From medical school entrance to now attempting to obtain a residency position, a spot for fellowship or a job as an attending, interviews play a major role in a successful application. If you think about it, selecting the appropriate candidate for a position is a tough decision and an interview gives a perfect opportunity for one on one interaction to better identify the applicants with superior interpersonal skills, empathy and strong work ethic.
Similarly, it is also great for the applicant to select the program which best serves their objectives and fits their profile. Here are six tips for those interviewing this interview season from seasoned women in white coats.
#1 . Take time to prepare: Even though, it is impossible to predict the questions you will be asked, it is always a good idea to prepare well in advance and rehearse what you could be asked. Make a list of questions and come up with answers to things commonly asked. For me, writing down my flow of thoughts and rehearsing them after has always worked best for organizing myself. Some broad headings which, have always helped me prepare are:
- Your academic and research background
- Reasons why you applied to the program
- Reasons you chose the particular specialty or super-specialty
- Clinical and research topics you are interested in
- What diversity would you be bringing in
- How your objectives fit with the objectives of the program
- Why I should choose you over 50 other people who walk through that door (My favorite!)
- Your positives and negative attributes
- Extra-curricular and leisure interests.
Take a step further and take advantage of technology, record your own video with a friend or in front of the mirror and see how you fair, as usually your performance is much worse than you think it is. These are great but you also don’t want to sound too rehearsed. It’s okay to practice and prepare some, but you also want to sound honest and forthcoming.
#2. Learn more about the program: Most people research the programs they apply to and have reasons why they apply to particular programs, especially as application is an expensive process. However, due to the highly competitive selection process, most of us apply to a fairly large number of programs. Once you get the interview invite, it is always a good idea to read more about the program and make sure the objectives of the program align with your interests before spending your hard earned money in buying and arranging travel. This also, shows up during your interview process and demonstrates serious interest in the program. As an interviewer I have always been impressed with candidates who come well prepared than those who come looking for funding to do research in a clinical program and vise-versa.
Also learn about the area, if you are moving to a smaller or bigger city make it known that you have indeed researched the location and can make adjustments to the local region. Also you may want to take into account the patient population and list what would make you a strong candidate for that area. We have a large Hispanic population in San Antonio and commenting that you can speak Spanish or that you are willing to learn to speak Spanish is a positive point.
#3. Make the best first impression: The fact that you are sitting in front of the interviewer means you have already demonstrated a superior skill set, resume and have crossed the first hurdle compared to many others who did not get the invite. Now, relax, but make a great first impression. The first few minutes of the interview are way more important than the rest of the 15-20 minutes. In these minutes, the interviewer has already decided if you are worth their time. Remember, the interviewer is probably interviewing several people during the day, (besides managing several clinical and other responsibilities) and you have only a few minutes to make an impression that they remember you when they sit down to shortlist the candidates several weeks later. Having been on both sides of the table, I can assure you this is not an easy task, but definitely not impossible. We have already studied your transcripts and application, so we may delve into parts that you have listed as positive or negative experiences.
#4. Be Honest: As much as you prepare for the interview, most interviewers are seasoned. They have gone through the interview process as an interviewee as well as have interviewed several people before you. They see through the truth. So as much as possible tell your story, not the perfect story.
Remember we are also looking for a good fitting candidate. We want someone who wants to be in our program. We are not just looking for a body to fill a slot, we want someone genuinely interested in what our program has to offer. We realize that while interviews may be offered to many potential prospects each program has a specific number of slots that are required to keep us running and we are searching for candidates that can make a smooth transition into residency or fellowship.
#5. Relax and Smile: Interview season can be tough. Take time to catch up on sleep. A good night’s sleep before the interview can make all the difference. If you are a resident, going for job or fellowship interview, make sure to plan well in advance so that you are not on call prior to an interview. Do smile; it makes a difference. All of us like to be surrounded by happy people.
It’s okay to start over – we know that you may be nervous and if you feel like you didn’t answer a question appropriately it is ok to stop, gather your thoughts and start again. Ask us about our program. It lets us know that you have done some research into our residency and shows interest. We will try to give you both positive as well negatives of our program.
Many programs have specific questions that lead us to choose the right fitting candidate. Be honest with your answers, while these questions can be somewhat tricky they allow us to put everyone on a level playing field. Again we are looking for the best fitting candidate and this scores candidates on fit for program as opposed to just academic achievements.
#6. Thank you notes: Perhaps you have gotten this advice multiple times. Thank you notes are important. But you know what is more important, the timing! Someone I really admire told me during a follow up job interview, that he really liked that I sent my thank you note from the airport prior to flying out. To him, it showed promptness, interest and organization. It is good to have a preset thank you note, however keep in mind to make it more personalized for each interviewer. It matters if you can remember a small detail from the interview and fill it in. In your template, leave the name of the interviewer and the institution and date blank. It saves you the trouble of deleting the details every-time and god-forbid, sending the email with someone else’s name or institution.
Someone asked me during one of my residency interviews, “What has been your biggest challenge so far?” I said, “ This interview, till I walk out of this room, as once a challenge is completed, it is no longer hard.”
You are also interviewing the program and it may not be a great fit for you either. While it is not something you want to relay immediately, it maybe something you can send in your thank you email or a phone call. I have traveled to many places and interviewed at various facilities. One location in particular, I just did not feel like it would mesh well with what I was looking for. Despite the nice hotel, lunch and gathering it just didn’t feel like a good fit. The following day, I made sure to call the director personally and thank them for their time but I stated that I was leaning in a different direction. He thanked me for my promptness and was grateful that he could continue on in their search for a potential candidate for their open position without having to wait for a lengthier period of time.
Surabhi Batra, MD, is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas health system and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey.
Dr. Maria Perez-Johnson is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician who practices in South Texas. She is passionate about the health care of children. She is a wife, mother and author and has found a new passion in writing. She spends her off days traveling and walking short distances with her bulldog Zeus. She can be followed on instagram at @mperejohnson.