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The Resident’s Cubicle

Alex Shillingburg, PharmD
Clinical Specialist BMT/ Hematologic Malignancy
WVU Healthcare, Morgantown, WV

Surviving the Interview Season

It’s open season for potential residency candidates and new job seekers. This edition of The Resident’s Cubicle will focus on tips to help PGY2 oncology residents survive the impending interview season. There are three facets of the interview season that have a significant impact on the oncology resident’s life: traveling to and preparing for job interviews, keeping up with residency responsibilities while absent from work for interviews and travel, and interviewing oncology residency candidates to take your place in your program the following year.

Preparing for the Job Interview

The time has come to find a place to work for an indefinite period of time. Many things need to play into this decision, such as location, family circumstances, fit with the mission and atmosphere of the institution, and the job responsibilities. Here are some tips that are important enough to reiterate even though they should be second nature after all the interviewing over the past few years to get to this point.

  1. Talk. It may seem silly, but to figure out if you would be a good fit, you need to be engaged during your interview. If you don’t engage, not only will you seem dull, but you won’t be able to get a good sense of the organization. Talk to the cab driver, the cashier in the lunch line, and the receptionist. Everyone you meet can help mold your opinion of a place. Don’t talk over your interviewers, but be sure to take advantage of every chance to interact. You are only there for a short period and want to gather as much information as you can to make an informed decision.
  2. Be real. Be yourself and be honest. It should go without saying to absolutely not falsify any information and to be honest about your personality. Don’t be the person you think they want; be who you are. You will thank yourself later when the real you fits well in your new position!
  3. Dress smart. Put your absolute best foot forward for your first impression. There is no need to be a fashionista, but always wear a matching freshly pressed suit; wear clean, unscuffed shoes; and keep hair, facial hair, nails, and accessories well-groomed, neat, and tasteful.
  4. Never be late. Plan for weather-related delays, especially in the winter.
  5. Be interested. Ask plenty of questions to which you genuinely want answers. Nothing turns someone off more than interviewing a candidate who doesn’t want to be there. Nonverbal cues send very strong signals. Sit up straight, lean in slightly, make eye contact, and smile.

During your interview you will make connections with professionals in your future field and, trust me, you will see them again. Oncology pharmacy is a small world, and it never hurts to have friends in many institutions.

One aspect of job interviewing that will differ drastically from residency interviewing will be the inconsistent timeline. This is often the most frustrating part of the job search for PGY2 residents. There will not be a magical match day when you find out with which institution you were matched. There will not be a tight 6-week timeline for interviews. You will likely find that some places may take weeks to months to evaluate and interview all of their candidates. Job offers could be made to you before you even go to other interviews, and they may expect an answer quickly. Navigating this very unpredictable timeline will require difficult life decisions, often without all of the pieces of the puzzle in front of you. My best advice to you is to be professional. Be upfront with your intentions, respect the institution’s time frame as well as your own, and don’t accept a job expecting to reject it if a better one comes along. If your top institution has not made an offer yet and you need to give other places an answer, it is not unreasonable to contact human resources to ask if they have filled the position or know when they will begin making offers. Deciding whether to take a good offer or to turn it down to gamble on an offer from your dream job is difficult. Unfortunately there is no right answer, but be prepared for these situations to arise and take care not to burn bridges.

Keeping Up During Your Absence

Don’t assume that your responsibilities to your residency will be absolved when you are away for an interview. Regardless of the number of days missed for interviews, residents should expect to be held accountable for their residency expectations during this time. That’s not to say that you should cancel interviews or that special accommodations cannot be made for extra days away from the residency. The best way to address missed days is to keep open and upfront communication with your residency program director and your preceptors during this time. It is likely that they will know how many positions you have applied for because you may be asking them for recommendations, but be forthcoming with interview dates and travel plans as soon as possible. Adjustments may need to be made to make up presentations or activities after a rotation has ended. Topic discussions may be concentrated during specific times during rotations to maximize learning with limited days on rotation. Additional activities may be necessary if significant patient care time is missed, but the resident’s learning experience should not be impacted by excessive absences.

Keep in mind when scheduling interviews that middle-of-the-week dates will require more time off for travel but may not be avoidable. Be sure to maintain an up-to-date agenda during this time, and always inform the organizer of any meetings or presentations you will miss. Try to reschedule to keep your original commitments and work with colleagues to help cover any duties you have scheduled such as precepting students, teaching classes, or maintaining operational responsibilities. These things can often be easily addressed in advance, but will reflect extremely poorly on you if forgotten.

Managing PGY2 Candidate Interviews at Your Program

Regardless of your role in these interviews—dinner host, tour guide, or planned one-on-one interview—do not discount their importance. Even though you may be leaving in a few short months, do not forget that the candidate who matches will graduate from the same program you did. You should have pride in your program and work to ensure that the candidate who will replace you is the best fit for your program.

These interviews can also take a significant amount of time from your day depending on your interview responsibilities, which you should consider while managing your to-do list for that day. It can also be very exhausting to be consistently “on” if you are with the candidate for long periods of time throughout the day. It is crucial to be as engaged during the last few minutes while walking them out as you were in the morning when they first stepped foot in the building. Your excitement and professionalism will leave an impression with the candidate, and you want that impression to be that you are prompt, cordial, respectful of them, and proud to be graduating from your program.

Be prepared with three or four questions to ask each candidate so that you have an equal basis on which to compare. Remember to take notes of their responses, questions they asked you, and your impression. You will be surprised by how many faces you will see during these months, and you will need your notes to jog your memory come rank time. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get to all of your questions because the candidate may be prepared with a continuous stream of his or her own questions for you. Almost everyone will advise them to talk to the current resident. You are in the midst of the program they are interested in and the most relatable source of information. Be sure to be truthful but keep in mind that this is not the time to vent your frustrations. You represent your institution and your pro- gram. It is appropriate to talk about recommendations for improvements, but complaining or trash-talking will only reflect poorly on you.

In summary, this time will be very busy and will require oncology residents to continually switch gears and refocus from interviewer to interviewee. Always be mindful of the situation you are in and maintain a professional attitude. Through all the stress and commotion, this is also an extremely exciting time with big changes and opportunities on the horizon. Explore every option, keep an open mind, and stay excited about the novelty of new people, cities, and jobs. You have worked hard to get to this point. Be proud of your accomplishments!