How Do I Hire The Right People: Hiring Vets
$103.6 billion dollars, that’s how much American pet owners spent on their pets in 2020. APPA’s latest survey shares 31.4 billion of that spend is directly related to veterinarian care.
At the same time pet ownership is booming, there’s a veterinarian shortage. Between the increase in pet adoption and the fewer people attending veterinarian school there are more openings than doctors to fill them.
So what’s a veterinary practice to do? When it comes to veterinary hiring practices, you know it’s essential to hire the right people. That mix of tangible and intangible skills and personality traits is hard to define. If you’re like a lot of practice managers and owners, making hiring decisions falls way to the bottom of your list. You already have a lot on your plate and hiring the right person can be difficult.
To find out more about what’s working in the world of veterinary hiring, we consulted online resources and spoke to a veterinary surgeon and consultant for fivebarks.com, Dr. Linda Simon,MVB MRCVS.
One thing is clear, to attract the best veterinary candidates, it’s helpful to think about your hiring process ahead of time. That way, you can have a process which can help you focus on the candidates and their fit in your practice rather than hiring someone fast.
How many of these do you incorporate in your veterinary hiring practices?
8 Elements of Successful Veterinary Hiring
1. Define the Job (and Needed Skills)
Before you can hire for a role, it’s essentials to clarify the skillsets you need. That may sound obvious but it’ll help you identify your ideal candidate easier.
For example, are you replacing someone who left or are you hiring for an additional role?
The answer to this question, can affect the type of qualitative skills you need.
As you know, veterinarian skills include the ability to problem-solve, treat animals, and have empathic listening skills for communicating with others.
However, if you’re looking for a specialist replacement, then you’ll need a higher concentration of of specialist skills.
According to an article in Today’s Veterinary Practice, the best job descriptions incorporate elements of the daily tasks. Are you hiring for a front facing role or a largely solo position that requires high attention to detail? Are there aspects of the role at your practice that are different from what might be expected at another? If you can, compare job descriptions from similar organizations. That’ll help refine your needs, jog your memory, and see how your role compares.
To make the most of your hiring decisions, you’ll want to create a job description that matches your job and include a competitive salary to match.
Like most things in life, you don’t want to wait until you’re in a panic to hire a veterinarian. Ideally, you stay connected to your network and can put the word out informally as needed. Those informal connections can help you attract the best candidates. However, you’ll probably still advertise and cast a wide net.
You might even choose to contract with a veterinary recruiter. This approach comes with pros and cons. Dr. Linda Simon says, “I feel a con of a recruiter is you are less likely to get the right fit for the team and you’d ultimately be spending more money. Pros; presumably they have more reach and can get a large number of applicants for the role.”
Posting on social media and putting ads on industry websites (and related publications) can help spread the word.
When it comes to social media channels, you can use your personal channels as well as your practice channels. The more people who share it, the greater your reach.
But don’t just post your job description and call it done. Borrow from your local Visitor’s Bureau and share pictures of your community and showcase what a desirable area you’re in.
After all, your potential new veterinarian may be considering job openings around the country. What makes your town stand out? You can share photos and videos of tourist attractions, staff favorites, and hidden gems to give them a glimpse of what it’s like to live and work in your community.
4. Pre-Screen and Interview Well
Pre-screening candiates is a great way for you to focus on only the best fit candidates. For example, a thorough (and realistic) job description with a competitive salary range allows people who aren’t good fits to self-select out saving you both time.
On the other hand, it’ll also attract the best candidates for your organization. From there, you can evaluate their resumes, perhaps choose to do a preliminary phone or video interview and then narrow your selection down to invite a select few in for a face to face interview.
5. Standardize Your Interview Process
Create a list of questions to ask of all your candidates. That way, you can compare answers later. Don’t forget to take good notes. It can be tough to keep track of everyone. After all, when you come to the final decision, you want to make sure you’re all remembering the same person.
Additionally, be prepared for your candidates to interview you. They’re making a big commitment too so they want to make sure they’re choosing the right fit for them.
Dr. Linda Simon says, “ When applying for a job, vets will ask about their working hours, the expectation to work out of hours, their salary, the amount of support staff available, insurance and other benefits.”
She also says, “Nowadays, vets are keen to belong to a progressive practice that has access to a range of diagnostic equipment and specialists. They want the opportunity to provide the best standard of care. They crave the opportunity to keep learning and to be involved in complex and interesting medical and surgical cases.”
You may have encountered the trend of inviting final candidates to a “working interview.” This can be beneficial because it gives everyone a taste of what the environment is like. Dr. Simon says, “We regularly have people along for a day, especially potential vet techs. This allows us and them to see how they gel with the team. However, not every potential employee is willing to go this far without the guarantee of a job.”
If you choose to go the working interview route, check the current legal guidelines on them. In some cases, the candidates are considered employees — even if only a short period of time. There are also insurance considerations. So, make sure you talk to the related professionals.
6. Sample Interview Questions
As you start interviewing, you’ll want to ask questions that give you a glimpse into the person’s personality, attitude, and skillset.
Questions like, “Can you tell me about one of your recent clinical challenges and how you handled it?” Can give you insight into how empathetic they are and how well they solve problems.
You can also ask why they want to work at your practice and about their career goals for the next few years.
When you ask a candidate about their strengths, that gives you insight into their personality. For example, if someone said they were great with people and gave you an example that showcased their emotional intelligence, you may sit up and take notice. After all, many practices could use another veterinarian who’s good with people as well as animals.
However, no one excels at everything and those who are self-aware enough to know what they are good at and why are worth gold.
Here are more interview questions for your veterinary hiring.
7. Background checks
As you move into the final candidate checks, you’ll start calling references. This is a chance to tune into anything unspoken. For example, if you call a reference and they take long pauses or use precise language, those are signs of a potential conflict.
As you know, people ask those who are most likely to give a flattering reference. If their reference doesn’t seem relaxed and happy to give it, there could be something they’re not saying.
After all, once you’ve gotten this far, you want to make a good choice and hire a veterinarian who’s going to be an asset to the practice and contribute to the team.
8. Retain Your Staff
Once you’ve done the hard work of hiring a new staff member, you want to keep them around. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says the average veterinary practice has a 23% turnover. Though Penn Foster places it even higher at 30%-50%.
Considering that each person who leaves has a replacement cost of roughly 20% of their salary per The Center of American Progress, the costs can add up quick. For example, if a veterinarian at your practice makes a $100,000/year salary, then it can cost $20,000 to replace them in resources.
Not only do you want to save these costs, but you also want a thriving practice where people want to work. A survey by Penn Foster says 60% of practice managers want to improve employee retention and skill.
It’s not surprising since retaining your staff members can contribute to a sense of camaraderie, good customer service, and yes, cost-savings on the hiring front.
A good question to ask, is why do they leave?
It’s no secret that the veterinary profession is in crisis. The high rates of burnout and even suicide are unparalleled.
Dr. Linda Simon says, “ Veterinarians nowadays are expecting more from their career. They are no longer happy with simply having a job and being part of a team. Vets are also acutely aware of international salaries and of their student debt hanging over their head. They expect to be renumerated fairly, especially if the job entails a lot of out of hours and weekend work.”
If you’re not sure the going rates in your area, the AAHA offers a resource for compensation within the veterinary industry.
Maintain a Positive Practice
There’s a lot of talk about positive work environments yet there’s also confusion and lip service given to what makes it possible. It starts with leadership.
Dr. Simon says, “Those clinics who have a high retention rate are the ones who take care of their staff. They should be providing continuous learning opportunities, regular staff meetings and the opportunity to discuss and review cases. Vets enjoy being part of a team and being listened to. When collaboration is possible and vets feel supported, they are more likely to want to stick around.”
It’s important to address the mental health concerns of your staff too. Dr Simon says, “Mental health needs to be a prime focus. With depression and suicide rates high among vet staff, it is the employer’s role to ensure all staff know they have access to support at all times. Gone are the days when vets were expected to work until ‘burn out’ and quality of life as well as work life balance should be a priority.”
If you have a mental health support process in place, this is a good time to mention it.
How Do You Hire a Veterinarian Fast?
If you’re left in a bind because a veterinan left and you have no one to fill their place, you might focus on how fast can you hire. However, a better question is how can you hire the right candidate? It’s better to go slow and find someone who’ll stay awhile than hire the first veterinarin who seems to fit the bill and accepts the role.
After all, there are a lot ways a person could fit in well at your practice, or not. Less tangible qualities like a positive attitude and good communication skills go far in establishing a positive work environment.
Veterinary hiring isn’t likely to get easier in the near future, but if you take the time to establish a process for hiring the best candidate for your practice, then you’ll make it easier now and in the future. Additionally, if you stay active within industry associations, you can have an easier time networking your way to your next best veterinarian hire.