Scouting quality candidates is an artform


How to hire without all the headaches

The cost of an employee resignation is probably equal to one year's salaryof the person you will have to replace, Eddie Garcia, DVM, of Tampa, Fla.,surmises.

That cost is another salary short of what you'll pay for a new hire,and that's only part of the equation.

"They say every time you have to turn over a staff member you arenot just losing that employee and training another one," says Garcia."Usually before an employee leaves, their production goes down, whichmeans other people have to pick up the slack, which causes morale problems."

Expect to pay for the lost employee and your new hire in ways not measuredin checkbooks, he warns.

"That's why after you hire someone you need to treat them correctlyto keep them there," Garcia adds.

Hiring how-to

Garcia has been through the hiring process countless times and by nowcan routinely spell out what does and doesn't sail.

"Classically, when we need someone, whether it's a receptionist,a tech, a veterinary assistant or an associate, one of the first thingsI do is get the word out to all the pharmaceutical guys and drug guys thatcall on us," he says. "All of them know what kind of clinic weare."

If that route is a dead-end, he calls nearby clinics to inform them ofa position he's looking to fill. Third, Garcia will advertise in the newspaperor through the local junior college that trains veterinary technicians.

Allen Abrams, president of Abrams Veterinary Consulting in Pompano Beach,Fla., thinks in even simpler terms: If you're simply looking for a reliablereceptionist or front office staff, all you really need is a person wholoves animals.

"I've found some of the best employees working in grocery storesor restaurants," he says. "If they love animals and they believethat the animal is our primary responsibility and priority, then they'reusually going to be OK."

Of equal significance, according to Garcia, is to note a person's attitudeand personality the moment they step through that clinic door. Pay attentionto the way they carry themselves, their body language, how they appear,he says.

Adds Marty Bezner, a certified veterinary practice manager at IntracoastalAnimal Hospital in Florida, look for individuals who have at some pointin their life been involved in high school or college activities - activitiesthat require some discipline, because she argues you can't motivate people.

Delegate hiring duties

Once the applications start trickling in, know ahead of time upon whoseshoulders the onus of hiring will rest.

"Learning how to hire someone is an art," says Tom McFerson,CPA, of veterinary consulting group Gatto McFerson of Santa Monica, Calif.

"All business owners aren't always able to identify the best candidateor the best person for the job. It comes from experience and maybe gettinga second opinion, having the practice manager hire them," he adds.

Bezner's staff adopted a team approach to hiring that was introducedat the AAHA-Purdue University Veterinary Management Institute called HighCommitment Teamwork.

The personnel team at Bezner's clinic involves one veterinarian, onereceptionist, a kennel person, a technician and management, who acts asa facilitator. They search for, interview, select (with Bezner's approval),train and evaluate new hires throughout the first three months.

In addition during the interviewing process candidates will be briefedabout the hospital's employee manual and will receive detailed job descriptions.

"We ask the people if there is anything within the description theycannot do," she says. "We go over the staff manual so everybodyknows what to expect from us."

Such a team enabled Bezner and her veterinarian husband, Gerald, to taketime away from the practice without feeling guilty, she says.

"When the staff chose the person, it wasn't my fault, and it wasn'tDr. Bezner's fault."

The team would later evaluate the entire staff once a year, and wouldthen summarize evaluations for Bezner so she could meet with the peopleindividually.

At Garcia's clinic, his practice manager, veterinary technician assistantcoordinator and receptionist coordinator work together to select new candidatesfor positions.

The interviewing process includes phone interviews, one-to-one meetings,and then a one- or two-hour stint at the clinic where the candidate wouldshadow someone on the job. The receptionist currently on the job would thenevaluate the candidate's attitude and personality.

The final decision is usually determined by the practice manager andeither of the coordinators.

Middle ground

In the hiring shuffle, take a moment to determine whether the candidate'sexpectations and your clinic's offerings mesh.

Today's employees, like many of years past, basically seek a fair salary,benefits and some flexibility in schedules, says Garcia.

"Sometimes they'll take less money if you're flexible with themover schedules," he says.

Benefits, undoubtedly will vary from practice to practice, but you shouldstill have them, advises Garcia.

"In our case, we give employees a health insurance plan in whichthey pay all of it the first year. After that year, we pay 50 percent ofthe premiums; after five years we pay 100 percent of premiums up to a maximumper person. Plus we have a profit-sharing plan they can invest in aftertwo years of employment."

An added benefit is the clinic's pet care plan, which covers all theneeds for the first four pets at no charge - from heartworm medicationsto flea medicine.

At Bezner's clinic you won't find incentives. She "hates" suchgimmicks. "I think you need to get self-motivated people who help inthe decision-making and offer top-rate pay. We give full health insurance.We will do periodic lunches together. We have nice Christmas parties."

"The biggest key is that your practice has to have a good reputationin the community."

Economy effects on hiring

The caliber of candidates can largely depend on whether it's a bull orbear market, according to Garcia.

"When we are looking for a receptionist or veterinary technician,the quality can vary from time to time," he says. "We have lookedfor a staff member when none of the applicants were of the caliber thatwe wanted to interview. Other times, a few months later for the same position,we might have four or five good ones."

Garcia expects that the state of the economy will make job hiring easiernow and in the near future. He already thinks the pool of applicants isgreater than it was six months to a year ago.

McFerson disagrees.

"We haven't really seen an impact. In southern California, thereis such a shortage of veterinarians that we don't feel like there are alot of doctors out there," he says. "I don't get the sense thatthere's a glut of good veterinarians or techs or receptionists."

Ongoing process

Don't forget about your new hires, advises McFerson.

"The most important thing is making sure the employee knows whatyour expectations are. They need to know what their duties and hours are,performance you expect."

Also, set up yearly performance reviews, which ensures the employee getsfeedback.

"Constantly challenge your employees, reward them, not necessarilyfinancially," he says. "You can reward them with days off, givingthem a pat on the back. The key is to keep things interesting. Make surethey know they are appreciated and an integral part of the team." M

Hiring tips

Ellen Weeks, practice manager of Harper Woods Veterinary Hospital, offerssome guidelines that have proved effective for this Harper Woods, Mich.,facility

* Notice the personality of the candidate.

- Anyone can be trained on the job duties, but you cannot train themto be nice, happy people.

* Try to find a candidate who will fit in with your clinic's personnel.

- Value the recommendations of colleagues for potential hires.

- Call a previous employer to find out background on your candidate.

- Call the school they attended.

- When advertising for a technician position, try the newsletter routeor word-of-mouth.

- For a new receptionist, post For Hire signs in your waiting room.

- At the grocery or other retail store, be on the lookout for potentialcandidates for jobs at your clinic. Hand out business cards for them tocontact you if interested.

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