Rajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD
How To Prepare for Your Virtual Medical School or Residency Interview: 7 Expert Strategies
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
As I write this in 2021, we know that many medical school and residency interviews will continue to be held virtually. Although traditional interviews are challenging, virtual interviews introduce a whole new set of challenges and a new level of complexity.
If you're looking for more help applying to residency, we also offer our online course: The Residency Interview 101. Our expert strategies and insider tips on the admissions process can help you become a standout applicant.
Will medical school interviews be virtual for the 2021-2022 application cycle?
Will residency interviews be virtual?
As we write this in 2021, many parts of the country have returned almost to pre-pandemic life. However, many medical schools are still preferring the virtual or "remote" interview format for the 2021-2022 application cycle.
Medical schools announcing the use of remote interviews for this cycle include the Pritzker School of Medicine at UChicago and Emory School of Medicine.
Since the situation is constantly changing, we encourage you to look into specific schools and prepare for a variety of interview formats.
For more information about interview procedures for different medical schools in the 2021-2022 application cycle, please see this resource from the AAMC.
The same applies to interviews for residency programs. While most programs haven't yet published their intentions, conversations with program directors indicate that some programs will continue the virtual interviews that they used last year.
What should I expect from a virtual medical school interview?
In this post, we’re focusing on recommendations for a traditional virtual interview. However, you might be asked to participate in other formats.
Some schools in 2020 used breakout rooms to help administer virtual MMI interviews.
Other applicants have participated in group interviews, which may introduce their own challenges.
In group interviews, one interviewer speaks to a group of applicants at the same time, interviewing the entire group at once. (You can imagine how stressful that might be: applicants hesitant to speak, others speaking over each other...)
The strategies below will be useful for all types of virtual interviews. Our best advice if you'll be facing specific interview variations is to be familiar with the different interview formats.
Although your interview prep for both in-person and virtual interviews will be similar, there are some unique features of the virtual interview that you need to take into account.
To help you excel, this post outlines seven expert strategies for preparing for virtual interviews
Virtual interviews are stressful. Period. From the vagaries of technology to the importance of virtual first impressions, there's a lot to consider. That’s why we developed seven strategies for preparing for virtual interviews.
These cover the basics of what an applicant should do to succeed in their interview, from the moment they first receive a virtual interview invitation to the day of the interview itself.
In our next post, we'll be highlighting expert recommendations on how to succeed on the actual day of your virtual interview.
In this post, we'll highlight how to prepare for the virtual interview.
I just received an invitation for a virtual interview. What do I do now?
Read Your Interview Invitation Carefully
Your interview invitation has several key pieces of information that are crucial for your planning and preparation. This is why it’s important to read the email you received from the program very carefully.
This is what you need to look for in your virtual interview email invite:
Your interview time
The interview day schedule
The timings of each event that will take place during that day
Which platform the interview will be conducted on (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google, or another video conferencing platform)
Once you know what platform will be used, you can start taking steps to become technologically ready for the interview.
Check your email regularly to make sure there haven't been any changes to your interview invitations
How to Become Technologically Ready:
The Importance of Back-up Devices and Strong Internet Connections
Being technologically ready means taking steps to prepare yourself and your devices so that your virtual interview proceeds as smoothly as possible. The next few strategies focus on technological readiness, since the reliance on technology is one of the largest differences between virtual and in-person interviews.
Your best interview responses will fail to make an impact if your technology fails you. Having conducted hundreds of virtual interviews, I’ve found that technological issues happen often. This can certainly affect the impression that applicants make on interviewers.
If you’ve never experienced a technology failure, lucky you. We’ve experienced these ourselves multiple times. Dr. Katta is a frequent media contributor through her work with the American Academy of Dermatology and relayed this anecdote:
I was getting ready to interview with a CBS News Producer. I am definitely familiar with the major platforms, but then I ran into an issue with the camera app on my laptop. It turns out that it was interfering with my webcam. I figured it out in time, but racing against the clock to try to decipher my computer issues did not help my stress levels. Especially with my stress levels already high enough in the five minutes prior to being "on-air."
One thing that helped control her anxiety was that she had a laptop, a desktop, and a phone with the platform app all ready to go. If she hadn't figured out her laptop issue in time, she was ready to head to her desktop.
Having those backup devices ready to go is critical.
Keep a Backup Device Ready in Case of Emergency
It's important to have multiple devices prepared. When it comes to technology, you can never really be sure of what might happen.
Most applicants use a laptop as their primary device. But you have to ask yourself: what happens if my laptop breaks down during the interview?
While you might think this is a remote possibility, I can say from doing virtual interviews that I've seen this happen to a fair share of applicants. Hence, I always tell people to have a second device ready to go as their backup.
Take these steps to make sure that both your primary and secondary devices are technologically ready:
Have the most up-to-date version of the video conferencing platform installed on both devices.
Test your audio and video to make sure your equipment is linked and compatible with the software.
Preparing multiple devices for your virtual interview is one of the best steps you can take to ensure your interview proceeds smoothly--even if you experience technical difficulties.
Secure a Strong Internet Connection
Every video conferencing platform will have recommendations for optimal internet speed. You can do your own speed test on your internet connection to ensure that it meets these optimal speeds by using websites such as fast.com.
Questions to keep in mind:
Is my internet speed sufficient?
Does my internet speed exceed what is recommended by the video conferencing program?
Have I experienced any issues with internet speed or video conferencing at this location in the past?
Does my internet speed differ from room to room?
Are other people nearby using Wi-Fi?
Should I consider using Ethernet for my interview instead?
There are times when your home won't be the best place to have your virtual interview. If your connection speed is an issue, for example, I've had applicants do their interviews from their medical school, hospital, or even a hotel.
If you choose to do your interview elsewhere, practice in that location before your interview. The more practice at the actual interview location, the better. You’ll feel more comfortable and it’s less likely that you'll encounter surprises.
One of our students, Jenny, recalls her Wi-Fi failing during a virtual interview. Five minutes into the interview, the call dropped. Eventually, Jenny contacted the interviewer and conducted the rest of the interview using data on her cell phone.
Testing Wi-Fi speeds and keeping a backup device can be vital in ensuring your virtual interview experience is as stress-free as possible.
Be Intentional with Your Background
You need to remember that when your interview starts, your interviewer is already forming an impression of you. Much of this is subconscious. Some of that first impression will be formed from your environment, specifically your background.
Consider the presentation of your background:
How much will the interviewer see behind you?
Is your background cluttered or disorganized?
What do you have hanging on the wall or sitting on your bookshelf?
What does the content of your background imply about you?
Some of our students have considered this, and have taken steps to intentionally "design" their background:
Several have interviewed in front of bookshelves or display shelving
Some students might choose to display something relevant to themselves or their interests in their background, as a way to garner intrigue or start a conversation.
One student reported placing some of her artwork in the background to display her hobby.
If you decide to use a virtual background, such as the preset options on Zoom, make sure it looks professional and works with your lighting.
If all else fails, I tell applicants there's nothing wrong with having a blank wall behind them.
I think this is going to be a really interesting area of research in the future, because we just don't have a lot of research yet on how applicants are judged during virtual interviews.
Having said that, we have done a lot of writing and reading on the subject of first impressions, and we frequently speak about proper interview attire and careful grooming. These are subconscious impressions and form quickly. I think your interview background may be considered in a similar way.
Let me be clear here: I don't think an interviewer would say, “I noticed your room is messy.” Instead, they might take it in as a subconscious impression.
One way to think about this topic is to consider that your interview background is essentially an extension of your interview attire.
Remember that your background will form an important part of your first impression
Choose Your Chair Wisely
Yes, you heard me right. Pay attention to your chair! Why? Because posture is a key component of non-verbal communication.
Your posture contributes to first impressions and overall impressions. While your posture may be off for a variety of reasons, one variable you can control is the type of chair you’re sitting in.
Applicants may not realize this ahead of time, but often you’ll be sitting in this chair for hours straight. While some programs provide breaks in between each event or interview, some of my students have told me that they didn’t get any breaks for five hours. Imagine that for just a moment. You might be sitting in a chair for five hours straight. Hence, you need to have a comfortable chair that helps support good posture.
Beyond comfort, make sure your chair isn’t overly distracting to yourself or the interviewer. This means taking into consideration how much your chair swivels, leans back, or makes noise when you move.
Make sure that everyone around you knows that you have an important interview
I tell applicants to keep the people in their life informed. This serves both a social and a logistical purpose. With most applicants doing virtual interviews at home, there are often others present.
Applicants usually do a good job of making sure they're not disturbed by the people with whom they live. But sometimes they don't realize how much noise can seep through, even with the door closed.
Have that talk with the members of your household about keeping noise to a minimum.
Prepare for the Unexpected
We can do everything right on our end. And then, despite our best efforts, technology fails us. This can happen not only to individual applicants--it can also affect medical schools and programs. In the face of technology failure, how you handle the situation is critical.
This is why it’s so important to prepare for the unexpected. (I would have said “prepare for the unthinkable”, except that technology failures are surprisingly common.)
Several days before the interview, email the admissions office or program coordinator of the residency program
In this email, state that you are looking forward to the interview
Confirm your interview date and time
Ask about the best phone number to use in case of technical difficulties
Some programs include this information in their interview invitations. If they haven’t, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Especially when it comes to the challenges of technology and the internet, preparation is key. And now that you're prepared, our next post details our expert strategies on how to succeed during your virtual interview.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.