Preparing for Interviews

Preparing for Interviews (Ask a Vet Student)

September 18 2020

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Anonymous user asks: 

"How did you prepare yourself for the interview?"

   First of all, congratulations to everyone who submitted an application. For those that don't know, the collective veterinary school application, VMCAS, was due 9/15. The application is a huge step, and regardless of the outcomes, you should be proud of your accomplishment in submitting it. Depending on when you submitted and the processes of the schools you chose, interview invitations may go out as early as the next few weeks and as late as February and March. Take this time to relax and refocus, and maybe bookmark this to read later once you receive an interview.  At the end of this post, I've included examples of potential interview questions. Feel free to use it for a mock interview for yourself. 

    I did mock interviews. I began by informing my mentor (and pre-vet advisor and professor) at my undergraduate university that I was invited for interviews and asked for advice. He offered to do a mock interview with me and directed me to another resource on my campus that offered recorded mock interviews in the style of your selected graduate professional program. These mock interviews were invaluable and greatly improved my confidence. If your institution doesn't offer a resource like that, reach out to friends and family to see if they'll interview you. Practicing mock interviews can feel awkward with people you know, but the intention is two-fold. Not only do you get the opportunity to practice answering questions on the spot verbally, you can also recieve feedback on any habits you may have-- twirling your hair, kicking your feet, avoiding eye contact, etc. Beyond those primary benefits, a true mock interview also gives you an idea of the process: how you're going to enter the room, how you greet your interviewers and introduce yourself, and where you look as you take your seat. 

    I did not write potential answers to interview questions. While I was advised to prepare answers, one of my concerns was losing my own voice and sounding rehearsed in an interview setting. Instead, I spent a small amount of time the nights leading up to my interview reviewing common veterinary school interview questions online, and mentally considering how I might provide an answer to that question. I did take down notes on important experiences in my life that I may have wanted to draw on in order to relate them to potential questions. For example, I wrote "High school and college marching band. Team environment. Accountability. Work ethic." I found that this allowed my interviews to progress more like a conversation, rather than feeling stilted or panicking trying to remember exactly what I had wanted to say. Thinking back on my experiences allowed me to highlight and display the diversity of my experiences and background during the interview process. The questions I considered most intensely were those most likely to be asked that I knew I would struggle with: Greatest Strength and Greatest Weakness. These questions, to me, feel like a balancing act. When discussing your greatest strength, you want to take pride in what you excel in, but you don't want to come across as unaware of your own limitations. Greatest weakness is even harder-- you need to own your shortcomings, but you also need to show the interviewers that you can overcome the areas where you struggle. The typical recommended formula for the answer is "weakness + example + how you've grown as a result of coping with that weakness or how you've overcome that weakness."

     I informed myself on current events and common controversies in the field of veterinary medicine and developed stances on those issues. I think a common hiccup people run into with these questions is believing that they need to give the 'right' answer, or that there even is a 'right' answer. The interviewers are less interested in gleaning information from your answer and more interested in seeing your ability to articulate and defend a position. This doesn't mean that you can just say anything-- there are answers that are more informed than others, and regardless of which side of an issue you may fall on, you should be sure that you understand the issue comprehensively. I'll briefly provide a few issues below as examples. Essentially, my approach to these questions is to state my understanding of the issue, discuss the reasons there are differences in opinion on the issue and what the support and problems are for each stance, then provide my own personal stance and justification/reasoning. Sometimes, the interviewers may question you after answering. You might feel like they're challenging you because you said the wrong thing. In reality, they're most likely just assessing how you respond to being questioned. If they offer you information you weren't aware of, own that and say you're thankful they let you know and express your intent to look into it more later. If they ask you to further defend your position, explain in whatever capacity is appropriate. If their question prompts you to reconsider your position, tell them that, thank them, and say you have something to think on. 

Above all else in your interviews, be yourself! So many people applying to veterinary school look very similar on paper. Interviews are your chance to show yourself off as the unique and valuable individual that you are. The school is interviewing you, sure, but be empowered by the fact that you are interviewing them, too! Veterinary schools need intelligent, driven students to graduate from their programs as much as veterinary students need a place to recieve their education. Hold your head high. You'll do great. 

Sample Interview Questions

1. Why are you applying to our program?

2. What is your favorite thing about this institution? 

3. Tell me about yourself. 

4. Why are you applying to veterinary school?

    - What are your goals in veterinary medicine

    - What are your interests in veterinary medicine

5. What will you do if you aren't accepted this cycle? 

6. What class did you struggle in the most?

    - Open packet interview: Can you explain your <C/D/F/W> in <class>?

7. What is your greatest strength/weakness?

    - Alternative: If you could change something about yourself, what and why?

8. What do you friends and family value most about you? 

9. How do you handle stress? 

    - What do you do outside of veterinary medicine?

10. Think of a time when ... What did you do / How did you react?

11. (Scenario). What would you do?

    - For 10 & 11:

        - Team project and a member isn't pulling their weight / is harming the group effort.

        - You had to be / have to be a leader for something (more common for 10.)

        - You or someone you work with made a mistake that impacted a patient's outcome.

        - You had to reassess your prioritis (more common for 10.)

        - You are in a stressful situation. 

        - You're in a situation and nothing is going right. 

        - You have a strong ethical conflict with someone you're working with

12. (Ethical dilemma). What would you do?

    - Veterinarian on staff electing to peform a convenience euthanasia you disagree with

    - Alt: Client asking you to perform a convenience euthanasia

    - You witness a classmate cheating / driving drunk / doing drugs on campus

    - Your supervisor is abusing position of senority, but you really need the job/internship

    - Someone comes in with their pet, needs care, doesn't have money

    - Practice manager asks you to do something you don't agree with, assures you it will be fine

13. (Controversial issue or current event). What are your thoughts?

    - Zoos, aquariums, and captivity

    - Trap neuter release vs impact of cats on wildlife

    - Animal research

    - (Large animal or equine interest) Wild horses in the USA

    - Suicide, burnout, and compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession

14. Where do you see yourself (5/10/15/etc) years after leaving our program?

15. If you weren't going to be a veterinarian, what would your career be?

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Thanks for reading and GOOD LUCK (: