An Rx to hire the perfect veterinary assistant


On the pain. The itching. The irritation! Can anything be more miserable than a terrible hire? Take the hives out of hiring with this soothing prescription to find and hire up-to-scratch technical team members in four (not simple but clinically indicated) steps.

Step 1: Attract potential hires to apply 

It's best to bait the hook with several methods to bring in the applications. For example, I start by contacting the Department of Labor (DOL) in my state and placing an ad that explains the available position. Depending on how big of a city you're in, you could be receiving dozens of applications from this alone. Using the DOL as a resource casts a very wide net, and you will be looking for a diamond in the rough using this method.

Next, consider using online methods advertising the open position, such as Facebook, Craigslist and your state veterinary technician association. Now you'll be flooded with applications to search for your perfect employee.

Step 2: Receive the application 

Sounds simple, right? But there's a method here. Have your receptionists receive the application and tell the applicant that you'll contact them if you're interested. This way you don't need to call if you simply have too many applications to phone every one.

Bonus tip: Ask your receptionists to attach a sticky note to the application that details what the applicant is wearing and any obvious hygiene flaws. Your priority should go to those more professionally dressed candidates. Trust me, I've had plenty of people apply in tattered t-shirts and low-cut skirts. Don't waste your time there.

Step 3: Filter applications for a handful of interview candidates

This can be harder than it sounds. In my opinion, it's the hardest part. Over the years I've tried many approaches, and to this day I still experience the occasional case where traditional wisdom is completely wrong. Here's my usual criteria for the good, the bad and the ugly on an application.

The good

• Resume attached. About 80 percent of the applications I receive don't have a resume attached. And 90 percent of the resumes I receive are printed on plain computer paper. The very tiny percentage of applicants who attach a resume that's correctly written and printed on professional resume paper should always stand out. Maybe it's not important to you, but it means that this job is important to them.

• Complete application. No blocks are missed, no checkmark unchecked.

• No shortcuts. For example, if you have availability listed by day, the applicant should fill out each block instead of writing “anytime” and then running a line through the rest of the days. I feel that taking shortcuts on paper hints to the applicant's likelihood of taking shortcuts on the job.

• Solid employment history. No big gaps.

• Signs of passion for the profession. Your employment application should include a “reason for applying” section. In that section, look for a passionate response-something more than “I like animals.”

• A professional email address. Not horny_fairy1990 (not even kidding).

The bad and the ugly

•  Large gaps in employment history. These gaps can indicate lack of commitment.

•  Incomplete application. Any blocks that aren't filled out can mean anything from laziness to hiding something.

• Lack of references.

• Currently employed but willing to start next day. You always want employees to show they're willing to work out a notice with their current job. If they don't, they very well could just up and leave you one day like they did their former employer.

• Frequent job changes. If an employee stays somewhere for less an six to 12 months often, it shows lack of commitment.

While all of these elements can help you find the right applicants to interview, it shouldn't exclude you from interviewing someone. I've decided against interviewing people based off my initial impression of their application and later changed my mind, just to find they're very impressive in the interview stage.

Step 3:  The first interview 

Gather your interview team and your applicant in a quiet space were you won't be disturbed. “But wait Alex, I don't have an interview team!” I can hear you saying now. Avengers, Assemble!

My interview team consists of myself, my assistant manager and my pharmacy manager, a psychology major. Your interview team should include similar talents. I recommend a team of three or so people, consisting of both genders and a diverse backgrounds.

The goal: Every team member should look for something different in the potential employee. During your sit down with the applicant, make sure you cover points such as pay, benefits and work schedule. And if they're not familiar with the profession, discuss all the common positive and negative experiences on the job as a veterinary assistant.

Ask lots of questions about job history, reason for applying and strengths and weaknesses, and give them a chance to ask you questions. And remember, there are some questions you aren't legally allowed to ask, such as age, religion, if they have children and so on.

Usually by the time all questions are asked and answered you'll know if you want the applicant to move onto the next stage of the hiring process: the working interview.

If it's looking good, at this point schedule the working interview with the employee. Then finish off with a tour of the hospital, walking the applicant to the door.

Step 4: The working interview

Plan for a four-hour-long working interview at a minimum. Usually a morning of working with someone gives me enough time to evaluate someone to the point where I know if I want this person employed with my hospital.

• Mark lateness. If the applicant is late for the start of their working interview, even by a minute or two, I have them reschedule and let them know that this seriously decreases the likelihood of getting at job at my hospital. If they're late more than 10 minutes, depending on their excuse, I will dismiss them completely. “I didn't know how long it would take to get here in the morning” isn't an acceptable excuse.

• Set expectations. At the beginning of each interview, I tell the applicant what I expect during the interview. For those with no experience in the veterinary field, I'm mainly looking for initiative and how well they get along with the team.

• Expect to be impressed. I show the applicant where the mop and broom are, as well as the disinfectant spray, and inform them to clean every mess they see. Also, once or twice I try to sweep or mop something in front of them and hope they offer to do it themselves. The initiative of making your job easier is a great sign that points towards a potentially good employee.

• Observe attitudes. During the working interview you're always going to have some applicants who are shy or nervous. You need to learn how to determine whether this is normal jitters the applicant will get over after being hired, or if this is their permanent personality. During the working interview, the applicant should be on best behavior. This means that if you see things such as a touch of laziness, cell phone time or anything negative, that behavior will be amplified as an employee.

Hiring the right employee can be a tough choice, and the wrong decision could have possibly devastating consequences. One of the most important things I've learned through the years is to go with your gut feeling on an applicant. I've had several hires who all seemed good on paper and during the working interview. But when I had an uneasy feeling, these employees always turned into less-than-desirable employees after I hired them. Trust your instincts, and good luck hiring!

Alex Espinosa is the practice manager of Clarkesville Veterinary Hospital in Clarkesville, Georgia.


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