Hire the right employees to reduce turnover


Targeted hiring yields better candidates that fit your existing team.

You want happy, productive team members who stick around because they belong. And your team wants the same thing. How to hit the mark: Create an environment where people are the top priority and staff retention is a central part of your culture.

To improve staff retention, you'll want to enhance your hiring process. So if your practice is experiencing low morale, high turnover, and difficulties hiring qualified replacements, read on. Soon you'll be able to identify the steps to assemble your dream team.

To begin the hiring process, consider who you're reaching with your advertising. Increasingly job seekers embrace the Internet, so consider a combination of strategies. Advertise in the print and the online version of your local newspaper. Consider your personal contacts. If you're impressed with a receptionist or hostess at a local restaurant, ask if he or she is interested in working in the veterinary field. Advertise on websites such as veterinarycareer.dvm360.com, linkedin.com, jobs.avma.org, and monster.com.

Well-Managed Practices successfully use many different approaches to find applicants. And their strategy depends on whether they're angling for a new team member or a new associate. When she's looking for a certified veterinary technician, Kim Mulvahill, practice manager at Intermountain Animal Hospital in Meridian, Idaho, has had great luck with targeted mailings. "We get a list from the state board of certified technicians, which is public record, and mail out a letter advertising our open position," she says. "We also advertise with our local veterinary technician associations. On the other hand, our associate positions have always been filled by word of mouth or drop-in candidates."


To improve your hiring success rate, know your must-have skills and personality traits. These can vary by position. For credentialed technicians, you want someone with high-level technical and diagnostic skills as well as good client communication skills. You'll need to decide the skills you're willing, and able, to teach. Develop position descriptions and hire based on them. Determine the skills necessary for each position, including the qualities you'd like to see in a candidate and the responsibilities he or she will shoulder if hired. A position description allows you to evaluate candidates' previous experience so you can place them at the appropriate skill level.

Heather Blount, CVPM, the office manager at College Road Animal Hospital in Wilmington, N.C., asks applicants to submit their résumés through e-mail. "Our practice is computer-based and all of our medical records are electronic, so someone who can only come in and turn in a handwritten résumé might not be the right fit," she says. Blount also looks to see what information applicants felt was pertinent to put on their résumé. "Did they list experience from 20 years ago when they were in high school versus more work-related training and education? That's usually a red flag," she says.


After reviewing the résumés you've received, decide which candidates to contact for a phone interview. This preliminary conversation will cover technical training, prior job experience, and professional goals. If you're impressed by any of the candidates during the phone interview, invite them in for an interview at the practice. Discuss the duties for the position, and use a standard list of questions to interview each applicant. It's easier to compare candidates this way, and you're less likely to skip steps.

Dr. Michael W. Brown, owner of Care Animal Hospital in Muncie, Ind., says he goes through résumés and tries to whittle down the list to a manageable group. Then he conducts phone interviews to discuss the position, hours, and other topics that can quickly thin out candidates.


If a candidate checks out, Dr. Brown plans a two-hour in-person interview where the practice manager interviews the applicant and then turns him or her over to the team. At the end of the interview, the practice manager meets with the applicant again to see if he or she is still interested. "This step is incredibly useful to weed out applicants who don't want the job when they learn the tasks they'll be responsible for," Dr. Brown says.

When you're interviewing candidates, be sure the standard questions you ask will predict if they'll be a good fit in the position, as well as if they'll fit your practice culture. Consider using the interview questions from Benchmarks 2010: A Study of Well-Managed Practices as your guide (see "Must-ask questions"). This Benchmarks tool provides a list of standard questions to gauge work ethic, interpersonal relationship skills, ability to adapt, technical skills, desire to learn, and much more.

Mulvahill says her practice looks for applicants who are outgoing and confident but not pushy or aggressive. "I like it when a candidate has researched what our hospital has to offer and comes prepared with questions for us," she says. "I also look at employment history and ask about any employment gaps or why they left past employers."

Let's look at two examples of questions you might ask as well as common responses and what they mean:

Question: "How do you feel when your coworkers complain and are negative about work?"

Response: "It annoys me, and I usually try to change the direction of the conversation."

Interpretation: This response demonstrates an understanding of the importance of workplace attitudes and a desire to communicate tactfully with coworkers.

Question: "How do you feel if you've left tasks unfinished at the end of the day?"

Response: "I avoid leaving work incomplete as much as possible. If I have too much on my plate, I'll ask my supervisor to help prioritize the tasks and I'll work hard in the future to avoid leaving work undone."

Interpretation: This answer shows a strong work ethic, organized thinking and implementation, and a desire to expand technical knowledge as well as an understanding of hospital processes.

Incorporate questions that demonstrate the candidate's knowledge of your practice's vision and goals. "I like to have applicants tell me in their own words their understanding of the values we as a team have agreed to uphold," Mulvahill says. "I want to know how they would demonstrate these while working for us. It's also good to go through the manual with them and answer any questions on the hospital's policy before they start working. We go over the chain of command and who they need to go to for each type of problem."

Be sure to explain the hospital's medical philosophy, code of conduct, and your desire to train, invest in, and retain staff members long-term. You'll want to create a comprehensive orientation plan that uses more experienced staff members and the practice handbook to guide new hires. Explain that once the orientation period ends, education will continue through staff training, conference attendance, and regular meetings.


You can never be truly sure about a potential hire unless you check his or her references and run a background check. Blount says she requires applicants to submit three work references before she invites them in for a working interview. "My feeling is that everyone should be able to find three personal references who are going to say something nice about you," she says. "I've had some candidates come in here who look phenomenal on paper, and when I call four or five references, I can't find a single place that would hire this person back."


At the end of the in-person interview, you should know whether the candidate meets the technical requirements necessary for the position. Does he or she have more responses predictive of success than other candidates? Invite those top applicants back for a working interview, and if team members and doctors agree that an applicant would fit the position and the hospital culture, make an offer to your top choice.

Dr. Brown uses the working interview to give team members a chance to meet candidates and offer their feedback. "Team members like to feel like they've got some input," Dr. Brown says. "And if they tell us a candidate would be a good fit, they've got a vested interest in making sure that team member succeeds."

Dr. Phillip Lanzi, owner of College Road Animal Hospital in Wilmington, N.C., also uses a working interview to narrow in on strong candidates for associate positions. "It's important when associates come in to interview with us that we take them into an appointment and see how they interact with the client in the room," he says. "It's also important to see how they interact with other associates. If the associates like working with them, they go to the top of the list."

When you know the experience and character traits you're looking for, choose the right advertising venues, and critically evaluate whether candidates' interview responses are compatible with your practice culture, you can hire right the first time. Just imagine your practice free of turnover. Your staff members will be enthusiastic about coming to work, and your clients and patients will flourish under the care they receive. When you hire right, everyone wins.

Denise Tumblin, CPA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and president of Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates in Columbus, Ohio. Helen Hoekstra is a financial and valuation analyst at Wutchiett Tumblin. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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