8 must-ask questions for veterinary hospital hires

April 30, 2019
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

Ask these questions to find out whether a veterinary practice applicant prepared for the interview, knows how to manage tough situations and has a passionate plan for the future.

There are six prairie dogs, but eight interview questions for potential new hires. That means two of them are going to spring bonus questions on you unexpectedly. (Zsolt Biczo/stock.adobe.com)While an interview only gives a quick glimpse of a veterinary job applicant's potential, you can make the most of your time by planning your approach to hiring. That includes asking some solid questions.

You get a good idea of general skills from a resume, but what I'm more concerned with during the interview process is people skills and passion for the position. I ask how individuals handle conflict with clients or coworkers. When we think about one of the biggest challenges we face while managing employees, it usually has to do with squashing disputes. If I'm able to also gain a sense of how passionate the person is about this job in particular, I'll likely have fewer call outs and issues with tardiness. Here's my list of must-ask questions and what I'm hoping to get from each one:

Healthy conflict:

‘Tell me about a time you had a disagreement at work and how you resolved this conflict. What would you do differently in the future?'

You want to see the candidate acknowledge conflict happens at work (it's a normal part of everyday human interactions) and find out their perspective on how to manage it. Do they run to the manager each time to deal with it, or do they try to work through the issue with the individual first? Major points to those who try to work through these conflicts directly and those who aren't afraid to admit blame and apologize when appropriate.

The second part of the question helps to determine whether the candidate can be introspective and acknowledge potential improvements to make the next go-around.

Ready with research:

‘Why do you want to work for our hospital in particular?'

You'll find out what the candidate knows about your company as a whole as well as your mission and values (assuming they're posted in a public forum such as social media or your website). Did the candidate take the time to do research or just try to wing it? As we all know, the responses that revolve around getting to “work with animals” or “I want to learn more about (name of specialty/service you provide)” are likely not as strong candidates.

Special abilities:

‘What strengths do you feel you could bring to the position?'

I like to get a feel for the individual's knowledge of the position and what it entails as well as how the applicant could contribute to our team. This question may reveal some strengths that are lacking among your current team. (But don't necessarily jump on multitaskers.)

Favorite tasks:

‘What's the best job you've had and why?'

Find out what the candidate loves to do most at work, and see whether these passions align with your open position. Does the applicant enjoy growth, learning and opportunities to advance? Are they more concerned with pay and benefits?

The boss question:

‘How do you like to be managed?'

Discover how much handholding an individual needs and how well they work with managers.

Constructive criticism:

‘What do you like best about your current employer? What do you feel your current company could improve on?'

It's a red flag if an individual responds to the first part of the question with, “I can't really think of anything they did well.” I've gotten this response a handful of times, and it shows a level of negativity and unprofessionalism I really don't want in our practice.

The second part of the question isn't meant to be a trap-we all can improve. However, if this turns into a rant about how awful the current or most recent employer is, it's likely best to steer clear.

Having trouble finding associates? You're not alone.

Read stories from others suffering in the (hopefully) temporary veterinarian drought, and find advice to hire and retain great ones in the dvm360 Spotlight Series: Associate Shortage.

Exit plan:

‘Why are you leaving your current position?'

You may gain insight into potential conflicts the applicant could have at your practice. Sometimes people will reveal performance or behavioral issues if these are reasons the individual is leaving their current employer.

Future role:

‘Where do you see yourself in five years?'

I like to learn an employee's long-term goals, if they have any. This can differentiate a self-motivated individual from one who's just looking for a “job.” A candidate's plan doesn't have to involve your practice or company in five years, but having a plan for self-growth definitely wins the applicant bonus points in my book. 

Look-hiring is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, so it's important you do it right the first time and get the best candidate possible to avoid having to go through the entire process in a week or a month. Interviews take time, but training new hires over and over again is worse. Good interviews are also respectful of an applicant's time and energy; I'd rather not waste a new hire's time if they won't be a good fit. Asking the right questions can be a huge first step to ensure a successful recruitment.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and regional manager at CVCA Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia.