Article review: Unethical practices during interview season

Residency interview season is almost upon us!
Tours, interviews, lunches... oh my.

A timely article published in Academic EM discusses unethical recruiting practices and illegal questions by the interviewing program. In 2005 and 2006, an anonymous online survey was given to all residency program directors to give to their newly matched intern PGY-1 class. The researchers collected a total of 671 survey responses.

  • 8.3% stated that they were asked to disclose at least one program's position on their supposedly private rank list by a program representative
  • 6.6% matched at a program lower on their rank list than another program, which had told them that they were "ranked to match".
  • 30% were asked an illegal question during their interview
  • Survey response rate = 28%. Although this is a small proportion of the applicants, it gives a very rough estimate about the prevalence of unethical practices and illegal questions. We do know, however, that the Match practices in EM are not perfect.
What's the National Resident Matching Program "cardinal rule"?
The residency program and applicant can NOT ask how they are going to be ranked on each other's rank list. It is ok to express interest, but that's it.

Note: If you get a phone call or email saying that a program "plans to rank you highly", it is only expressing interest. It does NOT guarantee that you will be "ranked to match".
This is totally legitimate.

What is considered an illegal interview question?
Based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one can not be discriminated against for employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or ethnicity. In this study, the most commonly asked illegal question revolved around marital status. Less common infractions involved questions about having children, planning for children, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Having been an interviewer before, there is a loop hole. If the interviewee broaches the subject first, it's fair game for discussion. If you (as an applicant), want to talk about your wife/husband, you should start the conversation first.

What do you do if you get asked an unethical question? This isn't part of the article, but I've always wondered what applicants have done in the past. As an interviewee, it's always awkward to tell the interviewer that they just asked an "off-limits" question. Two humorous techniques that I can think of:
  • Don't pause and answer quickly (and vaguely if possible), followed immediately by asking the same question to the interviewer. Question: "Are you married?" Answer: "In a prior life. Are you?"
  • Tell such an exaggerated lie that the interviewer knows that you are kidding. Bonus points for diverting the conversation immediately afterward. Question: "Are you married?" Answer: "Twenty times. Just can't get it right. Hey, is that a picture of Venice, Italy? My parents got married there..."

Funny food for thought
Is it wrong to answer an unethical question with a lie, knowing that it's unethical to lie? I figure two wrongs make a right...

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; 16:550-7. Pubmed
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