There is a difference between seeing a picture of a great painting and studying it right before your eyes, smelling a plate of pasta vs eating it, and similarly, interviewing for fellowship virtually rather than in-person. For the past two years applicants and programs have done their best to convey everything they have to offer virtually, despite a number of challenges in logistics, technology, and communication.
Fortunately, medical educators have taken an interest in the impact of this shift from in-person to virtual interviews and developed best practices to optimize the virtual interview day(1). These range from practices taken directly from traditional in-person interviews to those unique to the virtual setting. The most helpful tips have been summarized below, organized to help you consider what you will do before the interview, during the interview day, and after it’s complete.
Before the Day: Do your Homework
As with any interview, you want to be prepared. The interview day is often shorter in the virtual setting, so you need to make the most of the time to gather the information you need to make a significant life decision. Preparation includes information-gathering and putting your technology to the test.
Learn a bit about the program and the city before the interview day to formulate focused questions for your interviewers. We recommend reviewing the program website and social media accounts, faculty biographies and interests, and speaking with mentors and peers who are familiar with the program.
Next, ensure your technology is optimized, and be prepared to use it effectively to put your best face forward. Below are some suggestions to set yourself up for success:
- Location, location, location! Find a quiet, private space that can be available for the entirety of your interview day. Ideally, you can control background noise and lighting. If your home isn’t suitable, consider exploring an interview space with your current program.
- Mic check 1, 2, 3… This may be common-sense, but should not be undervalued. Test out your microphone and camera beforehand. You want to be certain that communication goes as smoothly as possible on the day.
- Don’t be a shadow of yourself! Avoid bright lights from lamps or windows behind you, as this casts a shadow over your face. Ensure you have a light source in front of you to help you shine during your interview.
- Look out behind you! Don’t have anything visible in your background that you wouldn’t want to discuss during the interview. It is best to err on the side of clean and neutral to avoid having your backdrop distract from the conversations with interviewers.
- Be the center of attention, on your screen that is. Ensure that your face is in the center of frame and at a reasonable distance from the camera (typically no more than two feet) (2).
- Keep looking up! A common virtual interviewing mistake is to look at the screen, rather than the camera during the interview. Maintaining eye contact with the camera is easier when your camera is set at eye level. You can also have your Zoom screen show only the interviewer’s video and place it as close to your camera as possible on your screen, usually in top center of your screen (see Figure 1).
- Let’s go to plan B. Have a backup plan in case of a technology failure. This may include a backup computer, using an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi, providing your phone number to the program and interviewer in advance, or having their phone number written on paper or programmed into your phone. Lastly, make sure your device is fully charged and plugged in to avoid any battery issues.
- Virtual practice makes perfect. Put it all together by practicing with a friend or advisor to get feedback on your background and AV quality. You can also use speedtest.net to check your internet speed.
Figure 1 Interviewer Video Placement. Placement of the interviewer video to optimize eye contact, if your camera is located at the center of the top of your computer or device.
The Interview Day: Power Up and Log In
Overcome the Screen In-between
One of the biggest challenges to interviewing virtually is missing the human connection and intangible communication that takes place when speaking with someone in-person. You want to make a connection in the short time you have with each person. Do your best to act naturally, speak and use hand gestures as you would if the person were sitting in the room with you. If you have a sit-to-stand desk or a similar option available, standing may improve your confidence(3).
Stay Plugged In
Limit distractions on your computer and phone on the interview day. This includes closing any unnecessary applications so that alerts or notifications don’t sidetrack you. Interviewers might be more distracted than impressed by hearing your busy email in-basket notifications throughout the interview.
Even though you may be in the comfort of your own home, you should stay alert and engaged. Limit any distracting movements, such as turning back and forth in your desk chair. Avoid eating and drinking during your interview. That said, these days involve a lot of talking. If you do need to clear your throat, plan for water in a neutral cup. Again, the goal is to keep the attention on you and not on your novelty World’s Greatest Son mug (even if you may be the world’s greatest son).
The People Make the Culture
It is important to find a program, city, and culture where you can thrive both professionally and personally. While it can be difficult to get a sense for these aspects virtually, take advantage of any opportunities to meet with current fellows, including any pre-interview “happy hour” type events, and don’t be shy about reaching out to fellows who offer their contact information to you with any lingering questions. Questions to consider asking to help gain a sense for the culture of the program include:
- What characteristics would allow a fellow to thrive in this program?
- What are the top three values of this program?
- How have you seen the program evolve over the last few years and where do you see it going in the next three to five years?
- What types of activities do fellows do together outside of work?
After the Interview: Time to Reflect
Downloading Your Thoughts
As soon as the interview day ends it’s a good idea to jot down your impressions. As the interview season progresses programs may start to blend together, especially in the virtual season where every interview takes place in exactly the same location: a computer screen. Self- debriefing may also help you think of questions you still need addressed.
There’s a distinct difference between exploring the streets of Rome on Google Maps and physically standing in the Coliseum. This distinction holds true as well for the cities and towns where you’re applying. Consider visiting the cities of your top ranked programs if time and resources allow, particularly if you think it would impact your rank decision.
The virtual interview isn’t something to fear, it’s just a bit different. There are definite advantages from cost and time savings to there being no chance of an airline losing your suit the day before your interview. And while there are some added challenges, these can be overcome with a bit of planning and intentionality. With these points in mind, you can be confident that each time you log in you’ll light up the screen.
Lastly, the interview season is an exciting and unique time! Rarely do you get the opportunity to interact with so many fascinating people, learning how they practice and educate pulmonary and critical care medicine trainees. So, amidst all of the “homework” and preparation, do your best to remember to have fun as you meet your future colleagues!
For more information and a helpful resource, please refer to the AAMC Virtual Interview Applicant Preparation guide: https://www.aamc.org/media/43051/download.
- American Association of Medical Colleges. Virtual Interviews: Applicant Preparation Guide. 2020.
- Laker, Godley, et al. 4 Tips to Nail a Virtual Job Interview. Harvard Business Review. 2021.
- Westfall C. On-Camera Job Interview Tips: How To Nail The Video Interview. Forbes. 2019.