The Importance of the First Impressions for Residency Interviews

How long does it take to make a first impression? Approximately 7 seconds. As humans, we have an amazing ability to size each other up. It was an evolutionary requirement to understand whether a new person was a friend or threat. The first test of a residency interview is the first impression.

There are a lot of articles on how to make a great first impression. We want to provide a guide to nail the first impression in the context of a residency interview. The first is the basics. The following small mistakes put you in a negative light even before you speak a single word.

  1. Show up on time to your virtual interview. This is obvious but if you’re 1 or 2 minutes late – people will notice. I know I do for candidates who interview with me.
  2. Make sure you are set up for success in regards to your technology set up. This means having all of your various teleconferencing systems are up to date (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams). You do not want to be hit with a required system update 5 minutes before your interview forcing your computer to restart. Ensure you have stable high quality internet so your video does not blur in and out, and your audio comes in loud and clear. 
  3. Invest in low cost webcams and microphones to make sure you look great and sound clear. We have a blog post that illustrates what we use.
  4. Make sure your background for your interview is professional – not messy or inappropriate.
  5. Shut off any annoying alerts from web browsers or emails. These things can distract you and your interviewer.

The above 4 things enables you to walk into the interview fully confident. I call this basic preparation for your residency interview. What makes up the first impression? The long and short of it is everything. But, let’s break it down.

Body Language. It’s a term used a lot, but no one ever really breaks it down. Body language constitutes everything except what you say. We break down the key components.

  • Physical appearance. Yes, this matters. You should know the basics of professional dress, and grooming. In ambulatory clinic settings, doctors are expected to look and conduct themselves in a highly professional way.
  • Eye contact. This is harder in the context of virtual interviews. However, the webcam is your conduit. I like to keep my webcam and the window of my interviewer fairly close together. This allows me to maximize eye contact or represent it as closely as possible to the real deal. Many of you have multiple monitors – try to simplify this so you don’t come off that you’re looking away from the interviewer or not fully paying attention.
  • Posture. I have seen situations where the webcam is too high – and you look like you’re slouching. People naturally like individuals with straight, confident posture.
  • Mirroring. This is normal human behavior where we naturally imitate the person we are speaking to in order to build rapport. This means that if your interviewer is high energy – match that plus 10-20% more. If your interviewer is smiling to a high degree, do the same. If your interviewer is very serious, you do not want to act completely opposite by being highly informal. In general, we all do this naturally.
  • Gestures. Some people speak with their hands. Some people don’t. We do not suggest you adopt some new style as you still have to be you. However, hand gestures can be useful to emphasize a really important point. We all know that when someone puts their hand over their heart, or throw their hands in the air – it can imply a certain point.

Vocal Cues. What you say matters the most, but how you say it matters too.

  • Volume. Most often, this is not an issue. People can naturally adapt their volume to match that of your interviewer. With a good microphone or speaker, you should be able to avoid audio issues.
  • Tone of Voice. Essentially, tone of voice is the emotions you are conveying with your speech. For residency interviews, you have to make no mistake that this is a job interview. Thus, the tone should be professional and clear. However, tone is also important to convey enthusiasm and passion. Residency is long and arduous. Thus, potential residents need to have a lot of gas in the tank. But, remember that you have to match the body language of your interviewer. You may be extremely excited about the residency interview position. But, if you’re sitting across the table from a senior faculty member who is extremely serious, you have to calibrate.
  • Variation. We do have RIQ clients, many of whom are not English speakers, that have very monotone voices. This means that they speak at the same tone and same volume no matter what they are talking about. Monotone is not a good strategy – it conveys a lack of emotion and passion. Thus, we encourage to use tone and volume to help create energy in conversations, build engagement with interviewers, and avoid the perception that you lack emotion.

First impressions matter. In many ways, I feel that the virtual interviews have actually made things more fair. In human evolution, being tall and physically imposing automatically created an impression of confidence, ability, and talent. With virtual interviews, it’s very hard to tell if your 6 feet tall or 5 feet 1. I think this helps level the playing field. Some experts in the interviewing process believe that first 30-60 seconds already determines whether an interviewer wants to hire you or not – the rest of the time is spent on gathering supporting or detracting evidence. Thus, the first impression is critical. By setting yourself up for success with the basics like having a good technology setup and equipment, you’re avoiding setting yourself on the wrong foot with the interviewer. By understanding how body language and voice drive a first impression before you even start answering questions, you can set yourself up for success.