Forget everything you know about hiring

October 2, 2019

Youre probably doing it wrong when it comes to filling spots at your veterinary clinic. Get a fresh start here.

When it comes to hiring an ideal team member, there's good news and bad news. The bad news: Unemployment is at an all-time low. People can be picky about choosing jobs. And it's not just you. Almost all hospitals are looking for awesome staff!

Now, the good news: There are ways to find good people. However, you need to be attractive to the job seeker. What's your culture like? Do you already have an awesome team? Good people won't be attracted to a toxic environment. So, internal housekeeping is step one.

Gone are the days of throwing together an ad, putting it in the newspaper and waiting for awesome candidates to beat down your door. To hire a quality candidate today, much of the work is done before you even place the job announcement. As mentioned, internal housekeeping is critical. Your practice must stand out in the sea of announcements to attract an outstanding candidate.

A ‘warm body' is not a job description

Why are you hiring? What position are you filling? Be specific, with intent, when looking to fill a position.

While the following tips work for all positions, it's up to you to be thoughtful and focused. Who do you want? Hiring just to fill a position (warm body) will not work out in the long run.

Veterinary ads look eerily similar

Have you looked at veterinary job ads out there? For the most part, they all look the same! What makes your practice stand out? Consider your hospital's culture-how does it feel, how do team members act toward one another, what values does it embody? Be honest with yourself. Why should someone come work with your team?

If you aren't actively looking for someone to fit into your culture, then read no further because any person will do. However, if finding the right person for your culture and values is a priority, then these tips will set you on the right path.

Look for character

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.” - Lawrence Bossidy, former COO of GE and former CEO of Honeywell International 

Make a conscious effort to identify the most qualified candidate who can 1) problem solve (a critical thinker), 2) engage with team members (social), 3) blend enthusiasm with realism (authenticity) and 4) be attentive to medical detail (technical skills).

A ‘good fit' for your team

What does a “good fit” mean? She (or he) is a person with a combination of aptitude (technical skills) and attitude (personal skills). Which one is easier to teach? The technical (hard) skills, of course.

While some positions require more technical know-how than others (veterinarians and veterinary technicians), it really comes down to the prospective employee being able to play well with others in your sandbox.

We also know hard skills are easier to test and observe. That's why you provide a paid working interview (hint, hint).

If you are only hiring for technical skills, stop. Think about it: How many people have you fired who had medical skills but couldn't play well with others in your sandbox? Really, you want to hire for aptitude, emotional intelligence, character and people skills.

One for all, and all for one

One aspect that can really help is to stop thinking of people as employees working in separate departments. Everyone is part of the same team working toward the best pet care possible. Rallying around the idea that “we're all in this together” builds a sense of unity and community, which fosters culture.

Look for lifelong learners

These are people passionate about continuing education-not just the technical side but character development, communication and emotional intelligence. Individuals with an active mind and a growth mindset can learn, unlearn and relearn skills. Someone with a growth mindset believes that skill development and talent are derivatives of personal will and effort. Wouldn't you want that person on your team?

Now, with all this understanding under your belt, go back and reflect on your job description and posting. Is it really directed toward finding the right person for you and your team? If yes, then let's get down to the nitty gritty.


What to look for in a cover letter

Ask for cover letters from all potential hires. This is your first glimpse into an applicant's professionalism. If the resume comes from the email address, what does that say about the person's level of maturity?

In addition, you can learn about candidates through their writing style, format, layout, greetings and salutation. You can often get a “feel” for a personality based on the tone and words used.

Some red flags include addressing the letter to the wrong veterinary hospital, misspelling the name of the hiring manager or explaining how they “love animals” but have no relevant customer service or hospital experience. It's a no-brainer that when “veterinary” is spelled wrong, the letter should land in the trash!

What to look for in an interview

Spend time developing your questions. The goal is to find someone with the necessary skills who fits into your practice culture. Be clear about the candidate's qualities blending well with your existing team and your hospital values that play out in client interactions, patient experiences and team member communication.

Consider these possible questions about leadership:

1. How do you see yourself as a leader among your team?

2. When leading team members, how do you encourage and enable them to reach new heights of success?

See the difference? The first question asks about the candidate and stops there. The second gives the candidate an opening to answer with more initiative and follow-through. Add a few questions to your scripted list that encourage more problem-solving and active engagement, not 'yes' or 'no' or questions with obvious right answers.

Choose a variety of questions. Ideally, you want to screen candidate's for their ability to adapt to change, fit your culture, collaborate, lead, grow and prioritize workload.

Here are a few more examples of questions that will let you get to know your candidates a little better:

> If a client called to complain that the price of our service is too high, how would you handle it?

> Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma at work. How did you deal with it, and what was the result?

> Tell me about a time when you needed to adjust to a colleague's working style to complete a project or achieve your objectives.

> What's the most interesting thing about you that's not on your resume?

> Have you ever had to 'sell' an idea to your coworkers? How did you do it? What were the results?

> When was the last occasion you asked for direct feedback from a superior? Why?

Need some more guidance? Lots of websites list questions for veterinary professionals. Just search for "veterinary interview questions."

Other approaches might include administering an aptitude test or asking a person to solve a puzzle or riddle.

Of course, what they say and how they say it are vital as well. Pay attention to the person's language, both body and words. Red flags include overly general or too short answers, a tendency to criticize others, contradictory body language signals (they say they're fine with something, but their arms are crossed or they look uncomfortable) or just a failure to pay attention during the interview.

There are things you can do right and wrong during the hiring and interviewing process. It's critical to know state and federal laws pertaining to labor law and the hiring process. Pre-employment background checks protect and benefit the practice-do them. State in your job advertisement that background checks will be performed.

Remember, each applicant must be treated the same, given the same questions or tests during the same time in the process and in the same format. In all instances, consistency must be respected and upheld by your hiring team.

By using these tools and having a clear sense of the ideal candidate for your culture, you're sure to find people who'll thrive in your veterinary hospital. Because when everyone works together, good outcomes will occur.

Rebecca Rose, AAS,CVT has worked in and managed clinics, collaborated with industry partners and facilitated workshops. Denise Mikita, MS, CVT, brings knowledge in clinic experience, organizational management and team dynamics. They have been involved with veterinary councils, state and national professional organizations and animal welfare groups. Today, they work together at Catalyst Veterinary Practice Consultants.