December 16th, 2011

Be All That You (and the Program) Want You to Be!

Interview season is in full force at UMKC. I never realized before how much work goes on behind the scenes to prepare and conduct these interview days, but I sure do now! As a Chief Resident, I schedule residents to attend the applicant dinners, lunches, and tours, and to spend time with the applicants our lounge. This makes the actual interview days go by much smoother, because two of us are present at all times to speak to applicants and answer any questions.

I’m always fascinated by applicants who go through medical school later in life. Since I started at the UMKC 6-year BA/MD program, I really had no real-life experience when I went through this process. I’ve met many applicants who have had previous careers and decided, after years of being in the work force, that they wanted to pursue medicine. I really admire people who take the risk (and pay cut!) to go back to school to fulfill their goals. As someone who conducts interviews, I can attest that these applicants often are very prepared and are great to speak to. I look forward to talking to them about their previous endeavors and what exactly made them come back to medical school. I always ask if it was worth it, and everyone says yes … then again, I am interviewing them for a job, so who would say no?

 I’m fairly new to “this side” of the interview process, but I wanted to share some tips that I’ve thought of so far for any current applicants. I’ve adapted some of these from the AMA website as well.

  1. Be on time – Whether you know it or not, the day has a schedule that many people rely on. If you are going to be late due for any reason, let somebody know. We have had applicants email a few days before their interviews to request a phone number for somebody in the program — just in case they get lost or have any issues. This shows us they are prepared and want to keep us informed if anything comes up.
  2. Research the program – It’s a given that somebody is going to ask you why you chose to interview with their program. If you have done your research, you will have an informed answer. Even if you are interviewing at your “home” program, know the details about what has changed or is changing to make sure your interviewers know you were paying attention.
  3. Look your interviewers in the eye and offer your hand – As a girl, I was never really taught hahandshakendshake etiquette, and I don’t even know if I have that down now. Many people will ask for a firm handshake, but I won’t comment on that. Please look the interviewer in the eye even it its not in your nature to do so normally. When interviewees don’t look at me, it makes me feel awkward myself — I feel like they are being evasive for some reason.
  4. Prepare a few questions beforehand – We HATE asking you repeatedly if you have any questions, but we have to do this to fill the silences. We want to make sure you are informed before you leave. We are available all day to ensure that you can assess our program adequately. If you have a few generic questions prepared, you can ask them throughout the day whenever things get quiet — it makes you appear interested. It’s also nice to have questions ready, because each of your interviewers will likely ask you if you have any! Play this one by ear: If your interviewer appears rushed or mentions they have to be somewhere, he or she might not be the best person to ask that extra question, but most people would appreciate answering one question at the end of the interview.
  5. Interact with the other applicants who are interviewing with you – We don’t just want to hear what you have to say; we are also watching how you interact with your peers. In our program, being social is very important because we tend to spend a lot of time together outside of work. Being antisocial or extremely introverted is a negative in our eyes.
  6. DON’T use your phone or computer on your interview day!!!! – This boggles no cell phonesmy mind. It is rude and unacceptable. I hate when people do this. Even if you think we won’t notice during the tour or during a quiet moment – we always see it. If you need to check in for your flight or make a quick call, ask the Chief Resident or coordinator who is with you if you can step away for a moment. Better that they think you are being formal in asking rather than the alternative — thinking you are rude and judging you for being on your phone or laptop.
  7. Don’t opt out of any of the interview day– Even if you are interviewing at your home program, go on the tour. Along with this, I would also say not to make travel arrangements that force you to leave early. Not being present for part of the day automatically makes me think that you aren’t interested. Even if you have walked those halls 1000 times, if you were truly interested in our program, you would take the tour and be excited about it. We understand sometimes you can’t schedule travel perfectly, so, if this happens, let the coordinators know as soon as you book your flight so they can plan your day in advance.
  8. Thank the program coordinators – As the Chief Resident, I get many thank you cards/notes from applicants, and I understand why, but the true credit for the interview day should go to the program coordinators.  They work so hard behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly for you and for everyone involved. They are the unsung heroes of this process and deserve a lot more credit.

 I hope some of these tips help those of you going through this process. Any career decision is important but don’t stress yourself out. I suggest making a list of all of the things you would like your future program/workplace to have. At the end of every interview, write down what the program had and didn’t have on your list. This makes the decision easier at the end, and, who knows, you might end up choosing a program that it fits all of your needs/expectations but that wasn’t on your A list. I’d love to hear what other interviewers look for and recommend.

9 Responses to “Be All That You (and the Program) Want You to Be!”

  1. Hon Dang says:

    Ah, I just found this blog! How neat 🙂

    To contribute, I always found it neat to find out about other people’s past lives, especially amongst older residents. I’ve gotten to know now a former carpenter who took to medicine as a higher calling, a former owner of a trucking business who decided she needed a new challenge, and randomly a current chief resident who turned out to be a neighbor of mine. We spend so much of our time working with our brothers and sisters that certainly some of the behaviors you mentioned like cellphoning or being antisocial certainly does not make for a good impression.

  2. John Siberski, MD says:

    These are excellent suggestions. I was a training director for three years. The recruiting and interviewing dimensions of the job were the most rewarding as well as occasionally the most frustrating. A few comments on it from the training directors side

    Being late for the interview may happen. One morning a candidate phoned the program coordinator in tears. She was unaware that the funeral of a very prominent man was causing the closure of multiple streets leading to the area of the hospital with extensive grid lock. The coordinator knew the city, gave excellent directions and the candidate arrived about 45 minutes late. No prejudice, no problem and we ranked her high. Another man who was late called laughing. He was a good 45 minutes away in the wrong direction. It was a poor start to a day that got only worse . . . for us. Didn’t rank him.

    If the coordinator is young, attractive and single it is still very bad form to put on your best moves. Happened twice during my tenure. Because the coordinator had a great sense of humor (and an even greater boyrfriend, now husband) the candidates antics provided us with some of the best laughs of recruiting season. Neither was ranked.

    When asked “Do you have any questions?” try to avoid limiting them to vacation time, salary, perks and so on. All that is in the residency information.

    If you realize that you have something in common with your interviewer use it. A few candidates saw my undergrad or medical diplomas on the wall. As we shared the same school they asked questions about that. The questions were appreciated and suggested that these students observed what was going on around them.

    Be careful with e-mail thank you notes. I preferred handwritten to e-mailed notes. Just that extra bit of class. The most memorable e-mail was a candidate who responded to my out of office automatic message over Christmas with an obscenity laced tirade to her friends. Either she had never seen an out of office automatic memo before or was dealing with some serious underlying hostility. Alas, when she forwarded her thoughts on the program and program director to her friends a copy came to my in-box as well. I laughed hysterically for about 30 minutes. And then placed her on the do not rank list.

    Always remember that the recruiting process is as nerve-wracking for the program director, except in the most competitive of competitive programs, as it is for the applicant. Not filling is as traumatic as not matching. You are hoping we will take you just as much as we are hoping you will take us. How stressful is this on our side? I never scheduled patients on the day we found out if we filled or not. Too hard to concentrate.

  3. Cecile T. Robes D.O. says:

    I concur w/Dr Astik. I would also add dress appropriately. A “Goth” or “chillaxing” appearance conveys a lack of professionalism so that, regardless of your stellar board scores and transcripts, you will not be regarded as a serious applicant to the program.

  4. Under questions: be convinced that there is adequate time(at least three months) devoted to Peds. This is true regardless of residency program.

  5. Roxy says:

    Thanking the program coordinators is probably the single most important thing you can do. I’ve known of applicants who were not ranked because they were rude to the coordinator.

    I also would add some advice on the interview dinners.

    1. If you do enjoy the occasional drink, have one with us. Purposefully not having one can actually make us residents feel weird for having one.
    2. If you don’t drink, try something other than water. And if we dare ask you why are not having a drink (and yes some of us might), just be honest and non-judgemental.
    3. The interview dinners are not actual interviews. So if I ask you questions about yourself, answer it without phrasing it in such a way that I’m interviewing you. Just enjoy yourself and make friends.

  6. dr. susan says:

    Word of advice from someone a little further down the road. BE YOURSELF! It sounds trite, but it is vital to everyones future sanity. You will be with these people 100 or more hours a week for the next several YEARS of your life. If you can find a place where you feel comfortable, a place with a good fit, life will be that much simpler.

  7. Richard C. Adler, M.D. says:

    Good job!

    The eye contact and handshake are really important. A good firm handshake is important for everyone. Full hand contact with a good squeeze works well especially when associated with a broad smile. It doesn’t have to be prolonged and there is no need for up and down motion. The handshake (and smile) should be part of the welcome and the departure.

    If this is not comfortable for you, practice with patients from age four on up.

  8. Pranjal Jain says:

    Dr Astik is very precise and I totally concur with the above article.I am a foreign medical graduate and was a chief resident at a community hospital and then pursued my fellowship in Nephrology at the same hospital and if i may add to this

    1) Follow up- I think it is a good idea to follow up with the program cordinator and tell them you are interested and may be remind them once every 3-4 weeks. I do not like the idea of sending holiday cards or gifts.

  9. Sherwyn M. Woods, MD, PhD says:

    What a terrific Blog! I am a long-retired Emeritus Professor. For about twenty-five of my thirty-five years at Los Angeles County General Hospital (Keck USC School of Medicine) I was Residency Director in Psychiatry. At times we had a total of over 100 psychiatry residents at any one time, so it was not unusual to annually see 40-50 applicants for 25 available new first-year positions. You stimulated a lot of memories!

    The one thing I noticed missing in your discussion was “dress”. I don’t think it was just “California” or “Psychiatry”, but occasionally an applicant would arrive as if they were about to go hiking, and others like they were going to a reception at the White House! This was strongly weighted toward the males!

    Appearance makes a powerful first impression! Do not under or over-dress…just look professional and respectful toward patient expectation of what a doctor should look like. My colleagues in other specialties echoed the above, so this does not apply just to “crazy psychiatrists”! Good luck to all…I hope you get your first choice, and the creators of this Blog deserve thanks for their help!

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