Authors: Ryan J Spencer, MD MS and Shitanshu Uppal, MBBS
The New York Times headline on May 11, 1921, “Edison Questions Stir Up a Storm,” ignited controversy throughout the business world. In that article, an unsuccessful applicant to Edison’s enterprise, “Charles Hansen”, revealed that Edison was conducting a test to job applicants that some called “Tom Follery,” “impossible”, and “insulting.” The Times published an incomplete list of 141 of Edison’s questions that he was administering. Multiple articles in The Times followed over the subsequent days: “Controversy Rages Over Edison Test” on May 15th, “Edison Asserts He Wants College Men if He Can Get Them” on May 16th, and “Edison Brainmeter Divides the Critics” on May 17th, amongst others. Regardless of how controversial or useful it may have been, this assessment tool is widely credited with sparking the era of the modern-day interview – an assessment that continues to this day for nearly every job offered and accepted.
The way in which interviews are conducted vary as much as industries themselves. In medicine, the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) offered by the American Association of Medical Colleges offers a centralized repository to collect required documents from applicants and makes them available for residency programs to review and communicate interview decisions. Since the incorporation of the National Intern Matching Program in 1953, which became the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), the process of interviewing and matching for training positions has undergone adjustments with its current format similar to modifications put into place for the 1998 Match.
While video interviewing has taken off in some industries, it has not done so in medicine. SparkHire, a cloud-based video interviewing platform, notes that over 50% of all firms now use some form of video interviewing with another 45% of the current holdouts in planning to do so. Part of the reluctance in medicine may be the value that is placed on the in-person interactions during residency and fellowship interview day. The NRMP’s most recent residency Program Director survey showed that the four most important factors in ranking applicants were: interactions with faculty during interview and visit, interpersonal skills, interactions with house-staff during interview and visit and feedback from current residents. The NRMP’s most recent fellowship Program Director survey showed that “interactions with faculty during interview and visit” was the most important factor, “interpersonal skills” was second, and “interactions with house staff during the interview and visit” was fourth. However, the value of interpersonal skills and “getting to know” the applicants are assuredly important in all industries and increasingly being overcome as video interviewing is increasing.
COVID-19 and the need to adapt
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Many universities have moved to virtual-only classes, numerous medical centers are restricting work-related travel for faculty and discouraging non-work-related travel as well, large public gatherings are being discouraged or canceled, and sporting events are being canceled or played in front of empty arenas. At present, we lack a complete understanding of the natural history of the virus, the extent of its reach, if there will be a seasonality or if this is an isolated outbreak. We must consider restricting the massive cross-country migrations of tens of thousands of medical personnel (applicants) from medical center to medical center where the most vulnerable populations for this virus will always be.
Given the very real possibility that video interviews will be necessary for the upcoming fellowship and even residency recruitment seasons. There are numerous options and best practices that can be summarized in order to maximize the experience for both the programs and the applicants.
Considerations for the applicants
Ascend, an online learning platform for graduating students and early career professionals from the Harvard Business Review compiled a list of guidelines. These include: check the time zone, get familiar with the software, create an appropriate screen name, dress for the job, prepare the room and yourself, and keep a check on your phone etiquette. Indeed, the highest volume job search site in the United States since 2010, has recommended these additional steps in planning for video interviews: find a quiet, private place free from possible interruptions, ensure the internet connection is stable, check that the device’s audio is working, test the webcam, close unnecessary browser tabs, and applications, have a copy of your CV with you, and to be an active listener. Business Insider, an American online financial and business news website, also recommends framing yourself from the chest up and to make sure that your eye contact is towards the camera when the natural tendency is to watch the screen. The Office of Career Services at Harvard University recommends practicing with family and friends using the platform that will be used during the interview as does ZipRecruiter, an online American employment marketplace. Based on these, and several other recommendations available online, we have summarized our recommendations for video interviewing here:
Considerations for Programs
There are several considerations for the programs when considering video interviews for residency/fellowship spots. Programs should select a video interview platform early after consulting with their institution’s Information Technology (IT) specialists. They should communicate with the interviewees with detailed instructions on how to install the necessary software prior to the interview day (see the next section for details). If the program/university has a preferred vendor, the program director and the other members of the team should do test runs and make themselves comfortable with using and troubleshooting the software. The guidance in Table 1 is also applicable for program directors and other faculty members who will be participating in the interview process.
In addition, programs should consider a phone interview back up with clear instructions on how and when to initiate the phone call if issues arise with the video platform. Based on our experience in conducting video interviews, we recommend that programs provide the interviewer the backup phone number of the candidates so that a phone call can be done quickly with minimal loss of interview time in case of video platform failure. We recommend that the interviewer should not attempt to connect with the candidate more than two times before switching to a regular phone interview.
In an attempt to showcase a program, its facilities and the highlights of its general location, we recommend making preparations ahead of the interview season for a virtual tour. Department or institutional communications and marketing specialists can be helpful in putting together high-resolution images, professionally created videos with voice-overs, and slide presentations that can be distributed to candidates in advance of the interview day (or on the interview day presented by the program director if using a platform compatible with multiple participants). If using new video or still photos make sure to consult media and communications specialists regarding appropriate private and institutional permissions that may be applicable. In addition, programs may want to consider using marketing videos showcasing their city from other university programs (example video from the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan) or from the city/municipality website (example video from Visit Madison, WI advertising).
Scheduling Video Interviews
Programs should consider an interview schedule similar to in-person interviews. To facilitate the scheduling process, most video conferencing software provide in-built scheduling capabilities. Discussion with the IT department to integrate video interview links in an email can ease the scheduling process. For each interview time-block, program coordinators can create scheduled meetings with the interviewee and the interviewer as the invited parties. These appointments create a web link in the recipient’s calendar, with additional information such as a phone number to call in case of video platform failure. Instructions on how to schedule interviews are provided below. For some software, where online instructions were cumbersome, we have created PDF with screenshots. For others, we are providing the link to the website with steps highlighting the process
- BlueJeans – Click to download in PDF with screenshots
- Webex – Click here to download PDF with screenshots
- Zoom – Link to zoom website with detailed instructions
Sample Itinerary for the interview day
Ryan J Spencer, MD MS
Assistant professor, Gynecologic Oncology
Associate Program Director, Fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology
University of Wisconsin
Shitanshu Uppal, MBBS
Associate Professor, Gynecologic Oncology
Program Director, Fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology
University of Michigan