Medical

Virtual Match: A Guide for Applicants

Applicant Virtual Match

This year, the Match will be unlike any other. Virtual Match. Programs are already gearing up. How are they going to showcase their programs and interview prospective applicants? Applicants are likewise venturing into new territory—how do you rank programs having never stepped onto the campus?   How do you showcase your skills, abilities, and fit over a video camera? Face-to-face and virtual versions of the Match will have distinct differences. These distinctions can make a real difference in how you are ranked by the program and how you rank programs.

Wanting the same thing?

Let’s look at the Match from the two perspectives— program and applicant. According to a Survey of Program Directors by the NRMP, the top four factors influencing rank for applicants invited to an interview: 

  1. Interactions with faculty during interview and visit
  2. Interpersonal skills 
  3. Interactions with house staff during interview and visit 
  4. Feedback from current residents

study at Duke University GME programs suggests the top four factors influencing the applicants’ rank of residency programs are:

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  1. Current resident satisfaction
  2. Relationship between faculty and residents
  3. Collegiality of current residents
  4. Quality and quantity of faculty contact/mentoring

Are both parties essentially looking at the same thing? Relationships. People. Culture.

From your perspective as an applicant, you need to learn about the program, especially on those difficult human factors. Of course, you also have to make the program want you, again, on those difficult human factors. You have to do both, virtually, with a camera and a microphone.

Programs are worried about the virtual Match!

It might come as some consolation that programs are just as worried about the upcoming virtual match as the applicants. In a recent survey of program directors, programs’ top concerns were:

  1. Showcasing their program; 
  2. Technical glitches; 
  3. Coordinating and scheduling applicants; and 
  4. Having enough information to rank students appropriately. 

The first concern—showcasing their program—is the most interesting. Providing applicants enough information to understand the program, the hospital and clinics, the curriculum, and the community is the easy part.  But, how do they authentically capture the people and the culture of a program through a computer monitor? One program director best described the fear many are facing: how can we showcase the “unique aspects” of our program “and have applicants feel the love of our program without having in-person options.” Likewise, how do they gauge the interpersonal skills as well as the fit of applicants to their existing team of faculty, residents, and support staff without a site visit?

What can applicants expect this fall?

What are programs likely to do in the fall? We are seeing early indications that virtual social hours with existing residents may be common. At the recent Virtual CREOG conference, speakers discussed their experiences with virtual social events, even virtual happy hours with residents, with some sending off small care packages in advance or gift cards for coffee or food. Expect more of these in the fall.

In addition to time with residents, GME programs will formally showcase their program with videos, presentations, speakers, and Q&As. Then, of course, there will be the one-on-one interviews. Further, 20% of programs from the survey suggested they are looking at adding asynchronous strategies to the mix. Synchronous events are real-time interactions between the parties, such as Zoom or FaceTime sessions. Asynchronous is when the program posts information about their program and/or interview questions to invited applicants.  Applicants can conveniently learn about the program and its people, record questions back to the program, and/or record a response to each interview question on their own time (with an opportunity to re-record a response before submitting).

Plan differently

Without an onsite visit, you will need to approach the virtual Match differently to fully get the information you need to make your ranking decisions. You also need to prepare for one-on-one virtual interviewing and other meetings in a way that presents you authentically while providing the programs with the information they value when making ranking decisions, such as your interpersonal skills and fit with their existing team.

Without a site visit, you will have to do more offline research this year. Dig a little deeper on your Google searches. Spend more time program websites to learn more about the location, the campus, the associated clinics, and the people and culture. You might have to go off the beaten path, such as forums and social networking sites, as you try to discover more about the people and culture. That is where social networking sites, including this site (Student Doctor Network), will have their greatest value. You might need to ask more questions during virtual presentations and meetings. Get your important questions teed up that you want to know for each program or faculty you meet with. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

How to ask questions

Don’t forget they are interviewing you. Every interaction is a piece of data for the program to rank you, including each question you ask and, even, how you ask it. The way you ask a question provides telling insights. Are you asking it in a direct and challenging way? Hopefully not. Or, are you asking it in a positive and inquisitive way? Hopefully. Or, are you just asking a question to get airtime? Not a good idea.

Tip: Lead-in to your question with a positive statement about the program, showing you have done your offline homework or have listened attentively to their presentation.

Worse: How often will we meet with our mentor?

Better: I really like your commitment to individual coaching and mentoring. What shape do these mentoring sessions typically take and how frequently?

Worse: Do you sponsor social activities for your residents to unwind?

Better:  On your website, you emphasize the importance of work-life balance for residents. What are some of the activities and events you do as a team?

Lights, Camera, Action

Most will rely on their webcam to attend meetings and participate in virtual Match interviews, which is more than adequate with proper positioning and lighting. Your new first impression is when you turn on your camera. Video can be flattering or unforgiving.  How can you make a positive first impression when the camera is on? First, don’t make a negative impression. A poorly or unevenly lit face, not hearing you clearly, and distracting visuals or noises in the background will detract from your impression. If you don’t have a stable internet connection, go to a place that does.

If you want to take it up a notch and differentiate yourself, spend some of the money you are saving on travel and invest it in your own personal video presentation space, which you will use long after match season is over. For less than 600 dollars you can get a backdrop, a good camera, some lights, and a lavalier microphone.  Buy an inexpensive camcorder with optical zoom and a video capture card (about $300) as your webcam as it allows much more control than your built-in webcam. You can zoom to better frame yourself. Frame yourself so that you display mid-torso and above. You can tweak light balance and more with a camcorder. A lavalier or small clip-on microphone (about $40) provides much better quality than the built-in mic and is more unobtrusive than a headset mic. A backdrop with multiple lights and a desktop tripod can be found for less than $200, which completes your setup.

I personally like a green screen as a backdrop because it offers the most flexibility, but don’t go crazy! No fireworks show in the background while you are interviewing! For example, Zoom allows you to choose a virtual background, but it is not very good unless you are against a green screen. You can upload your own image or video as a backdrop. During interviews, a low key, non-distracting background is preferred. It’s not about showing off your technical prowess with chromakey, it’s about showcasing you! A solid neutral color or gradient that contrasts against you and your clothes is best. I will sometimes add my name to my virtual backdrop image. Finally, it goes without saying to dress professionally. People seem to dress down on virtual meetings. Don’t. Treat it like an onsite face-to-face interview. Solid-colored clothes without patterns provide the best video image.

There are plenty of YouTube videos that can help in setting up your video space.

Non-Verbals

The camera picks up everything. Put your smartphone out of reach and in “do-not disturb” mode, so you are not even tempted to see who just texted you. No multi-tasking. Be fully in the moment. Let others in your home know they cannot disturb you. Send your dog to your neighbor. Turn off all notifications on your computer so a bell doesn’t go off every time you get a new email or message.

Here’s a simple hack for improving your non-verbal impression. Your eyes will naturally go to the person speaking. Whomever is speaking, move their image to the center-top of your screen. Or, whomever you are asking a question to, move their image in the center-top of your screen.  From their end, it will appear like you are looking them directly in the eye while you are talking or listening. It’s a simple trick to look directly into the camera.

While you look into the camera, nod affirmatively and smile often. Have a warm, natural countenance when you are not talking. If it is a group meeting, rest assured people are scanning the video images. You need to come across as attentive and interested in what is being said. Again, smile often. Some programs will choose to record sessions and may go back and watch them later. A recording never forgets. Be self-aware throughout the meeting. You want them to see you—through your online your behaviors—as someone they would like working with.

What you say

There are no new interview questions, just ones you haven’t yet heard yet –or prepared for. There are plenty of sites where you can find an endless array of interview questions. Generally, they fall into a few different categories: 

  • Your past and experiences; 
  • You as a person; 
  • Your future; and 
  • Fit. 

It is important you get comfortable talking about yourself. You want to strike a balance between celebrating your accomplishments but doing so with humility.

Here is a hack: Prepare a 10-15 minute story of your life from high school to where you are today, talking about your experiences, choices, life-changing events, important work and educational relationships, and greatest accomplishments. Discuss these elements in a way that shows how it shaped you into the person you are today. Make sure you talk about your ability to promote and sustain positive and productive relationships. Record that video several times. Do not practice an answer to an interview question. Create skills and building blocks to answer many different questions that you can quickly recall and assemble on the fly. Now, do the same thing talking about your future.  What you are hoping to gain through residency, where do you plan to go with your medical career. Practice telling a story of your future. Finally, learn as much as you can about the program so you can discuss why it is a great fit for you and them! When you talk about fit, draw on the unique qualities, culture, and needs of the program first and yourself second. 

Prepare now for the virtual Match!

What can you do to get ready? 

  1. Setup your interview space now. You don’t want to learn about all your equipment and technology at the last minute. Have backup plans in case something fails. 
  2. Find a virtual interview buddy where you can practice asking questions about a program or responding to interviews in a safe and supportive space. 
  3. Record the sessions and watch yourself. Focus on your responses, your camera persona, video and audio quality and your non-verbal behaviors.
  4. Create a Zoom meeting with your colleagues and let everyone give each other feedback on how each is coming across on camera.
  5. Consider professional coaching if you are not satisfied with your progress.
  6. Finally, ensure you know and practice sharing the most important things they need to know about you, even if not directly asked. 

Remember, training and practice takes over where nervousness begins. Get ready now. Start practicing now. Make your first interview of the season as good as your last.

We’d like to know what applicant concerns are as well, and have your input leading up to the Virtual Match. This survey is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts. The results of this survey will be made available to the Student Doctor Network.

Please complete the survey by clicking HERE.

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Fred Fishback is CEO and President of Javelin Learning Solutions. Fred Fishback is CEO and President of Javelin Learning Solutions.