Virtual Interviews: Perspectives from Three Professionals
LeAnne Kennedy, PharmD, BCOP, CPP, FHOPA
Clinical Specialist, Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy
Resident Director, PGY2 Oncology Residency
Wake Forest Baptist Health
Belinda Li, PharmD, BCOP
Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Hematology/Oncology
Jessi Edwards, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Oncology
Novant Health Cancer Institute
We asked one postgraduate year 2 (PGY2) oncology residency program director and two clinical pharmacy specialists to give our trainee readers tips on how to ensure a successful virtual interview. The result was different perspectives, from both the interviewer and interviewee points of view, based on their personal experiences. We hope you gain valuable insight from LeAnne Kennedy (interviewer), Belinda Li (interviewee), and Jessi Edwards (interviewee).
Before the Interview
What are the most common platforms utilized for a virtual interview?
LeAnne: Zoom and Webex are the most common platforms used by businesses, but there may be unfamiliar platforms too. You should be flexible and prepared for the unexpected and be gracious if things don’t go smoothly.
Belinda: The interviewer will typically send an invite in advance so you can familiarize yourself with whichever platform they’ll be utilizing for the interview. Practice using the platform before the date of interview if you’re unfamiliar with it.
Jessi: If you are familiar with the platform, it never hurts to perform a test run prior to the interview. Ensure you’ve installed the most up-to-date version of the platform on your device to avoid having to install/update the platform on the day of the interview.
Which type of audio or video connection is best (i.e., laptop vs. webcam and wearing headphones vs. computer audio)?
LeAnne: The most important thing is that you can hear and be heard. Make sure that all devices are charged and connected.
Belinda: If you have any distractions at home during the interview (e.g., children, pets, etc.), wearing headphones may help block out noise and keep your attention focused on the interview. Otherwise, just make sure you have a strong internet connection.
Jessi: It depends on your situation. I shared an office with other pharmacists during a recent virtual interview, so I scheduled my interview at a time I could be at home to avoid distractions and background noise. Additionally, I knew my internet connection at home was reliable so I would have a stronger internet connection.
What is the preferred background and/or location for a virtual interview?
LeAnne: The key is to be somewhere that you will not be distracted or interrupted. Find a plain background or at least something that is not distracting. I would not recommend moving from one location to another due to the chances of computers not connecting with each move.
Belinda: You need to be somewhere you won’t be distracted so you can stay engaged with your interviewers. If you have a private room where you can shut the door, that would be best. Plain and simple backgrounds are less distracting to your audience, and make sure the room has enough lighting.
Jessi: Do your best to find a private room and a blank background. I have even turned my home desk around so that the wall was behind me for a recent virtual interview.
What materials should the candidate have with them for a virtual interview?
LeAnne: Since it isn’t a live interview, you won’t need a paper copy of your CV. If you have made changes to your CV since submitting application, then I would be sure to email a copy (in PDF format) before your interview. The most important things to bring are a smile, positive attitude, and thoughtful questions about the program, institution, and also about the local area.
Belinda: Be prepared to share screen, especially if you’re presenting. Close out of everything else on the computer so you don’t accidentally share something else. Close out of your email and text notifications on your computer until the interview is complete.
Jessi: Turn off, or at least silence, your cell phone. Regardless of sharing a screen or not, your eyes may wonder if a text or email comes through, and this can make you appear disengaged or worse, you may miss a question or lose your train of thought. Just as with in-person interviews, having a notepad is good to take notes or to reference if you have prepared your own questions for the interviewers beforehand. Nobody is going to fault you for being proactive.
What information should the candidate prepare for a virtual interview and how might this differ from preparing for an on-site interview?
LeAnne: I recommend reading the interview letter/email several times to be sure you know what is planned for the day. If you have questions about the day, be sure to ask before the day starts. A few common questions:
- Will there be separate virtual sessions that you will need to log into?
- Is there a contact if there are technical difficulties?
- Will there be breaks built into the day for lunch and bathroom breaks?
- Is there a a video to watch before the interview (overviewing the site or city)? If so, watch it so that you can follow-up with insightful questions.
Belinda: You should be prepared for your interview similar to an on-site interview. Most of the questions you’ll be asked will be the same as on-site interviews. It’s important to still dress professionally and remain engaged even though you’re not on-site. Many institutions are still requiring presentations, so prepare for these as you would a normal interview.
Jessi: Just because you have a virtual interview does not mean you should prepare any differently. You should dress professionally and imagine as if you are in the same room as the interviewers. My recent virtual interview included more clinical questions, since a presentation was not required unlike other in-person interviews. I think there is an increased emphasis on preparing for those situations beforehand if no presentation is required.
Are there any other differences in preparation for a virtual vs. on-site interview that you would like to highlight?
LeAnne: It will be hard to convey your personality in a virtual interview, but it is important to be yourself as if you were there in the same room. Maintain professional posture and speech. Virtual interviews will help us all assess how adaptable we can be to different situations, so be flexible and gracious if things do not go smoothly.
Belinda: Virtual interviews may sometimes be one long continuous video conference with different people joining and exiting or have several sessions scheduled with different meeting invites. Make sure to keep track of which invitation you need to log into at the correct time and exit out of previous meetings when they are complete.
Jessi: Virtual interviews allow additional team members to attend when they may otherwise have been busy with patient care and unable to step away from their desk for an in-person interview. This means there are more people for you to ask questions of and get a better idea of the work environment and team dynamic. Take advantage of this opportunity by preparing broad questions that different pharmacists in different clinical areas can answer. On the other side of the coin, be aware that some of these pharmacists are multitasking on their end so while they may be attending virtually, they may not be providing their undivided attention. Try your best to keep your answers, and questions, interesting so that they remain engaged and will remember your interview down the line when it is time to review candidates.
During the Interview
How can the candidate learn more about the city or town during a virtual interview?
LeAnne: This is very important since you will not be there to tourcity before and after your interview. Ask if they have a video that highlights their city or better yet, search for one yourself before you have your interview so that you can ask questions based on what you learned.
Belinda: The candidate can always ask the interviewers about the city, such as areas to live and things to do.
Is it appropriate for the candidate to inquire about the possibility of an on-site interview?
LeAnne: It is appropriate to ask for an on-site interview, but remember it may likely not be possible at this time.
Belinda: If the position is local, I think that is a possibility. Many facilities are still limiting their visitors and are not allowing on-site interviews, but there could be a chance to meet with some of the pharmacists off-site, such as a nearby coffee shop with outdoor seating. Of course, this ultimately depends on everyone’s comfort with the situation.
In what other ways have your experiences with virtual interviews differed from on-site interviews?
Jessi: It provides a disadvantage that you cannot visit the actual site and have one-on-one conversations with other staff. I feel like this is really where interview candidates are able to shine, because no matter how much clinical knowledge you have, you do not want to work with people with whom your personality does not mesh. To overcome this, I recommend you do even more research beforehand so that you are prepared to ask specific questions about the facility and city as well as the work environment. It never hurts to ask questions! This helps keep the conversation going and allows you to get to know your potential coworkers. Also, as it is more difficult to convey your personality and get the feel of “good fit” virtually; you have to be very cognizant of letting your personality shine through the computer screen to the best of your ability. Don’t try too hard, but don’t let this strange interview experience hold you back. Virtual interviews are shorter so you have to use the time you are given to make sure you are the most memorable candidate.
After the Interview
How can the candidate say thank you after a virtual interview (i.e., card vs. email)?
LeAnne: I am old fashioned and feel that a card is still a classy way to follow-up after an interview. When possible, send to each interviewer and if you don’t have their contact information, then ask the primary person to share your gratitude for the day. It is easier to send a card to each person since the mailing address is the same. When it comes to an email, in today’s world, this has become a standard way of communicating and in a much timelier fashion. It is harder to get everyone’s email which then necessitates addressing the email to multiple people or asking that they pass along your message.
Belinda: Either form should be fine as long as you send some form of thank you. Personally, I prefer email since I know that it will actually reach the interviewers as mail can get lost, especially when sending to an office in the hospital. If you do send a card, make sure to do it immediately after the interview so that it can arrive in a timely manner.
Jessi: I don’t think it truly matters how you send a thank you as long as you DO send a thank you. If you are going to forget to mail a card or you don’t have any on-hand, an email is completely appropriate. I like knowing that my thank you reaches the interviewer via email instead of relying on the post office, especially with the current mail delays.