Interviewing during a pandemic: How to get the most out of Zoom interviews

Our last interview-season post focused on putting your best foot forward as an applicant in a remote residency interview (Zoom, Skype, etc). Today we are talking about how you, as the interviewee, can glean as much information as possible about the programs you are considering, despite the limitations of remote interviewing. It may sound strange, but with a little bit of strategy, you can learn ALMOST as much about a place over Zoom as you can by going there in-person.

Tip #1: Pay attention the background

Where are your interviewers physically located during your interview? If they are in their offices, do they seem like they have enough space to do what they need to do, or do they look like they are crammed in a basement closet somewhere? Do they have family pictures the wall, or photos of the area? Do you see any hints about what your interviewers do in their free time?

Do they seem comfortable, or are they wearing a hat and earmuffs because it’s freezing? It sounds silly, but if a division doesn’t have office space to work in, what other support are they lacking?

Tip #2: Organization matters

How well was the interview day organized? Did there seem to be a solid plan, and did everyone stick with it? Did things run (more or less) on-time? Who was running the show behind the scenes? How did the other interviewers interact with that person? Were they kind and respectful to each other and their assistants? If something went wrong, did everyone freak out, or did they work together and calmly get through it?

Tip #3: Be a fly on the wall

Depending on how the interview day is organized, you may have the opportunity to watch the faculty interact with each other. Some interview formats will have everyone in a room together during turnover time, and the faculty may naturally start chatting with each other. Other programs may put applicants in a waiting room, or the faculty may turn off their video and mute themselves between sessions. If you get to see faculty interact with each other, what is that like? Are they building each other up and showing off their colleagues’ achievements? Do they seem to like each other?

There isn’t a right or wrong environment for a department to have, but some departments may be a better fit for certain individuals. Some departments are going to be more relaxed, maybe joking with each other or gently poking fun at each other. Other departments will be more formal, hierarchical. If you consider yourself more of a joker, a formal department may not be a good fit, and if you are more reserved and don’t really like being made fun of, a department full of practical jokers may make you uncomfortable.

Tip #4: Ask the right questions, and read between the lines

If a department is struggling, or people are unhappy, they usually aren’t going to come right out and say it. Instead, think of questions that you can ask that will give you a better idea of the environment within the department. There will be another post coming up in a few days with some suggested questions to ask, and what to look for in the answers. Read between the lines – are things that are important to you on the list of things the department does well? If not, are they things you can do without?

Do the interviewers seem genuinely interested in answering your questions, and in your answers to theirs? Or do they feel like they are just checking a box? Are they looking down, or around the room? Or are they focused on the screen? Interviewers who are invested in resident education will be eager to tell you about their program to find the right applicants. If the interviewers seem disinterested during your interview, will they really be more invested in your education once you get there?

Tip #5: Follow up

It never hurts to follow up! Reach out to programs that you were interested in. If you send a paper card or letter, don’t expect a response. But if you send an email, feel free to ask any lingering questions (one or two per person, please!) and see if they respond. Do they seem happy to hear from you? Do they take the time to write a thoughtful response?

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