There are several different types of question that you might be asked at interview and although it is impossible to predict exactly what will be asked, you can certainly ensure that you are generally prepared so you know not to panic if you are asked a particularly testing question on veterinary ethics, for example. There are several broad categories into which you can divide most interview questions:
Questions that you must prepare an answer for.
These questions are so likely to come up that failing to consider them beforehand would be foolish. They are nice questions – assuming you are prepared for them – as they allow you to settle in to the interview. For example, being able to explain clearly and confidently why you want to study veterinary, and especially at that particular university, will enable you to tackle tougher questions with more confidence when they are asked later in the interview, as you will be in your stride.
Questions you will be expected to know quite a bit about from either your A-level (or equivalent) syllabus or from work experience.
This type of question is hard to prepare for specifically and you will need to rely on the academic ability and hard work you have done to date in your studies to help you. Similarly, you should have done a decent amount of varied work experience by the time you are called for interview so try and relax and remember that if you’ve done the basic preparation beforehand then you’ll be fine. This type of question is often expanded to move into the next type of question.
Questions that take you out of your comfort zone
You will inevitably get this type of question at interview and they tend to be the ones that students complain about afterwards! Being asked a tough question, or one without an immediately obvious answer, is actually a really good sign as it means that the panel want to stretch you and really see how your mind works. This means that they’re seriously considering you for a place and want to make sure you have the aptitude and attitude for the course. The aim of these questions is for you to extrapolate your current knowledge, either from your academic work or work experience, and apply it appropriately to the question at hand. The important thing to remember when faced with a question to which no obvious answer exists is to avoid getting flustered and either blurting out the first thing you think of or just sitting there like a rabbit stuck in headlights. There is no such thing as an impossible interview question but it is vital that you take a moment to think it over before answering. It often helps to talk through your thought processes as this will enable the interview panel to see how your mind works and they may even subtly prompt and guide you to help keep you on track.
Questions that can trip you up.
There are certain questions that offer you the potential to really stick your foot in it if you just blurt out the first thing that pops into your head. We will see some examples of this sort of question later in the chapter.
Questions which open up a debate.
These questions have no correct answer and you need to be able to show an appreciation of both sides of an argument and discuss them rationally, before offering your own balanced opinion. Questions on ethics often fall into this broad category.
It is the latter type of questions which tend to really help differentiate you from the other candidates and make the interviewers remember you at the end of a long day speaking with multiple students, all of whom will be broadly similar. The course is a lengthy one and they will likely be teaching you for a large proportion of it. As such they will want to admit students who can think for themselves, approach topics rationally and engage in interesting and lively debates rather than just being fact-regurgitation machines. If you are able to be this type of student then you will make their lives far more interesting and increase your chances of being offered a place.
There are about a million and one questions that you could be asked by the interviewers, and some vet schools seem to have their own unique style and preferences for their interviews. What follows are some examples of questions students have been asked and which may come up in one form or another in your interview.
1. Have you been to the university before?
If you attended one of the open days then say so and take the opportunity to elaborate, for example, by telling them which part of the open day you found most interesting. It is also a great opportunity to tell them if you have been to the vet school or university before in a non-official capacity, for example, to visit a friend who is studying there. This will demonstrate your determination, resolve and resourcefulness in finding out as much as you can about all aspects of the course and specific school. Needless to say, however, if your only visit to the vet school involved a midnight ninja-style climb over the wall then probably best not to mention this!
2. How do you think you’re doing with your exams?
This is a great chance to really sell yourself, so if you’re doing well then say so and highlight that you are working hard. If you’re not doing so well then unless it’s glaringly obvious in your personal statement, referee report or general application then it’s probably better to just gloss over this and reassure them that you are doing well – you don’t, after all, want to offer them any excuse not to offer you a place. If it’s possible try and steer the conversation onto a subject that you are particularly interested in and that has some veterinary focus.
3. Tell us something about your work-experience.
This isn’t an invite to just list your placements – they will have your statement in front of them. What they want from you is to hear what lessons you learnt and whether there were any interesting experiences.
4. Name an interesting operation you have seen.
This will likely be in response to some mention of seeing some “interesting surgery” in your statement and/or if you happen to have a surgeon on the panel. If you specifically mentioned watching a particular type of operation (eg. a TPLO procedure, which is one technique used to manage cranial cruciate ligament injuries in large dogs) then be fully prepared to expand your answer and discuss it with the panel. This does not mean you should go away and memorise chapters from surgery textbooks. Asking the vet who performed the surgery to explain the main principles and being able to understand and relay this information will be sufficient. After all, you are applying to be trained as a vet, not demonstrate that you already know everything.
5. What are the main lessons you have learned from your work-experience?
This is a potential follow-up question to the first and it is important to highlight the breadth of experience you have. Try to make it clear that you have learnt that veterinary isn’t just all clinical and that there are numerous hats that modern day vets must wear, including that of business-person. It is also a people-centred profession so demonstrate your awareness of that fact in your answer. Where possible try to illustrate your answers with specific examples. For example, “When I saw practice with a small animal vet doing a heart scan, I….
6. ”What causes mastitis?
Like the neutering question, this requires a moment of careful thought before just jumping in with the obvious answer, that being ‘bacteria,’ which although correct is not the entire story. Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary tissues and is something we occasionally see in all animals, including pets, but are most familiar with when talking about dairy cattle. It is a particular problem in dairy practice as the milk from cows with mastitis cannot be added to the tank and so represents lost revenue to the farmer. Cows with mastitis also cost the farm money through the need for antibiotic treatment and the fact that they still need feeding etcetera even though their milk is not being sold. It also represents a welfare issue for farms, with nine out of every ten cases currently seen being due to cow-adapted strains of the environmental bacteria Streptococcus uberis. This bacterium enters the mammary gland via the teat canal and ‘hides’ in white blood cells. The main problem is that when the cow is treated with antibiotics, the bacteria remain within the white cells with the antibiotic being cleared faster than the infected white cells meaning that recurrent cases are common. As such, a lot of vets extend the treatment period in cases where Strep.uberis is confirmed, the aim being to ensure that the bacteria emerge into an antibiotic rich environment and are thus killed. The bacteria that cause mastitis can be broadly divided into two categories: environmental pathogens, such as Streptococcus uberis and E.coli, which are present in to the environment; and contagious causes, including Staphylococcus aureus, where it is generally better to dry the cow off than risk having it potentially spread the bacteria to other cows in the milking parlour.
For more example questions and extensive advice on vet school interviews, be sure to get your copy of Vet School (parts 1 & 2 available from www.vetschoolsuccess now in both print and e-book format)