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PracticeUpdate: What are programs hoping to learn about candidates during the fellowship interview?
Dr. Brady: Programs really want to hear "your story." Who you are, why you fell in love with your subspeciality, what were the clinical experiences in residency that helped affirm this decision, what research or other scholarly activity did you do during residency that has prepared you for subspecialty practice and influenced your career path, what do you see yourself doing in the future (research, clinical, education, QI, etc)?
Provide as many specifics as possible. You are allowed to change your mind; but, if you have a specific niche within the specialty in which you would like to excel as a teacher or researcher you should include it — it demonstrates maturity. And you should have some sense of where you are going (and, remember, no one will hold you to this afterward). Choose your narrative and stick to it, understanding that things may change down the line.
Whenever you are answering a question, be sure to highlight major items from your CV and highlight life experiences or skills that may not be adequately reflected in your CV.
PracticeUpdate: How will this interview be similar to or different from other interviews that candidates may have done earlier in their careers?
Dr. Brady: The major differences are 1) fellowship interviews are virtual and 2) these interviews want to know what your future goals and career plans are.
PracticeUpdate: What are some common questions candidates should be prepared to answer during the interview?
Dr. Brady: These questions allow the interviewer to explore your past performances in various areas of core competencies that are required to be a good fellow and physician.
- Tell me about an interesting case/patient you took care of (or a difficult patient interaction) and what you learned from that experience.
- Tell me about a stressful situation during residency and how you handled it.
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you handled the situation.
- Tell me about a challenge outside of medicine and how you addressed it.
- Tell me about constructive feedback and how you responded to it.
- Tell me about a conflict and how you resolved it.
The answer format is:
- Situation: describe the situation in detail.
- Action: what action did you take?
- Result: what was the result?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Give a quick two- to three-minute snapshot of who you are and why you are the best candidate for this position.
- Talk about what you’ve done to prepare yourself to be the very best candidate for the position. Use an example or two to back this up. Always point back to an example when you have the opportunity.
- Link your answers to your future academic career goals.
- Have you ever had a conflict? How did you handle it?
- The key is how you reacted to conflict in terms of your behavior and what you did to resolve the conflict. For example, “Yes, I have had conflicts in the past. Never major ones, but there have been disagreements that needed to be resolved. I've found that when conflict occurs, it helps to fully understand the other person’s perspective, so I take time to listen to his or her point of view, and then I seek to work out a collaborative solution. For example . . .”
- Focus your answer on your behavioral process for resolving the conflict and working collaboratively.
- What are your weaknesses?
- You may have received advice to select a strength and present it at a weakness (eg, “I’m a perfectionist”). But this can be seen as deceiving, and it misses the point.
- Select a minor weakness that you have worked actively to overcome. This can give you a chance to describe how you reflected on a weakness and improved it.
- Don’t select a weakness that is a core competency of the job.
- Tell me about this discrepancy/failing grade/poor evaluation in your application (if you have one)?
- Don’t evade the question or make excuses. Take responsibility for everything on your application.
- Explain how you learned from the experience.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and what you learned from it.
- How would your colleagues describe you?
- Tell me about a time that you gave superb patient care.
- What are you most proud of in your career?
- Think of concrete strengths in each of these categories:
- Scholarly work — be ready to talk eloquently about anything in ERAS
- Areas of clinical care you are especially interested in or enjoy and why
- Teaching you've done and that you found rewarding
- Leadership roles you have had (committees, etc)
- Think of concrete strengths in each of these categories:
- Tell me about (this item you mentioned in your essay).
- Tell me about the Clinician Educator Track.
- Tell me about an interesting case/patient you took care of and what you learned from that experience.
- What does your ideal job entail?/Describe your ideal work week.
More Frequently Asked Questions
The program and specialty
- Why are you interested in this program/ in our program?
- Why medicine?
- What are you looking for in a fellowship program?
- What area of X medicine do you find most interesting?
- How would you contribute to our program?
- Talk about your interest in (the subspecialty you are applying to).
- Why do you want to do this specialty?
- What has been the greatest recent advancement in our field?
- What are the greatest challenges facing our field now?
- Be able to clearly articulate why you would be a great fellow!
- Be familiar with specific aspects of your field, new directions, and challenges.
- If there are any unusual aspects of your background (gaps in training, interesting research, etc), be prepared to answer — you might even want to highlight these if you have a good reason for them.
- Can you talk to me a little more about your research? What got you interested in this?
- What research are you working on now?
- Tell me about your research and how you plan to incorporate your research interest during fellowship.
- What is your least favorite research you have done?
- What type of research do you see yourself doing in the future?
- Do you see yourself doing (basic/clinical/etc) research?
- Do you see yourself spending more time on clinical or research after fellowship?
- Know your research inside out. Be able to describe your research, including — succinctly — study design and any preliminary findings. And be familiar with any relevant existing literature.
- Establish how you are going to sell yourself when speaking with the interviewer. For example, 100% research bound, unsure of how much research, no research. Most of the respected programs expect you to be open and interested in research but don’t expect you to say “I definitely want a K award by the end of fellowship.”
Where do you see yourself
- Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? What is your 5- to 10-year plan? And what is your plan to get there?
- What does your ideal or perfect job look like?
- Do you envision a career in academics or in the community?
- Do you have any specific career goals or clinical/research interests?
- Describe to me what your regular work week would look like 5 or 10 years from now. (This is a variation of the what's your life plan question.)
- Everyone knows that things change; however, the interviewer is looking to see if you have a clear "vision."
- While programs typically do not expect fully formulated career plans, it is helpful to have a sense of whether you are interested in academic versus community practice, primarily clinical practice versus clinical education versus research, and any specific clinical and/or research interests.
- When the interviewer asks questions regarding your ability to pursue an academic career, tie it back to the experiences you already have (whether they be clinical, basic science, education, QI, etc) as a way to prepare you for an academically rigorous program.
Who are you?
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you do for fun? What is the last book you read?
- Use this opportunity to humanize yourself and make yourself relatable as a person. You can tell a funny story or describe anything in your life that you feel defines who you are in a positive light.
- What questions do you have for me about this place/this program?
- What questions do you have for us/for me?
- Be prepared with questions for the interviewer. About half of interviewers will open with that question.
- Scan over the research interests of the faculty.
- If you are struggling for questions to pose to interviewers, ask them about themselves and how they got into their line of work.
- Most program coordinators will try to pair you with interviewers with similar interests to yours.
- For those interested in research, ask very specific questions.
- Be sure to have questions prepped and ready when they ask “What questions do you have for us?” Typically, you interview with four or five people, so it’s okay to ask the same question to different interviewers if you are struggling for more questions.
- Know the program you are interviewing. Review the website and try to avoid questions that you would be expected to know from materials readily available.
- If you know who your interviewers are in advance, research them to know more about what they do.
Preparing for the Interview
PracticeUpdate: How should candidates prepare for the interview?
Dr. Brady: You should definitely do a mock interview and run through frequently asked questions (see above) and also do an A/V check since most interviews will be conducted on Zoom.
Below is a list of Do's and Don'ts that we provide our residents for fellowship and job interviews:
- Research. Learn about each program and its interview process.
- In advance of your interview day, spend some time prepping about the program and interviewers (if you know who they are).
- Showing that you researched their program demonstrates your interest.
- Show enthusiasm for their program.
- Let them know during and after your interview how much you have enjoyed hearing about their program, and how excited you are about specific aspects and how those aspects will fit with your career goals.
- Be genuine but make each and every program feel special and provide specific details if possible — let them know how much you appreciated the invitation and interview and that you would be excited to be a fellow there.
- Send thank-you notes to your interviewers and program directors, thanking them for the opportunity to interview, but, more importantly, further expressing your interest and enthusiasm for the program.
- Again, provide specific details if possible — let them know how much you appreciated the invitation and interview and how the program would be a nice fit with your career goals, demonstrating that you would be excited to be a fellow there.
- If you have spoken with a dozen interviewers, it may be hard to send a thank-you to everyone; but, be sure to send a note to the program director and division chief (if he/she is heavily involved in the process).
- Know everything about your CV and be ready to answer questions.
- Have a copy of your CV and personal statement readily available. Many times, your interviewer will be switched at the last minute, and the substitute may not have your information.
- Prep for the common challenging questions.
- Be on time/early for each interview — don’t make interviewer wait on Zoom.
- Be professional when interacting with everyone, including ancillary staff.
- Greet the interviewer by name (Dr. So-and-So). If you are not sure how to pronounce his or her name, ask the person if you pronounced it correctly. (If possible, ask someone ahead of time — but, in a virtual world, this may not be an option.)
- Sit upright and look alert and interested at all times.
- Think about what impression you want to convey and make sure to convey it. An interview can be loosely structured, so you may need to take initiative in bringing this forward yourself.
- Be personable, energetic, communicative, and courteous to everyone.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Turn off your cellphone and computer alerts (including email alert).
- However, be sure the program director/interviewer has your cell phone number and email address in case there is a glitch in the virtual interview process.
- Speak slowly and concisely.
- Tailor your answers in an authentic/truthful way (never lie) to the specific program for which you are interviewing.
- Schedule programs that you are most interested in as interviews 2, 3, and 4. The first one is a "dry run."
- Talk with current fellows at the program.
- Talk with your fellow residents; you can share tips to make things easier.
- Take a deep breath and stay calm; everyone is very nice!
- Most interviews are very relaxed. The interview day is as much about you finding out if you like the program!
- Slouch, fidget, play with your hair, touch your face, cross your arms.
- Chew gum during the interview
- Rely on your application or resume to do all the selling for you — sell yourself to the interviewer.
- Be soft-spoken. Instead, project confidence by speaking clearly and loudly enough to be heard.
- Say anything negative about former colleagues, supervisors, programs, or employers. Everything should be positive during your interview!
- Lie. Answer all questions truthfully, frankly, and succinctly.
Set Up Before the Virtual Interview
PracticeUpdate: Aside from being prepared, what are some other ways that candidates can make a good impression on interview day?
Dr. Brady: Below are some specifics for virtual interviews:
- Choose a quiet place free of distractions.
- Choose a neutral, non-distracting background. Do not use virtual backgrounds.
- Be intentional about what the interviewers can see — they may ask.
- Get a comfortable chair that allows an upright posture.
- Consider where to keep pen and paper if you want to take notes.
- Test the lighting.
- Lighting should be behind the computer camera — shining onto your face.
- Minimize lighting behind you or you will be in shadow; don’t sit with your back to a window.
- Notice the sunlight in the room through the course of the day — does it place shadows on you?
- Make sure that there are outlets and plug-in the computer to avoid running out of battery power.
- Try to use a private and stable internet service.
- Place the camera at eye level; this may require placing the laptop on books or a higher table.
- Angle the camera slightly downward.
- Test the computer placement (slight changes in lighting, camera, and chair height can change your appearance).
- Test the technology before the interview (mock interview practice!)
- Ensure that the microphone sound quality and volume are good.
- Assess for background noise.
- Well in advance, ensure that you have downloaded the virtual platform being used by the interviewer.
- Close all other open programs to avoid distractions.
- Ensure that your eyeglasses do not reflect images from the computer.
- Check that your profile name and photo are appropriate.
- Ask who to contact for technical issues and what the protocol is for technical difficulties.
- Provide your phone number in case there are technical difficulties.
During the interview
- Dress professionally
- Look into the camera when responding to questions (to improve perception of eye contact).
- Note: this can make it harder to perceive nonverbal cues and expressions of the interviewer.
- Move the interviewer's image to right below the camera so you can see him or her while speaking.
- Look at the interviewer's image when he or she is speaking. Do not watch yourself speak.
- Sit still and lean forward.
- Do not adjust the computer during the interview; this causes distractions for interviewer.
- Silence your phone and other gadgets.
- Suspend video feed when getting up from your chair or speaking to another person in the background. Ideally, avoid this altogether!
- Mute mics when you are not speaking.
- Stretch and move in-between interviews.
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