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Road to Residency: On Interviewing

May 20th, 2010

I hope that my first installment has been helpful and here is my second installment.  Now that you have interviews, congratulations, the hardest part is done.  The interviews are by far the most important factor in good a favorable ranking.  Each interviewer is looking for someone they want to work with, so if you remember nothing else: you need to present yourself as someone fun to work with.

Should I Go?
At first, the thrill of getting invites is simply overwhelming, and you will inevitably schedule every interview.  While the is nothing wrong with going on every interview, it does become very grueling very quickly.  I advise people that 7 interviews is ideal.  It never hurts to have more, but having less is worrisome.  Once you have your seven,  you should have a vague idea what programs you are interested in and which ones you are not.  The programs which you have minimal interest, I would recommend declining the interview.  This saves you time and opens up an interview for someone who wants to go there.

There is nothing wrong with trying to schedule all your interviews and declining them at a latter date, but bare in mind you are taking an interview spot from a fellow applicant, so don’t cancel at the last minute.  That reflects poorly on you and your med school.

Just use common sense when it comes to scheduling.  Try to group interviews to make traveling easier.  You should never have to travel twice for prelim and categorical spots.  Prelim programs are usually very accommodating when informed about interviews for a categorical spot.  It is always okay to reschedule (with fair warning).  I would advise interviewing at your top programs first.  Scheduling early demonstrates interest and programs rank applicants on a rolling basis; it is easier to make an impression at the beginning of interview season.

Cheating: Get The Interview You Want
When interviewing for competitive programs, there are very limited interview spots and often more people are invited than can interview.  As a result, scheduling ASAP is of the essence.  Therefore Gmail is a must.  In Gmail, go to settings/filters and create a rule to push any emails from ERAS (or keyword “ophthalmology” for SF match) to your cell phone (see this topic for further help).  That way when you get an interview you get an email and a text message.  Immediately, check your Gcalendar and call the program to set up your interview.  For most of the interviews, I was the first person to call, got my top choice of dates, and the program coordinator remarked on my promptness.

My only tip here are be honest with programs if you have any problems.  If your plane losses a wing, if your radiator over heats, or your boat sinks from underneath your feet, do not hesitate to call the program.  They would rather know why your late, then to be left wondering.  In every applicant pool, there will be people who are late for reasons out of their control.  Take a deep breath… or 10 and call them.  If you are even remotely close, they will likely send help and if you communicated they will not hold it against you.  Do not leave home without the number for the program director.

The “Dinner”
If you do not go to the dinner, do not bother showing up the interview.   This is true of multiple reasons.  Firstly, most programs have the chief residents lead the dinners and they take notice of good candidates during the dinner, and the chiefs play a vital role in selecting the next group of residents.  The second would be the very few programs lucky enough to have Dr Wiese or similar program director who invites everyone to his house, talks with every candidate, observes how they fit in with the residents in a social situation.  And lastly, this is one of the few opportunities you have to talk with the residents on a frank basis.  Not all residents are happy with their program and the interview dinner is the opportunity they will use to bash it.   Find a prelim, someone with nothing to lose by talking honestly about the program to relate to them.I  f I recall, I did not stay for the interviews after the dinner for Baylor.

Closely observe the interactions of the residents.  Do they know each other?  Do they know each other’s families? Do they like each other?  or is this all socially engineered.  The truly observant will be lamentably surprised by the residents interactions during the dinner.

How Not To Dress
I think it is a bit sad that I need to mention this, but you’ll be surprised.  Pink hair, pink lycra micro mini with black lace bra showing, and 6 inch pink heels is not okay.  It makes a shunning impression, but not for a working relationship.  Dress to impress.  Guys suites or sport jacket.  Polo shirts are not okay.  Gals, anything classy.  If you think a Hooter waitress might currently be wearing it, put it back.

The Interview
We finally get to the main event.  Each interviewer is looking for someone they want to work with, so if you remember nothing else: you need to present yourself as someone fun to work with.  Start the interview by answering all of their questions.  However, many interviewers would rather react to what you have to say, so be prepared with ‘canned’ questions.  Interviewing is the ultimate in social engineering.  You are going to sit down with someone for 5 minutes who will be tremendously influential on your future. When you walk into their office look them in the eye and shake their hand. firmly Do not be in a hurry to retreat to the nearest chair, take an extra 2 seconds survey the office and commit to memory everything behind you, take note of their hobbies/research/awards, look for pictures of family and what activity is going on in the picture.   Quickly, reference this with your hobbies,  strengths, and just anything you know about to know more about.  In an average office, this will easily give you 30 minutes of conversation.  But be wary, it is not uncommon for staff to switch offices for interviews (to use 1 block, rather than have you trollop around the hospital), so unless you see the interviewee in pictures or name on a plaque do not assume it is their office.  The quicker you successfully steer the conversation away from canned/boring questions and onto personal topics the better impression you will make.  You will also notice, that interviewers want to talk with you and your always the person that the sectaries are knocking on the door asking you to move along,

I know it gets hard, but show interest in responses and when possible ask follow up questions.  The best interviews are the ones where you keep interviewers speaking.
What to ask: People like to brag about their program and in particular their specialty; keep this in mind.
– How does your program rank in <insert interest here>
– How do your fellows match
– What is the break down of fellow matches
– I see you like <insert hobby here>,  I love here <blank>,  where can you <blank> here?!?
Stock Questions:  You should have ‘canned’ answers to these questions
–  Tell me about yourself
–  Why do you want to come here
– Why should we choice you (be graceful,…..)
– What do you think of the state of medicine? Obamacare? (No matter what you argue you better be able to back it up, and no one likes a flip-flopper.. ask Al Gore and Bob Dole)

If the tour is at the end of the day, it is optional.  Don’t worry about not going.  All hospitals are exactly the same.  🙄

Evaluating the Program
This may be the single most important piece of information I am conveying in this rambling dissertation.  Lets face it, you will learn next to nothing  from the tour, interviews, slide shows, and staff.  Every program does their job at putting on a good face and tell you why they are the best.  The problem is figuring out where the masquerade ends and the truth begins.  In my experience there are four ways.  1) The “Dinner” and talking to disgruntled prelims 2) Anything that people are repeating is either really awesome or a problem they are trying to fix.   Ask different people and look for consistent answers.  Most interviewers  are not instructed on propaganda and answer relatively truthfully.  3) Go into the interview expecting lies, they are not hard to find by reading people.  4) How the program acts. Programs in similar classes, act similar.  The best programs do not provide airfare, they do not provide hotels.  These offerings are very expensive and are to compensate.  When interviewing you cannot tell a difference form a program that provides a hotel from one that does not.  So you need to ask yourself why does program 30 minutes away not pay, but this one does.  Incentives from the program need to thought of as disincentives for you.

I highly recommend you record your gut reaction to the program.  The exact feeling you have when you get in the car after the interview.  If it does not feel like a good match, the chances are the program is thinking the same thing.  It is so easy to over analyze later, but your gut reaction is usually right.  I cannot tell you the criteria that need to make you happy.  But your rank list needs to maximize happiness.  So think about location, work hours, happiness of residents, type of people int he program, etc

The Letter Game
There is no correct answer to this, but many programs keep track and thank you letters are noted and can count for you, but not against you.  Remember matching is a courtship.  You need to express your interest and maintain communication.  I highly advise writing timely hand written thank you notes to everyone you interviewed with at your top programs.  And thank you cards or at the very least emails to everyone you interviewed with at programs at the bottom of your list.  If you interviewed with >6 people, I think it is okay to write a single very well written letter to the program director and ask to extend your thanks to everyone else.

Stay in Touch
The interview dance is not done yet.  Around match time, you should be writing love letters.  You should write letters to your top programs.  You should tel your number one school that they are #1.  This should be honest and you should only send one letter proclaiming this.  Candidate and programs are allowed to volunteer how they will rank the other, but it is a violation to ask.

To your #2 and 3 programs, you should tell them they are ‘topping your list.’  Everyone else that you are interested in should get a letter stating you will rank them ‘highly.’  By doing this, you are conveying your interest honestly, and without match violation.

Programs may send you you love letters.  Getting a letter always is a good thing, but not getting it does not preclude you matching at the program.  Not all programs send them, some programs send them to almost everyone.  Alot of letters are frank lies, unless they give you a notarized contract, do not let love letters have too much influence over your rank list

Your Goals
– 7 interviews
– Fit in with the suites
– Weed out misdirection
– Stay in touch

The interview trial is long and exhausting.  At first you have a constant feeling of  jamais vu, your interviews are full of presque vu, and by the end it is ceaseless déjà vu.  Just remember all of these are signs of simple temporal lobe seizures and probably need to be checked out by a neurologist.  Anyways, I’m a bit exhausted, so sorry for any type-Os.  Check back in a couple weeks for Part III: Creating your match list.

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