As a fourth year pharmacy student, I believed I was prepared for the residency application process. I attended my school of pharmacy’s residency interest group meetings, listened to advice from my ASHP advisor, reviewed resources on the ASHP website, and sought advice from students who had completed the process in previous years. I narrowed down the list of programs I wanted to apply to, spoke with residents and residency program directors of each prospective program at the residency showcase during the Midyear Clinical Meeting in December, carefully selected my recommendation writers, and submitted my residency applications through the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service (PhORCAS) with confidence. Unfortunately, I had not adequately prepared myself for interview invitations.
I will never forget the day I received my first on-site interview invitation. I was sitting in the Dallas Fort Worth airport on a layover, and my heart began to race as I read my first invitation for an on-site interview. Then, my heart dropped. I watched in disbelief as other applicants quickly submitted which interview date they preferred through an online platform. The email specified that dates were assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, and I was not ready to commit to a date. I suddenly realized that through all of my careful preparation for the residency application process, I had never once asked, “What do you do once you get the interview invitation?” Before I settled on a date to submit, my flight began to board. The decision had been made for me: I would have to wait to choose my first interview date.
The inability to submit my date preference immediately was a blessing in disguise. When my plane landed, I was able to see that only a small portion of the interviewees had responded rapidly to the invitation. Others were contemplating the decision more slowly. I was glad to see that it was not the frenzied rush I had feared when I first opened the electronic platform. Ultimately, my competitive side won, and I submitted a date preference before going to sleep that night. As the month of January progressed, I slowly began to receive additional interview invitations and felt more confident in my ability to coordinate my schedule for on-site interviews. After managing this on my own, I want to share my advice for navigating this stressful component of the residency applicant process with others.
- Be prepared: Interview invitations may arrive by email or telephone. I recommend turning on email notifications if you do not have them already and answering all telephone calls professionally.
- Stay calm: Although some invitations may be first-come, first-serve for date preferences, others may take multiple days or even weeks to respond with a confirmed date. Take time to consider your options, especially with the first few invitations. Once your interview schedule begins to fill up, you may want to answer more quickly to secure a date that works with your developing interview calendar.
- Consider your rotation schedule: Some schools of pharmacy allow students to select an off block, which prevents students from missing valuable days of rotation and learning experiences during interview season. However, interviews span the months of January and February. If you are on rotation during interview season, consider spreading your interviews out between the two months to avoid missing too many days of any one rotation. Also, I recommend confirming the dates with your preceptor before booking travel arrangements.
- Group interviews by geographic location: If you are applying to programs across the US, consider grouping interviews in areas that are close together to cut down on travel costs. For example, if two programs are within driving distance of one another but not from your local area, consider flying to one, renting a car and driving to the second interview, then flying home to cut down on the number of flights.
- Space them out: Unless you are grouping interviews together based on geographic location to decrease travel costs, I highly recommend avoiding back-to-back interviews. Often, on-site interviews require an entire day to complete and some even offer a dinner the night before. Interviews require stamina and can be exhausting. You will want a day to recuperate, reflect on your experience, write thank you notes, and prepare for your next interview.
- Respond: Always respond professionally to the interview invitations. Whether it is an email or a phone call, it is important to confirm your selected date with the program and let them know you are excited for the opportunity to meet with them. Programs are increasingly utilizing online platforms such as Doodle and SignUp Genius to allow students to submit date preferences; remember to send a follow up email in addition to completing the online submission.
- You can decline: If you are fortunate enough to receive more interviews than you can reasonably attend, you can decline an interview invitation. Be sure to send a professional and timely response to the program expressing your sincere appreciation for their time in considering you application and your regret for declining.
The on-site interview experience is an exciting and enlightening part of the residency application process. It allows you to see the practice site in person, ask crucial questions, and evaluate if you are a fit for the program. I hope my advice will help you handle on-site interview invitations with ease and find the residency program that is right for you.