Tag Archives: application

Behind the Scenes: How I Read a Faculty Application

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

You want to create the best possible application.  Providing you insight into my process of reviewing an application for a faculty position may help improve it.  Fortunately, the competition for most veterinary faculty positions isn’t particularly fierce, so you are rarely competing against many applicants.  Remember, the purpose of an application for a faculty position is to get you an interview. When I read an application, this is my primary consideration: should we offer an interview or not?

Letter of intent.  It needs to be free of obvious flaws like spelling and grammar errors.  I want to make sure the applicant knows the position to which they are applying.  If they indicate they would like a lab for a strong research program, and the position is primarily a clinical one, that suggests a disconnect and they may not be a good fit.  I don’t have high expectations for the letter, it just needs to be not terrible.

Curriculum vitae.  This needs to be organized chronologically so I can see clearly what the applicant has done from undergrad to their current position.  I want to see teaching and research productivity. For a more senior position, I want to see organization participation (e.g. with their specialty college) and journal reviewer responsibilities.  Depending on the position, publications can range from one (new resident applying for a clinical position) to many (applying at an associate professor level in a tenure-track position).  For a clinical specialist, I look for their board certification status.

Letters of recommendation.  As always, I look for evidence of collegiality, humility, and positivity.  Actually, I look for evidence that any of these things is NOT present. It may not mean they don’t get an interview offer, but it will frame the questions I ask during an interview.

Personal contacts.  If I know people at the institution where the applicant currently works, I will call them up and chat.  I am looking for the same information as in letters of recommendation.

As mentioned before, in a faculty application, I mostly look for evidence that the person would NOT be good to work with.  If they seem basically competent and collegial, unless there are many applicants, I will recommend an interview.

Behind the Scenes: How I Read a Residency Application

Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

I thought it would be helpful to share my personal process for reading a residency application.  Evaluators will vary widely in what they are looking for, and this is especially true of residency applications.  Others go about the process very differently, but I think it would be helpful to give a deep insight into my process, so you can get some perspective.

First, the residency application is organized in this way: standard application information (entered when you apply through the VIRMP), letter of intent, CV, transcripts, letters of recommendation.

The interesting information in the standard application is the education and references.  For education, I want to know if they graduated from an AVMA-accredited school or not. While I check the class rank, I don’t put much stock in it.  I glance at the references to see if there is anyone I know. If so, I make a note to contact them about the applicant. Unless there is some remarkable red flag- like graduating 10 years ago from a non-accredited program, having no letters of recommendation from anesthesiologists, or having no letters of recommendation from their current employer, I don’t make many decisions from the standard application.

I use the letter of intent as one of the most important ways to categorize applicants.  If the letter is more than one page, I may still evaluate the candidate, but they are fighting a real uphill battle getting a positive review from me.  I will read it in detail, making note of any grammar or spelling mistakes or any odd word or sentence structure choices. Once I decide the person paid an appropriate level of attention to detail to their application, I will read it for content, mostly trying to determine if they are humble, willing to work hard, and get along with others.

After the letter, it is on to evaluating the CV.  Here I check their professional progress to make sure they have the requirements for ACVAA credentials- specifically a rotating internship, which many international applicants do not have.  I make sure they have a clear professional progression. I look to see if they have teaching experience or substantive research experience, since both of those are important for a resident at an academic institution.  I also see if there is leadership experience in vet school or elsewhere in life. I also make sure they have some extracurriculars and make note of those for potential interview discussion inspiration.

The transcripts I ignore unless they are from a non-U. S. institution.  Then I review them enough to understand them and make sure the person didn’t get a batch of Ds or Fs.

The letters of recommendation are most useful from people I don’t know personally.  If I know the recommenders personally, I will reach out to them via email or phone to discuss the applicant.  Mostly what I look for in the letter of recommendation is who the writer is and how they know the applicant and what they have to say vis-a-vis the applicant’s personality.  My theory is I can teach any halfway competent veterinarian but, if they have a difficult personality, I CAN’T change that during a residency.  I want someone who is teachable, engaged, pleasant, positive, enthusiastic, and humble.

At the end, I will usually go back and skim the whole thing to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.  We don’t have many applicants in anesthesia, so I don’t usually make a complicated spreadsheet- I can keep track of the details of all the applicants without it.  Then I sit down with the other faculty and go through each applicant and decide to place them into one of four buckets: do not rank, or rank in one of three strata: top, middle, and bottom.

That’s my entire method.  It works for me but, again, may not be how everyone does things.  Particularly for those in high-demand specialties, I suspect their process is very different.  Talk to your mentors to find out if they think there is something particularly important, and post in the comments with your thoughts and concerns.

Behind the Scenes: How we Chose Interns

Image by Valentin Sabau from Pixabay

Before we start, you should know that every program does their intern selection process differently.  Evaluators care about different things. Some may use class rank as a cut point- they don’t evaluate anyone not in the top 25%, for example.  (You can’t do anything about this so stop worrying about it). Some may have a committee, or a single individual, or an advisory committee to a handful of decision-makers.  So, this is not universal. But I wanted to give you a peek into how I (and institutions where I have worked in the past) chose interns.

First, we would take all of the applicants and divide them according to school where they graduated.  Our committee was usually made up of 8 faculty members. Faculty would then pair up, so we had 4 pairs.  Each pair then indicated which schools they would evaluate applicants from. Usually this was based on people they knew at those schools.

Each pair then got all of the applicants from the schools they agreed to review.  The applicant pool was evenly divided among the pairs. Each pair then read all of the applications in their pool.  When I read applications, I made a spreadsheet with the applicant as a row, and then columns including letter of intent quality, references, leadership, teaching experience, research experience, class rank, CV, notes, and overall score.

I usually used a 4-point score: 4 for not-rankable, and 1-3 divided according to my estimation of them being in the top, middle, or bottom third of applicants.  Each applicant sent to the pair would be reviewed by both members of the pair. Then my partner and I would meet and discuss the applicants and agree to a score for each of our applicants.  Then each pair would send their ranking to the chair of the committee, who would organize them. We would all meet together as a committee and discuss the rankings, moving various applicants up or down according to information we had gleaned (e.g. by calling friends at institutions).

It was a huge effort and took a lot of time.  And, as it turns out, it’s probably meaningless.  In a study where we compared rank with intern performance, there was no relationship.  This is similar to interviews- they don’t really relate to the performance of a person in a position.  So we could probably accomplish this all with just randomly drawing the names out of a hat. But, like interviews, we FEEL like doing this process should improve our outcome, so we do it anyways.

Behind the Scenes: How I Read an Internship Application

Image by Alicja from Pixabay

I thought it would be helpful to share my personal process for reading an internship application.  This is a highly personalized process- please don’t assume that others go through the same process. Nonetheless, I thought it would be helpful to share what goes through my brain, so here it is:

First, the internship application through the match is organized like this: standard application information (entered when you apply through the VIRMP), letter of intent, CV, transcripts, letters of recommendation.

From the standard application, I scroll down to the veterinary education section.  I notice if they went to school at an AVMA-accredited program or an unaccredited program.  I note the class rank and graduation date. I glance at the references to get an impression of what sorts of letters they have.  Very little hard decisions are made at this step- it’s just collecting data.

The letter of intent is where I begin to apply some discrimination.  Is it more than one page? If so, I probably won’t read it unless it appears to be an _incredibly_ unusual applicant.  If it’s more than one page, I will review the rest of their materials to decide, “Is this person even worth considering?”  The vast majority of the time, the answer is “no”, so my job is done and I move onto the next. If the letter is one page or less, I skim it until I find an interesting, useful, unique piece of information, then read that segment in detail.  I also read for grammar and spelling errors. I consider how they structured concepts and what I learned about the applicant. The letter is extremely important to me and I will start to put the applicant into one of three bins- not rankable, rankable good, rankable OK.

For the CV, I check to see if they have any obvious gaps in professional progression not addressed in their letter of intent.  If so, this is a red flag. Have they done research- if so, what was their role? If they were the first author on a submitted publication, great.  Otherwise, I don’t think much of research experience. Did they have an officer role in a club? What is interesting about their experience? Did they travel?  How will I summarize this person in my Excel file where I track all applicants (see below)? The CV is not a major deciding factor for me but helps fill in the picture of the applicant.

The transcripts are fluff for me.  I skim them briefly to see if there are any “D” or “F” grades and, if so, in what subject they are.  If not, I spend no time on the transcripts unless they are from international applicants. In that case, I review them carefully to get an idea of what academic material this person has studied.

The letters of recommendation, with the letter of intent, form the greatest portion of my evaluation.  In the letters, I look at the qualifications of the letter writer, are they from the applicant’s current institution, how many interns they have worked with, and their connection with the applicant.  I then skim the ratings of clinical & technical skills and professionalism to see if there are any particularly low marks. Most of my time is spent reading the qualitative data provided in the remarks section.

In the qualitative remarks, I primarily look to see if the person is easy to work with, eager to learn and accept feedback and act in a positive, professional manner.  If the letter is not very detailed, that is also flagged as concerning. I will also look for indications of humility, eagerness to work, and emotional intelligence. It is rare to read a letter which is not laudatory, so I need to read between the lines.  Remarks which focus on the intelligence of the applicant, without mention of them being easy to work with, are flagged as problematic.

Once I have read through everything, I will go back and make notes in an Excel document which has the following column headings: name, class rank, education/experience, letter, clubs, miscellaneous, research, references, score.  I make short notes for each of these and then make a determination of placement: do not rank, rank in bottom third, rank in the middle third, rank in the top third.

So, that’s the process.  This forms the basis for some of my advice, and it may differ among evaluators.  Maybe some people care a LOT about research, maybe others ONLY consider the objective data provided in letters of recommendation.  However, in discussion with dozens of colleagues, most of them follow a similar process to that described here. So I think this is a helpful start for you to review.

Behind the Scenes Series

I was inspired to write a short series on how applications get evaluated throughout the academic process- for vet school, internship, residency, and faculty positions. Realize that these are idiosyncratic- my process is definitely different from other people’s processes. Nonetheless, I think it may be helpful/insightful. Enjoy these for the next two weeks!

Why Do I Do This Blog?

Jerry feels my pain.

I was listening to The White Coat Investor’s podcast interview with Dr. Bonnie. Regarding her motivation to write a blog, she said she was “…getting tired of writing the same answers over and over again….”  This Spoke to me so strongly, it inspired me to write this entire post. THIS. This is my motivation. I want you all to Be Better, and I could only reach a handful of students at my home institution, and I got tired of giving the same advice, year after year.  These are basic, important, and fundamental principles to advancing your career. Let’s do a brief review.

1) Care about your application. THIS IS YOUR LIFE! You spent how many years and hours of sweat and tears to apply to and get through undergrad to get to vet school, and you’re just going to leave the rest to chance?  WTH? You need to care about your application for your next step at least as much as you cared about everything to GET you there! Polish your materials. Read blog posts and do your research. The amount of time you need to move from an OK application to a Good application is nominal, and I am still shocked that people don’t take this simple step.

2) Be a god-damned professional.  I didn’t think this was hard or needed to be said, but it does.  The items in the How to be Successful series are, in my mind, simple and self-evident, but I have learned this is not universally true.  If you want to get ahead, you have to be Good, not Adequate. Push ahead, never give up, and keep getting better.

3) Interview well.  I understand interviewing is challenging.  It is a rare event, so it is hard to get much skill acquisition.  There is often a lot riding on it, so it is high stakes. For these reasons, you MUST prepare and practice.  There is not an alternative if you want to advance your career.

4) Be positive. I’m not talking about bouncy-bubbly-always-on personality.  I mean: do you bring PROBLEMS or do you bring SOLUTIONS? The latter type of people get ahead, the former just makes everything worse.

I tried to think of a fifth point, and I couldn’t.  This is it. It is simple. Please, for my sake, just do a little bit of work on the culmination of your whole professional life to this point.  Help me help you.

Internship Letter Mistakes

This is a specialized version of a post I have about general application letter writing advice, aimed at intern applicants.

Writing an internship application letter is hard.  I’m sorry. Intern applicant evaluators are so widely varied, you can’t possibly write the ideal letter unless you happen to A) know the evaluators and B) apply to only one institution.  Fortunately, there are some “wrong” ways to write an intern letter. Let’s look at them.

First, think from the evaluator’s standpoint.  They have a monumental challenge- reviewing possibly several hundred applicants for a handful of positions.  It is a grueling, churning, time-sucking task that they get very little thanks for. If you give them the opportunity to rapidly assess your letter as not-rankable, it saves them the trouble of reading your CV and letters of recommendation and thus saves them time.

Here are the rules to keep your letter from getting tossed into the do-not-rank pile.

One page or less.  I know some evaluators read two-page letters.  I know more who use this as an instant rejection.  You should be able to express yourself succinctly.

Good grammar and spelling. This may seem obvious, but I would say a full 20% of letters I read fail this test.  Have other people read your letter _carefully_ with a fine-toothed comb and make sure they are brutally honest.

Good use of English.  This one is hard for non-native speakers, but it is very obvious when it is present.  If your English is good but not native, find several native speakers to review and correct it.  We use language in odd ways in English.  The Japanese small old car is technically correct but does not sound the same as the small old Japanese car.

Avoid a TOO-unique letter.  We will talk about injecting your own style when we discuss the DOs of letter writing, but if your letter is quirky or eccentric, this may work for some evaluators but not for others.  This is highly polarizing with people who feel very strongly on both sides. Don’t risk it.

Don’t use odd word choices or excessive Thesaurus use.  This may not get you an instant rejection, but in a study where we analyzed intern applicant letters, letters that had odd word choices and excessive Thesaurus use consistently ranked lower. Keep it simple.

Don’t be boastful or arrogant.  I think there is some advice out there on the internet that you need to be assertive and confident in your application letters.  Maybe this is true for business, but it is not true in academia. In our study, none of the evaluators indicated ‘confidence’ as an important characteristic of a letter writer.  Some people may not notice or care about this, but I know many evaluators find those who display arrogance in their letter and veto their application.

Some examples: “I am confident  about my general medical knowledge across different fields…”, “I am highly motivated, quick to understand medical topics, detail oriented and capable of multitasking. I have the ability to get along well with just about anyone.”, and “I achieved a 4.0 GPA my first semester and eventually finished my studies at Unseen University in the top 5% of my class and as a member of Phi Zeta.”

As noted in the introduction, evaluators are an extremely heterogeneous group, and you can’t possibly avoid all pitfalls of all evaluators.  Maybe some don’t like anything other than a five-paragraph-essay format. Maybe others will reject any letter with the word “yellow” in it. It’s impossible to predict all the things evaluators may reject you on.  However, in my experience (and our research), these were the most prominent, consistent, and important. Write your letters accordingly and, if you need help, please reach out to me.

Sample Vetducator Corrections for 2019 Letters of Intent

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

I thought I would share with you the way I have worked with students in the past and the sorts of comments I provide.  In general, I try to offer the writer the perspective an evaluator will have. This sometimes comes off as blunt, but I’m trying to genuinely share what goes through my mind.  You can see that I don’t rewrite things, just offer suggestions, so it is still the original author’s work; their work with added editing and expert advice. These are all anonymous and submitted with the author’s permission.

Examples of Poor Letters of Intent

The Vetducator- Bad Apple
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

We have previously given examples of good stories in letters of intent, so I wanted to take the opportunity to show some examples of poor letters of intent.  These examples are from letters which were overall evaluated as “unrankable” for internships, but they apply to any stage of your professional progression. Although the entire letter was given a low value, I wanted to sample the specific segments I think are most illustrative.

“Whether it’s researching alternative therapies for treating an incontinent cat, working a busy ten hour shift in the ER, or consoling an upset client, I really enjoy my work. I am positive, hardworking, determined, organized, and good at working with others. I love to research and think outside the box when it comes to addressing challenging cases. I love working with cats, dogs, and pet exotics. I particularly enjoy emergency medicine, internal medicine, and companion exotic animal medicine.  Being on the verge of completing veterinary school at Unseen University in the top 10% of my class, I want to pursue further study with a one year internship followed by a residency in exotics. I am looking for a rigorous small animal internship in which I can have primary case responsibility, a heavy and varied case load, and the opportunity to continue learning under the guidance of veterinary specialists.”

As an opening paragraph, it is an abrupt start.  A little bit of a lead-in would be nice. It is highly self-promoting: telling the reader how amazing the author is.  They give some indication of what they want, but not why.

“An internship will provide me an opportunity to expand my knowledge base under the guidance of mentors and will continue to grow my veterinary school technical education. It is my desire to be trained by committed and passionate people who are experienced in helping interns to develop a good medical judgment and clinical skills. Likewise* the high volume of clinical cases in specialty practices will assist me to learn and manage multiple cases efficiently. A private practice internship will also enable me to provide optimal care for patients, learn to maximize customer service, and provide opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships with clients.”

What in the world does this entire paragraph tell me?  Of course an internship will help you grow. Everyone wants to be trained by great people.  The high volume is a good detail- I know this person would be a better fit for a busy practice than a slow, cerebral one.  I think ANY job would help you provide optimal care for patients, work on customer service, and work on interpersonal relationships.

“As there is increasing public interest in exotic and nontraditional companion animals* I have exploited every opportunity to continue my education and clinical training with species beyond those routinely presented to the Unseen University Teaching Hospital.  As a zoological and wildlife intern at numerous institutions I was responsible for patient care, heard health, public health, animal husbandry, and patient medical records. Through my direct interactions with chief veterinarians at esteemed zoological institutions I participated in numerous procedures, as listed on my C.V., and attended journal clubs and quality of life meetings.  Professional collaboration was essential in these settings as I discussed patient care and wellbeing with multiple individuals whom were all invested in the same animal, yet possessed differing degrees of medical knowledge. I have knowledge of avian, reptilian and mammalian wildlife, including proper handling and restraint through my experiences caring for these species at the Nature Center and Unseen University Wildlife Ward.”

Let’s analyze each sentence:

1 – Convoluted.  How have you exploited them?  Exploited is not a good word choice.

2 – Misspelling error in ‘heard health’.  Also, how is this different from anyone else?  Of course you’ve done medical records. What do you want, a cookie?

3 – Great, if it’s on your CV, why is it here?  I HAVE your CV, why waste valuable letter space on this?

4 – I can’t even unpack this sentence. “Whom” should be “who”.

5 – Great, you have skills.  I’m not too interested in skills- I can teach you what you need to know.  How are you to WORK with? Based on this, self-promoting and superficial.

* – Missing comma.

I know these applicants were sincere and dedicated and really wanted a position.  I do not want to dismiss their passion. Unfortunately, passion is not enough. They didn’t reach out to mentors and friends for feedback, resulting in relatively poor letters.  I hope you can learn from them, and avoid these missteps.

Biggest Mistakes Made During the Faculty Search Process

Possibly due to poor preparation, possibly due to nerves, and possibly due to ignorance, people applying for and interviewing for faculty positions routinely make mistakes.  Most of them are minor, some of them are major. Here are some I have seen (and a few I’ve done myself). Hopefully, by reading this, you can avoid them.

1) Mentioning the spousal hire at any point before getting an offer in hand.  Just don’t do this. You are interviewing for a job- focus on the job. You don’t want to bias anyone by making them think you will be a more complicated or difficult hire due to a spouse.  You want them to evaluate you on your merits alone. Wait until you have an offer to mention the need for a spousal hire.

2) Aiming to be a +1 in your application materials.  As mentioned before, the point of a faculty application is to get you an interview.  You just need a decent CV, decent letter, and decent recommendations. You may be able to get a slight leg up on other applicants if you have amazing versions of any of these, but probably not.  Most of the time, if you aim to be a +1, you will fail and become a -1.

3) Phoning it in.  If your application contains spelling errors, or you seem bored during your interview, you won’t get the offer.  You need to be enthusiastic and interested from beginning to end.

4) Fleeing your current position.  No one wants to hire a jaded, bitter, and angry faculty member.  You need to be chasing something great at the place you are applying for, not fleeing something terrible.  You MAY say your current position isn’t a great fit, but you MAY NOT say it is terrible and you just want to be anywhere else.

4.5) Talking badly about colleagues.  This is often seen in conjunction with fleeing your current position.  I don’t care if your mortal enemy works where you work, you cannot talk badly about them.  This is the image you are painting of who you are as a faculty member. If you talk badly about current colleagues, that means you will talk badly of future colleagues.  You MAY say you don’t communicate well with a certain person, but you MAY NOT say they are a monster and make your life hell.

5) Giving a bad job talk.  This is separate from phoning it in, but often occurs concurrently.  You need to practice your presentation and make sure it is amazing. Most positions involve teaching, after all.  If you can’t teach, you can’t do the job.

6) Being a boor.  This covers a wide range of sins, including ordering numerous alcoholic drinks, not engaging people, being rude or dismissive, not smiling, not meeting people’s eyes, saying inappropriate things, and other unprofessional behavior.  I’m not sure what to say to get you to not do this. Practice being a better person, I suppose?

7) Not having a clue.  If you didn’t do your interview/site visit prep, or if you want a tenure-track position but are interviewing for a clinical-track position, or if you don’t know what the institution is about, you will turn people off.  Do your prep work and make sure you actually want the job.

8) Being weird.  Look, I am all for being outside of normal, but not during an interview. Dress conservatively, practice your conversation and interview skills, and don’t go off the rails in conversation topics.  I once had an applicant who OVER-prepared and wanted to show it off (aiming for a +1) and, as a consequence, we didn’t get to talk about things that were actually important for the job.

I could probably go on.  This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but to give you a general sense of how to act during a faculty interview.  You want to demonstrate that you will be a good, positive, productive colleague. No department chair wants a Project or a Problem Child.  The more you can show that you get along with people and will do a good job, the better.