Tag Archives: interviews

The Faculty Interview

Sometimes you can feel like you are lost in the desert.

I have been putting off writing this post for a while because it’s just so overwhelming.  All of your application materials have one job: to get you the interview. The interview is the high-stakes encounter when you are applying for a faculty job.  The decision by the search committee is largely based on your performance during the interview. In addition to general interview advice and preparatory research, we have to talk about what to say, how do to a great presentation, and what to ask.  I have a separate post planned for the presentation, so let’s focus on the other two domains.

What to say

In general, you want answers to be meaningful but not expansive.  If you are giving an answer longer than 2 minutes, it’s probably too long.  You can leave them wanting more and allow them to ask follow-up questions. For example, you will always get the question, “Why this institution?”  You should be prepared for this. Instead of giving an in-depth analysis based on your extensive research which touches on all the things you know about it, you can start with a highlights reel.  “Well the faculty all seem to have a good quality of life, I hear the students are keen and engaged, and the work done in my discipline by the folks here has been notable.” Now they can ask follow-up questions if they like.

Do not give excessively short, clipped answers which leave the questioner with nowhere to go.  Faculty interviews are almost never a series-of-question rapid-fire sort of affair. They are usually casual and conversational.  If you approach it like a conversation- they ask a question, you answer, you ask a question, they answer, it will be a more natural flow.

Be positive.  For god’s sake don’t say you want the job because your current job sucks.  You must maintain a positive approach throughout. I don’t care if you are being bullied in your current position- you want to go to this new job because it is great, not because your old job is terrible.  Avoid this temptation. I understand it can be hard- I have faced it myself- but you must remain positive.

Be specific.  This is up to your preparatory research and conversations you have throughout the interview.  If you meet with someone at the beginning of day one who says something which intrigues you, such as “It’s easy to do research with undergrads here because of our undergrad research office,” bring that up in subsequent discussions.  “Well, Dr. Jones mentioned your undergrad research office, and that is a distinct interest of mine as well.” Speaking in generalities will not convince the committee that you want THIS job, just A job. You have to be SPECIFIC.

You do I do.  An easy and effective formula for any interaction is: “You do this thing well.  It matches what I do well.” For example, if they have an active learning approach (or want to start one), you can say, “I understand you are encouraging faculty to engage in active learning modalities.  I taught a course last year which was primarily a flipped classroom, from which I gained a lot of experience in how to do active learning.” Take what they give you- what are they excited about- and reflect it back with how you can enhance that.

What to ask

Remember, you are interviewing this institution as much as they are interviewing you.  The goal is to find the best fit, not necessarily the objectively “best” institution. So you need to ask some serious, incisive questions which will help you get a real sense for the place.

What are your challenges?  This can be framed a variety of ways, such as “What don’t you like about working here” and “What would you change about the job”.  The point is you want to find out what existing faculty members believe the current problems are. EVERY institution has its problems. The question isn’t “Do you have problems?”, the question is, “Are the problems you have ones I can cope with or not?”  Hopefully, you know this about yourself. If not, reflect on it more.

What do you like about working here?  This is the flip side of the first question, and hopefully elucidates the strengths of the institution.  Again, the goal isn’t to hear, “Everything is perfect!” but rather to hear what specific things the current faculty and administration like about the institution.  Do these things align with what you think is important in a job?

What is your ideal candidate?  This will help you determine if what they are looking for is what you want to do.  If they say, “Someone who will really engage with the students on a personal level” and you struggle to learn students’ names and want to spend time on research, maybe this isn’t the best fit.  Follow up/alternative: What do you want this candidate to bring to the program/institution?

What is the next step of the process?  You need to know the timeline for decision-making.  They may also tell you how many other candidates there are and where you are in the order of interviews.  This is essential information if you are interviewing at multiple institutions in the same span of time. If your top pick isn’t making a choice for 3 more months, and you get an offer before then, will you be willing to wait?

The scope of the information about the faculty interview cannot be covered in a single post or even several.  I will dedicate other posts to this topic, but I wanted to get the most important elements written before drilling down on some details or expanding on what is covered here.  What do you think needs to be brought up during the faculty interview?

How to do Proper Interview Preparation

Preparation is always the key to a successful endeavour. Photo by Melissa Gogo.

Regardless of the position to which you apply, if there is an interview, you need to prepare.  Well, you don’t NEED to prepare. But others who are interviewing WILL prepare. Do you want to be competitive with those who are preparing?  Then you need to prepare, as well. Failing to prep is prepping to fail. So let’s assume you actually want the position for which you are interviewing and let’s discuss what you need to do to prepare.

First, you have to know about the position to which you are applying.  If it is a job, get the job description down cold. If it is for vet school, talk to every veterinarian you can about what it is like.  If it is for an internship or residency, read the position description and talk to your mentors about the position in detail. I advised an anesthesia residency applicant this year by giving them a 2-3 sentence assessment of each program in which they were interested. If possible, talk to people currently in the program to get an insider’s look.

The website for the institution to which you are applying may be incredibly detailed and helpful or not so much.  You should at least know their mission statement, what the program is like based on the official materials, and any other data you can find (e.g. applicant numbers or expectations).  This should take at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours, depending on how much data they have online. Mine that data. You won’t actually know what the position entails until you have done it, but you should know as much as possible so you can interact intelligently with the interviewers.

Second, you need to practice.  You wouldn’t walk into an ice skating competition and expect to do well without practice, would you?  Unless you have been going on interviews every week for the past few months, there is no life experience that has prepared you for an interview.  So, practice. Get friends to ask you questions in a simulated setting. Studies have shown visualization activates similar pathways to actual practice, so run through questions and scenarios in your mind.  The more you practice the specific skill of interviewing, the better.

Third, you need to study.  Watch TED videos about effective interviews and discussion skills (the body language talk is revolutionary).  Read forum posts about interviews. Read this blog from beginning to end, taking notes all along.  Research potential interview questions and write down possible responses. You would study for months for the NAVLE, wouldn’t you?  How is an interview dictating the next step of your professional life any less important?

I cannot impress this upon you enough: just waltzing into an interview isn’t going to impress anyone, and it will significantly harm your chances of a positive outcome.  You’re a veterinary professional, for god’s sake; you’ve spent countless hours studying for classes and applying to programs and everything else involved in this demanding field!  Don’t tell me for one second you can’t do interview prep. If every applicant did good interview prep, I would be over-the-moon happy. Please help make that happen.

What Mindset Should You Have When Applying to Faculty Jobs?

Opinions on this may differ, but I wanted to share with you my philosophical approach to applying to faculty jobs.  It can be summarized pretty easily: don’t bluff and be genuine. This can be harder to do than it sounds.

Academic institutions have interesting, but fairly consistent approaches to salaries and raises.  There is usually more money available for new hires than for existing hires. Existing hires have had to get raises through lean years and when the legislature (if a public school) is more conservative with education than other years.  As a result, salary compression occurs

Salary compression is when people who have been working at an institution for a while end up making less than a new hire.  Although uncommon, you can have a situation where a full professor makes less than a new assistant professor.  While you don’t need to make a lot of money to be happy, you DO need to make a fair amount of money to be happy.  Studies indicate that employees are generally happy with their salary if it is fair.  Unfortunately, salary compression can result in salaries not being fair among faculty members

The ‘solution’ to this problem in academia is, unfortunately, applying for other jobs, getting an offer, and then using that to negotiate with your home institution.  I put the solution in quotes because I hate this solution. I believe it is disingenuous. This may be where my sense of an idealized world conflicts with reality: you shouldn’t HAVE to resort to this, the institution should keep your salary at pace with others over time.  But I understand that isn’t always reality and this is how some people manage it

I had one colleague who was grossly underpaid at a large state school.  He was a full professor, had asked for an adjustment, and been told ‘no’.  As a consequence he began applying elsewhere. Once he got an offer from another institution, his home school was suddenly able to find money and pay enough to keep him.  Would he have actually left if he hadn’t gotten a retention offer? Maybe yes, maybe no.

What I would prefer to advise people instead is this: if salary means that much to you (I sure wish it wouldn’t), and you are genuinely unhappy because of the lack of fairness, then you should genuinely look for a job elsewhere.  It should not be a ploy or a bluff. If you are unhappy, you SHOULD look for a different job. But I believe you should only look for jobs you may seriously consider taking.

I feel that it is a disservice to the institution and, potentially, your reputation to interview somewhere you absolutely know you will not go.  Most schools dedicate significant time and energy to faculty interviews- you don’t want to waste those resources. Also, maybe there is another candidate who would LOVE to go there but doesn’t get an interview because you take up one of the slots.  We routinely interview only about 3 people on average for many faculty positions. If you know you won’t go somewhere, don’t take someone else’s spot.

On the other hand, if you believe you COULD go there, even if you’re not sure, then it is fair to apply and interview.  I have applied to institutions I wasn’t sure about and, after visiting, was favorably impressed and willing to consider moving if given an offer.  Some places I have interviewed and decided it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I didn’t know that before visiting.

My wife went on numerous interviews and got several offers, which helped refine her understanding of what she wanted from her career.  So I’m not saying don’t interview unless you’re certain you will accept an offer. You may need to go through an interview to decide if the institution or job is right for you.  I am saying: don’t interview if you’re certain you wouldn’t accept an offer. To do so is not being genuine.

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