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The 10 most common hiring mistakes


Take these steps, and find that new person who fits with your team perfectly.

Do you feel like you never have the right person for the job or that you constantly have to train and re-train your employees? Does it seem like you're replacing an employee every other month? Maybe the problem is not with your employees but with your hiring processes. Here are 10 of the most common hiring mistakes and time-tested strategies for correcting them.

1. Hiring for the wrong reasons

Let's say you want to hire a receptionist. What attributes are you looking for? Do you want a receptionist who's knowledgeable about preventive health care and different breeds? Or would you prefer someone with customer service skills who loves working with people and animals?

Starter list 35 powerful interview questions

I think practitioners too often hire people for the wrong reasons. You can train a new hire in preventive veterinary care or teach someone what to say when a client inquires about an elective surgical procedure. But you can't teach someone to love your clients and the patients you care for. So when you're hiring, make sure you weigh the skills the person brings to the table as well as the attributes that you can't teach. Most employees need a mix of attributes and skills to shine.

2. Placing a lackluster employment ad

I remember an ad for a receptionist that read something like this: "Position available for a receptionist in a veterinary hospital. Applicant must have the ability to deal with difficult clients, work long hours, and be on his or her feet all day long. Hours vary, weekend work required, and applicant must love animals. Please send resume to ..." Who would ever apply for that position?

On the other hand, some employment ads sound too good to be true, which sets applicants up for failure before they even start. I think placing employment ads is a little like fishing; you need to know what type of fish you're trying to catch and what bait that fish likes.

So what type of applicant are you trying to attract, and are you putting out the right lure? Is your employment ad accurate? Does it reflect the position, duties, and responsibilities that you expect the employee to perform? Do you use a clear job description as the basis for your ad? Knowing what you're looking for makes it a lot easier to find what you want.

3. Failing to check references

Reference checking is a game. If you're calling to get a reference, your job is to get all the information possible about the prospective employee. If you're giving the reference, you want to make sure you're not opening yourself up to a defamation of character suit. It's not easy to be on either side of the court.

Legal advice A dangerous line of questioning

But this is a game you must play. Skipping a reference check is just too big a risk to take. I've learned unbelievable things when checking references on prospective employees. For example, a previous employer once told me that the candidate I was considering had an affair with one of the doctors—and when she broke up with the doctor, she physically assaulted him and was arrested for it!

You never know what kind of information you'll get when you perform reference checks. That's why you need to make the call. (For more, see "Referencing Challenges".)

Job-search sites

4. Skipping a background check

Unfortunately in today's world, it's imperative that you conduct background checks on any new employee. Many local and online companies offer this service and can help you find out whether your potential employee has been arrested, convicted, or had other legal actions taken against him or her.

You can also check the person's credit and employment histories against the résume or application he or she provided. Of course, the prospective employee must agree to this background check and sign a release form.

Online background checks

If candidates refuse, that's not a good sign. Yet don't assume that because they agree you can afford to skip the check. Again, I've learned amazing things from background checks. For example, I've gotten reports that show bankruptcies and past instances of embezzlement.

5. Not allowing enough time to look

Plan ahead. If an employee gives notice or you know you're going to need extra help to manage during a busier time of the year, don't wait until the last minute to hire someone. At that point you'll be tempted to settle for a warm body. Allow yourself plenty of time to hire the right person.

If you want to hire a veterinarian, give yourself at least three months. For a receptionist, three to four weeks is probably enough time.

6. Not knowing where to look

It wasn't too many years ago that after lecturing at a veterinary school, I'd receive thank-you cards and letters in the mail. Today, I get a lot of e-mails. Times have changed and so have the methods of acquiring the best and the brightest.

If you're looking to hire a new employee you must know their preferred source of information. Is it the Internet, journals, or employment agencies? I've found the Internet to be the primary choice for the past several years. And journals are getting onboard, with many offering online postings of their classified sections. There are also veterinary-exclusive Web sites for doctors and technicians as well as general employment sites such as Jobs.com and Monster.com.

Several of the sites offer built-in screening tools that help you identify the best-qualified applicants. As a bonus, online postings can be less expensive than other forms of solicitation.

7. Failing to offer competitive compensation and benefits

You can't hire tip-top employees if you're paying minimum wage. Without exception, you must pay a fair or better-than-fair salary for the position.

Most practices know what pay would be fair but choose to pay less. If you don't know what's fair, find out what other veterinary practices and medical offices in your area pay. Review the benchmarks Veterinary Economics publishes from the annual Well-Managed Practice Study. Also see "Average Salaries by Region" or "Doctors Earnings by the Hour" in August 2004 for other salary information.

I recommend setting compensation ranges that list the entry level and maximum compensation for each position in your practice. You should also develop tiered job descriptions that tie into these levels of compensation. And share these descriptions with your employees. They should know that if they learn more and take on more responsibility, their compensation goes up. You can also use an incentive program to tie the practice's growth to individual performance evaluations. Just remember to adjust for the number of hours the employee works.

Of course, offering benefits is also important. For example, if you're not helping cover team members' health insurance in today's market, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find high-quality employees. Other sought-after benefits include paid vacation, personal leave, and holidays; veterinary care for staff members' pets; and retirement programs. To really attract the best and the brightest, consider exceeding the standard.

8. Letting the good one get away

Always be on the lookout for people who would make great team members, even when you don't need another employee. And get your healthcare team involved. If a job seeker walks through the door, your team members need to assess that individual and, if appropriate, let the owner or manger know—even if you don't have any positions open.

Maybe a great technician just moved to the area. Even if you don't have a position open, you might want to interview him or her. After all, you'll probably have a position open sometime soon, right?

In fact, I found one of the best receptionists I ever hired while I was dining out. Our waitress was providing great service—she was friendly, well-spoken, just wonderful. I asked if she wanted to work in a veterinary office, and she responded that she'd always wanted to but thought it required a lot of training. I told her we could handle the training and hired her right away. She's still working for me.

9. Failing to extend the same care to long-time team members

The dilemma: You want to hire a technician, but he or she demands $1 or $2 more per hour than your highest paid technician. Your decision is a tough one, especially in light of the letting-the-good-one-get-away mistake. What do you do?

For this example, let's say you're paying better-than-average wages for the area and this technician who wants more money seems highly qualified. Should you hire? Not unless you're willing to increase all your technicians' wages by $2.

If you hire this person and don't raise your other technicians' wages too, you'll have a mutiny on your hands—even if you tell the new hire to keep his or her salary confidential. Nothing stays confidential, and when the word gets out, there will be a mass exodus.

I know firsthand: I promised someone I really wanted to hire $2 more per hour than my head technicians. When the news got out—and it did within three months—I had several people come to me. I had to decide whether to let my expensive technician go or to raise everyone's salaries. I chose the latter, and it was a very expensive lesson. Remember my recommendation that you set a minimum and maximum compensation for each position? That approach can steer you clear of trouble in this kind of situation.

10. Failing to use the three-step interview process

I recommend that you complete an initial interview, a follow-up interview, and a working interview. Use the initial interview as a fast screening interview to see whether the candidate has potential. If so, the candidate enters the narrowed down applicant pool for follow-up interviews, which last 30 minutes to an hour. (For more, see "35 Powerful Interview Questions". )

Then comes the most important step—the working interview. On this day, the applicant observes the practice and the position for which he or she is applying for up to eight hours, shadowing a current employee. This process lets you observe the applicant, gets your team involved, and gives the applicant a chance to truly experience your hospital's work environment.

One caution: If you go through this process and still don't feel you've found the right person, start over. If you hire the best of the applicant pool instead, you'll start over again anyway before long. The wrong person just won't last long.

Hiring isn't easy, and it's a struggle we all share. The key: Keep your ultimate goal at the top of your mind—to hire the absolute best employee for your practice.

Think about the problems you face in your practice. I'd bet personnel issues top the list. So the time you spend hiring right helps you avoid your most common headaches and makes your day smoother.

Have you made hiring mistakes that the rest of us can learn from? If so, please get in touch. Hiring right is a critical skill, and we can all help each other.

Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo. He will speak on exit strategies and practice profitability at the Central Veterinary Conference in Kansas City, Mo., in August.

Mark Opperman

The bottom line

Hiring the best employee for your practice offers big dividends, but it demands an investment on your part. Four critical steps:

  • Make a list of the skills and attributes candidates need to succeed.

  • Give yourself time to find the right person.

  • Check final candidates’ references.

  • Offer competitive pay and benefits to attract strong candidates.

Hiring mishaps

“I was considering hiring a surgical technician, fresh out of tech school,” says Mark Opperman. “During her working interview, I gave her a hospital tour, and we passed by a surgery in process. On seeing the bloody scene, she passed out and hit the floor. It was immediately evident she wasn’t right for the job.”

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