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The interview has become a new world, for now, with the pandemic, and both prospective employers and physician candidates are adjusting

By Bonnie Darves, a Seattle-based freelance health care writer

Physicians and other health care professionals know well that functioning — and practicing medicine — in a pandemic is a very different and much altered experience from a year ago. Even though physicians and residents are often providing care in fraught and challenging environments, when it comes to looking for a new practice opportunity, they’re not likely to find themselves at the point of care but rather in their living rooms. Interviews have gone virtual in a big way as the risks and logistics of the traditional site interview have prompted employers and even candidates to forgo site visits.

What this means is that both parties are having to adjust. Employers are increasingly vetting candidates without ever shaking hands or watching physicians interact in live group settings. Physicians are trying to figure out how to put their best face forward over video platforms such as Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, or Cisco Webex, to name a few, and how to make the most of what can be an awkward exchange.

The good news, for physicians, is that this is a new and evolving experience for all involved. As such, it’s important to keep in mind that many people, including employers and senior physicians on the call, might find the video virtual interview challenging. It’s not a technology-proficiency test, after all. However, on the technology front, physicians who find themselves in job-search mode during the coronavirus pandemic should do their best to prepare themselves, their environment, and their computers or devices for a successful meeting. The means “attending” the session as professionally as possible and ensuring that extraneous factors or technology don’t get in the way of a productive conversation.

Some of the prerequisites for virtual interviews are no different than they would be for a formal site-visit interview. First and foremost, look the part and dress professionally. It might feel awkward to don a suit or, for women, other formal business attire, but that’s a must. Physicians should be well dressed, well groomed, and reasonably refreshed when going to a video interview. In other words, treat the experience as if it were a formal site interview that you traveled to and prepared for in advance. Leave the casual demeanor behind, or at least in the other room.

It’s key to know exactly who will be on the video call and what their roles are, so that candidates can read bios and prepare accordingly. It’s also appropriate to ask about the length of the interview and to request an agenda, if one will be prepared.

Following are some of the most important considerations in preparing for a video interview:

Prepare and “professionalize” the immediate environment. For starters, the room should be well and brightly lit and the background clean and free of clutter. That means ensuring that there isn’t an unsightly stove or a television or even a stack of books or laundered T-shirts in view. As a background, a blank wall, an unembellished window, or a background cabinet with a non-distracting tasteful décor item all work well. Alternatively, many video platforms enable use of green-screen effects, which replace the actual background with a digital or virtual background. A word of caution is in order here: Candidates whose home environments are unsuitable and who want to use a background should opt for something clean and simple, not a potentially distracting image of a tropical beach, an old-growth forest, or a fake wine cellar. Finally, make sure that the lighting in the room is unobtrusive and doesn’t interfere or produce visible glare.

Do a trial run and then take the time to record a hypothetical session with a friend or family member. In advance of a virtual interview, candidates should receive specific instructions on the technology that will be used, as well as a link for getting into the session. For those who haven’t used the technology that will host the meeting, it’s important to get a trial subscription and ensure they’re familiar with the way it works and any features that might be used. Many physicians in primary care and internal medicine subspecialties have already had their trial by fire conducting patient virtual visits, but for others, video-meeting platforms might be new turf.

Get rid of noise and potential distractions. The interview setting should be quiet and calm. That means ensuring that background noises, including pets and family members, aren’t a factor. Ideally, opt for a completely quiet room — and house or apartment — if possible, and close windows to minimize street noise. Even minor background sounds, such as someone starting a washing machine two rooms away, can be bothersome enough to be overheard or, worse, distract the interviewee. Of course, it goes without saying that cell phones should be silenced and that all computer notifications that might chime during the session are turned off.

Ensure optimal body and face positioning. Even virtual-meeting veterans have likely found out the hard way that having the face positioned too far up or down, and the computer screen below eye level, can affect the experience. The interviewee’s head should be looking straight ahead, not down toward a keyboard, which could be very distracting to the interviewer(s). If a candidate is hunched over, for example, that will be visible to interviewers.

Having the computer or device properly elevated before the interview begins is key, so that the physician doesn’t need to make adjustments during the session. And once the session is underway, it’s important to maintain focus by not moving the head too much or looking off to the side. Even if that feels somewhat stiff, it won’t come across that way to the interviewer. It’s OK to use some body language, when appropriate, but that should be kept to a minimum because there’s not a large room to “absorb” it. Finally, physicians who aren’t sure how best to position their devices should ask for help from someone with virtual-meeting experience before the interview. In any event, the interviewee and the equipment should be positioned to enable natural-seeming eye contact between all parties.

Get the technology in order. First and foremost, ensure that the Internet connection is solid, and that the computer or device is fully charged and updated, so that it’s not likely to interject with an “update-needed” message. It’s also a good idea to close out any applications and websites that might be running in the background, not only because of potential distraction but also to ensure that the call loads efficiently.

Second, although computers and devices have built-in speakers and some have microphones, the quality of that audio experience can vary considerably. Physicians who expect to attend multiple video interviews or a period of a few months should consider purchasing and installing high-quality USB audio technology. One of the frequent complaints that business people make these days about video meetings that involve potentially multiple attendees is that poor-quality audio from an attendee’s computer is distracting.

The same goes for the video quality. Most laptops have an integrated web camera, but some might not, and older desktop computers likely don’t have one. If the video quality on the computer is poor, it might be worthwhile to purchase a good-quality web camera. Then, ensure that it’s optimally positioned — ideally above the screen, and look at the camera, not the screen, while speaking.

Finally, if the physician candidate might be asked to share a document or other item onscreen, preparing in advance is crucially important. Spending a fretful minute or two trying to get the requested item in view can be nerve-wracking for the physician and possibly annoying for the interviewer.

Some aspects of interviews haven’t changed
After physicians have prepared their environments and equipment to support a successful interview, they should remember that even with the pandemic, the expectation is that the proceedings will be business focused. Just because there’s not a conference room in the mix, it doesn’t mean that casual behavior is okay. It isn’t. The session likely will be conducted formally and highly professionally. As such, interviewees should avoid chitchat or lengthy discussion about the pandemic unless the interviewer raises the topic and seeks their perspective.

One thing to watch for in the video interview is that people sometimes talk over each other more than they might in a room, when they’re anxious to make a point. That’s never okay in a face-to-face meeting, and it’s potentially more distracting (and apparent) within the confines of a video session. Because there is sometimes a brief lag after someone speaks, depending on the technology in use, it’s advisable to wait an extra second or two before speaking.

As with any interview, candidates should ask questions at the end of the interview — about culture, team makeup, and roles and responsibilities — and during proceedings if it’s appropriate. Those questions should be prepared ahead of time. Candidate should also spend extra time researching the organization and reviewing any information that’s available online about both the practice and the community. Without the benefit of a facility walkthrough, the physician candidate might need to elicit important information about the actual working environment, available equipment, and other factors that would affect daily practice. It also helps to keep the names of interview participants handy in any virtual roundtable interview involving more than three participants.

As with any type of interview, timely follow-up is important. Candidates should send an email thank-you note to key interviewers and any recruiter or staff member(s) who arranged the session, ideally within 24 hours. If the candidate is highly interested in the position, it’s appropriate to express that in the thank-you note and to inquire about possible next steps.