For applicants like myself who applied to ophthalmology speciality recruitment training in the 2020/2021 recruitment round, the interviews for the first time ever were held online. This was due to the major disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interview usually includes a portfolio station and four face to face stations which cover the following areas; critical appraisal, communication, improving patient care, and a clinical scenario. The interview in 2021 involved a communication station with a simulated patient on Microsoft teams. The interview formed 30% of the overall application score, the multi-specialty recruitment exam (MSRA) formed 20%, and the portfolio 50%.
Given the unpredictable situation of the COVID-19 pandemic it is unclear whether the interviews will be held face to face for the 2021/2022 recruitment round. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists are yet to release any guidance regarding this. In case the interviews are held online again, I have outlined some helpful information for applicants about how to prepare for a virtual interview process. I have included three areas which are important to think about prior to an online interview; the environment, how to present yourself and technology.
As the interview is held on Microsoft teams, you will be viewed on your computer webcam so be mindful of where you choose to take the interview. Try and place yourself somewhere in your home where there is a plain background behind you, avoiding the use of background filters. Having the background looking on to your bedroom for example may look unprofessional, and could be distracting for the examiners.
Avoid bright lights above or behind you as these may cause you to appear shadowed, try and set yourself up somewhere with adequate amounts of light so that you are seen clearly. You should practice seeing how you look on your camera in a few different places around your home prior to the interview.
Ensure you are somewhere quiet, background noise may mean it is difficult for the examiner to hear you and vice versa. It is important that you place yourself somewhere where there is minimal chance of being disturbed. You may want to warn flatmates or family members prior to the interview to help avoid any unnecessary disruption.
How to present yourself
The interview, although being conducted online is still a formal process, and you should dress smartly as you would for a face to face interview. Avoid wearing clothes that clash or blend in with the background so that you are seen clearly. It is important however to feel comfortable, and you can consider practising in the clothes you will wear on the day prior to the interview.
Your body language is very important during an online interview and it is helpful to record yourself practicing beforehand. Ensure to sit up straight, do not slouch or fiddle with your clothes or hair. Watching yourself back before the interview will help to highlight any of these issues and give you time to correct them. If possible, try to look into the camera so that you are giving eye contact to the person you are speaking to. Try to set up your camera so that it includes your chest and shoulders, so that the examiners can assess your body language.
Although technological issues can be stressful during an online interview, ensuring you prepare beforehand can help reduce the chances of this happening. It is important to check you have a stable internet connection in the area you plan to take the interview. On the day, check the internet connection before the interview so that you have time to deal with any potential problems and ideally have a back-up plan prepared.
You will need a working clear webcam and microphone. Some candidates decide to purchase equipment such as a microphone to guarantee they are heard clearly on the day, however this is a personal choice and not a mandatory requirement.
Download Microsoft teams well in advance of the interview, and practice with friends or family to ensure you are comfortable with the format of the application and how you appear. This will help you to feel more relaxed on the day. Importantly, close other applications and notifications on your device, including messages and WhatsApp as you cannot have any contact with anyone else during the interview.
If there are technological issues during the interview, stay calm and follow the instructions given to you beforehand, they will be prepared for this happening. There is a feedback session at the end where you can flag any problems that arose during the interview.
Good luck! It can be strange to adapt to a virtual interview process, but just be yourself and treat it as you would a face to face interview. If interviews are held virtually again this year, the format may change but the same general advice I have outlined will still apply.