Behind the Scenes: How I Interview Vet Student Applicants

At one institution where I was on faculty, we conducted student interviews a few times a year in batches.  If I was available, I always participated. The student interview serves fundamentally two functions:

  1. Illustrate to prospective students why that institution would be the best fit for them.
  2. Make sure that the prospective student is not a monster or clueless.

Along the lines of the first function, that primarily is accomplished in the tour, the presentation the Deans give, and questions that the faculty may answer during the interview.  The interviews usually lasted ~25 minutes, the first 20 of which would be the faculty asking the candidate questions and the last 5 minutes left for any questions the candidate had.  The most common question I got was, “What do you like about working here?” or “Why did you choose to come here?’ I always answered this question honestly and thoroughly, and believe my response put the institution in a positive light so that students may be more inclined to enroll there if given an offer.

The second function is ostensibly the reason why we interview prospective candidates.  We’re trying to find THE BEST and, to a lesser extent, the best fits for our program. Fortunately, almost every vet school can educate almost any candidate, so the ‘fit’ question is less important than, for example, an internship, or certainly a residency or faculty position.  So what do I look for to find THE BEST?

I personally focus on three characteristics: humility, eagerness to work hard, and emotional intelligence.  I am very sensitive to over-confidence and arrogance, and so can fairly easily detect a lack of humility. Eagerness to work hard can be encapsulated by stories about overcoming adversity, dealing with difficult challenges, or evidence of grit- pursuing an Eagle Scout, black belt, being in the marching band, and similar indicators of willingness to work hard.  Emotional intelligence I find very hard to pin down.  

This is probably because there is a complex interaction of shyness, introversion, and actual emotional intelligence.  For example, you may have a shy, extroverted applicant who has very good or very poor emotional intelligence. Or a quiet, introverted person with very high emotional intelligence.  Unfortunately, the interview setting is intimidating to the shy and introverted, so pulling this information from them can be challenging. I always considered the applicant’s general personality in evaluating emotional intelligence and made sure to give them opportunities to demonstrate it.

Not mentioned, but assumed, is making sure the applicant isn’t Clueless.  I did one interview with an applicant who hadn’t ever worked with a vet, clearly had never asked anyone what vet school was like, and otherwise indicated they didn’t know what they were getting into.  I gave this applicant a poor score because if they DID get into vet school, they would most likely sink. We wanted to make sure our students would be successful, so wanted to make sure they had _some_ idea of what they were getting into.  As I’ve mentioned before, you have _no idea_ what vet school is like until you’ve lived it, but you can at least try to have some idea.

Also included in the second function is to make sure the applicant is not a monster.  By this I mean: will they be basically respectful of their fellow man? In short, are they an RFHB?  This can also be difficult to determine in an interview, but some red flags include: interrupting, talking down about other people, being dismissive towards others’ feelings, reveling in others’ unhappiness, and being disrespectful towards the interviewers.  Fortunately, I haven’t had a vet school interview go this way, but I have certainly seen other interviews where some of these happened. You can avoid being removed from consideration by just being a decent person.

Those are the ways I evaluated candidates.  Speaking with my peers, they tended to use a similar process and criteria.  Just as with any interview: be prepared, answer honestly, stay calm, and don’t try to be a show-off and everything should be fine.

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