Tag Archives: Mistakes

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.

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.

Using ETC., E.G., and I.E. Correctly

This is a short, but important, PSA-style blog entry.  You are probably using abbreviations like i.e., e.g., and etc. incorrectly in your applications.  It isn’t a fatal flaw, but it is really distracting to those of us who spend a lot of time reading and writing.  So here is a quick, simple guide on the use of these abbreviations.

i.e. should be read as “that is”.  For example: I went on a long journey (i.e. a trip across the country) before I started college.  This is identical to writing: I went on a long journey- that is, a trip across the country- before I started college.

e.g. should be read as “for example”.  For example: I went on many adventures (e.g. helping a village care for its goats in Nepal) during my year before college.  This is identical to writing: I went on many adventures, for example, helping a village care for its goals in Nepal, during my year before college.

etc. should be read as “and so forth”.  For example: During my year before college, I walked, hiked, biked, flew, etc. around the world.  This is identical to writing: During my year before college, I walked, hiked, biked, flew, and so forth around the world.

It is rare that a sentence contains all three of these abbreviations, so in general I would suggest you avoid using more than one.  After you use one, go back and read it with the literal definitions I have given above and see if they make sense. These three are often confused, and it reflects a certain lack of attention to detail if you commit this error.

Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes on your Vet School Application

The Vetducator - misspelled Im a Profesional.

There’s a lot of moving parts when applying for vet school.  You have to get different prereqs for different schools, you have to take the GRE, you have to go through the VMCAS process, and you have to get your letter of intent, CV, and letters of recommendation all put together.  It’s understandable you may make a mistake here and there. These are some of the common or prominent ones I have encountered with vet school applications, ranked from most important to least.

1) No veterinary experience.  Even if you have a ton of animal experience, if you have not spent time working or volunteering with a veterinarian, you won’t be able to demonstrate you know what the job entails.  You’d be surprised, but I have absolutely seen applications with no vet experience. Make sure to get some.

2) Not double-checking all materials.  Just because you send a request for your transcript doesn’t mean it is actually delivered.  Trust but verify- make sure everything actually makes it to the VMCAS.

3) Having poorly-prepared materials.  This is your FUTURE. How many hours should you spend on your application materials for something you may have wanted your whole life and will be your future for decades???  I am always shocked to read letters of intent or CVs where it is clear the applicant didn’t even go to Google and type in “how to do a CV”. This reflects their lack of work ethic, curiosity, and dedication- all of which are key characteristics in a vet.  It’s not only that the materials are poor, but it’s also what it tells me about the applicant’s personal characteristics.

4) Not having someone else read your work.  I don’t care if it’s your mom and your art-history-major roommate, you MUST have others review and edit your application materials.  Typos, grammar errors, and even bizarre sentences can all be cleaned up by trusted friends and advisors.

5) Not enough advance notice.  Those writing letters of recommendation for you may feel overworked and stressed out.  Make sure you give them plenty of notice. I recommend at least a month, but more if possible.  You should check in/remind them 2 weeks before letters are due if you have not gotten a confirmation of their submission.

You would think I wouldn’t have to tell anyone these things, and you would be wrong.  I see applications all the time which make these mistakes. Fortunately, you are reading this blog so you certainly won’t make them!  Let me know if there are any mistakes you have seen or worry about in the comments.

How to do Video Interviews Properly

The Vetducator - Animated gif of kids barging in on video interview.

Conducting a video interview with someone who has clearly not prepared for such is one of the most painful professional experiences I have.  It instantly makes me cringe. The whole time I wish I could tell them, “Can you just do this? And this? And this? It will be SO much better, believe me!”  I don’t want you to induce cringing in your interviewers and, selfishly, I want to experience perfect video interviews from this day forward. It’s not hard, it just requires attention to detail.

1) Dress professionally.  You may or may not wear a suit, but at least wear a light colored shirt and tie (men) or professional blouse (women) or equivalent.  Although they will only see you from the mid-chest up, wear pants. You are preparing your mind as well as yourself. You can only take an interview so seriously without pants on.

2) Remove interruptions. Barking dogs, whining cats, screaming kids- none of these can interrupt your video interview. I recommend doing the interview at your place of work, in a conference room or similar, rather than your house. Put a sign saying, “Conducting video interview. Please do not disturb.” on the door.

3) Set the stage.  Don’t have your The Doors poster in the background.  Or a fairy over a castle painting. Or your “Keep calm and drink on” wooden plaque.  You may have a white wall, a whiteboard, or, if you have your own office, your professional degrees in the background.  That is all.

4) Use good lighting.  The best lighting is soft lighting from the front of your face.  I usually set up two lamps with their covers on to either side of the computer.  Try to minimize overhead lighting, especially harsh light such as from fluorescents.  If you have a window you can open to get more natural light on your face and surrounding, use that.

5) Not too close, not too far.  If you sit with your back straight, reach out with your arm.  Your fingertips should touch the screen (or camera location).

6) Elevate the camera.  No one wants to look up your nose or see you peering up at them as if judging you.  You want the camera at eye level. Use books under your laptop to elevate it to the appropriate height.

7) Look at the camera.  I set up a plug-and-play camera right in front of the screen.  It slightly blocks my view of the other party, but the goal here is for ME to show eye contact.  If your camera is not in front of the screen, you have to be very conscious to look at the camera, not at the screen.  Losing eye contact with the other party makes you look distracted or uninterested, even if you are very interested.

8) Feel free to take notes.  Just as in any other interview, you may take notes.  I will usually preface this in the beginning with something like, “Do you mind if I take notes?  When I look down I’m just jotting a few things down.” If you don’t mention note taking, when you do look down and take your notes they may interpret it as disinterest.

9) Test your technology.  Don’t have the first time you attempt this be when you are actually scheduled for your interview.  Test it out with a friend first- make sure the tech works, the lighting looks good, you are looking at the camera, etc.

While the visual presentation is not make-or-break for video interviews, if there are two applicants, and one of them took the time to set up the correct space for a video interview, and the other one just popped up their laptop in their kitchen, which do you think the search committee will favor?