Tag Archives: interviews

Doing the Best Phone Interview

The Vetducator - Michael Scott from The office talks on the phone.  Don't do it like him.

By The Pharmducator

The last time I did a phone interview I was a senior vet student applying for internships.  Therefore, I do not have the experience with this format that I do with any other. However, my significant other has been interviewing like a fiend for the past 6 months and has done numerous phone interviews.  I have called her in to offer her experience and expertise to give you, our reader, the best information available.

This is the Pharmducator. Which is my way of saying that I’m The Vetducator’s spouse and my field of expertise is pharmacy, not vet med. I was asked me to write this post because he has very little experience with phone interviews, whereas I have been interviewed by phone many times during my one-year (in total) full time job search experience.

In reading this post, it’s important to understand that I HATE speaking on the telephone. I can’t tell you exactly why, but texting/emailing/in-person conversations have always been my vast preference for communication. However, when your entire job is to find a job (or internship/residency/vet school acceptance), you put up with a lot of anxieties.  Here’s what my experiences have taught me about phone interviews:

Environment: In a lot of ways, phone interviews can be easier than video interviews. You can do them in your pajamas, without removing all of your questionable artwork from the walls, in any kind of lighting set-up. You should, however, plan to be in as quiet a space as possible. If I’m at home, I’ll usually do a phone interview in my bedroom with the door closed so the cats won’t decide that they need attention halfway through my conversation. If you schedule a time during work or school, find a similarly private space. I shared an office for my most recent position, so I couldn’t guarantee I would be alone for my interview. I wound up in my lab, since I knew no one would need that space during my scheduled time. Obviously, you should make sure your phone is fully charged or can be connected to your charger if necessary. I wouldn’t recommend using speakerphone, as the sound quality is often quite poor. If you have access to a good-quality landline, that may be your best bet.

Preparation: Phone interviews typically last around half-an-hour; I’ve only done one or two that lasted close to an hour. The institution may have a hard-and-fast time limit; that is, it’s possible your time is absolutely up once that 30 minutes elapses. Some may allow for more time, but be prepared to be concise in your questions as well as your answers. Sometimes the sound quality on the other end may be compromised, so get used to the idea that you may need to ask people to repeat themselves. If you’re provided with the names of the people who will be on the call, research them ahead of time and tailor your questions or answers accordingly.

Format: Phone interviews are usually part of the screening process for candidates. The institution usually has some set questions, either from the individuals on the call or mandated by the institution. This is why it’s important to be concise in your answers; your caller(s) may have to ask you these exact eight questions, and, if you spend five minutes on each answer, the callers may be late for their next interview or class, or you may not be asked the question that’s going to prove you’re the best candidate on their list. Listen carefully to what you’re told regarding the format and be mindful of the time you have.

Aside from that, all the same preparation rules for interviews apply: look up the institution, know as much as possible about the position, and have questions prepared. Post in the comments if you have questions that I haven’t covered here!

Making the Most of a Residency Interview

The Vetducator - residency interview image.

Your application is compelling enough for a program to spend the time interviewing you- congratulations!  Many residency programs conduct interviews, and it can be a significant variable in the decision making. Sometimes these are by phone, sometimes by video, and sometimes in person.  Obviously, you should follow the general guidelines for each of those interview types as well as prepare so you can present your best self. More specifically, here’s how to make the most of your residency interview experience.

This is not only a chance for them to learn about you but for you to learn about them.  If you get matched for a program but will be miserable, you may not finish. Every year there are residents who drop out of their long-dreamed-of specialty because the program wasn’t a good fit for them.  You need to make sure this is somewhere you can be happy for three or four years. Here are some questions to ask the program directors or existing residents to help you decide:

Both program directors and existing residents:

  • What’s it like to live here?  What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it?
  • What are the students/interns like?  What are the interaction with them and the residents?
  • What are the responsibilities of the residents?  Do they do general ER duties or call or only do specialty emergency duties?
  • What is the interaction with other specialties like?
  • What is the strategy for ensuring residents successfully complete a research project?  Are there opportunities to do more than the required project?
  • Are there opportunities or requirements to teach in lab or classroom or rounds room?  What kind of support is available to help nurture resident teaching skills?
  • If you could change anything about the program, what would it be?

Program directors:

  • What do you do to ensure resident success?
  • What are the plans for program improvements?
  • What have you learned from previous residents that has caused you to change the program?

Existing residents:

  • What have been your challenges with this program?  What did you like about it?
  • Would you have chosen this program if you knew then what you knew now?
  • What would you change about this program?

Asking incisive questions will ensure that the program knows you are serious and engaged.  What else can you do to impress them during your short interview time? Remember, their goal is to determine if you will be successful in their program.  You want to assure them you are competent, dedicated, and enthusiastic.

You need to have examples from your experience that demonstrate your best characteristics.  Are you willing to come in odd hours- tell a story during your clinical year or internship when you did and had a great time.  One of my best days in vet school was 22 hours long and started with a hemilaminectomy and ended with a GDV. The resident on duty said excitedly, “Well, what else would we be doing on a Friday night?” and I was in enthusiastic agreement.  Just saying, “Yes I work hard and I would love to be your resident” is not enough. Demonstrate you have those characteristics with stories.

Each residency program is different, but characteristics that are generally looked for include (in no particular order): curiosity, willingness to work hard and long hours (no laziness or cutting corners), detail oriented, compassionate, humble, teachable and willing to accept and use feedback/criticism, able to handle setbacks, good at managing stress, pleasant to work with/positive, ethical, good critical thinking skills, knowledgeable, effective at communication, enthusiastic, dedicated, and cooperative and helpful.

The residency interview is a difficult experience to navigate.  You need to get information to make sure you would be happy there while assuring them you would be happy there and a great catch for them in a very short amount of time.  Have a plan ahead of time. If you fumble asking questions or coming up with examples of how you’re awesome, you’re sunk. It’s a fairly high stakes experience. You spent undergrad, vet school, and maybe an internship to get here.  You can’t just hope it will work out. You must prepare.

Make Sure You Have What you Need for the On-Site Interview

Traveling is harrowing under the best of circumstances.  You may get lost, you may have flight troubles, your baggage may not make it.  This is compounded when you are traveling for an interview. Will you be well rested enough, prepared enough, and avoid getting run-down?  Some of these things you can’t control. One thing you CAN control is packing correctly. The best resource for this is a checklist.

Checklists are becoming more popular in human medicine and, trailing behind as always, in veterinary medicine.  We did a study documenting that addition of some checklist steps dramatically reduced adverse anesthesia incidents.  Checklists are effective because human brains are actually terrible at retaining 100% of the information they should retain.  This is doubly true if it is an event you rarely encounter. Traveling for an interview is probably not something you do every month, so creating a checklist is key.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Toiletries.  Although most good hotels will have the essentials, you certainly have your own things you need to bring.  On my list is a hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor.
  • Clothing.  Obviously you need a suit if you are doing an interview.  Make sure it is folded to minimize creases. When you arrive at your destination, hang your suit up first thing.  You may need to iron it or your shirt/blouse. On my list are undershirts, shirts, underwear, socks, pants, pajamas, tie, dress shoes.
  • Electronics.  It is one of the most frustrating experiences to get to a destination and realize you don’t have your laptop charging cord.  On my list is a phone, phone charger, power adapter, laptop.
  • Miscellaneous.  This obviously includes a wide range of items, but for me includes books and headphones.
  • International.  If you are traveling internationally, you need a separate section for this.  Hopefully you know the visa situation before you pack. On my list are passport and foreign currency.

I travel a lot, but you would not believe the number of times I have been saved by having my checklist.  Ease some of the burdens on your mind in an interview by automating the packing part of the travel. Make up a checklist ahead of time, and then you have no worries packing!  Do you use a checklist? Have you ever forgotten something critical for an interview? Share in the comments!

Making the Most of your Internship Interview

The Vetducator - pawn chess piece left standing when all others have fallen around it.
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Internship applicants have it rough.  You are one of a faceless horde trying to get the best position.  Your letter of intent and CV help, and your letters of recommendation are crucial.  Some programs may require an interview, some may allow for one, and others are only irritated if you try to ‘interview’.  In addition to basic interview etiquette, let’s unpack the internship interview.

Scenario 1) They don’t want you to interview.  Many programs receive so many applications that they really don’t want the hassle of trying to interview any of them.  These programs may allow visitation days, but make no mistake- those days are opportunities for you to see if the program is a good fit for you, not for the program to determine if you are a good candidate.  Programs like this want to evaluate every applicant de novo. Spending time at these institutions only helps you know what you are getting in to, it does not help your candidacy.

How do you know if a program doesn’t want you to interview?  You can always ask something like, “Does an externship at your facility factor into your internship selection?”  If doing an externship does not affect their decision-making, an interview certainly won’t. If they do an intern visitation day, you can ask how important that is for their selection process.  Many academic internships do not consider your presence on their campus in any way. At UGA, we actively discouraged intern applicants from coming to visit- otherwise we would have been overrun and expended a huge amount of time for little benefit.

Scenario 2) You may interview, but it is not required.  This probably includes many private practice programs and some academic ones.  The smaller the program, the more important an interview is in their decision making.  If you do an externship or visit and spend time with the program directors, it may positively influence your application.  If this is the case, follow the guidelines on how to act on an externship.

Scenario 3) Formal interview.  Many private practices will do a phone or video interview as a standard part of the intern selection process.  These range from highly technical- “you are presented with an ADR 12-year-old GSD with anemia”- to more behavioral- “describe a situation when you had to demonstrate leadership.”  If possible, establish how long the interview is scheduled for and what you should prepare ahead of time. Follow the suggestions for in-person, video, or phone interviews as appropriate.

Internship interviews are rarely a make-or-break step.  Those programs that do interviews obviously factor them into the decision making.  Don’t worry if they don’t do an interview and don’t spend too much of your valuable senior year clinic time trying to do externships at places to impress them.  Particularly for academic internships, they probably won’t look at you any differently than other applicants. Use your time wisely.

How To Avoid Making a Damn Fool of Yourself on Externship

I don’t want to write this blog post.  I don’t feel like I should have to. It’s common sense, isn’t it?  It’s a waste of data to send this through the interwebs. Unfortunately, I have experienced veterinary externs who made a damn fool of themselves.  They besmirched the reputation of their home institution, irritated colleagues and faculty, and sank any hope of getting a letter of recommendation or being ranked at the institution.  So, since I have seen it, I am here to help. If you are an RFHB, you may go to the next post.  If not, here’s how to avoid making a damn fool of yourself on externship.

1) You are a guest.  Would you go to someone’s house and denigrate the way they load their dishwasher?  “Man, they’ll never get clean if you do it like that!” Don’t insult your host school in any way.  Don’t talk down about their students or their faculty or their processes. You may make a polite remark like, “Oh, how come you do it like that?” or “Oh, why do you do that” or “Oh, what was your rationale for deciding to do it that way?” if it reflects a genuine interest to learn.  But just because they do things differently doesn’t mean they’re bad. Try to see the good in the differences. Heck, I learned how to place coccygeal art lines at CSU during a 3-week externship which I would have never learned otherwise. Be open-minded.

2) Learn the system.  There is always a painful learning curve the first week, but pay attention and try hard to figure it out.  If you work at it, you will be more effective by the second week. You may not know where the Q-tips are, but at least you can fill out a medical record and find ICU.

3) Show up.  Set two alarm clocks if you have to.  A student at their home institution may get a one-off if they miss a day or show up late.  You don’t have a whole year to impress these people, you have 2-4 weeks. A single day of a bad showing represents up to 10% of the experience these people will have with you.  Make sure you know the route to the hospital and budget plenty of time in the event of an accident or road closure.

4) Work hard.  Come in early, stay late, don’t complain.  You are representing your home school as well as yourself.  You don’t want anyone to have the slightest inkling that your home school trains slackers.  Represent your home school with honor.

5) Smile.  Be pleasant.  Be engaged. Ask polite questions.  Be helpful. Be positive. It’s only for 2-4 weeks.  Even if you are not by nature a particularly outgoing person, you can still appear happy to be there.  Because you SHOULD be happy to be there. You’re in god-damned-vet-school, how amazing is THAT?!? And this place had the good grace to accept you in as a guest!  That is pretty amazing.

6) Treat everyone with respect, especially the technicians.  Obviously, this is true at your home school, but is even more important when you are an extern.  Technicians are amazing; be sure to treat them with the utmost esteem.

7) Be appreciative.  Make sure to thank your colleagues and mentors for the experience.  If you had a particularly good connection or may be interested in a letter of recommendation, a follow-up thank you card may not come amiss.  In particular, thank the technicians.

That’s it.  It seems simple, doesn’t it?  It seems like it shouldn’t need to be said.  But believe me when I say this: it DOES need to be said.  And YOU may be the one to whom it needs to be said.

Special Announcement: Realize.VET Interview!

Dr. K, the host of Realize.VET, did an interview with me recently and got it posted quickly! You can find it at the link below. We talk about all sorts of topics I think would be helpful for you on your path through veterinary medicine. Check it out!

Special Announcement: Podcast a Vet Interview!

Dr. John Arnold, the host of Podcast a Vet, did an interview with me last week and already has it up! You can find it at the link below. We talk about all sorts of topics I think would be helpful for you on your path through veterinary medicine. Check it out!

https://podcastavet.com/podcast/erik-hofmeister-reasonable-human-being

Successfully Navigating the Spousal Hire

The Vetducator - married wedding rings on each hand picture.

So you want to go into academia, and your spouse also wants to work at the same institution.  There is a position open for you, you interview, you get an offer. How do you handle negotiating a hire for your spouse?  I have been successful and unsuccessful in this pursuit, so I will share my perspective with you. Realize that the spousal hire is probably the most complex, nuanced, and difficult negotiation in academic veterinary medicine.  There are no guarantees, but hopefully these notes will help.

1) Do not bring it up during your interview.  I spoke to a department chair recently who mentioned that an applicant brought up the potential for a spousal hire during their discussions and I physically cringed.  DO NOT DO THIS. The job interview is about the JOB. Don’t bring up your kids, your significant other, NOTHING that doesn’t directly relate to your ability to be awesome at the job.  You wait until you have an offer in hand to bring up a spousal hire. Imagine two identical candidates: one is single without any hassles about hiring them, the other with a spousal hire which requires significant hassle dealing with the Dean and Provost.  Which do you think will get a job offer? Even if they don’t consciously discuss it, unconscious biases can creep in. Do not discuss your spouse before getting an offer.

2) Make it your highest negotiation priority.  You may not get a higher salary, or equipment, or any of the other things you can negotiate for as a faculty candidate.  Make it clear that a spousal hire is your highest priority- don’t just tack it on like an afterthought. Open with it in written negotiations once you have an offer.

3) Some institutions Do Not Do spousal hires.  This is most evident overseas. I had a couple of offers from universities in Oceania; when I asked for a spousal hire they looked at me like I had grown a second head.  Possibly some overseas schools do offer them, but I have heard that this is Not A Thing outside the United States. Possibly Canada- can anyone comment on Canadian schools doing spousal hires?  Also, within the U. S., some schools have a moratorium on them. One school I worked at had a strict no-spouse-works-for-that-same-university-at-all policy. So even if we had two open positions which would be perfect for two people who happened to be married, we could only hire one of them.

4) Be specific.  I recommend being as specific as you need to be for the position for your spouse.  If they would be happy doing any job at the university, fine. If they want a tenure-track position, specify that.  If there is a salary range they want, specify that. The worst thing is to say, “Yes, please give my spouse a job”, they do so, then you come back with, “Oh, yeah, no, can I also have This and That and The Other Thing?”  As with all negotiations, ask for what you want up front. This also makes it clearer when the department head brings it to the Dean.

5) Be flexible.  Maybe your spouse WANTS a tenure-track position, but would they be happy with a lecturer position?  Decide exactly how important each element of a potential position is. My spouse ideally wants a teaching-heavy lecturer position, but, when offered a clinic-heavy position with some teaching, she was happy with that.  Decide AHEAD OF TIME exactly what your spouse would be content with so that if you don’t get your first ask, but the institution is willing to work with you to some degree, you will know how to navigate it.

6) You must be outstanding.  If you are just finishing a residency, or only have one publication to your name, or otherwise are just ‘meeting expectations’, you are in a relatively weaker negotiation position.  If the institution is desperate, you may still get what you want. But the more amazing your CV, the more likely you are to successfully negotiate for a spousal hire.

7) Be prepared for no.  I asked for a spousal hire after getting an offer and was told “no” and “we need your answer in under 2 weeks.”  I was caught a little off guard, because I didn’t consider it an exceptional request for this institution. I should have spent more time thinking about and talking with my SO about what we would do if there weren’t a position for her.  Most other things you ask for in a negotiation you can get at least some traction on, but the spousal hire is a rare bird. Don’t count on it.

As always with negotiations, be dispassionate and professional.  You can always ask, but realize that you may get a ‘no’. Decide ahead of time if that is a deal-breaker for you or not.  On my last round of job applications, I decided the spousal hire WAS a deal-breaker, and I was willing to wait until I found an institution willing to offer one.  I believe that fortitude was essential to my success. I wish you luck, and let me know what questions you have about this process!

Dr. Clara Moran

Podcast Episode 3 – Dr. Clara Moran

Dr. Moran and I worked together on a terrific research project which led to a publication in JVECC while she was a veterinary student. I wrote letters of recommendation for her and have been so excited to see her be successful in surgery. Dr. Moran talks about why academia is awesome, particularly when studying for boards, why surgery is fun, and developing relationships.

Why You Need an Elevator Speech and How to Make a Great One

How do you sum up everything that you are and do professionally in a short span of time?  This is the premise of the elevator speech- a few lines of dialogue which encapsulate your professional experience, approach, and future.  We don’t use them often in veterinary medicine, but I think it’s useful to have one ready. Let’s look at who the elevator speech is for, some uses for the elevator speech, and how to make a great one.

Use #1 – Talking with non-veterinary types.  Although most of the people you engage with during an interview are in the veterinary field, you may encounter some who are not.  Maybe you have a meeting with a Senior VP (for higher-level positions), maybe you have time with a basic sciences researcher or someone from a different college.  These people need a purchase to stand on and enter a conversation. Your elevator speech gives them a starting point.

Use #2 – You may get asked regardless.  Particularly in larger group interviews, you may get asked to give a quick summary of what you do.  Hopefully, everyone has read your CV and letter, but those don’t necessarily answer this question. If you don’t have an answer prepared, you can flail around looking for an answer.  This question may come up as, “Do tell us about yourself” or “I’ve read your CV- give me some insight into your overall approach.”

Use #3 – Priming your brain.  Similar to a mission statement, having an elevator speech helps to crystalize what you do and why you do it.  This can inform any professional interaction you have, even if you don’t actually say your elevator speech.  You can refer back to it and ask, “Is this still true? Do I want it to be?” You can even ask, “How would this project fit into my image of myself, given my elevator speech?”

Now that we’ve decided it’s useful, let’s work on crafting one.  Here are the few short, sweet suggestions:

1) The most important rule is to keep it short.  One to three sentences- what you could say to someone as you ride an elevator to the next floor.

2) Give some context for who you are now and what you do.

3) Provide an example.

4) Make a conclusion.  Or not. I like to leave the ending opening for a question.  You can see that in my elevator speech:

“I’m The Vetducator, I’m a Professor of Veterinary Anesthesia at the University of Wherever.  I look for improvements in systems- teaching, research, service, policies- using an evidence-based approach.  For example, I measured how students performed on quizzes of varying length over the years to arrive at the best amount of time to balance efficiency with student performance.”

Let’s look at how it hits the four points above:

1. It’s short- 3 sentences.  It takes about 18 seconds to verbalize.  2. The context is I work at this place in this role.  Since people may not know what a professor of anesthesia does, I expanded on what I do on a fundamental level.  Saying “I anesthetize pets and research animals” doesn’t add much to “I’m a veterinary anesthesiologist.” Also, it doesn’t really encapsulate my whole professional approach and philosophy.  3. There’s an example of my research. 4. I don’t give a conclusion because I want to leave them with something to ask. Hopefully, this gives the other person an easy next step in the conversation: “What did you find in your study?”

My wife’s is: “I’m The Pharmducator; I’m a PharmD and PhD at the University of Wherever. I teach pharmacy and other healthcare topics and I research natural products. The project most people are most interested in is my research on the phenolic and antioxidant content of craft beer and its ability to inhibit some of the processes by which diabetic complications arise.”

Let’s look at how it hits the four points above:

1. It’s short- 3 sentences.  It takes about 16 seconds to verbalize.  2. The context includes her degrees, which is important- she can do both clinical and basic sciences work.  She specifies what exactly in pharmacy she does. 3. She gives an interesting publication. 4. She doesn’t include a conclusion, but beer and science are always intriguing to people, so giving them an example, which will make them curious, leads them to asking about it.

The elevator speech is not often found in veterinary medicine, but I think it’s a good tool to have ready, just in case.  I believe it also helps to cement what you are interested in professionally, which can affect your global thinking.