WHEN DO INTERVIEWS START?
With a few possible exceptions, interview invites begin in early October. Interview offers will sporadically run through the whole season, but will generally concentrate in the months of October and November. As previously mentioned, you will maximize your number of interview offers by submitting your application as soon as possible. Try not to get too caught up in how many interviews your friend has already received, as this will only make you extremely anxious. Just be patient, and the interviews will come.
If you are very interested in a particular program and you have not heard from them by mid-season, it is probably ok to send a polite email or phone call to check on the status of your application and to express interest. Obviously use common sense and limit this to 1-2 times, as not to be annoying. Always be friendly to whomever is on the other end. They often have more say than you might think.
Even for the best applicants, many rejections will come your way throughout the season. Do not take this personally. Given the large number of spots for relatively few positions, candidate selection can be more random than what you might think.
WHEN DOES THE INTERVIEW SEASON TYPICALLY RUN?
Now that the otolaryngology match participates in the NRMP and is no longer with the San Francisco Match, the start of the interview season is similar to other NRMP participants. Within the past two years there have been interview dates as early as late October, however the majority of program dates are in December and January.
INTERVIEW COSTS & FUNDING
The total costs associated with interview season can vary significantly depending on how frugal you are, the geographic locations you are targeting and obviously the number of interviews you will be attending. Most applicants will attend 8-14 interviews and will spend anywhere from $3000 to $7000 to do this. Although it is often difficult to lineup interviews in the same area within the same week, this can substantially reduce you end total cost. Unlike other less competitive specialties, otolaryngology programs rarely incur any of the travel or hotel costs, so sharing hotel rooms with other applicants is another good way to save money. You can coordinate hotel stays with other applicants through our forum. If you are close enough, driving to a number of your interviews will save you money (airfare and car rentals) and a lot of headache. There are many funding options available to those who don’t have $5000 just lying around. Finally, try to keep track of your receipts while on the trail as some of the expenses may be tax deductible.
SHOULD I TAKE TIME OFF TO INTERVIEW?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including the following: How many interviews are you planning on making? How much time does your school permit off to attend interviews?
Most people do not take off an extended period of time to accommodate interviews but many find it helpful to schedule “easier” and more laid-back rotations during interview season to keep the stress low.
HOW MANY INTERVIEWS SHOULD YOU ACCEPT?
Initially, every one of them! Ideally, you should aim for 8-14 interviews. As you start to receive more interviews nearing these numbers, you can get more choosey. Even the best of applicants should attend at least 6-8 interviews, since the vast majority of people who match do so within their first 4-5 places on the rank list. Attending more than 15 interviews is usually a waste of time and money. Finally, remember to courteous to other applicants and programs; as soon as you know that you are not going to attend the interview, cancel it! Hording interviews will not help you in any way. Canceling interviews you do not plan to attend grants programs ample time to schedule other interviewees and allows applicants time to plan additional interviews.
- This is obviously a huge topic and cannot be simply answered in 1 or 2 paragraphs. There are numerous books on this topic that go into very extensive detail (book guide). While most of the information is hopefully common sense, we have included a couple of helpful suggestions regarding this topic.
- You should appear knowledgeable about the program during your interview. Read up on the program’s website, ask residents and staff about the program, and (cautiously) peruse online forums. On your interview, DO NOT ask questions about the program that are already answered on the website.
- Regarding dress, conservative is generally better. While you are interviewing, there will be some daring souls with hot pink shirts, but try to be memorable for good reasons, not bad ones. Use common sense in your wardrobe selection.
- Be prepared to have answers to the standard questions. About 80% of interview questions will be asked repeatedly throughout the interview season, so have solid non-cliché, well polished answers for these gimme points. After the 4th or 5th interview, most of these answers will come as second nature, but to prepare for your first couple interviews, many applicants find it helpful to have a mock or rehearsal interview just before the season starts. You may notice that after a question has been asked a thousand times it becomes very hard to give an answer with any sort of enthusiasm. Try your best to sound fresh and sincere with all your answers.
- Have a list of intelligent questions prepared before hand. You will be asked “So… do you have any other questions” at least once with each interviewer! Always say “yes” and follow-up with at least one question to ask.
- Finally, do not slack! With the exception of a couple natural geniuses, most applicants have gotten this far as a direct result of years of hard work and late nights. You will be surprised at some of your interviews when you see some applicants who act like they have something better to do. This is basically it! The last step in long journey to securing the job you will be doing for the rest of your life – finish strong!
INTERVIEW DAY - WHAT TO EXPECT?
Interview day generally begins with some sort of welcome and overview presentation given by the chair of the department or the residency program director. This presentation often reviews the faculty members, ongoing research in the department, facilities, humanitarian opportunities, and what makes their residency program unique or special.
After this presentation, applicants are usually divided into two groups, with one group interviewing in the morning and the other group touring the hospital facilities and/or city with the residents. This is a good time to ask the residents questions about call and their QOL (however, use discretion when asking these types of questions—you never know how much input each individual resident has on your overall ranking with a program). The two applicant groups often reconvene for lunch with faculty members and residents and then the two applicant groups switch for the afternoon. Interviews are set up differently at every program, but generally there are 8-12 interviews that last anywhere from 15-30 minutes each. Some interviews are one-on-one, but often there are multiple attendings and/or residents (2-4) interviewing an applicant at the same time. Some programs will assign a certain theme (research, academics, leadership, service, etc) or question (“tell me about a time you dealt with a conflict,” “tell me about a time you failed”, “give me an example of a time when you were creative”, ethical scenarios, etc) to each room, whereas other programs will have simple conversations in their rooms.
Additionally, some programs incorporate a “technical skills task” into the interview day—suturing under a microscope, carving the ossicles out of soap, threading three needles while telling a joke, etc. While finesse is definitely being evaluated during these tasks, most programs are, more importantly, wanting to see your reaction to an unfamiliar and, sometimes, stressful situation. After both groups have completed their interviews and tour, some places will have a brief wrap-up talk thanking you for taking the time and effort to interview at their program. Otherwise, interview day concludes at the end of your scheduled afternoon interviews or tour.
DO I NEED TO ATTEND THE INTERVIEW SOCIAL GATHERING?
There is always a debate among applicants as to whether missing an interview associated social gathering can hurt you. The abbreviated answer to this question is probably not. Most programs endorse the dinner as an informal time for applicants to get a better feel for the program with no connection to applicant ranking. On the flip-side, there are many programs that ask the residents how they feel about particular candidates and your absence may be mentioned. Bottom-line: If you can attend the dinner, do it. It is a great free dinner, you can get to know many of the other applicants who you will be bumping into for the next five years or more, and it provides a chance for you to further evaluate the program in one of the most important areas – how does everyone get along? Having said all this, use common sense and do not get drunk and say something stupid, as this will inevitably come back to bite you. If you have a scheduling conflict, then missing the dinner is probably not the end of the world. There are many applicants who have matched at great programs despite missing the evening dinner.
KEEPING PROGRAM IMPRESSIONS FRESH?
In order to construct your rank list, it will be important to have some sort of system to keep all of the programs you have interviewed at separate. The interview season is spread over 3-4 months and after a couple of interviews, most places tend to blend together. There are many different systems that people use, some more elaborate than others. Common categories that applicants use to score the various programs are: Overall gut-feeling; how the residents and staff appear to get along; degree of subspecialty staff coverage; where (and if) residents have matched into fellowships; quality of training (case-log comparison, early autonomy etc.); city livability (including real-estate costs); number of residents who are married or have children; research opportunities.
SHOULD I SEND A THANK YOU LETTER?
If you are sending a thank you letter to increase your odds of matching, it probably does not help. The vast majority of programs will rank applicants the same day as the interview. If you are sending a letter because you really liked a particular person or you just like to write letters, then go ahead. If you decide to write letters, make them appear original. It is best to include something that you talked about during your interview so that the interviewer can remember you. It is fine to type them, or if you have exceptional handwriting, write them by hand.