Virtual Residency Interviewing in 2020 via the Web



In the midst of COVID-19 related shutdowns and travel limitations in 2020, residency programs are still interviewing to make sure they have housestaff to man the next wave of potential hospitalizations. Most, if not all, residency programs are moving to an online interviewing platform via Zoom, Google Meet or other video conferencing software. We wanted to talk about ways for you to optimize your interview success using this new platform. In this article, we’ll talk about some very simple and concrete tips to improve your virtual interview game!

Audio and Video Quality is King

Virtual interviewing is different from meeting in person. In person, the interviewer’s first impressions are your appearance and attire. This is not the case online. While those things are still very important in a virtual meeting, the first impression to your interviewer may be how clear your video and audio feed is

We all know that laptop-based webcams and microphones are usually below average in quality. If you take a screenshot of your webcam image, you can see easily see how grainy the image is and how poor the color rendering is. Also, laptop webcams are oriented such that they show your face from a lower angle, which is usually not flattering. Thus, an external webcam is a must when it comes to high-quality video presentation. Take a look at a side-by-side shot of me using a modern, high quality webcam versus an older webcam taken in my home office.

High quality webcam screenshot

High quality webcam screenshot

Notice the generally better color tone and much better resolution available on the modern webcam. Webcams are not expensive and can be purchased readily from online retailers for less than $100, so upgrading is not going to be terribly taxing on resources. Also, optimize your lighting just like you would for a photo. Remove sources of back-lighting that underexpose your face. I recommend conducting interviews indoors, since the environment is more controllable and usually more professional appearing.

Audio Quality

Audio quality is also extremely important. I recommend using a pair of earbuds with an attached microphone that can be plugged into your laptop’s mic in (or combined headphone/mic jack). The reason why you want to be using earbuds is because it will eliminate annoying voice feedback that you get from projecting sound to your own microphone. The mic input is also much closer to your mouth leading to reduced reverberations giving you cleaner audio. If you already have headphones or earbuds, but do not have a mic, then I recommend a lapel mounted USB lavalier mic. These so called “lav mics” are very inexpensive (usually <$25) and provide superb microphone quality. It may be tempting to connect using wireless earbuds (for example Airpods or portable equivalent), but DO NOT do it. The voice recording quality of these devices are highly compressed making you sound like a low quality phone call, not the ideal situation when giving interview answers! 

Test your Equipment Ahead of Time

When the time comes for your interview, the last thing you want to be doing is messing with video or audio configurations on Zoom. Which default audio recording device do you want to use? Are you sure you want to spend 2 minutes out of your 15 minute interview diagnosing why you’re not getting sound? Make sure that you have these settings finalized and TEST them beforehand. You should use the same video conferencing software that the interview will be conducted on. Do a test call with your friend or parents to make sure everything is working.

Standard Interview Attire and Etiquette Still Apply

Just because you are doing a virtual interview does not mean that business attire isn’t important. As with in person interviews, I recommend adopting a conservative and well groomed appearance. Men, keep to the suit and tie. Women: suit jacket and shirt or professional dress. Your interviewers want to know that you are going to act professionally in all aspects of your life, whether they are patient interactions or interpersonal interactions with your colleagues. It may seem strange to wear a suit jacket while sitting on your kitchen table, but it is always safer to be overdressed rather than underdressed.

Remove Background Noise

Make sure that your environment is free of unnecessary background noise. Discuss ahead of time with other family members to stay out of the camera background. Get the kids out of the house if possible and make sure your pets are not going to intrude upon your interview! These can reflect negatively on yourself even if the distractions are not necessarily your fault, since it reflects that you may “not taking the interview seriously.” Importantly, make sure that you turn off notifications for your phone as well as computer!

Look at the Camera, Not at the Monitor

This tip may seem counterintuitive, but the person you are having a conversation with intuitively wants to see your gaze and your focus on them. When you’re broadcasting to your interviewer, that person becomes your audience, so you should imagine that you are speaking back at your webcam rather than speaking to the computer monitor. Of course, tt is natural to want to look back at your interviewer, so I recommend having your video conferencing window positioned relatively close to the webcam in your computer, so that your gaze is well aligned.

There Is No Substitute for Practice

Even though interviews in the 2020 season may be conducted at home, this does not mean that you shouldn’t practice in advance. All of the same advice on the rest of our website still applies. That means having well thought out and engaging answers to the most common and highest yield residency interview questions. 

We wish you good luck throughout your interview season!