When preparing to travel, lay out all of your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.
– Susan Heller
I can’t believe we’ve gone this long without posting. You’d think that with all the sitting in airports or waiting the few hours before/after an interview that I would be able to write a ton. However, if you did actually think that, you’d be wrong. There is something about uncomfortable airport seats, managing an evolving schedule, and feeling like a sardine squished into tiny seats that takes away any will to do anything productive. Add that to hectically scheduling the least stressful rotations for the rest of my fourth year, and trying to fit in time with the family over the holidays and it’s been a rough go for writing.
Anyways, now that I am at home enjoying some holiday music and good coffee, I wanted to make a short post just to keep everything moving. I feel like every medical student/resident blog has a post about the trials and tribulations of travelling for interviews, so I guess this is our version. I will not regale you with nightmarish stories of cancelled flights, lost luggage, or sleeping in the airport – luckily none of these things happened to us (yet…). So I will keep this post focused on travel tips for interviews that we learned the hard way. A lot of things are pretty intuitive, but it becomes very difficult to manage everything when you are planning multiple flights back to back and making sure you have enough time to get everything done.
This is especially true when you are getting more interview invites (a good thing) after you have bought plane tickets for another interview that you must now re-schedule (a terrible thing). Even though my better half helped keep us organized with a google-calendar, it became hard for us to remember who was travelling where next. It felt like checking my watch and then having someone ask what time it was – even though I just looked at it, I had no idea.
So here are 5 ways to minimize your interview stress (or at least try to do so):
1. Use an Excel Spreadsheet/GoogleDoc to Stay organized
I realize that this is infinitely easier said than done, but I can say that having a well-organized online document outlining where and when each interview was being held was very reassuring and made planning significantly easier. My spouse is much better at this than I am, but together I feel that we were (mostly) successful at keeping our interview list updated.
In addition to simply listing your interview locations and dates, I highly recommend adding columns (if they apply): your flight information, hotel accommodations, name and phone number of primary contact (Program Coordinators), and a section for your thoughts on the program. The purpose of adding your flight information and accommodations are pretty self-explanatory, but it especially helped us coordinate as a couple. Whenever possible, we tried to schedule interview in the same region together, but sometimes late interviews come through and it was awesome to know if your partner already had a hotel in the area. I also preferred to list the Coordinator’s phone number over their email, because when I absolutely had to contact them (like when I got lost trying to find the interview location because my GPS decided that every address nearby leads to the main hospital building, and I was getting terrible data reception), I was able to easily open the document on my phone and immediately call for directions. Finally, after a while all of the programs start to blend – “Did New York have the awesome VA attendings? Or was it Pennsylvania? Did I like the D.C. program director, or was he the one who treated everyone like property?” - You should really take a few notes to cement the program into your brain. It doesn’t take much to jog your memory. For example, I for one program I wrote the words “45 mins to nearest Chipotle.” That has been enough to conjure memories of the facility, faculty, and interview day.
2. Do not pack your suit into a check-on bag
One of the applicants at my last interview showed up in a remarkably sharp suit. While we were all making the pre-interview awkward small talk, that applicant admitted that his luggage (including his suit) had been sent to the wrong destination by the airline. Unfortunately, he landed at 9PM for the interview that started at 10AM the next morning. He called over a dozen stores in the area (lucky for him we were in a moderately large city), and he finally found one that was willing to sell him a suit and tailor it in time for the interview. For that privilege he paid over $700. Even worse, as we were walking out he admitted that the store had a no refund policy for tailored items.
Don’t be that guy. Pack your suit in a nice garment bag and never let it leave your sight. I’ve heard rumors of people interviewing in street clothes due to lost luggage and still matching at the program, but (even if this was true) the level of stress I experienced when I forgot my lucky tie clip made me not want to tempt fate.
3. Bring an iron… and learn how to use it
No matter how careful I was with my garment bag, my dress shirt always came out a little wrinkled. I carried it unfolded, folded, always hung up, upside down, right side up – everything! No dice, always wrinkled. Luckily, most motels had a small iron available in the room. However, the cleanliness of the bottoms can be dodgy, and one of them didn’t work. Why risk it? Grab a $10 travel iron and put it in your backpack.
Now for the harder part – how to use one. Unfortunately, my mom never taught me how to iron or do laundry (not that I was particularly interested in learning). This became a problem way back when I was interviewing for medical school. I actually remember watching an ironing tutorial while staying at a hostel in NYC the night before my first interview and realizing that despite washing it the day before, my shirt still had a small barbeque stain on it. I have since learned two things: never eat barbeque in a white shirt, and that everyone should know how to iron. Here’s a pretty good youtube tutorial to get you started.
4. Print out a copy of your application and any publications you have and bring it with you on interview day
In an ideal world, every interviewer you talked too would spend at least 1% of the time reading your application that you took to write it. Unfortunately, here on Earth most of the interviewers get their first look at your application with you in the room and take notes on it while you talk. The worst-case scenario (which actually happened to one of my classmates) is when the interviewer opens your folder only to see that the application is missing. Get a cheap folio, and keep copies of everything you need. Every program will give you a pen, and most will give you some kind of folder to take notes and provide information, but I felt calmer knowing that I could provide anything required.
5. Remember that out of hundreds of applicants they invited YOU to visit
Interviews are even more expensive for residency programs than it is for interviewees. Residency programs have to take faculty away from their clinic/research, provide food/water (and sometimes booze if you’re really lucky), and coordinate hundreds of interviewees all after spending time reviewing several times as many applications. They are strongly motivated to interview the bare minimum number of applicants that will pretty much guarantee that they fill their spots with quality residents. Additionally, they really hope to impress the applicants that they do interview, in hopes of being rated highly on your rank list. Spending time interviewing excess candidates does nothing but waste everyone’s time and resources.
What does this mean for you? This means RELAX! If you’re at the interview, then the program has already decided that it is worth the time and money to get to know you. Unless you are interviewing at one of the ivory tower programs (UCLA, Mayo, Hopkins etc.), they are trying to impress you as much as you are trying to impress them. Keeping this in my mind really enabled me to stay calm and be “myself” (as much as I can be in a suit and forced conversation) during every interview.
What are your interview tips? Did you have any horror stories during the interview season? Let me know in the comments!