As a way to mitigate the spread of COVID 19, all residency interviews for the 2021 application cycle are being conducted virtually. This is unquestionably appropriate from the standpoint of infection control, but this arrangement certainly creates new challenges for prospective applicants. Below is a list of helpful tips for your upcoming virtual interview.
Investigating a program
A key factor in the interview process is getting an impression of the city and the hospital where you are applying. Because travel is not an option during the season of COVID, the next best thing is to ask someone who is already there. Many schools maintain contact information for alumni, and often these graduates are the perfect vicarious tour guides. They can help to answer your specific questions about the feel of a hospital system and what it is like to live in that particular city. Failing this, the residents at your program of choice are also suitable, though less impartial, resources.
Ideally, choose a location to interview where you will have no chance of being disturbed. The location you choose should be well lit, have a solid surface to rest your laptop or camera (i.e. not on your knees), and have a chair that allows you to sit up straight. If you do not feel like you have a space that is ideal for this at home, reach out to your medical school administration and see if there is an unused office that you could commandeer for the day.
The warm, soft light that comes from somewhere above or behind your webcam is ideal. Do not pick a location that forces you to sit with your back to a light source as you will be cast into shadow and it will be difficult to make out your facial expressions (i.e. do not sit in front of a window). Also keep in mind that your interview will be several hours long, and as a result, you should plan for the movement of the sun. To mitigate this, I recommend drawing your blinds to maintain consistent, controllable light levels.
The safest background is a blank wall, and unless you want to take a risk to impress a program director, this is the option that I recommend. Other good options are tasteful, uncluttered shelves, or artwork. This can be a good opportunity to showcase hints of your personality to provide a simple conversation starter. For example, one of my classmates intentionally hung a picture of her dog on the wall behind her because she wanted to test if a program would be pet friendly. The other background feature that deserves special mention is the bookshelf, which unfortunately can be more of a liability than an asset. On the positive side, it shows a prospective program that you are a well-read person and can potentially steer a conversation to topics that you are familiar with. However, on the negative side, it can be distracting and pretentious. Unless your interviewer happened to write a book which you have displayed, there are very few specific books that would give you an advantage because it would only take one to give your interviewer a negative impression (e.g., religious texts, genre fiction, or political books could all be perceived as negatives depending on the interviewer). It is best to play it safe and keep the contents of your background to a minimum. Additionally, unless you truly have no other option, do not utilize a virtual background as this will almost certainly be distracting.
A reliable internet connection is perhaps the single most important factor in ensuring you are set up for success. If possible, plan to conduct your interview in a direct line of sight to your router or snake an ethernet cable to your computer. If your internet connection is still unstable with these adjustments, consider moving to a different location like an office on your school campus. The other important hardware considerations are your webcam and your microphone. If you are using a relatively new computer, your built-in camera and microphone should be adequate. However, if you choose to upgrade to professional-grade equipment, keep in mind that 1) you should thoroughly test it beforehand and 2) no matter how crisp your sound and video quality are on your end, they will only appear to your interviewer as good as the video platform you’re using allows them to be.
This is relatively straightforward as you should dress exactly as you would if you were attending an in-person interview. There has been much written about this over the last several months, so I will say only that you must wear pants. No matter how nice it may feel, the risk of your computer falling over or your needing to stand up is something that must be taken into account. Do not fall prey to the allure of the zoom mullet.
Read more interviewing tips here.