Q&A: How To Prepare For A Behavioral Interview


I am in desperate need of help and guidance. I just now came across your great website! I was reading the information about yourself and was stunned. I also have a Bachelors degree in Psychology, along with Biology. I planned on obtaining a PhD in psychology until I started volunteering at my local humane society. You see, I am highly allergic to all animals and told myself I could not become a veterinarian even though I had wanted to since 6th grade. However, just like you, I could not see myself having a career in psychology, but I loved the classes and volunteering at the shelter showed me that I would not be happy unless my career involved working with animals as a veterinarian. I love the veterinary career not just because of working with animals but because I love all disciplines of biology, the medical aspect of veterinary and working with people specifically when pertaining to their pets. Anyway, I graduated with a double major in Biology and Psychology and a Chemistry minor with a GPA of 3.76. Last year I applied to Western U, Penn, Michigan, and Washington (I lived in Pennsylvania). I was not accepted to Penn due to low GRE scores (probably) and not to any of the others due to being out of state. I did receive an interview from Western U who does not favor in state and Michigan put me on the alternate list with no interview, which was odd I thought. Western U only gave me a 2 day notice of my interview to fly from PA to CA (I was caught off guard but very happy since Western U is the school I want to attend). My behavioral interview apparently did not go well since I was not accepted (about 300 interviewed, 100 accepted). I was told the only problem was my interview, which shocked me because I thought my GRE scores were also keeping me out, but they said that was not listed as a weakness. So, I reapplied this year and had retaken the GRE and had studied hard for them, but didn’t see much improvement. I moved from PA to CA since I knew I wanted to go to Western U and my boyfriend was accepted to a PhD program at UC Riverside. Right now I work – paid and internship – volunteer at an emergency veterinary clinic, which I absolutely love! I have been trying to think of situations from my life to prepare for my behavioral interview at Western U this time around, but I feel like I am not doing a good job at it, I feel like it is impossible to prepare for a behavioral interview even though I am told it is not. I am very worried about not getting accepted this year. I felt so defeated when I was not accepted the first year and not being accepted a second year I feel like it will crush me and I will give up. I thought about getting a Masters degree in Pathology or something if I am not accepted this year, but my admissions counselor told me my academics is strong and she doesn’t recommend getting a Masters degree (only recommends that to people who have low undergraduate GPAs). She said my only weakness was my interview. I have thought about applying to schools out of the country (Australia, St. Mathews, St. George). The problem is that I am not willing to move again (out of country) when I just moved to California to be with my boyfriend and hopefully go to Western U. I would definitely move in the future once he is done with his PhD in 5 yrs, but the problem is that the prerequisite classes to get into veterinary school are only accepted by schools if they have been within a determined about of years from date of applying (I think it is 5 or 6 for Western U). I also am not sure what I would do for 5 years waiting even if it was possible. I am sorry this was so lengthy of a story. I do not have anyone at all in my life to guide me when it comes to Veterinary. No one seems to understand in my family (except my boyfriend) how difficult it is to be accepted to veterinary school and how competitive it is. There is no one that I know that has gone through this process that will help me. Veterinarians that I work with applied to veterinary school a very long time ago when it was a very different process. Any advice from you would be very much appreciated. I am not sure what to do at this particular point in my life. I also love the idea of going to a different country to spay and neuter and vaccinate animals! That is so awesome that you got to do that, I am so jealous! I have been to Costa Rica on a high school trip and loved the experience. What was the program through that you were able to do that?

Thank you so much for your time, I cannot wait to hear back from you!
(I also donated and plan to donate more, thank you for the website)


Hi LF!

First of all thanks for writing as well as for your donation! I’m sorry to hear about the outcome of last-year’s application cycle. Given that you are intent on attending WesternU, I will focus my advice on WesternU. Fortunately for you, your issue is not grades! Western has already shown that they think you are academically qualified to attend, so congrats on getting an interview! That’s a big deal, in and of itself! However, as you already know, behavioral interviews are not straight-forward run-of-the-mill interviews. There is an art to them that most applicants do not realize.

Clearly you’ve already been thinking of life experiences that would be good to talk about – that is excellent! However, behavioral interviews are not simply about telling the interview a story about a time when… it’s about conveying to the interviewer that you have the skills and qualities they desire through a story. Many interviewees make the mistake of taking behavioral interview questions in a very straight-forward manner. For instance, if I was asked tell us about a time when something you were involved in didn’t work out, if I was a naïve interviewer, I would, perhaps, tell a story about how I started grad school in psychology but really didn’t like it so I dropped out. While that is essentially what happened to me, I choose to spin it a different way and show the interviewers how I was in grad school for psychology but didn’t foresee myself making a career in psychology so I decided to change careers. However, instead of just dropping out of grad school as soon as I made that decision, I vowed to complete the term, with straight A’s so that no one would doubt my ability to handle graduate school but also because I am not a quitter.

You have a background in psychology, so you should definitely be able to see through questions like that and figure out what the interviewers are really asking. The naïve answer shows the interviewer none of your good qualities! The latter answer demonstrates thoughtfulness, foresight, dedication, and perseverance amongst other things.

Here’s what I will suggest to prepare for another behavioral interview. I’m attaching a PDF below that has a list of WesternU interview questions that have been used in the past as well as the interview questions that I received in January 2009. Try to work with these questions to figure out which qualities you would like to show you possess in your answer. Then either find a story from your life that fits the bill, or find something that is close and use a little creativity to make it work. Just remember, behavioral interviews are intended to make your interviewers believe that you have really desirable qualities and therefore, really deserve an offer!

To help you with this, I’ve also listed a bunch of qualities that interviewers will likely want you show that you have through your answers/stories. I prepared by figuring out which stories I could mold to highlight each of these qualities and then when I was asked a question I took a moment to think about which qualities I should touch upon and then immediately the applicable stories would come to my mind. Does that make sense?

Let me know if you need further clarification on those points.

Oh, and to answer your question about my international work…all of that was done with VIDA (Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures). You can do a search for them on the internet to look into the upcoming trips they have planned.

Again, thanks for writing and your donation. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions!

~Sharon Ostermann
Life In Vet School & Tips On Getting In

WesternU Behavioral Interview Prep