Interview Season Has Begun!

November 17, 2013

Greetings, Readers!

Brrr winter’s started creeping in! I hope you all are able to stay warm. I’m getting ready to finish my last week of rotations in NC (I will miss the mild winter weather), though even more exciting than that–I’ve started interviewing!

What a unique challenge that I did not foresee! So a bit of background information first–because most programs interview 10x the applicants for the number of spots they have (ex. 70 interviews for 7 spots), the “golden number” of interviews one needs to book to “guarantee” a match somewhere is 10. Now, that said, many places may rank you (albeit not high), but in order to statisically “beat the odds” and not have to scramble10 is what 4th years should be aiming for. Now you’d think it’d be pretty straightforward–you just say “yes” to the first 10 interview requests that come in and then say “no” from that point onwards, but it’s more complicated than that.

One factor is the cost involved in getting to an interview. I made the mistake of applying mainly to programs in the SouthEastern US (while this is where I WANT to be) but I have scheduled myself to be in Oklahoma during the busiest months of interview season. So there are places who have invited me for an interview which I would ordinarily be able to drive to, which I now MUST fly to [from Oklahoma] which is getting quite pricey. The programs are good about putting you up in a hotel room and covering the cost of your meals, but some of these flights are $500-600 RT, and you think to yourself there’s just a 10% chance that I will end up at this place. But then again, you could fall in love with this program and it could be the one who ranks you highly, so you don’t want to skip an opportunity with them unless the cost of getting there is just outrageous or you can’t fit it into your schedule.

Scheduling interviews is also tricky. The books I have read recommend scheduling yourself later in the season so that you’re more memorable, compared to interviewing first-thing when other, stellar applicants can interview after you. But then again, the more interviews you schedule during rotations, the harder it is to do well in your last few elective rotations because you’re missing so much time. This is an advantage for the kids who wait and match during their 5th year–they can schedule interviews outside of rotations at their leisure. Some folks at US schools have the privilege of taking time off during their 4th year so that they can have unhampered time to go interviewing.

The interviews themselves have been great. In general, the programs I’ve been to so far have been very excited to have applicants there and have gone out of their way to make us feel welcomed and wanted. They’re quite aware that we will be attending many interviews, so they make an effort to stand out and make a good impression. The interviews have been less formal than I feared they would be, and have lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to 1:15 depending on the interviewer’s agenda and how many questions they have for you.

In preparation, you’ll need at least 2 suits. Some folks say “I’m going to be an individual and not conform to the suit mentality” but then when I go to these interviews, everyone there is either wearing navy, black or gray suits. I have yet to interview with anyone NOT wearing a suit, so I wouldn’t deviate from this stereotype. For girls, I’ve seen about 50-50 skirts vs dress pants. I’d say whatever is most comfortable for you, though if you’re going the skirt route, bring a back-up pair of panty hose in your purse in case you get a run. During dinner with the residents the night before, it’s “casual” which I take to mean wear what you would normally wear to clinic–dress slacks and a nice shirt/blouse–UNLESS the invitation blatantly tells you to wear jeans/khakis. You’ll need comfortable shoes as most of the interviews involve a tour of the facilities. For girls, modest jewelry and a hairstyle typical of what you wear on a daily basis. Light make-up is more professional than showing off your Chanel make-up counter cat-eye skills.

Also you’ll need a portfolio–everyone has them though I don’t think we use them for much other than a professional schedule holder or to read off pre-written questions–as well as an attaché/brief case/matching purse. This last object is not a must-have, but it looks strange walking into an interview wearing a suit, carrying a bookbag. Most places, you walk in carrying your attaché case, but then leave it in the main conference area, taking only your portfolio on interviews. Because most of the time you’re flying to an interview, there is the problem of what to do with your luggage during the day of the interview when you must check out of the hotel before you leave for the morning interviews. I would recommend leaving your luggage at the hotel, locked up with the valet if possible, unless the program tells you to bring it with you. Its been my experience that the folks who voluntarily bring their carry-on/garment bag with them have clunky luggage which clutters up the program coordinator’s office/must be left somewhere less-than-opportune such as in another applicant’s car. But then I would keep your travel documents/ID/wallet with you at all times, just incase something bad happens you can at least get back home.

Hope these interview tips help–please comment with questions if they arise!