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.
I heard a story from a fellow faculty member about an interview they conducted. The candidate showed up on time, but barely knew their interview schedule, didn’t know who they were speaking with, and seemed to barely know the position for which they were interviewing. Needless to say, the candidate didn’t get an offer for the position. During an interview, you need to show engagement and be enthusiastic. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to do your research beforehand.
Research is essential so that you know the right questions to ask, who the people are, what the primary concerns and goals of the program are, what landmines you may need to navigate, and what problem areas you may want to assure yourself about.
Know the right questions to ask. If the class size is 120, and you ask about classrooms that fit 90, that indicates you are out of touch.
Who the people are. What is their role in the organization? The Associate Dean of Research is not going to talk as much about curriculum as the Associate Dean of Students.
Program goals and concerns. Are they trying to increase research? Expand to a satellite clinic? Train up qualified staff? These are all weighing on the minds of the interviewers.
Landmines. If you know there is a sore topic, you can still bring it up, but be diplomatic about it. The only general one I know of is to not bring up pay unless the hiring manager brings it up.
Problem areas. How are the finances/funding? Is the place solvent? How is the leadership? Are people happy and, if not, why not? Again, be diplomatic about these kinds of questions.
Now that you see the importance of pre-visit research, how do you do it? My primary method is via the institution’s website. Sometimes this is extremely frustrating- one position for which I interviewed had almost nothing useful on their website. However, they at least had their mission statement, which I was able to tie in with my presentation and some interview discussions. Most of the time, there is plenty of information on the website about the individuals you are meeting, news about current trends in the institution, etc. Mine the website for as much information as you can.
If the website is spartan, or you are curious for more information, you can comb the general internet. I found some useful information about one school on student information forums . I find this to be relatively tiresome and low-yield, but worth trying if you have the inclination.
It is vitally important that you understand the program, the job, and the people before you do an onsite interview. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
I was on a hike with a friend who is getting ready for a high-stakes interview for grad school. We were talking about various questions which may be asked during the interview. After a few of these back-and-forth, they said, “I’m not sure we should be doing this. I mean, shouldn’t I just go to the interview and answer naturally what comes to mind?” I imagine some of you may have similar thoughts, so I want to talk about the assumptions and misperceptions that contribute to this idea.
Assumption one: Prepared answers cannot be genuine and honest. You may believe that interviewers want spontaneous answers because they are more genuine, but this is not necessarily so. You can prepare good answers to questions which are 100% genuine and honest. In fact, your answers SHOULD be 100% genuine. It doesn’t happen often, but twice now I have encountered interviewees whom I felt were giving the answer they thought I wanted, not their actual genuine answer. Whatever answer you prepare, make sure it is true to you.
Assumption two: Interviewers want spontaneous answers. Most people do not have much experience with interviews. As a consequence, spontaneous answers are unlikely to be particularly GOOD answers. When I ask a question in an interview, I want the most representative answer the interviewee can produce. It is unlikely, in that small window, in that high-pressure context, that an interviewee can come up with a great example to answer a question. I want interviewees to have good, genuine, substantive answers. I don’t want it highly practiced and polished, but if the interviewee has at least considered the question before, they can give a good answer.
Assumption three: I don’t need to prepare. You do realize that others applying for these positions WILL be preparing, don’t you? My question to you is: do you want the position or don’t you? Some of the others who are interviewing ARE preparing, and their interview will be better as a consequence. If you want the position, you should prepare.
Assumption four: Preparation warps the whole idea of the interview. The interview, like the application, is intended to distinguish those applicants who get a position and those who do not. Do you think that an applicant who puts effort into the process will be viewed more or less favorably? The application and interview indicates how hard and well the person will work in the position. Someone who puts more effort into the process, who does a better job, will be more likely to be chosen. This is a feature of the interview, not a bug: we WANT to identify those who put more work into the process, because that indicates they are more likely to have what it takes to be successful in the position for which they are interviewing.
Preparing for an interview is an important, integral aspect of the process. It’s simple: those who prepare will do a better interview and are more likely to get a position. If you want to be successful, you must prepare and practice. After all, you wouldn’t take an exam without studying, would you? Preparing for an interview is no more cheating than studying for an exam would be.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?”
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.