Vet with radiograph and cat

Tis the Interview Season

Vet with radiograph and catOkay, so your applications have been submitted on time and you’ve been anxiously waiting to hear from the vet schools, a wait that feels like an eternity. Why do the vet schools even bother to interview applicants when a lot of other courses simply allocate places based on UCAS applications and test results? The main reason is that training a vet is a long and costly process, with the vet schools, and profession, very anxious to ensure that the considerable investment that is made in such training is directed to the best candidates and that their students are going to a) finish the course and qualify as a veterinarian, and b) represent a suitable fit for the unique culture of the vet school itself.

Although every vet school achieves the same in terms of training new vets, they each have their own styles of teaching and unique culture which makes attending each one a distinct experience, in much the same way that different companies have their own ‘culture.’ The vet schools will be asking themselves whether you, as an individual, are likely to enjoy their school’s vet school experience and ultimately benefit from the training. I am sure that you would agree that spending many thousands of pounds on someone without a face-to-face meeting seems like quite a risky move so it seems only right that the vet schools take as much care as possible in choosing their new intake.

If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation to interview then the first thing to do is massively congratulate yourself as it is a huge achievement in itself. Admissions tutors receive applications, read them and then make a decision as to whether your application is of sufficient interest to take it further, moving you closer to the coveted prize of a place, or to say no, in which case you’ll receive a rejection. As such, an interview invite is a sign that they are very interested in you and that they can see sufficient potential in you as a future vet to spend the time and effort getting to know you better. Loads of applicants fail to make it past the initial application stage so an interview invitation is definately a cause for celebration.

How do I interview well?

The main answer to this question, like most, is to practice. There are very few times when practice does not make perfect and interviews are no exception. Now of course you can’t accurately predict what will happen on the day or what the interviewers will ask so there is little point trying to do so. What you can do, however, is prepare to be a confident, well informed, communicative candidate who oozes with motivation, passion and an obvious burning desire to study veterinary at the university you are fortunate enough to be invited to an interview at. The vet schools are not looking for students who already know everything there is to know about animals and veterinary science – if they filled places with such candidates then there would be little need for vets schools at all. What they are looking for are the kind of students we have already discussed and it is these aforementioned qualities that you should be aiming to project on the day.

Interviewing, or indeed presenting, well is a product of a number of complimentary factors that ultimately work together to give the desired impression to your audience. The key factor is preparation.


Do you simply turn up to an important exam and sit it without any form of preparation? If you do and you do well then congratulations as you are a very rare breed. If, however, you are like the vast majority of us mere mortals then I strongly suspect the answer is “of course not!” You revise and you practice past papers. This is to a) ensure that you understand and can recall the important information that may well be required in the exam, and b) to familiarise yourself with the format, length and pressure of the exam. This latter exercise is effectively desensitisation at work, as you gradually reduce your initial, automatic, and ultimately unhelpful and damaging, response to a stressful situation. If you did go into an exam without any prior knowledge of the format then chances are that you would spend most of your time getting flustered about how long you had to answer the questions, the fact that you didn’t have access to textbooks, and the general stress of being in an unfamiliar situation. This would clearly detract from the important task of getting on and understanding the questions and writing sensible answers in the time allotted. This is no different to an interview and going into one without any level of prior preparation and ‘desensitisation’ will likely lead to you feeling anxious from the moment you enter, with the result likely to be a horribly stressful experience. But how exactly can you prepare well for an interview, and specifically a vet school interview. Well, read on and we shall learn.

The Early Bird Catches The Worm

There is little point in starting your preparation the evening before your interview. This is akin to cramming for an exam: pointless and just results in misery for all concerned. You know that you’re going to apply to vet school. You also know that the interviews tend to start around November and run through until about March. I would personally start thinking and planning my approach to interviews in August, or at least September, before you have even sent off your application. Just the very act of thinking about an upcoming event gets all of your subconscious neurones firing away and before you know it you’ll be able to draw up a winning ‘how to be awesome at interviews’ plan in time for the ‘season.’ The sooner you start thinking about the interviews then the more time you will have to find out the format, and practice using this knowledge, request references if you haven’t already got them, start reading around relevant subjects and generally morphing into an interview King or Queen.

Which Vet Schools?

There is no point spending precious time practicing for multiple, short interviews if you are not applying to Liverpool, so consider which of the vet schools you are applying to and tailor the specifics of your preparation to them. Much of your preparation, such as background reading, and getting used to being questioned in formal settings, will be the same regardless of which vet schools you apply to but there are some subtle differences that it is important to be aware of when preparing yourself. After all, time is a precious commodity to a prospective vet student.

Any Useful Contacts?

Do you know anyone who is either studying at or has previously applied and been interviewed at the vet schools that you’re planning on applying to? If so then why not get in touch and ask if they would be willing to give you some helpful insight into that school’s interview, including any questions that might have been asked. There is no guarantee that the same questions will be asked of you but it can be useful to get a sense of the type of questions that might crop up during your interview.

Be Informed

As a future veterinary professional it will be expected that you are taking an active interest in what is happening to affect the profession, and to have an awareness of issues and news of relevance. A classic example would be the whole issue surrounding TB and badgers, which you would be mad not to have some knowledge of before heading to a vet school interview. Talk to vets, vet students, farmers, animal owners and anyone else who you consider to be involved in caring for animals. What issues are they talking about and consider to be important? Chances are that the same issues will be the ones on the minds of the interview panel. Try and get hold of copies of publications such as Vet Times, which most vets will gladly put aside for you once they’ve read their copy, as these are the very best source of up to the minute industry news and comment. You certainly don’t have to go as far as keeping press clippings but making a few notes on a few relevant issues might not be a bad idea. If anything, they may well serve as a useful refresher before the interview itself.

Statement – Know It!

Its not at all uncommon for an interview to be guided by what’s written in your statement. After all, this is the first place that the vet schools get to find out something about you and so it is perfectly natural that it should act as a launchpad for further questioning. It may seem like a stupidly obvious thing to say but it is so important that you know your statement like the back of your hand, as any discrepency between what you have written and what you then say in an interview will come across poorly. Read your statement through and internalise it until you are virtually dreaming about it at night.

Mock Interviews

Much as a mock exam allows you to get used to exam conditions, identify areas for improvement and generally get better at taking exams, mock interviews do the same for your interview success. Ensure that you manage to do at least one mock interview as I guarantee that you will realise the benefits. It is important with any mock that you recreate as best you can the actual scenario that you are practicing for, including the sense of formality that an interview has. It is only by repeatedly putting yourself in conditions which accurately mirror the real one that you will start to develop the skills and familiarity with the format that will enable you to focus your mind on the aspects of the activity that are going to enable you to excel, rather than worrying about the minor details over which you have no control.

No Friends or Family

As we are aiming to recreate as closely as possible the setting of a real interview, there is little to no point asking your parents, friends or siblings to conduct a mock interview with you as you are obviously on familiar and friendly terms with them, meaning that you won’t feel that sense of formality and seriousness that the real interview will have and so won’t be able to desensitise yourself to the pressure and anxiety of such a setting. Rather, ask your school if they can help by arranging a mock interview with a member of staff who you might not be too familiar with, or perhaps a school governor. Schools will often have links with local business people, including veterinarians, and so may be able to ask such professionals if they would be willing to conduct a mock interview with you. The result is that a) you will likely find yourself doing your mock interview(s) somewhere far more formal, and realistic, than at home, and b) will take the exercise as seriously as you would the real interview, something that is less likely if your best mate or mum was the interviewer. The feedback you receive from an unfamiliar, professional interviewer is also likely to be far more honest and constructive than that which would come from friends, who are naturally going to want to make you feel good about yourself. It is, however, really vital that you get to identify those things that you did particularly well, and this need less attention and development, and, more importantly, those things that require work and that you can improve on before your actual interviews commence. If possible, try and arrange for your mock to be conducted by more than one person as this will more accurately mirror the real scenario and also result in feedback from more than one person, which is always handy.

Dress Like You Mean It

Would you turn up to your vet school interview in a pair of jeans and T-shirt? No, of course not, so why not extend the principle of a mock to your dress as well by going along dressed for the occasion. The point of everything we do with mock interviews is to make sure you feel as comfortable and relaxed as you can come the big day, and to prepare your mind fully for the event. Anchoring is a term used to describe a process by which our mind forms a link between verbal cues, physical objects, and other such triggers, and our emotional state and subconscious mind. So by practicing your interview technique, including recreating such factors as what you wear, your mind will anchor the feeling of confidence, knowledge and ability that you will develop through practice to such factors as your dress. The result is that when you put on the same sort of clothes on interview day, your mind will automatically switch itself to the same state that it developed during your mocks, and you are far more likely to stride into your interview feeling the same sense of confidence and preparedness, with positive results.

As for dress code, I am sure you can probably guess for yourself but a general guide would be to encourage the following:

Males – a smart, well fitting suit with creaseless/ ironed shirt, or smart pair of trousers, such as Chinos, with a similarly smart shirt. The issue of whether to wear a tie is down to personal preference in my opinion and is not compulsory. Smart, clean shoes are essential to finish off the interview look.

Females – there is perhaps a little more choice and flexibility for you, from the option of a simple yet smart skirt – no mini skirts, as we don’t want the interviewers having heart attacks – and blouse, to the classic trouser suit, which can be worn with either a blouse or appropriately smart top. Needless to say, anything too low-cut or that otherwise exposes too much flesh should be avoided. A basic rule  is to say that if your gran would approve then you’re probably on the right track. Smart shoes, as above, will finish the look.

Timing & Location

Once you have confirmed someone to conduct your mock interview, you’ll need someplace to be interviewed. This will probably be an office or classroom at school or, if with a local professional, at their place of work. Confirm the date, time and location of the interview and ensure you arrive nice and early, as you would on the actual interview, with time to sit quietly outside the room before being called in. Try and stick to the interview being no more than twenty minutes, as is likely to be the case with actual vet school interviews, although it is not a major issue if it does run over as all it will do is provide extra feedback.

If your school, or the person who has agreed to interview you, is not familiar with the format of veterinary interviews or would find it helpful to have access to a list of suitable questions, then get in touch via Facebook or Twitter and let me know.

Film Yourself

I am sure that like most people the idea of seeing yourself on video is beyond awkward and you’d rather not even contemplate the idea. It is, however, an excellent way of rapidly improving your interview skills and I urge you to overcome your concerns and fire up the camera. By filming and then reviewing your mock interviews, you will be able to see every aspect of your performance, from how you entered to how quickly and clearly you speak, to whether or not you have any potentially irritating tics, such as toe tapping or drumming your fingers on the table, which you might never have been aware that you even did. I firmly believe that reviewing video of your mock interviews is one of the most powerful tools in helping you to ace your vet school interviews, so go on, become a star.

Keep checking the Vet School Success Facebook page, sign up for the newsletter and follow Chris on Twitter (@thenerdyvet) for more interview advice and help.

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