Fellowship interviews are an essential step – arguably the most important step – in the process of matching candidates to training programs. Until recently, most programs relied exclusively on on-site face-to face interviews. Since the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical field has utilized web-based platforms. Despite inherent limitations, virtual meetings appear to be effective in providing patient care and in conducting administrative meetings.1,2
Because of uncertainty related to the pandemic, including changing guidelines regarding social distancing and travel restrictions, fellowship programs are expected to comply with CDC,3 state, and federal recommendations to avoid nonessential travel. Therefore, conducting web-based interviews exclusively will likely become a necessity.
While there may be some disadvantages to web-based interviews, many candidates find the overall experience satisfactory, thereby allowing them to understand the programs, express themselves, and comfortably rank the programs, as two studies have shown.4,5 Programs and candidates are encouraged to adapt to this new reality in order to achieve a successful match. After all, there are many potential advantages of web-based interviews. In addition to eliminating the risk of COVID-19 acquisition, web-based interviews have been described as helping to improve scheduling flexibility, reduce the financial burden, and allow conducting more interviews for candidates and programs (Table 1).6-8
There are different styles to the web-based interview.9 Some programs choose to offer a single group interview (or the so-called panel interview) in which all the interviewing faculties invite each candidate at a time. Alternatively, programs might choose to conduct separate interviews by each faculty in which the candidates would alternate. For the latter option, the program could use a single invitation link or multiple invitation links for each session.
General tips for a successful interview:9
1. Be pleasant and professional: Your communication with the program should reflect excellent manners and a professional attitude with everyone (i.e., faculties, coordinators, and fellows).
2. Know yourself and what you want: Review your CV and personal statement and reflect on your achievements, strengths and weaknesses. Identify examples from your experience that would speak well of you as a person and as a physician.
3. Communication is key:
- Respond to the interview invitations promptly.
- Send a brief thank you email to the interviewers and the coordinator. Avoid being generic; mention specific points of discussion and show your interest in the program.
- Proofread your emails carefully. Well-written emails that are devoid of grammatical or spelling errors send a positive message about the candidate.
4. Do your homework:
- Read the information posted on the website carefully and take notes. This should provide you with useful information to use when you rank the programs and could lead to questions that you might want to ask your interviewers. Besides, asking questions that are answered on the website reflects poorly on the candidate.
- Pay attention to various clues that could reflect how organized and how academically oriented a program is. For example, a program that provides details about their didactic lectures sends a message that quality teaching is a priority. On the other hand, a program that has a website that hasn’t been updated for years could dissuade rather than recruit applicants.
- Read about the faculty, their areas of interests, and publications. Learn how their names are pronounced and use them during the interview.
- Read about the city where the program is. It shows interest in the area where you might be living and will help you to stand out among candidates.
5. Be prepared for the classics; be honest, genuine, and authentic. Think about these common prompts:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you choose gastroenterology?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Why would you like to come to the city where the program is?
- Are there any certain areas in gastroenterology that you’re interested in more (e.g., hepatology, motility, IBD, advanced endoscopy)?
6. It is likely your interviewer will ask if you have questions. Ask questions that further allow you to assess the program and your fit into the program.
- What aspects of the program are you most proud of?
- Where would you like to see this program in 5 years?
- What keeps you at this program?
Tips for a successful web-based interview9,10 (Table 2):
1. Pay attention to the time zone of the city of the program. Be ready at least 10 minutes before the interview.
2. Ensure a fast and stable Internet service for an uninterrupted interview experience. Consider using an ethernet cable. Have a back-up plan such as using a phone as a hotspot.
3. Use a quiet and private room, preferably at home. Be aware of the background. A simple decoration is acceptable.
4. Consider recording yourself using the same device you’ll use for the interview to make sure audio and video are functioning properly.
5. When scheduling more than one interview in 1 day, allow at least 2 hours between interviews to avoid scheduling conflicts caused by unanticipated delays related to technical issues.
6. Have immediate access to the invitation link(s) that you received. Add the interviews to your device’s calendar. Note that sometimes a new invitation link is generated last minute because of technical issues.
7. While the advice for physical interviews is to turn off your phone (and smart watch), you’ll have to keep your phone on but on silent for the virtual interviews. Sometimes, you’ll receive a phone call from the program to update you about any last-minute changes.
7. It is recommended that a laptop or a tablet with a camera with good resolution and a microphone be used rather than using a phone. A wide screen allows better communication. Disable notification on that device to avoid interruptions.
8. Sit comfortably with the device being at or just below eye level. Avoid distractions and maintain eye contact.
9. Familiarize yourself with the platform used and its functions. Double check the audio and video before each interview.
10. Put your device on a desk or table to improve stability; don’t hold it in your hand.
11. Find a place where the view is best and your face appears in the middle of the screen; not too far or too close. Use a well-lit room but don’t have a source of light behind you. Many platforms allow you to select a background or blur the background. A background that is monochromatic and not distracting is recommended.
12. Use a pen and a paper to take notes during the interview. You would use these notes to generate “thank you” or “interest in program” emails. Additionally, they will be a helpful reference when ranking programs.
13. Do not type. Typing is much louder to the interviewer and can be distracting.
14. Dress professionally, just as you dress for an on-site interview. You never know when you might have to stand up during the interview for unplanned reasons.
15. Do a practice interview. Have a colleague set up a virtual web session using any available platform. This will allow you to get feedback on your dress, background, acoustics, and general ability to answer questions.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..
8. Aparajit Naram M. How COVID-19 changed our fellowship interview process for the better..
9. Association of American Medical Colleges.. Updated May 14, 2020.
Dr. Kiwan is chief fellow in gastroenterology, division of gastroenterology, at Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center, John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, all in Detroit. Dr. Judd is an assistant professor and associate program director in the division of gastroenterology, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center, John D. Dingell VA Medical Center. Dr. Al Masalmeh is in the department of internal medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center. Dr. Levine is professor and the vice chair for education, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center.