Vet School evaluates people skills in interviews with applicants

by Emily Ayshford

Veterinary students have previously been admitted into the College of Veterinary Medicine based on their prior experiences and academic records.

But this year, the college implemented new behavioral interviews for qualified applicants as an attempt to admit students who are more likely to succeed as veterinarians.

The interview stemmed from a study in which the University and eight other schools asked focus groups what they thought made a “successful” veterinarian.

According to the study, some veterinarians in the focus groups said they were surprised by the amount of human interaction in the field. They said having basic management skills and satisfying customers were two nontechnical competencies that successful veterinarians should have.

Laura Molgaard, student and academic affairs associate dean, said many school officials assumed that because a person is smart, he or she would make a good veterinarian.

“We would assume a person with 4.0 (grade point average) would make a better veterinarian than a person with a 3.4,” she said.

The study recommended that veterinary colleges consider interviewing applicants for nontechnical competencies. The study’s author, global consulting firm Personnel Decisions International, created an interview guide for veterinary schools. The University is the first school to use the guide for admissions interviews.

Each interview consists of 10 questions, eight of which focus on the applicant’s behavior. Molgaard said an example question would be, “Tell me about the most difficult person you’ve ever had to work with.” Faculty and staff conducting the interview would then continue to ask probing questions to “really get at how they handled the situation,” Molgaard said.

Scott Dee, chairman of the school’s admissions committee, said he thinks the interviews were effective.

“It’s always a better indication of the characteristics of an individual,” he said. “It was easy for me to see that some of them were outstanding and some of them weren’t as good.”

Molgaard said approximately 650 people applied to the school this year, but only approximately 200 were granted interviews. Of those, only approximately 90 applicants will be granted admission.

Along with the interviews, the school looks at the applicants’ previous academic records, letters of recommendation and personal descriptions of their experiences.

Molgaard said the interviews cause the selection process to resemble a bell curve.

“The vast majority of people who did just fine on the interview would have gotten in without the interview, too,” she said, adding that the process also might admit people who might not have gotten in on old standards or refuse people who would have.

Because each interview lasted approximately an hour, faculty and staff were called on to help conduct interviews. Dee said the college needs to make sure it does not burn out faculty with the time-consuming process, and Molgaard said they will probably recruit more interviewers for the admissions process next year.

Despite the time commitment, Dee said he thinks the interviews were worth it.

“We were trying to be proactive and adapt methods of selection in a more efficient way to select the best candidates,” he said.