical and effective interviews with applicants could help residency programs to address this problem.

It is not surprising that the authors found that these types of sensitive questions negatively affected respondents’ program rankings. When interviewees receive questions that should not be used, they may question the ethics of the selection committee and program. Some survey participants even felt they needed to be dishonest in their responses to such questions. Not only are programs potentially hurting their chances of obtaining highly qualified candidates, but interviewers may obtain false information by asking illegal questions. This only further perpetuates the distrust between programs and candidates in the match process, which has been well described in the literature.3,4

When questions flow naturally in the conversation, interviewees may be less likely to perceive them as illegal. After a long day, interviewers may be less cognizant about the types of questions being posed, allowing sensitive questions to slip into conversation. For these reasons, it is important to provide training for interviewers to maintain a fair and practical selection process. The interview can be a major influence—positive or negative—in candidate program ranking. Training interviewers in sensitive questioning to avoid breaches of ethics and trust would be valuable for the interview process and for our respective disciplines.

Aisling Clancy, MD, MSc

Third-year resident, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; e-mail:


1. Hern HG Jr, Alter HJ, Wills CP, Snoey ER, Simon BC. How prevalent are potentially illegal questions during residency interviews? Acad Med. 2013;88:1116–1121
2. Thurman RJ, Katz E, Carter W, et al. Emergency medicine residency applicant perceptions of unethical recruiting practices and illegal questioning in the match. Acad Emerg Med. 2009;16:550–557
3. Carek PJ, Anderson KD, Blue AV, Mavis BE. Recruitment behavior and program directors: How ethical are their perspectives about the match process? Fam Med. 2000;32:258–260
4. Anderson KD, Jacobs DM, Blue AV. Is match ethics an oxymoron? Am J Surg. 1999;177:237–239
© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges