Interview Season Tips for Fourth Year Medical Students, Part 2

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Bottom Line: A short series of posts for fourth year medical students going in to interview season, part 2 of 3.

This post is one in a shorts series intended for MS4s entering interview season. Hit the “med school tips” tag above to quickly find the others. These won’t be “how to interview” tips — you’ll find those everywhere. Instead, they’ll be little tricks and habits that made a fun-but-kinda-stressful few months easier for me.

Interview Broker

I’m not sure about other specialties, but if you’re going into EM, many residents have started using a service called Interview Broker to manage their interview scheduling. It’s awesome. It allows you to see what dates are available, warns you for dates with only a single interview slot left, and lets you change your interview date on your own without having to call or email anyone. Not all residencies are using Interview Broker, so my only “tip” regarding this is that you consider how much more convenient a service can make your experience when deciding between a few different interview offers. For example, when my interview schedule started really getting full, I started preferentially turning down interview offers that didn’t offer Interview Broker. My reasoning was that I could open up a few browser windows — one for a each school using Interview Broker, and a few others to Kayak.com and Southwest.com — and shift interviews around to make travel much easier and more affordable. Trying to accomplish the same task over phone or email would have been painful. Therefore, between two schools that were otherwise similar, I’d choose the one that gave me more direct control over my schedule.

Benefits of Southwest and Their Rewards Credit Card

I’m sure numerous airlines have similar offers, but I got a Southwest credit card that came with about $800 worth of free miles. They send out these kinds of offers every so often, but you might not get quite as nice of a deal if you just go to their website and sign up (I checked). You also have to watch out, because with some companies the rewards points expire after a year or so. So what I did during third year was wait until I got an offer in the mail that seemed like a good deal, checked the expiration date on the deal, then set a reminder for the week before that. This way, I had as long as possible to use those points. Additionally, I got extra points for any flights purchased with the card. Then, because the card has about a $70 yearly fee, and I (sadly) don’t expect to travel very much during residency, I just canceled the card whenever interview season was over.

A couple other huge things about going with Southwest versus other companies are:

  • You can check 2 free bags (I rarely needed this, but nice to have just in case)
  • If you cancel a flight you get credited the purchase amount, no penalty, to use towards another SW flight. I was able to reschedule many flights at no cost, and several interviews that I canceled at the end went towards flying to San Diego for the wedding of my close friend, @levimaston.

Instapaper

As if I didn’t talk about Instapaper enough…

I’ll just say this: it’s great to have some offline reading queued up during those flights and hotel stays. The gunners (I know you’re out there) might even want to put some of the programs’ mission statements or other interview prep material on there. You could pay ~$10 each for in-flight WiFi… but $4 for Instapaper really is worth it.

HopStop

I live in Albuquerque. We don’t really have much in the way of public transportation. Partly for that reason, I was really excited to try to use pubtrans as much as possible during interviews. I think taking the bus, the metro, the subway, and the light rails really gives you a better taste of a city than just renting a car or taking taxis. HopStop (also available for Android at their site) made all the difference in the world for me. I won’t go into too much detail, but it does a spectacular job of telling you where and when you need to be somewhere to get to a destination by a certain time. Get it.

Don’t Plan a Rural Rotation Right Before Interviews

This probably won’t affect too many of you, but I made the mistake of putting a rural rotation right before interviews. The main issue was that I had horrible cell reception, no phone data, and poor WiFi where I was rotating. Although I had decent internet at the place I was staying, the problem is that many of your interview offers will be gone in a few hours. You really ought to be checking, responding, and scheduling with absolutely minimal delay, which probably means on your phone during working hours (when most offers will probably go out). So if you’re going to be rotating at a time when you’ll hopefully be getting interview offers, make doubly sure that you’ll be in a position to respond to those offers promptly.

Push Email

That leads me to my next point: you get to choose what email address you give ERAS, so give them one that supports push, and set up your phone to use push email. If you don’t know what that means, basically your phone can either ask for emails at a given frequency (fetch), or it can basically get sent an invisible text message that tells it “you have a new email, check now!” The end result is that push gets emails to you as quickly as possible, whereas if your phone is set to only fetch every hour… you could get your interview invitation an hour behind your competitors using push. That hour could mean the difference between getting a coveted interview or not, or maybe a few hundred bucks because you missed a cheaper day to fly.

Pushover

This brings me to my last point of the night — there are a number of apps that specialize in sending you push notifications. I really like Pushover, because it’s highly customizable, I can use it for nerdy programming stuff, it’s only a few dollars, and the developers seem like really good people. They also have an Android version at their site. A particularly useful feature of Pushover and similar apps is a special email address they provide that will give your devices a push notification whenever it receives a new message. One great example of how I used this feature during interview season was that I set up a Gmail filter to match all emails from ERAS or the Match and forward those messages to my Pushover address. This means that every time I got a critically important message like an email offer, my phone actually buzzed / rang to notify me (instead of having to remember to check to see if I had any new email). The filter I used was: has the words: {from:support@nrmp.org, (from:noreply@eraspod.aamc.org interview)}, which I just forwarded to my secret address. If you’re unfamiliar with Gmail filter rules, they’re in your settings. Comma separated lists in curly braces { } are joined by “or” while those in regular parenthesis ( ) are “and”. So in my example, I got a notification for anything that was from noreply@eraspod.aamc.org and had the word interview somewhere, or anything from the NRMP.

Gmail Search for Interview Emails

I lied, one more (because it’s in the same thread as the last few). If you’re using Gmail for your ERAS email, I recommend you set up a good Gmail search to find all interview-related emails. I used a number of nested labels for interviews — one for each school, a separate one for cancelled or turned down interviews, and my trusty # Action and # Waiting labels. With these, I was able to figure out a search I could put in the search box that would find:

  • any email in:anywhere
  • after a certain date (the day ERAS was release, 2012-09-15 in my case) after:2012/09/15
  • that had the word “interview” interview
  • that wasn’t cancelled -label:interviews-cancelledInterviews
  • or I hadn’t turned down -label:interviews-turnedDownInterviews
  • and wasn’t already highly visible -label:Action

The full search is: in:anywhere -label:Action -label:interviews-cancelledInterviews -label:interviews-turnedDownInterviews interview after:2012/09/15. You could either copy this somewhere and paste it into the box, or turn on “Quick Links” in Gmail Labs, which I’ve found helpful for a few slightly different variations of this situation.

Okay, that’s all for part 2. Still have a handful more, so we’ll see if I can wrap things up in part 3.