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Published: October 28, 2020

Guide to ERAS Virtual Interviews 2020-2021

Special Highlights from the CAFP Student-Resident Council

Disclaimer: The following is a combination of information from Dr. Ted O’Connell’s session on virtual interviewing tips (linked below) and from various residents and med school advisors. 

Formatting of interviews:

  • Variable length: ~ 15 – 60 min. Some take 3 hours, if a program tour is included. 
  • 1-on-1 and/or group interviews (common combo:1 PD, 1 faculty, 1 resident). 
  • Online format : Zoom, Thalamus, etc.

Online Resources

    1. CAFP X Dr. Ted Connell on Virtual Interview Tips: https://www.tedxoconnell.com/opinion/2020/8/25/cafp-session-on-virtual-interviewing-tips
    1. For interview follow-up: https://www.tedxoconnell.com/opinion/2019/3/10/tips-for-interview-follow-up

Tips and suggestions from PDs and residents:

Before the interview: 

Know yourself:

  • Know what’s on your transcript and Dean’s letter. If something concerning, like a bad grade or an evaluation is on there, you need to know how to address it and be able to demonstrate how you’ve grown from that. Either show that those stumbles won’t happen again or that you know how to handle them if they do
  • Go through your ERAS resume and think about what kind of story that tells. Be able to talk about the details. Example: You have 2 years of surgical research on your resume because you thought you were going to do surgery, but now you are applying for FM, so know how to tell that story.
  • Think of example patient encounters you can reference to answer different questions (have 3-4 scenarios in your back pocket) – refer to “During the interview” sample questions.

Know the program:

  • Different residency programs may use platforms other than Zoom, so know what they’re using beforehand and practice with it.
  • Once the interview is scheduled, consider contacting the coordinator about who will be conducting your interview. If possible, get their phone number and email just in case. Also, do some homework: if possible, learn a little bit about the interviewers in terms of professional background, community engagement, research, etc.
  • Go through potential questions, think about the types of answers, and jot down some notes about your answers. Practice them, not to the point of sounding rehearsed but enough to be comfortable with your response.
  • Take a good look at program websites, look at the wording they use about the program, their people, etc. to get a sense of the program, even though you’re not visiting in person. Many programs are trying to put out more additional videos and pictures to portray who they are.
  • Try to access graduates of the program. Perhaps the coordinator can provide a list of graduates you can speak to. A good question to ask graduates is about the culture of the program. They might give you an honest answer because they’re no longer in the program and don’t have skin in the game.

Technical and logistical tips:

  • Set the scene and minimize distractions (e.g. silence/shut off the phone, close all your browsers, turn off sounds/notifications, notify your housemates/family ahead of time, etc). 
  • Consider what’s in the background – Think about what kind of image you’re portraying. Make sure that your background is clean and free from clutter
  • Dress well from head to toe just as you would for an in person interview. Monitor body language and facial expression. 
  • Charge your laptop beforehand and keep it plugged in the whole time.
  • Get feedback from your advisor (set up a mock interview), residents, classmates, family, or friends on zoom.

During the interview:

How to stand out:

    • Make sure that your video is on at all times (including non-interview times such as welcome videos or grand rounds time) during the time you have with the program.
    • Be yourself. Assess programs during the interview, including culture fit and what you think of the people etc., so you need to be as authentic as possible.
    • Try to make a connection. It can be helpful if you can find out ahead of time who you’re interviewing with and learn a little bit about their background to try to make that connection.
    • Take notes and assess programs (mentally or on paper). Take brief notes but watch your posture at the same time (don’t hunch over your desk furiously writing). This will help you remember some of the topics you discuss and differentiate programs. Also note the names of people who interviewed you and roles so you can follow up.
  • Interview sample questions: There are plenty of sample interview questions online and hopefully through your medical school advisors as well. Be prepared to answer broad questions and more precise questions:
  • “Tell me about yourself?” and other open ended questions.
  • “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with an attending or resident and how you handled it?”
  • “Do you have any biases? If so, tell me about a time that a bias impacted patient care.” 
  • If you don’t know how to answer a question, it is okay to say, “that’s a great question, do you mind if I take a second to collect my thoughts?”. It is also okay to say, “I am not super familiar with this topic, but I will do my best to answer this question.”
  • Ask questions. At the end, avoid saying “no I don’t have questions.” The more specific the questions, the better to show your true interest. Don’t ask them a question about their program that’s literally on page 1 of their website, that looks like you didn’t prep at all.
  • If a program is your first choice, let them know during the interview and in the follow-up.

Technical glitches during the interview:

  • If it’s the program’s side, try to make them feel better. Whoever’s on the other side, they might be evaluating how you respond to it. 
    • Do you keep calm, do you remain professional? Evaluate how the program handles it too. 
  • If it’s on your side, apologize and humor your way out. 
  • Have a back-up plan: For example, get the phone numbers of contact people (such as coordinator or interviewer) in case someone cuts out, or make sure you have a mobile hotspot or the ability to jump on your phone! 

After the interview:

  • Write a thank you note. Either email or hand written is probably fine. Hand written is a personal touch, but you may have space limitations, handwriting etc. You can write it to anyone you’ve interviewed with or who’s spent a significant amount of time with you.
    • Send it out shortly after your interview. Makes you seem like you are organized and on top of things. And you have better memories about what you just discussed.
    • What should you put in it? This is why you take notes during your interview: write a personalized – “I really enjoyed connecting over this…..”
  • DON’T send identical emails to people in the same program. This potentially shows a lack of effort. 

Find ways to interact with programs that you’re very interested in so maybe follow up and ask if they’re having virtual second looks, happy hours etc.

  • Ask if there are residents you can be connected with. Really try to show your interest/ Ask the program coordinator.
  • Maybe try opportunities to get research and community service etc if that’s your DREAM program, or at least ask about the opportunities to get more involved. 

Miscellaneous:

  • Interview attire idea:
  • Zoom tricks and tips:

Burning questions about interview dos-and-don’ts?

  •  Feel free to reach out to our CAFP Resident Co-chairs Christina Spandler and Anna Askari who kindly offered their emails here. 

Special thanks: Dr. Ted O’ Connell

Yours sincerely,

CAFP Resident-Student Council

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