Interview Tips to Share with Students and Residents

By Jennifer Wick posted 01-04-2019 12:42


Jennifer Wick, PharmD, MPH, PGY-2 Ambulatory Care Pharmacy Resident, Palm Beach Atlantic University

Amy Henneman, PharmD, BCACP, BCPS, CDE, PGY-2 Ambulatory Care and PGY-1 Residency Program Director, Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Palm Beach Atlantic University

Why is the Interview so Important?

New pharmacy graduates are encountering a previously unseen amount of competition in both the job market and in postgraduate training.  From 2000 to 2017, according to AACP’s annual pharmacy student profile, the number of annual graduates has nearly doubled.  While this number continues to increase, demand for pharmacists has been unable to keep up.  The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics has found that demand for the profession is stable, but average; increasing about 6% each year.  This is further reflected in reports by the Pharmacy Workforce Center (formerly PharmacyManpower), a nonprofit corporation created to research and track activity in the pharmacy workforce.  They have found decreasing rates of unmet pharmacist demand over the past 10 years. 

With so much competition, it can be difficult to prepare mentees.  Many applicants look very similar on paper.  They have excellent grades, plenty of organizational involvement, and even some project presentations or publications. However, an exceptional interview can help move their name to the top of any employer’s list of candidates.  Here are a few things to consider when guiding students, residents, and other mentees.

Interview Tips

There are many different types of interviews for which one must prepare.  They can differ by mode (in-person, electronic, telephone), setting (group or individual), and content (behavioral, background, case study).  For each subtype of interview, different preparations must be made.  For in-person interviews, travel arrangements must be made; while for distance interviews (those taking place via phone or other technology), technology requirements must be checked and appropriate off-site space must be designated.  For group interviews, the interviewee must be prepared to speak up and establish themselves within a group, while individual interviews allow a less assertive approach.  Interviewees must also be prepared for a variety of question types.  The interviewers are likely to ask about a candidate’s background, but may also ask situational/behavioral questions or task the candidate with a patient case.  These additional question types help reveal the candidate’s personality as well as clinical skills.  Candidates should organize robust mock interviews with family, friends, or colleagues to fully prepare themselves.

Interview preparation extends beyond format and content preparation.  The power of personal presence during the interview cannot be underestimated. Depending on one’s experience with the organization this could be the first face to face meeting, or in the case of a PGY2 interview, seem more like an interaction with colleagues. Either way, one mustn’t forget the interview is an integral component of an organizations overall goal – to determine if the interviewee is a fit for their program. As such, it is important to put the best foot forward, including paying special attention to appearance. It should go without saying, but make sure attire is professional. This means dusting off the suit jackets and pulling out the neck-ties. Though a suit is not mandatory, similar attire is desirable. Clothing should be free of wrinkles and stains and not too short or too tight. Additionally, shoes should be clean and professional in nature. This means no sneakers, stilettos, open toe shoes, sandals, booties, or boots (unless the weather can justify this). Closed toe business shoes are appropriate for this setting. Hair and make-up should also be kept conservative for most settings. Candidates should also keep in mind that this advice is not limited to in-person interactions.  For example, their dress will be partially visible during video interviews. While individuality is certainly important, this can shine through in their interactions with the interview team, not just one’s appearance.

Candidates must also not be afraid of self-promotion.  Employers and residency programs want exceptional candidates, so students/residents must be able to tell them how great they are!  While this can feel awkward and unnatural at first, candidates should remember that interviewers have a very short time to learn everything they can about each candidate.  If interviewees do not tell them everything they can about why they should be selected, how will they know?  Practice engaging others in conversation about recent accomplishments, and ask them what they would like to know more about.  The more often mentees talk about themselves, the more natural it will become.

In addition to comfort in discussing oneself, make sure mentees are prepared to talk about themselves and their experiences. Not only should they bring a few copies of their CV to the interview, but make sure they are familiar with what activities are listed on their CV. Anything written on their CV is fair game for an interviewer to ask questions about; don’t be caught off guard. Prior to arriving for the interview, do some homework. Applicants should research the program well and be prepared with some questions about the program for the residency program director/supervisor and key preceptors/coworkers. A few well thought out questions show the applicant is engaged and truly interested in the program. Don’t overwhelm the interviewers with questions that can be easily found on their website. Candidates should bring a notepad and pen to take notes with. They may have questions arise throughout the day or learn new information to keep track of. Last, candidates should bring business cards to hand out to key people they will come in contact with throughout the day, and ask for business cards from people they meet. Nothing beats a good old fashioned thank you note, and collecting business cards is a good way to gather contact information of people who invested time and energy during the interview.

The interview process can be stressful. There are a lot of unknowns, but encourage your mentees to trust the process! The match was created with the candidate in mind. Make sure students/residents fully understand they should rank programs based on how well they fit the student/residents career goals, NOT based on who you think will rank you. The system cannot be tricked and trying to do so is a good way for students/residents to end up somewhere that isn’t a good fit.  

1. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Institutional Research Report Series. Profile of Pharmacy Students Fall 2017. Alexandria, VA: AACP;2017.
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Pharmacists. Accessed October 29, 2018.
3. Pharmacy Workforce Center. Pharmacist Demand Indicator Time Based Trends. Accessed October 29, 2018.