As with many events this year, interviews have been forced into the virtual world because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This poses many new challenges. I have the unique perspective of having attended in-person interviews last year and virtual interviews this year. Below, I will share some tips on how to succeed in virtual interviews.
1 | Dress in a suit, just as you would during an in-person interview
You want to present yourself as professionally as you would if you had been able to interview in person. This means wear a suit, a conservative blouse or collared shirt, a tie, and even though you may be seated, make sure to wear the dress pants too. You never know when you will need to get up during an interview, and you don’t want to get caught in pajama pants. I personally don’t wear shoes during my virtual interviews, but if wearing shoes helps you get in the groove, go for it! The main idea here is to wear whatever is least distracting. Leave the interviewer thinking about what you said, not what you wore. Last year, we had a debate between flats and heels for long tours. At least this is one less thing to worry about this year.
2 | Have a clean background
This is a new problem for interviewers to navigate. Some people recommend using a blank or white wall as your background. Others have opted for the strategically placed piece of art or house plant. I personally went with a blank background. I even had one interviewer comment that he was taking a poll on background types. He noted it was obvious when people placed a specific book or piece in the background as a conversation starter. Again, you want the background to be professional and not distracting so your interviewers remember you – not the dying house plant propped up on an old crate in the background.
3 | Use a webcam at eye level with good lighting
Many interviewers have opted for the webcam built into their computers. Others have bought HD webcams and ring lamps. Both options work, but I would recommend splurging on an HD webcam. Every pixel the interviewer gets of you makes you more human and more relatable. We are often separated by great distances, and we don’t want to feel even more distant because your camera won’t focus on your face. Having the webcam at eye level also makes the conversation feel slightly more realistic. There is some debate on whether you should look at the camera when you speak or at the picture of the person you are speaking to. I originally planned to look into the camera to make it appear to the viewer that I was looking directly at them, but in practice, this was challenging. I found it easier to make the video window smaller and center it at the top of your screen so that your eyes are only slightly diverted from the camera when looking at your interviewer. It is also critical to assess the lighting in the environment that you plan to interview in. One thing I didn’t consider earlier this season was that some interviews are scheduled well before sunrise. To ensure that the lighting remains balanced once the sun comes up, be sure to place your light source in front of you, and avoid harsh, direct light that will result in shadows and facial discoloration.
4 | Mute your phone, computer notifications, and limit all other distractions
This is my last recommendation regarding professionalism. Just because you are in your own home does not mean you should keep your cell phone on you. Keep it nearby so that if you have a technology mishap you can call the program coordinator, but be sure to place it on silent. You don’t want the buzz of a notification throwing you off mid-sentence. Additionally, you will want to silence your laptop so email notifications do not pop up while you are trying to speak. Most people wear headphones or earbuds to eliminate feedback. Be sure to test out the microphone on these devices before your first interview.
5 | Smile and be yourself
While it may feel more difficult to forge a connection with a person that is not in the same room as you, this will becomes easier with practice. The key is to just be yourself and have fun! By the time you are selected to interview, they already think you are great. The goal of these interviews is to see if you are a good fit for their program. You have accomplished so much to get here. Review your application and feel comfortable talking about anything you wrote down. This is your time to showcase yourself. Mention anything that isn’t obvious through the written application that you want each program to know. Examples include any ties to the region you have and an interesting story that showcases who you are.
The biggest difference I have felt between in-person interviews last year and virtual interviews this year is the lost opportunity to physically see the city and facilities. This is the place you may potentially spend the next 3-5 years of your life, so it can seem scary to choose a program without ever stepping foot in the same state. Most programs address this by making fun videos of the town and hospitals. Ask questions about living arrangements if that is important to you. Ask questions about what residents did for fun (before the pandemic) to get an idea as to whether this is a place you could picture yourself living. Residents are looking for the best fit and will be honest and non-judgmental of all questions asked during pre-interview virtual “socials.” These are also a great opportunity to see how residents interact with each other. Do they seem happy and excited to see each other? It is unfortunate that we cannot physically hang out with the residents as we did in years past, but virtual socials with breakout rooms provide the opportunity to get to see the program in a less formal light and ask some of the harder questions. These insights will be valuable when making challenging decisions about your rank list in February.