The Ultimate Guide for Virtual Residency Interviews

INTRODUCTION

As uncertain as this whole virtual residency application process is, we are fortunate to have a bit of information about how virtual interviews might go. People in certain fields have been doing virtual interviews for years, and a plethora of advice based on their experiences is available online. Below, I’ve compiled some of the tips I give every year, included with information specific to virtual interviews, to help you prepare. 

Virtual Interviewing basics:

There are two types of virtual video interviews: 

  1. Live Virtual Interviews use video conference technology (such as zoom, skype, etc) to allow you to talk face-to-face with an interviewer (or panel of interviewers), and answer their questions in real time. 
  2. Asynchronous Virtual Interviews (or on-demand interviews) will not have an interviewer present in real time. Instead, you will be given question prompts and asked to record videos with your answers, which will be shared with the program at a later time. 

Be prepared for the same types of questions you should ALWAYS be prepared for:

  1. Behavioral questions (Ie. Describe a time when ________ happened, what did you do?) 
  2. General questions about you and your application
  3. Situational / ethical questions (Ie. What would you do if ______?)

PREPARING FOR INTERVIEW SEASON

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME:

This is the most important step. You will never be more successful than you BELIEVE you can be. PERIODT. If you want to be more successful, you have to believe you can be/are more successful. So many students take themselves out of the game before it even starts with limiting beliefs such as: “I don’t do well with interviews” or “I don’t have an exciting personality” or “There’s nothing super interesting about me” or “There’s no way I’m going to match here” or “This is a ‘reach program’ for me” or “I’m an introvert, so the process is set up against me.” ALL OF THESE BELIEFS will make it less likely if not impossible for you to succeed. So before you do ANY of the other things that I tell you, get your head right. YOU CAN match into any specialty or program you desire, YOU CAN do extremely well at interviews once you practice enough and the right way, YOU DO have an amazing personality and interesting things about you that make you unique, any program would be LUCKY to have you, and your introversion allows you to connect well with people in more intimate settings. Download those positive statements into your psyche. MOST IMPORTANT STEP for you this interview season. More tips about getting your mind right HERE

Research your programs:

Just like you would do for in-person interviews, make sure you know as much about each program as possible so you can ask intelligent questions that are program-specific when they give you the classic: “Before we go, do you have any questions for us?” The more specific your questions are, the more you communicate to the interviewer that you are truly interested in their program.

Ask clarifying questions:

– If the program doesn’t make it clear, be sure to ask which interview platform/video conferencing software it will be on, how long the interview day will be, and any other important questions you may have. 

– Don’t be ashamed to ask questions because the programs might actually forget to give you important information this year! They are also nervous and anxious for things to go off without a hitch, as this is their first time doing virtual interviews too!

Do as many mock virtual interviews as you possibly can:

– Search online for practice interview questions (especially behavioral questions), and get a friend or mentor to spend 20 minutes interviewing you over video chat. Try not to spend too much time memorizing answers; instead practice answering them from the top of your head (which simulates real life). No matter how many practice questions you answer, you will get questions in real life that you aren’t prepared for. You have to practice thinking and answering on the fly, and still making sure you’re able to smile and allow your personality to shine through while you do it.

– Have your friend/mentor comment on annoying habits you have such as fidgeting, looking off to the side, saying UHMMMM, etc, so you can make a conscious effort to stop doing those things (all of which make you look less confident).

– Although I don’t recommend memorizing answers to questions, there are a few questions that you’re almost guaranteed to get in some shape or form, so have an idea how you will answer the following:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What is your greatest strength / Why should we pick you instead of the other applicants?
  3. What is your greatest weakness / What would your family and friends say is the most frustrating thing about you?
  4. Tell me about [insert research project].

Click HERE for tips regarding answering these questions (highly recommend reading).

Know your application and CV COLD:

– You should be able to answer any question you are asked about your application, old research, clinical experiences, or hobbies without hesitation. If a research project is so old that you don’t remember it, either take if off your application, or dig up the paper and read it over and over again until you feel like you just published it yesterday. If someone asks you a question about something you did, and you can’t answer intelligently and in great detail, that is a huge red flag.

– Hopefully it goes without saying… you will be asked about your hobbies. If you lied, you WILL get caught up! For example, if you say you’re an avid reader, and then have no answer when they ask you what’s the last book you read…. You look dishonest. If you say you love to perform poetry, and they ask you to perform a short piece but you have nothing to perform… again. You look dishonest. Be prepared for these possibilities.

A quick note on social media:

Rest assured that programs can and will review your social media. Just assume they will. Consider either self-censoring your posts and making sure all your content is PG or changing your privacy settings to private, or even deleting social media until after the season. It’s hard to know what a specific program or faculty member considers “professional” or “appropriate”, but please know that their subjective opinions on your social media presence will affect your application. For more information: Federation of State Medical Boards’ Social Media and Electronic Communications Guide.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Setting up your virtual interview space:

Have a neutral background. Most say that the ideal background is a plain colored wall. If you don’t have a plain wall, other people suggest virtual backgrounds (with Zoom and many other platforms, you can use any photo uploaded to your computer as a background, which will show in the video instead of your room for the interviewer). I am not the biggest fan of virtual backgrounds, because they often cause the edges of your face to look blurry, which can be distracting. If you are interested in learning more about virtual backgrounds, or how to set them up in Zoom, click HERE.

Know that anything in your background can be called into question. My preference to be safe is to set up in front of a plain wall like previously stated, but you can also decide to strategically place things in the background (that aren’t too distracting!) to serve as cues for the interviewer to ask about things that interest you. Examples include a guitar leaning against the wall in the background, a bookshelf, or an interesting painting. Beware that you can be asked about anything that the interviewer can see! I would recommend AGAINST posters of celebrities, anything that swings (or moves in any way, blinks, flashes, or anything else that will distract from you), politically charged signs and paraphernalia, or photos of your wild college days.

No background noise! If you live on a busy street where cars are whizzing by and honking, try to find another place to interview. If you have children running around the house, try to get a friend or family member to come over and keep them company so they are quieter (or maybe this is the time to break that “no TV” rule and sit them in front of something mesmerizing for a lil’ bit). If you have a loud AC unit or fan, consider turning it off during the interview. 

Set up your laptop/computer/tablet/phone. First, you don’t want to have the camera or laptop too close to your face, as it will appear distorted. Second, you want to be right in the middle of the frame, with a small amount of space above your head, and your neck and shoulders showing (think about what news reporters and anchors tend to look like during close-ups). Third, get the angles right! You would ideally angle your screen down a little bit so that the image is the most flattering (as opposed to having the camera angled up, showing all your chin rolls and the inside of your nostrils. Not cute.) You may need to place whatever device you will be using on top of multiple books or something similar to make sure you are in the correct frame. Putting a laptop directly on a desk is usually not high enough! Fourth, make sure that wherever you set up your computer, you are close enough to an outlet to keep it plugged in the whole time so you don’t have to worry about it dying on you during the interview.

Get your lighting together. The best lighting is natural light from the sun, if you can set up in front of a large window. If this is not an option, consider setting up in front of a lamp or purchasing a ring light (ranging from about $30 to $100 on Amazon). Avoid lamps that are off to the side, only illuminating half of your face. Also avoid yellow-tinged lighting that will distort your complexion. Make sure there is NO LIGHT BEHIND YOU (which will make you appear darker/harder to see) by closing any open windows behind you, turning off lamps behind you, etc.

Get a stationary chair. TRUST ME ON THIS. If you are sitting in a chair with a swivel, YOU WILL SWIVEL. I’ve done a ton of mock interviews with students at this point, and it’s SO distracting to see them swing from side to side. Everyone thinks they can stop themselves from moving, but when you’re nervous (which you WILL be), the swiveling just starts on its own. You won’t even notice you’re doing it. Do yourself a favor and get a stationary chair so you don’t have to worry about this.

Check and double-check your internet and technology.

INTERNET: Check your internet speed ahead of time with speedtest.net. If your home internet is slow (below 20 megabits per second), come up with a contingency plan, otherwise your video is going to look pixelated and have delays. You can consider going with the traditional hard-wired ethernet connection instead of WiFi. Or you can ask your medical school to borrow a classroom to set-up in (MANY schools have promised to have options for students with poor home WiFi!), or go to a friend’s house that has better WiFi.

DEVICES:
– Make sure your device will not accept any incoming calls during the interview.
– Make sure you know which platform your interview will be using, and have it installed prior to the interview. NOTE: some applications (ie. Cisco Webex) require installation, where others (ie. Zoom, Microsoft Teams) have web applications. It’s also worth mentioning that both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have desktop applications that give certain advantages in their features over their web applications.
– If the video conferencing software allows you to put a profile photo for times that your camera is off, make sure the photo is professional and appropriate!
– Close all unnecessary programs on the computer (to prevent slow connection)

DURING THE INTERVIEW

Wear your WHOLE OUTFIT.

LISSEEENNNNNN CHILLEEEE. I would recommend against wearing the suit top with only boxers on your bottom. Anything can happen that causes you to jump up in the middle of the interview (fire alarm, kid running in, unexpected noise). It’s just best to be prepared for everything with a full outfit. Not to mention, it will make you feel more professional and “in-the-zone”.

Be early.

You don’t have the travel-time/traffic excuse anymore, people. Log into any video conferencing software 5 to 10 minutes early. This way if you forgot to download something, you have time to do it. Also if there are any last minute WiFi delays, you can troubleshoot them at this time. There is literally nothing worse than being late to a virtual interview.

Have relevant interview materials open if needed.

Also, have pen and paper ready to take notes if needed, rather than typing notes into the computer (which will be loud for the interviewer, and could look like you’re distracted and answering emails/texts).

Make eye contact.

You can simulate eye-contact by looking into the lens while you are talking. But let’s be honest… most of us are actually looking at ourselves during video conferences. It just is what it is. If you want to look at yourself and still look as though you are making eye contact, drag the video of you to the top-center of your computer screen so it is as close as possible to the lens, allowing your eyes to be looking in the right direction.

Relax.

Smile, appear excited, and go with the flow (more on this later). Try not to fidget (it’s distracting!). Use your facial expressions more than your hands to express yourself on video. Also, the more you move, the more unnecessary noise the interviewer will hear on their end.

Communicate if there is an issue.

If connection problems occur, tell the interviewer early on! They may need to log-out and reconnect, etc. Acknowledge any cut-offs or lagging on your part, so you can proactively exchange numbers or find another way to continue the interview in the case of further WiFi interruptions. Ask whether or not a protocol for repeat interview is available in the event of prolonged technical difficulties. 

Be prepared to go with the flow:

Now that you’ve done everything to prepare and your ducks are all in a row, understand this: something might still go wrong. Interviewers will also be watching how you handle challenges and changes and taking this into account! As a physician, you will need to learn to think on your feet, and course-correct as the situations change. Mentally prepare for this with the following suggestions.

– Like mentioned before, if you live in a home with children, get a babysitter/lock the door etc. However, if after all that, they make their way into your interview room anyway, refrain from freaking out! Calmly introduce your child/spouse/dog, and then send them out, and return to the interview. Don’t make it a bigger deal than it is!

– If your WiFi goes out in the middle of the interview, consider logging back in to the interview with your phone using data (ie WiFi turned off), or calmly going to someone else in your home to borrow their device (extra points if you prepare everyone around you for this possibility ahead of time to prevent delays). When you get back to the interview, don’t appear frazzled. Make a short joke about the unpredictability of WiFi during this time, and get right back to the interview.

– If your technical difficulties cannot be solved within a few moments, email / call the program coordinator and tell them what’s going on (I would probably email AND call so there is a paper trail/time stamp in case no one answers the phone). They may provide you with a number to finish your interview by phone.  

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

Make notes of your impressions immediately after the interview (details get lost as you go on more and more interviews).

The program will likely provide you with a faculty member or resident to reach out to with further questions, feel free to take them up on this offer if you want to learn more about the program.

Ok soooo about sending thank-you notes: I’ve talked to dozens of program directors about this across specialties, and most say they won’t even read them. My suggestion is to save yourself the time and effort. If you won’t be able to sleep at night without sending them, do whatever makes you happy. But just know it is not likely to affect the programs’ actions or decisions in ANY way.

Regarding sending “You’re my number one program” emails: I think these may be worth sending, as long as you send them to ONE PROGRAM AND ONE PROGRAM ONLY. If you send this email to multiple programs, and they discuss you and find out you did this, you run the risk of ruining your chance at both. Program directors and faculty members talk amongst each other across programs, so please know that if you try to play the field, you will get caught up. In most cases, these emails don’t help either (for example, many programs fill out their rank-order list the evening of interviews. If you send this email a few months later, the decision has already been made). However, if you want to send ONE, it certainly won’t hurt.

Pro-tip: sending a program an email saying that you think they would be a “great fit” for you, or that you will “rank them highly”, or any other language that doesn’t explicitly say you are ranking them first… is essentially telling the program you are NOT going to rank them first. They can see right through these emails, so just refrain from sending them!

Another pro-tip: a great way to let a program know you are truly interested in them is to edit the last paragraph of your personal statement to mention why you think their specific program is an excellent fit for you, etc. Just be careful not to upload any program-specific personal statements to the wrong program!

Alright, that’s it for now! See below for must-read online resources that will help you with your virtual interview journey. YOU GOT THIS!!!!

ONLINE RESOURCES!

The AAMC has a Virtual Interview Applicant Preparation guide here: https://www.aamc.org/system/files/2020-05/Virtual_Interview_Tips_for_Applicants_05072020_1.pdf

AAMC Virtual Interviews for residency positions FAQ:
https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-residency/apply-smart-residency/interviewing-residency-positions/ 

The AAMC has put together resources for residency programs on conducting virtual interviews, may be a good idea to review these to see how programs will approach the interviews:
https://www.aamc.org/what-we-do/mission-areas/medical-education/conducting-interviews-during-coronavirus-pandemic

University of Minnesota has great resources for preparing for virtual interviews: https://cla.umn.edu/career-services-office/students/excel/interviews/virtual-interviews

Harvard Business School: 9 Tips For Mastering Your Next Virtual Interview: https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/virtual-interview-tips

Indeed (job finding service): How to Succeed in a Virtual Interview
https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/virtual-interview

Glassdoor: How To Ace Your Virtual Interview:
https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/how-to-ace-your-virtual-interview/

Northeastern University: 8 Tips For Acing Your Next Virtual Interview:
https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/virtual-interview-tips/

5 Video Interviewing Tips for Residency and Fellowship Programs:
https://thalamusgme.com/top-5-video-interviewing-tips-for-residency-and-fellowship-programs/