Hiring new talent: Why soft skills matter

December 3, 2020
Kellie Olah, CVPM, SPHR

Kellie Olah, CVPM, SPHR, is a practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.

Vetted, Vetted January 2021, Volume 16, Issue 1

When it comes to hiring new team members at your veterinary practice, you should consider a nice balance of both technical and soft skills. Here’s why, plus how to identify key soft skills.

From prepping a cat for surgery to cleaning a dog’s teeth and taking x-rays to filling a prescription, there is a wide range of technical skills to consider when interviewing and hiring at your veterinary practice. It is equally important to select team members who possess key soft skills such as flexibility, open-mindedness, and creativity. These types of traits will help them to provide the best possible service and care to your patients and clients and to become a valuable part of your team.

Although you can easily review hard or technical skills on a resume or observe them in action, it’s more challenging to discern soft skills. As these can be such an integral part of an interviewee’s personality, they may not even be aware of them much less able to articulate them. Integrity, for example, is an important soft skill, but oftentimes people with integrity live ethics-based lives without considering it a skill that they need to highlight during an interview. That’s just who they are—and who you want.

Crafting job descriptions and ads

People may feel more comfortable highlighting their technical skills. Thus, you should consider including soft skills in your practice’s job descriptions and advertisements. For example, if you are looking for a veterinary technician who works well with others and can communicate clearly and compassionately with clients, include those attributes in your job descriptions and not just as an add-on.

Key soft skills

Each practice may value different traits, but here are some soft skills that every hospital can benefit from.

Can perform under pressure. To tackle the day-to-day challenges of a veterinary practice, you need team members who can thrive under pressure. For example, you want to hire people who can remain calm when dealing with stressed and frightened animals or when responding to anxious clients. Additionally, veterinary professionals must be prepared to deliver heartbreaking news such as a terminal illness—or help clients make the challenging decision to euthanize their beloved pets. Having team members who can remain calm, especially during emergencies, is critical.

Detail oriented. When everything is running smoothly, this trait may not come to the forefront. But paying attention to detail is crucial when following protocols, taking notes, labeling samples, and more. Being detail oriented usually goes hand in hand with being organized. When pet records, for example, are well organized, your team can easily access accurate details, thus putting clients at ease.

Empathetic. Empathy is the ability to discern the emotions of others or to put yourself in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand what they might be feeling.

Compare someone who can do their job effectively with someone who can manage technical skills while also communicating with empathy and you will understand why soft skills are so valuable. Empathic team members build trusting relationships with clients, thus allowing them to provide the best possible care to their pets.

Flexible. Although the practice can plan its day, emergencies happen and even the seemingly most ordinary appointments can become difficult. Having a practice team that can roll with the punches is essential to providing optimal care.

Interviewing for soft skills

Identify which soft skills are important to your practice and then tailor your interview questions to reflect them. If you have an exceptionally busy practice and time management is key, you could say, “Please share a time when you had multiple deadlines to meet and tell me how you prioritized your tasks to meet those deadlines.”

If creativity and problem solving is important to your practice, you could ask interviewees to describe a time when they faced a problem they had never encountered before and have them share their problem-solving process.

To measure an interviewee’s level of empathy, try asking them about a time they had to share bad news with a client. Ask about the specifics of the situation and find out how the interviewee responded.

If collaboration is crucial in your practice culture, ask the applicant about a time when they had to collaborate with someone who was not easy to get along with.

Throughout this interviewing process, you can determine how well an applicant communicates and how they respond under pressure by how effectively they answer your questions.

Finding balance

When it comes to hiring new talent, it’s all about balance and paying attention to soft skills that may not get the time and attention they should do during the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring processes.

In a hectic practice, it can be tempting to choose a candidate with great technical skills and mediocre soft skills over someone who has the soft skills you want but less work experience. Why is this so tempting? Let’s face it. Your practice likely needs positions filled ASAP. And, under those tight time constraints, it’s normal to want someone who can hit the ground running. In the short run, that’s probably true. Here’s a flaw, though. Soft skills are typically inherent. Sure, someone can work on improving communication skills, but the reality is that integrity, creativity, and adaptability, for example, tend to be ingrained into someone’s personality—or not. So, envisioning that a candidate with excellent technical skills will somehow develop the soft skills you need and want may not happen.

According to Daniel Goleman, in his book Working With Emotional Intelligence, soft skills more accurately predicted top performance than experience did, or, for that matter, IQ. So, hiring someone with desired soft skills and working with them to gain adequate work experience may be a more practical approach to consider when hiring new team members.

Kellie Olah, CVPM, SPHR, is a practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.

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