Unconventional residency interview tips

I’ve done a lot of interviews on my road to becoming a cardiology fellow. Here are a few topics that people don’t talk about enough.

Speed dating

I think of interviews like speed dating. Everyone puts on their “first date.” Everyone behaves their best; therefore, you can’t trust everything people say. Your job is to really listen to what people are saying, how they’re saying it, when they pause, when they fish for words, and what they’re not saying. These rather small moments are key to really figuring out a program. Remember, you’re wearing a suit, and so are they – the implications are deeper than just clothing.

Create a connection

Focus on creating a connection with the interviewer. When you sit down for an interview with a program, you’ve already met their criteria for an applicant. Stop trying to “fit the mold” now. Now you need to determine if you fit well in their program and vice versa. Create a connection with your interviewers in order to increase the odds they will want you in their program.

People like people that are similar to them. Human nature seems to dictate this. Sales tactics encourage salesmen to find similarities with clients. Similar undergraduate schools, favorite sports teams, or TV shows build connections with someone and create a deeper bond more than interviewer and applicant.

Ask questions about them and their interests

Unfortunately, there will be little information available about an attending’s personal interest. But you can find out about someone’s research interests, which can help you generate conversation. Also, with most people doing virtual interviews in their office, you can comment on items they have in the background. Personally, I don’t think this is unprofessional if done right. Obviously, don’t ask about taboo topics like family. Instead, if a photo shows evidence of a specific shared hobby, it’s not unreasonable to comment on that shared hobby and make conversation about that.

Be different

The medical training funnel is really good at creating the same person. Everyone has similar test scores, grades, extracurriculars, etc. I’ve been told by a program director that after a while, a lot of applicants start looking the same. So, the job is to be different, but for the right reasons. This can be done in multiple ways.

One easy way to be different is how you dress for an interview. A lot of applicants still wear gray or black suits. An easy way to stand out is to wear a nice navy-blue suit. Patterned suits can be worn if they’re more conservative (subtle plaid or pinstripes). For men, a nice pop of color can be added with patterned socks (can still be applicable for virtual interviews) or a bow tie. Watches, tie bars, and cuff links can also be used to good effect. There is a balance, though, as you don’t want to wear really loud colors and be remembered as the guy with a really weird tie, suit, or shirt. Keep it classy.

For the women: I’m a guy, so I had to ask my girlfriend for classy ways to add a pop of color to be different but still professional. Here are our thoughts. Deep purple is a color that is often not used but is still professional. As potential conversational pieces, earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets can be worn so long as they’re not distracting to you, they don’t make a lot of noise, and are professional. Ladies, please feel free to comment with other suggestions as I’m definitely out of my area of expertise here.

Virtual interviews

Since the interviewer can’t see your screen or what’s not on camera, you can have your talking points, interviewers research, specific questions, and your CV available for your review before, during, and after your interview. Take advantage of this.

Know how to take a good selfie

Make sure your camera or laptop is positioned at or above eye level. Use a well-lit room. Plain background in the back or you can have something interesting behind you so long as it’s not unprofessional (avoid family photos if you don’t want to talk about family).

Put a light/lamp behind your camera/laptop. You can also use two lights sources to reduce shadows on your face.

Posture

Start working on your posture now. Interview day is not the day to start worrying and working on your posture. We are all often slumped at a computer staring at phones, pagers, and computer screens. That rounded shoulder look does not portray the strong, intelligent vibe that you want to communicate to attendings and program directors.

Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Slouching conveys laziness, which is not what you want. When standing, keep your feet evenly on the floor. Flexing your butt will help correct slouching.  Since you’ll be doing virtual interviews, lean forward when on screen, smile, and look at the camera (not the screen) as much as possible. If you have a standing desk or can prop your laptop up at standing height, this will keep you from slouching and help project your voice better.

Start practicing this now. The last thing you want to do is start worrying about posture while trying to create a connection, listen, and engage with attendings, residents, and program directors. You will have plenty of things to worry about when it comes to interviews. Posture should be the last thing on your mind.

Vybhav Jetty is a cardiology fellow.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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