Thursday, October 30, 2014

As the Trail Begins

As you get ready to go out on the interview trail, you need to know what will allow you to shine to maximize your match. 

Realistically you can only do two interviews each week. If you try to make swings into areas, doing back-to-back interview days, you are going to miss out on getting to know the places you visit. Instead of hopping about the country a la Planes Trains and Automobiles, leave yourself extra time. Plan to get in for your interview at least mid-day, the day before. This will allow you to fully participate in the whole interview experience. This means you need to be judicious in choosing interviews if you have been offered more than 10-12. You simply can’t fit more in and do them justice. 

The Night Before
The evening prior to your interview the program will host a social event, usually a dinner or cocktails with residents, interviewees, and possibly some attendings. This is a great opportunity for you to see how the program is from the resident perspective, and observe the groups interactions. You can get many questions answered from different viewpoints, and this is a great time to see how you fit with each group. On reflection, many applicants find this to be the most useful part of the interview when making their decision about a program. Do not miss it just so you can pack another interview in.  

Look Professional
Avoid checking baggage when you fly to an interview.  It will get lost and you will show up to interview day in jeans. While this happens to a few folks every year, it is easily avoidable by sticking to a carry on.
On interview day, arrive early so that you guarantee not to be late. You should be wearing a well fit suit. Men should wear suits with a tie, and women should wear either a dress, skirt, or pants with a matching jacket. Try your suit on now and have it altered or get another, if it no longer fits you well. While it may seem superficial you never want to loose favor because of perceived lack of preparation. The shabbily dressed student might end up being the ill prepared resident. You have a limited amount of time to make an impression, make it a good one.

Have Questions
At the interview you will want to have a list of questions. Everyone is going to ask what questions you have, if you have none - you look disinterested. Don’t fall into this trap. It is easy to have questions. First, have some basic questions you ask at all programs. These should be what matters to you and what is helping you stratify programs. Next, look at the residency website and come up with 3-5 specific question for each program. If you know ahead of time who you will interview with, look them up and have questions about their interests or role within the program. Everyone, absolutely everyone, enjoys talking about themselves. If you don’t know ahead of time, ask what your interviewer’s role is, then ask some follow ups specific to that role. 

Keep up your energy and interest level throughout the interview. Lean forward, listen, and smile. Avoid slouching, leaning backward, and swearing at all cost. If you do any of these things you will be perceived to be disinterested, and unprofessional. As interviews go on this will get harder than it sounds. Despite your current fervor, after a few months of interviews you will be tired, bored, and ready for a break. You will begin to show disinterest just from the monotony of it all. This is one of the reasons you should focus on 10-12 interviews at a variety of programs you are interested in. 

If you go on more you will have a quickly diminishing return on your investment of time and money. Your chance of matching with eight programs on your rank list is >90%. Your chance of matching passes 99% with twelve programs on your rank list. More programs will not increase your chance of matching: you already maxed it. Remember, you have more control than you think: more than 50% of you will get your first choice and 80% of you will get within your top three. As you move forward think about both the time, effort, and money going into each interview, and compare this with the likely outcome. If you have 10-12 interviews at places you want, you have no need to do more. 

Canceling interviews with enough time for the program to get another applicant in, is courteous to the program, and generous to your fellow applicant. If you realize that you have enough interviews for your rank list, you can begin canceling those that would go to your bottom. The key is canceling early enough, that the program can get another applicant in for that day. Generally the longer lead time, the better. A few days and even a week is difficult to re-arrange, so ideally cancel more than two weeks ahead of time. If you are worried the programs will be insulted, remember they want to maximize their match list as well. Give them enough notice and there will be no hard feelings. If you are one of the many great candidates that doesn’t have enough interviews, you should consider freeing up January. There will be more cancelations as the interview process continues and you will need flexibility to accept on shorter notice.  

Quantity and Quality
Interviews are your opportunity to try out a variety of programs and see how they will fit you. With a reasonable plan you can schedule, travel, and arrive at 10-12 spots ready to shine, and succeed in the match. Remember to maximize this opportunity by focusing your energy on a selection of interviews, with questions and observations that matter to you and your learning.

Lucienne Lutfy-Clayton is a Clerkship Director and Associate Residency Director, and has had her luggage lost too many times.  

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