Virtual Residency Interviews: Been There, Done That
With the recognition of the need to support public health efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, AAMC moved towards conducting residency interviews online in 2020. Dr. Jeanne Rabalais visits the blog today to share her experience and offer expertise on how to be successful in your virtual residency interviews!
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The thought of virtual interviews can be daunting. Trust me, I’ve been there. But I’m here to tell you, virtual interviews are not as bad as they seem. If you are prepared and know what to expect, the virtual interview process can actually be fun. As a PGY-1 who recently underwent virtual residency interviews, I am hoping to offer some advice to maximize your interview experience.
We have all (hopefully) mastered the Zoom platform by now, so I am here to provide my view on important things you need to know surrounding the interview itself.
Set the Scene
Where you choose to interview is important. Programs understand that applicants have limitations and some may have more resources than others, but there are things that are within your control.
Make sure the space is simple and clean. Your background does not need to be a blank wall, but it does need to be free from distractions. Add something personal in your background, but be prepared to talk about it. Anything that the interviewer can see is fair game!
Arrange to have no interruptions. Interviewers know that some things are out of your control, but others aren’t. For example, if you live in an apartment, place a sign on your door letting maintenance/delivery services know that an interview is in process. Similarly, if you live with roommates, make sure they know your interview schedule.
If you are sitting by a window, think about how light shifts throughout the day. No one wants that tree branch shadow across their face at 3PM. And speaking of lighting, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good lighting. Now is the time to Amazon Prime that ring light or borrow one from your PGY-1 friend.
Test Your Equipment
Record yourself answering questions in your ‘Personal Room’ that can be accessed through your Zoom account. This is a great way to preview how you will look and sound to the interviewer. For me, I realized I talked with my hands, A LOT. This allowed me the opportunity to practice answering questions and practice controlling my hand movements. Practice looking into your camera lens when speaking, that way it seems more natural on interview day. This is also a great space to check out how your interview outfit will look on camera. This is especially important for jewelry; try it on and check for glare.
Be prepared to troubleshoot audio issues. If you elect to utilize wireless earbuds/headphones, make sure they are fully charged. If you are using your computers built in microphone and speaker, it is best to have earbuds/headphones with a microphone nearby in case of audio issues. Also, make sure all noisy notifications are turned off during your interview.
Write down the contact numbers provided in case you get disconnected from the Zoom meeting. On that note, have your phone handy (cell data) and the Zoom app installed in case there is an internet issue. Worst case scenario, you have to complete your interview via phone call (not actually a terrible problem).
Know the program! With interviews being virtual, programs are doing an amazing job highlighting key aspects of their program on various platforms. Whether it be social media or their official website, take time to become familiar with the program. Do not waste valuable time asking questions that are easily accessible through a quick online search.
Have a list of questions to ask each interviewer. For me, I had a list of questions broken down by who the questions were intended for (i.e., PD, faculty, residents). Some programs will give you the names of your interviews before interview day. This is a great opportunity to ask pointed questions. For example, if you know you are interviewing with someone heavily involved in research, you might ask questions about research opportunities for residents and scholarly activities performed by the residents.
Prep snacks/food and be prepared to eat at any random break. “Breakfast” and “lunch” sessions do not actually imply eating-sometimes they do but often they don’t. Along that same note, use the restroom when you can. But please remember to mute your mic!
Do not try to be someone else for the interview. Programs want to get to know the real you. The majority of applicants are qualified for most residency spots, but finding the right fit is a real thing. Answer questions genuinely. Don’t just tell interviewers what you think they want to hear. Programs are wanting residents that fit with their culture, just the same as you should be striving to find a residency that aligns with your values and goals. If you are not honest in your interview, you are doing a disservice to yourself and the residency programs.
Debriefing the interview looks very different for almost every applicant. For me, it consisted of 3 things: a quick pros/cons list, a call to my mom, and an immediate “ranking.” Honestly, my mom was the most helpful throughout the process. She could immediately tell if I was excited post interview or not. Find that person for you. I also really liked having a running rank list. Sure, things changed towards the end, but it was less stressful than starting a rank list from scratch. Whatever debrief method you choose, make sure it works for you and stick with it. Things will be much more manageable when it is time to submit that final list!
Bonus Material: Dinners/Socials
Try to attend the pre-interview dinners/socials. These events are a great time to get a feel for the program and their residents. I was able to quickly sense which residency actually felt like a “family” and which ones just threw that word around. It is also a chance to get some burning questions answered (like the food situation in the hospital). Be interactive, current residents want people they will get along with to come to their program. That being said, don’t dominate the conversation. Let others get a chance to ask their questions as well.
With virtual interviews right around the corner, I hope this offers some guidance going into the interview season. Be prepared and enjoy the process. Match 2022 will be here before you know it!