Passing the First Test: How to Impress on the Residency Interview

MAY 14, 2014
Bianca Lezcano, 2014 PharmD candidate; Evan Lantz, PharmD; and Timothy P. Gauthier, PharmD, BCPS

With more and more students applying for residency positions, off-site interviews are becoming an important first step in the selection process. 
Off-site interviews have become an important screening tool for reviewing applicants to postgraduate pharmacy training programs. Often the goal of this interview is to identify candidates worthy of an invitation for an on-site interview. This is your time to demonstrate to the interviewers that you possess the qualities they are looking for in a resident. Although they may help to reduce expenses for both candidates and programs, these technology-based interviews may be more challenging than traditional interviews because they are less familiar to students.

What to Expect

Interview formats can vary greatly in scope, length, and formality. They may be conducted via telephone or through the use of videoconferencing software, such as Skype. There may be one or many interviewers, and the duration may vary from less than 30 minutes to more than an hour in length. Participants may include residency directors, current residents, resident preceptors, and other departmental personnel. In order to best prepare for the experience, it may be wise to inquire about the expected format when scheduling the appointment.

How to Prepare

Preparing for an off-site interview is similar to preparing for an on-site interview, however, there are some unique considerations. Before the off-site interview, you should:
  • Research the program before the interview date. Use search engines to investigate the professional work of potential preceptors or to find institution-specific information.
  • Draft a professional summary and practice verbalizing it prior to the interview. When developing a summary, include reasons for selecting pharmacy as a career path, professional employment during school, academic successes, special skills, motivation for seeking this position, and most importantly, what makes you exceptional.
  • Prepare talking points. Examples may include describing your long-term career goals, a significant therapeutic intervention, or a challenging situation that you overcame.
  • Compile a list of strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments, educational goals, and career aspirations; these are likely to assist in formulating answers to interview questions.
  • Brainstorm responses to commonly asked interview questions. The book Get the Residency: ASHP’s Guide to Residency Interviews and Preparation is an excellent resource for potential interview questions.
  • Conduct a mock interview. Practicing with a friend may help reduce the use of fillers such as “like,” “um,” and “uh” and may help to pinpoint other interview weaknesses.
  • Schedule the interview with time to spare. Thirty minutes during a lunch break may not be enough time; the interviewers could be delayed and the interview could take longer than expected. Taking a few minutes after the interview to reflect on the experience is also essential and may help you to remember important information you discussed.
  • Have paper and a pen ready. You’ll want to write down the interviewers’ names and titles along with other pertinent information. Don’t hesitate to ask an interviewer to spell their name, if necessary.
  • Have a copy of your CV and a list of your ongoing and completed clinical projects on hand. Be prepared to answer questions related to any content included within your CV.
  • Consider using a landline to avoid poor reception and battery issues. If you don’t have access to a landline, be sure that your cell phone battery is fully charged and that you are in an area with good service.
  • Prepare to conduct the interview in a private area where there are no distractions. Making the call from home or a low-stress environment may assist in reducing noise and help ensure that you can speak at a reasonable volume.
  • Have a glass of water handy in case your throat becomes dry or scratchy.
Final Thoughts

The role of off-site interviews in the postgraduate pharmacy training program selection process is evolving and practices are not universal. With increasing numbers of residency candidates, it is likely that such screening interviews will become more common. The skills needed to succeed in an off-site interview overlap with those of an on-site interview; however, many additional factors should be taken into consideration. As obtaining a postgraduate pharmacy training position becomes more competitive, those with the skills to evolve with the changing landscape will enhance their chances for securing these opportunities.

Sidebar: Interview Etiquette

On interview day, answer the telephone by introducing yourself in a professional manner. Speak slowly, pronounce words clearly, and don’t interrupt the interviewer. If you decide to record the interview, ask for permission at the beginning of the conversation and provide a reason for doing so. When asked questions, elaborate and use this time to set yourself apart from other candidates by selling your talent, skill, and abilities. Be sure that the answers to the questions reiterate and elaborate on your experience and interest in the position.

Although the interviewer cannot see you during a telephone interview, body language is just as important on the telephone as it is during a face-to-face interview. Remember to smile throughout the interview, as a positive physical state will be reflected in your voice. Not only will you make an impression with your ability to answer questions correctly, but also with your tone of voice, use of inflection, word choice, and attitude. Maintain positive interactions throughout the interview. If asked about weaknesses or least favorite experiences, it is unprofessional to speak negatively of individuals or institutions.

In addition to answering the interviewer’s questions, be prepared to ask some of your own toward the end of the interview. Have a list of questions ready, but refrain from asking questions about benefits, salary, or vacation. When the interview appears to be coming to a close, let the interviewers know you appreciate their time. If you are still interested in the program, be sure your interest in clear to the interviewer. Sending a thank-you e-mail shortly after the interview is a polite gesture and reiterates your interest in the program.

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