5 easy steps to hiring your next star


This path to new hires for my veterinary hospital guarantees effort on the part of an applicant, a chance to ask tough questions, and a path to feedback from the team members wholl be working, day in and day out, with the new hire.

Puppies are cute, sure, but they make poor client service representatives or veterinary technicians. Still ... they ARE cute. (Irina84/stock.adobe.com)It can be frustrating to find the right fit for your veterinary team. You go through resume after resume until your eyes cross. These are five steps I follow at my veterinary hospital to make my hiring process go smoother.

Step 1: Write an ad that stands out

In a sea of veterinary technicians, client service representatives and boarding attendant job ads, yours must stand out. Make sure your job title spells out exactly who you're looking, but don't hesitate to be a little creative:

  • Small Animal Medical Technician – Surgery/Dental

  • Client Service Specialist, Client Concierge

  • Animal Care Specialist, Professional Pet Bather

Bonus tip!

When evaluating applications and resumes, I look for:

• applicants who've stayed with a company for at least two years

• no spelling or grammar errors (all computers have spell check after all!)

• appropriate words to describe qualifications (“venipuncture” vs. “blood draw,” or “anesthesia monitoring” vs.” helped in surgery”)

• cover letters.

The body of the ad is your opportunity to share a little about the culture of your practice. Here's an idea of how to start: “Do you have a passion for helping others? Are you a stellar communicator? Are you outgoing, reliable and responsible? Do you enjoy a fast-paced team environment? We're a growing practice looking to add a talented professional to our strong team. If you feel like you would be a good fit for our veterinary practice, please submit your resume.”

To weed out people who don't bother reading your ad to the end, ask all applicants to respond to a question related to your core values like:

• "Describe a time when you needed to have a tough conversation with a coworker. Please be as specific as possible."

• "Describe a time when you needed to deal with a difficult client. How did you handle it?"

Step 2: Do the first interview over the phone

Veterinary team member phone etiquette is important, because this is the first contact most of our clients have with our practice. It's our only opportunity to make a good first impression! Conducting a phone interview gives you a chance to hear whether you'd want a candidate to represent your hospital.

A thorough phone interview would cover:

• Availability (days and times the applicant can work)

• Questions specific to what's important in your practice:

> “What do you know about our company?”

> “Why did you apply at our veterinary clinic?”

> “If you joined our team, what abilities would you bring?”

> “What do you feel are your outstanding qualities?”

> “What did you enjoy about your current or most recent job?”

> “What was the least enjoyable aspect of your last job?”

> “What are some areas you feel you need to work on?”

• Date available to begin work

• Salary requirement

• Request for information: “Can I reach out to your prior employers for a reference?”


Step 3. Check references

After you get permission from the applicant-some states require written consent from the applicant-it's time to reach out to past employers. Previous bosses can provide insight into an applicant's honesty and integrity, and even whether they'd be eligible for rehire.

When creating your list of questions for past employers, keep in mind that some states have restrictions on what information previous employers can share. Stick to collecting facts based on information that the applicant has already given you either in their resume, application or phone interview. Here are some example questions:

• “Can you confirm the start/end date of employment with your company?”

• “What was the position? Can you elaborate on job responsibilities?”

• “What were the applicant's strengths and weaknesses?”

• “Would you rehire?”

I use references as a stepping stone, not necessarily a decision maker on whether to move forward with a certain applicant. Now, if there are alarming red flags, of course I wouldn't move forward. I am, however, a firm believer that part of a team member's success is being put in the correct seat within a practice. Not every practice follows that philosophy, so affording me an opportunity to meet the applicant (Step 4) in person will help validate (or not) previous employer's statements. 

What you can't ask applicants

Been a while since you brushed up on labor law? Here's a handout with applicant questions that can get you into legal hot water.

Step 4: Interview in person

Schedule at least two other team members to sit in on a round-table interview. Including other team members builds morale, and their opinions are valuable if they'll be working in the trenches alongside the new employee.

Ask questions based on your practice's core values. These questions will help determine whether this applicant would fit your practice's culture. Here are some sample questions:

• “Why do you want to work for our hospital?”

• “If you could complete two tasks at 80% or one at 100%, what would you do and why?”

• “How would you resolve a conflict with a team member without involving your immediate supervisor?”

• “Describe a time you needed to handle a difficult client. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?”

• “How would you create and nurture relationships with other team members?”

Those who participated in the round-table interview will compare notes and decide whether the applicant moves on to Step 5.

Step 5: Conduct a working interview to test cultural fit

On paper, an applicant can be skilled, but what you can't tell from a resume is how an applicant interacts with team members and clients. Though technical skills are extremely important, don't ever count out the eager applicant who fits into the practice's culture flawlessly. Skills can be trained.

Schedule the applicant to come spend two to four hours with the team. Every team member should have a chance to interact with the applicant and fill out an assessment afterwards. Use this feedback to determine whether the applicant is a cultural fit for your practice. Using your core values in creating the culture assessment. Questions could be “Was the applicant willing to collaborate?” or “Did the applicant show patience with team members, clients and pets?”

At this point, I'd gather the same team members who participated in Step 4 and review the assessments. Take into consideration all steps when determining if this applicant is the right fit for your practice.

Implementing these five steps will bring more qualified applicants at the beginning of the hiring process, and including the team along the way can help determine the longevity of a potential hire.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.

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