Residency interviewing season is finally here, and it is time to prepare so that you can be confident and show off your best self to programs. You have come so far after jumping through hoops to get into medical school, studying your hardest during dedicated step exam periods, and persevering through tough days in the hospital during clerkships. Now, you get to tie all your personal, academic, and non-academic experiences together into a story to persuade residencies to choose you.
Residency interviews were already nerve-wracking, and now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are feeling stressed about navigating interviews virtually during this 2020-2021 application season. However, do not let your fears distract you into a downward spiral because “obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal,” as Henry Ford once said. This article covers important tips to prepare your technology and interview space for an ideal virtual interview experience.
Part 1: Interview Logistics
Virtual interviews this year are divided into two formats –live virtual interviews and asynchronous virtual interviews (on-demand interviews). The live virtual interviews use an online video conference program to simulate the in-person experience with an actual interviewer speaking to and seeing you in real time. While the live virtual interview is more typical, some programs will be using an on-demand interview format where you will actually video record yourself asking questions and answering interview questions, and then having your video reviewed by interviewers at a later time.
As interview invite emails are sent out, be sure to look out for which format the residency program will be using. In either scenario, you will still need to prepare for both the interview questions themselves and optimizing your technologic set-up to ensure a smooth experience. Other important things to know about the interview besides the format are what online video conference program you will be using, how many interviews will be conducted, how long the interviews are, and what the rest of the interview day schedule looks like.
Setting up your virtual interview location and equipment:
Start off by choosing a spot where you will be sitting down for your interview day—which includes the group presentations, resident question and answer sessions, and the interview itself. While some students are planning to interview at home, others are booking rooms on their medical school campuses to interview. If you are hesitant about the reliability of your electronics, try reaching out to your school’s IT department to see if they have rentals for video equipment, headphones, microphones, and laptops.
- Choose a location that is quiet and private. This is not the time for cameo appearances by your cat or your roommate who forgot their charger on the wall.
- Ensure a bland background without any visual or audible distractions.
- Avoid communal spaces like cafés, libraries, shared living rooms, etc.
Webcam and Lighting:
- Assess the lighting in the room and whether you will need additional lights such as a lamp or even a ring light, which you could find on Amazon.
- Assess the quality of the webcam on your computer and decide whether you will need to purchase a separate webcam from the built-in one on your device.
- Analyze the height and distance of the webcam and its field of view. Try putting your laptop on top of books or a box so that the webcam is at eye-level, as looking down at the camera can be unflattering. Ideally the camera should be centered with your full head and upper half of your torso in view. This is especially important if you like to use hand gestures while speaking.
- Consider using headphones or earbuds if your computer audio is not loud enough for you.
- Identify sources of distracting noises that might be heard during the interview and address those.
- Silence any phones, watches, or electronics.
- Move any pets into another room.
- Inform any friends and family ahead of time not to knock or call you during your interview.
- Find a comfortable chair and a table with a nearby outlet.
- Have a desktop or laptop ready with a cell phone on hand as backup just in case you have issues with your computer.
- Charge all devices the day before and test them a few days in advance to ensure functionality.
- Ensure a reliable, working internet source.
- Try using a sticky note on the edge of your screen with any written questions you need to remember to ask
Practice with your set-up:
After you have set your interview space and devices, give it a test run. Have a friend or roommate give you a video call and practice speaking into the camera. If you do not have someone to practice with, you can record yourself as if you are answering interview questions and watch yourself. It might seem a little painful to watch yourself, but it will give you a sense of how you come across on the screen and can help you decide on any technical adjustments like adjusting lighting or trying a different microphone.
Part 2. Preparing for the interview itself
The preparation required for the virtual residency interviews are the same as what you would do for a regular interview in the pre-COVID era. A common place to start is reflecting on your application and thinking of what the salient points of your application you are hoping to get across to the interviewer. Think about your personal statement and be prepared to expand anything you wrote. Review your entire application and anticipate any questions that the interviewers may ask you. While it’s important not to sound like a robot who has memorized answers to interview questions, it can help to think about your responses to common questions so that you appear polished and thoughtful.
Take a minute and look at the list of questions below. Do you think you could confidently answer some of these common residency interview questions?
- Tell me about yourself?
- Why did you choose this specialty?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your ultimate career plans?
- Why do you want to come to this program?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you want to be a physician?
- What will you do if you do not match?
- Describe an interesting case you saw in the hospital.
Sometimes, interviewers might ask questions that may seem non-traditional and somewhat difficult. While it can be hard to predict which questions you’ll be asked, it’s in your best interest to answer them calmly and thoughtfully. If a question seems odd, you might try saying something along the lines of, “That is an interesting question. Let me think about that for a moment,” to buy you some time to come up with an answer. Answer the question briefly and use facts to support your response rather than emotion. Remember that if you do not understand an interviewer’s question, you can politely ask them to repeat or clarify the question. Typically, interviewers are not looking for a right or wrong answer. Rather, they are assessing your reasoning and approach to the answer. The way that you answer a question reflects on your values and helps residency programs get to know you and whether you will be a good fit for their program.
Here are some examples of “non-traditional” interview questions.
- If your house was on fire and you had to save only 3 items, what would they be?
- Teach me something non-medical.
- Describe the worst incident you have experienced during your third-year clerkships.
- Tell me about a weakness in your application?
You can start practicing your interviewing skills and answering questions clearly and confidently by recruiting the help of a medical school advisor, mentor, friend, or roommate. Hand them a list of interview questions and ask them to practice with you periodically. Seek and incorporate feedback on the content and delivery of your answers. Below are additional websites where you can find more practice interview questions.
With a plan in place to set up your interview workspace and plenty of practice thoughtfully answering questions, you will be well on your way for a successful (and fun) virtual interview season. Good luck!
Here are more articles on preparing for virtual interviews from various professional organizations and residency programs.
From the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC):
From the American College of Physicians (ACP):
From the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP):
From the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM):
From the Boston University School of Medicine: