2020 Hindsight on Virtual Interviewing: Tips for Program Directors

Program Director’s Corner – July 2021

2020 Hindsight on Virtual Interviewing:  Tips for Program Directors

Ismat Shafiq, MD, Program Director
Marilyn Augustine, MD, Associate Program Director
Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Rochester, NY

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing down, it is not finished yet. The APDEM council and the Fellowship Recruitment Subcommittee (FRS) of the APDEM COVID Task Force have recommended that endocrine programs offer virtual interviews for all applicants during the 2021 recruitment cycle. This decision was based on survey results indicating that  84% of the program directors (PDs) and 88 % of incoming fellows favored virtual interviews. The APDEM leadership agreed that standardization of the interview process promotes safety, health, and equity. In a live poll among PDs during the APDEM national meeting, more than 72% favored virtual interviews with optional in-person tours, over a hybrid model.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many fellowship progams to use a virtual interview process for the first time.   We were skeptical as the process began, but were pleased to discover that we were able to get a sense of our applicants’ strengths through the virtual format, and could also provide a positive impression of our program.  Virtual interviewing will be more familiar for the coming season.  Here are some insights we gained from last year’s virtual interview season.

1. Update Online Program information:

Over the past few years, program websites, Instagram, and Twitter have become the primary tools for residents to gain insight into different training programs. Updating the program website is key.  Including a short virtual tour of the fellowship program with faculty and fellows can help give a sense of the culture and diversity of the program. Our program has an Instagram account, and we try to celebrate achievements in our department with posts.

2. Preparing for the interview:

We kept our interview format similar to the schedule we used for face-to-face interviews, but shortened the duration to around 4 hours to limit Zoom fatigue.   We usually conduct interviews on a day when we have a morning case conference and noon core curriculum conference. Attending the conferences gives insight into our curriculum and an opportunity to see the culture of the program. We chose to keep conference attendance optional to avoid brain fog and long hours of interviews, but, not surprisingly, most applicants were eager to attend.

An interview itinerary was provided to the interviewers and applicants in advance and included phone numbers in case of Zoom failure.  Our faculty and fellowship staff met virtually a week before the interviews to practice with the Zoom breakout rooms, which gave us a chance to work out the kinks in our process.

3. Day of the interview:

The program director started the interview day with a brief explanation of the interview day and then an introduction to the program.  Following that, individual interviews were conducted for 60-90 minutes, with short rest breaks. We chose to include one additional informational session about halfway through the interviews. We also incorporated slides with photos of fellows and of our area so that applicants could get as sense of what it would be like to live here.  The current fellows and applicants then had an informal session with no attendings present, and this was the part of the day that  we got the most positive feedback about.

4. Concluding the interview day: The finishing touch leaves an ever-lasting impression. We provided an opportunity for final questions and shared web resources about the city as well as our contact information.

We were pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement that was possible during the virtual interview process. It was interactive, fun, and the residents seemed more relaxed. Many applicants do not have protected time for interviewing. Over the last few years, we have noticed that it has been challenging for residents to attend dinner with the fellows the evening before interview day.   Though differing time zones did result in some applicants starting their interview day early in the moning, at least none had to travel overnight for the interviews!  Another advantage of virtual interviews is financial.  Since paid travel and lodging is not required, economically disadvantaged residents may interview at more programs of their choice.

Though there are certainly some advantages to the virtual interview process, there are also disadvantages.  Notably, programs and residents missed the face-to-face interactions.  An in-person visit allows personal observation of the program, hospital and the area, which is not possible in the virtual format

We are working now to plan  the interview process for this fall.  Together we can thrive and grow. We’d love to hear the thoughts and experiences of others regarding virtual interviewing.

Dr. Ismat Shafiq is a member of the APDEM All-in-Match Task Force.


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