A Traveler’s Trail: Tips for Interviewing Across the Nation

Emily Wilkins, MD, PGY1, University of Chicago Emergency Medicine

The interview trail can be a crazy and expensive time regardless of where you’re applying. But based on life circumstances or future goals, some applicants definitely end up taking it to the next level. As a Connecticutian (yes, that’s a word) who went on 18 interviews before couple’s matching to the Midwest, I inevitably learned various interview-scheduling and travel dos and don’ts along the way! Of course, everyone’s experience is different and ultimately you will need to make decisions that will help you feel healthy, balanced, and fulfilled along your interview journey, but here are some of my personal tips and tricks.

  1. Get a travel rewards credit card. Now. Yesterday. Do it. Put every expense you have on it (and pay it off immediately so you don’t get into a bad credit bind) and watch those points rack up. After all your annoying “work” travel you might find you can fund a free vacation before residency starts! (Side note: while it’s not my place to promote specific cards, check out thepointsguy.com for an in-depth look at options.) Some cards even cover the fee towards TSA PreCheck, which makes airport travel way less painful. 
  2. Do not be afraid to reschedule interviews. As long as you’re more than a month out from the interview, feel free to play calendar Tetris so that you can cluster multiple interviews into one trip when possible. Most programs use online schedulers now so you won’t even need to bother the wonderful coordinators who oversee the process.
  3. Wait-lists are your friend.  Similar to above, use these to help yourself cluster locations! At least a few times, I had more convenient dates open up for previously scheduled interviews which made my scheduled travel plans infinitely smoother. 
  4. Lean on your network. You know what are always expensive? Hotel rooms. You know what is not expensive? Your cousin’s friend from college’s grandmother’s spare bedroom. When Facebook networking fails you, Airbnb is often a very solid option. It is also worth checking to see whether residents in the program ever host applicants.
  5. Ask for what you want!  If you haven't heard back from a specific program that you are interested in but you know you’ll be in that city for another reason, an interview or you have a partner (power to y’all that are couples matching!) interviewing in the same city, it is appropriate to check in. Send a polite note to the coordinator’s email addressed to both the coordinator and the Program Director, explaining your connection to the city and your specific interest in the program. Worst case scenario? They ignore you and you still don’t get an interview. Best case scenario? You give them a reason why you stand out from the crowd and maybe land yourself a spot at your dream program!
  6. Invest in a second suit. If you can swing it, I promise you, you will thank me for this. Because I am cheap I did not do this, and I was shocked at how impossible it was to find time to dry clean things amidst all of the travel. I kid you not, by mid-December I had straight up Febreezed my suit jacket out of necessity more than once. Definitely pack multiple shirt options for every interview and, in general, wrinkle-free fabrics are your friend.
  7. Pack everything important in your carry-on. In fact, when possible don’t check a bag at all. I heard about one student on the interview trail whose bag was lost and, because her flight was so close to the time of her interview, she was forced to interview in a band t-shirt and yoga pants. I’m sure she made a great impression and crushed it anyways because EM is the best field ever, but still: not ideal. 
  8. Keep receipts for everything. Every school likely works differently, but at my program we could increase our federal loans for extra school-related expenses, including interview travel. Taking out more loans was a bummer, but despite being cost conscious my situation meant I required thousands more dollars than some of my locally-interviewing peers. The extra loans ended up being very important.

Ultimately, in the corniest of ways, the most important advice I can give is to have fun. Try not to get bogged down in the monotony of the interview season. Schedule an extra day in a city whenever you can and try to enjoy it and get a sense of what it would be like to live there. If you can schedule early morning arrival flights the day of your pre-interview dinner, suddenly you have a full day to explore without paying for an extra night somewhere. The more you can make the interview trail enjoyable, the less it’ll end up feeling like a stressful expense and the more it’ll feel like a fun adventure en route to your successful future.

Crush it out there; I look forward to meeting many of you in the years to come!

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