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Virtual Residency Interview Tips

By Thea Swenson, MD, @doctor.thea

I just conducted my first virtual residency interview (as an interviewer), and it was not easy! Meeting someone via zoom is very different than meeting in person for several reasons:

First, online feels less formal than in-person. It takes less effort to log in to a zoom call than to get on a plane, so inherently, there’s also less commitment on both ends.

Second, time seems to pass a lot quicker during Zoom interviews than during in-person interviews. Zoom interviews also feel more intense.

Third, it is hard to get to know a multi-dimensional person through a two-dimensional screen. We need to use non-verbal cues like facial expressions, body language, tone of voice–and this requires a lot of energy.

Fourth, having to watch a reflection of yourself throughout the interview can make you feel very self-conscious. Some people aren’t as relaxed as others on camera – me included.


Always ere on the side of formality. Medicine is a very conservative field, but it also requires empathy. Take cues from your interviewer, and balance formality with approachability.

Research each program and your interviewers (if possible) before you go into the interview. People like people who show an interest in the things they are interested in.

Have an elevator pitch that shares who you are, how you got to where you are, and what you are passionate about. Make it interesting and engaging. Have a 30-second version as well as a 2-minute version. Have a formal version and a more casual version. You are almost guaranteed to be asked some version of “tell me about yourself” during every interview.

Always have questions! Any question. A lot of questions. Well formulated questions are best, but a generic question is better than no question. Show that you are listening and know about the program.


Look directly into the camera so it looks like you are looking directly at the person on the other side. You can rearrange your screen so everything you need to see is centered below the camera. Don’t make it look like you’re looking down or left or right–this makes you look awkward.

Use good lighting. Choose your background wisely. A plain background is better than a busy one, but an interesting background can make you stand out. If you’re a musician, you could put your guitar in the background. If you’re a photographer, you could stand in front of your photographs. Remember, though, ere on the side of being more conservative and don’t have anything incriminating behind you.

Use a lot of subtle nonverbal signals: nod and smile often so the interviewer knows you are engaged and attentive. When you are not talking, make sure you continue looking into the camera. It’s difficult to turn a two-dimensional screen into a multi-dimensional person, so you may have to exaggerate your movements a little bit to make yourself look more engaged.

Enter the zoom link early. Make sure you note the time difference so you’re not late. Also, make sure your internet is stable. Have a back-up internet source available and know how to use it–I use my phone’s cellular data.

Monitor your time closely, especially when it’s nearing the end of your allotted time slot. You will either get pulled out of the room or be allowed to leave the room when time is called. If you get pulled out of the room, it will be especially important to monitor your remaining time. I would end with a simple “thank you so much for your time.” Don’t try to fit too many new ideas into your last few minutes. You don’t want your last impression to be an awkward, unfinished one because time ran out.

If able, thank all of your interviewers in the private chat afterward. Or send a thank you email/note as soon as you can. Every extra effort counts–especially with interviews being virtual.


About Thea:

Thea Lananh Swenson, MD is a second-year PMR&R resident at Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about lifestyle medicine, healthcare technology, and medical student education. She hopes to specialize in sports medicine.

Follow her on Instagram, @doctor.thea, to follow her journey through residency and into sports medicine.

This article first appeared on Thea's blog. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author. To view the original version, click here.