Let’s kick this off by stating the obvious: You can’t run a successful veterinary practice without hiring the right people.
But finding the right people is notoriously tricky - particularly given the current labor supply challenges. Surging demand for veterinary services, combined with a growing shortfall of veterinary professionals, means that pickings are extraordinarily slim for practices looking to hire. The unemployment rate for veterinarians sits at just 0.5%, according to figures from the American Veterinary Medical Association. And of that 0.5%, about 79% are not actively seeking employment.
When recruitment opportunities arise, it’s crucial that you have the right hiring processes in place to maximize your chances of selecting the best candidates. Here are seven essential tips to help you improve your hiring decisions and build a winning veterinary team.
1. Polish your digital brand
When the labor market is tight, you better believe that candidates are scrutinizing your business just as thoroughly as you’re scrutinizing them. Your online presence can have a big impact on how your business is perceived (and, by extension, whether a potential candidate would want to work for you) so take the time to polish your brand across all of your digital channels, including your website, social media profiles, and online review platforms.
Ensure your messaging is clear, accurate, and appealing. What’s special about your practice? Tailor your online content and messaging to resonate with the type of candidates you want to attract. Ideally, your practice's online presence should reflect its unique personality and culture, which can help set you apart from the competition and stand out to potential candidates.
2. Write detailed job listings
Vague job listings attract applicants who may be vaguely suitable for the role. This can lead to an influx of unsuitable applicants, along with everything else that entails (more candidate screening, prolonged time to hire, increased risk of mismatches, etc.).
The solution here is simple: Stop writing job listings in general terms.
Be detailed. Get specific. A job description should provide potential candidates with a clear understanding of the role's responsibilities, requirements, and expectations. This helps candidates self-assess their suitability for the position, which reduces the likelihood of mismatches and helps to attract individuals who are genuinely interested and qualified.
Let’s say you’re looking to hire a veterinarian. In the job title field, you could say that you’re looking for:
- A veterinarian.
Or, you could say that you’re looking for
- A part-time licensed veterinarian for central Columbus companion animal practice.
The latter is obviously much more specific. This job title - the first thing people read when looking at opportunities - tells prospective applicants exactly what you’re looking for and whether they’ll be a good fit. Candidates can quickly self-screen; if the role isn't a good fit, they’ll just keep scrolling.
The same goes for other parts of the job description. Don’t just say work-life balance is important to us. Describe it. Lay out your hours of work, after-hour requirements, appointment times, and break policies. Instead of saying that you have a well-equipped hospital, specify the equipment that the applicant will be expected to use on a regular basis.
Being detailed in your job descriptions helps set expectations from the get-go, streamlining the hiring process and maximizing your chances of a successful hire.
3. Standardize your interview processes
Standardizing the interview process ensures that all candidates are assessed using the same criteria and evaluation methods. Consistency helps to eliminate bias and subjectivity in the hiring decision, making the process fairer for all candidates.
A good place to start is with the interview questions. Put together a list of essential questions and commit to asking them to every single candidate you interview. This allows you to compare candidates more objectively, keep the hiring team aligned, and ensure all interviewers are on the same page regarding the role’s requirements and the desired qualities in a candidate.
This isn’t about sticking to a script. You can - and should! - delve further into areas of interest that naturally crop up throughout the interview process. However, having a set of standardized questions (and answers) does provide an even playing field and ensures that all applications are evaluated using the same criteria and assessment methods.
4. Look at both technical and non-technical skills
Soft skills or hard skills, that is the question.
Hiring managers tend to focus primarily on a candidate’s technical skills and work experience - and it’s easy to see why. Technical competencies are usually the first things that come to mind when defining a role. And, they’re measurable. A technician can either insert a catheter, or they can’t. A client service representative either knows their way around an invoice, or they don’t.
But technical skills are just one piece of the puzzle. There are other skills to consider - things like attitude, interpersonal skills, and energy. Because veterinary practices depend heavily on positive client experiences to build trust and loyalty, soft skills can add tremendous value to a business and absolutely need to be considered when looking at candidates.
So, which is more important: Soft skills or hard skills?
The answer (annoyingly) is, it depends.
Sometimes, you need the candidate to be able to hit the ground running and handle the demands of a busy veterinary practice with minimal hand-holding. In this scenario, prioritizing experience over attitude makes sense.
In other situations, you might need a candidate with a proactive attitude who can help build company culture and strengthen inter-team relationships. Here, prioritizing soft skills over hard skills might be the smarter choice.
Every hiring situation is different. Define both the technical and non-technical requirements of the role, and look at candidates holistically. Every now and then, you might come across a unicorn who offers the best in both attitude and aptitude. However, the majority of the time, there will be tradeoffs to be made.
5. Read between the lines during reference checks
For obvious reasons, candidates tend to provide references who they know will sing their praises. This can make it tricky to get an accurate picture of what a candidate is really like. But listen closely and pay attention to what’s not being said and you might pick up some clues. Does the reference seem relaxed and happy to talk about the candidate? What tone of voice do they use? Do they hesitate before answering a question?
Feel free to ask follow-up questions or ask for clarification - the worst they can say is no. Larger companies are often reluctant to provide information beyond a candidate’s employment date and job title, but smaller businesses might be more forthcoming.
In addition to reference checks, some practices run background checks on candidates, including driving records, criminal records, drug test records, and so on. These checks can be a useful way of assessing a candidate’s suitability for roles that involve handling sensitive information, financial transactions, and prescription drugs.
Do note that some states and countries have strict regulations in place regarding the use of background checks. Be sure to check with your legal team and/or HR consultant before running any checks of your own.
6. Observe applicants in action
A candidate can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? That’s where the observational interview comes in.
As mentioned earlier, assessing a candidate’s technical competencies is fairly straightforward. Naturally, you’ll want to see they have the technical chops for the job, but it’s just as important to gauge how they fit in. Watch how they interact with the team. Are they engaged, approachable, friendly? How do they celebrate the wins? More importantly, how do they deal with frustration?
Keep the following points in mind when conducting an observational interview:
- Observational interviews are unpaid. The candidate is not there to work. They are there to get a better understanding of what the role involves, meet their potential future co-workers, and get a feel for the company culture.
- There may be liability concerns relating to possible illnesses or injuries that may arise during the observational interview. Before the observational interview, have the candidate complete a waiver to remove legal liability from your practice.
- If you want the candidate to perform work tasks, you must comply with labor laws, including minimum wage requirements and tax withholding. In the US, the candidate must be paid for their work if they function as an employee in any capacity during the interview.
7. Think value fit, not culture fit
When considering whether a candidate will mesh well with the team and the wider business, be cautious of thinking about it in terms of culture fit.
While, yes, you obviously want to hire someone who will play nicely with everyone else, culture fit can often - unintentionally - be oversimplified into meaning people who fit a certain mold (i.e. people who work, think, and act like you). Hiring to maintain the status quo rather than hiring to genuinely improve the practice inevitably leads to poor business outcomes. Over time, a lack of diversity can stifle innovation and may lead to institutional blinds pots that adversely affect the business.
Instead, look for value fit. Value fit is exactly what it sounds like: how well an applicant’s values match those of your practice.
Let’s say your practice lives and breathes transparency and compassion. When you hire for value fit, you look for people who share those same values, even if their way of delivering transparency and compassion might be different from what you're used to. Value fit promotes diversity and encourages fresh perspectives while ensuring that new hires are aligned with the greater purpose of your practice.
Building a high-performing veterinary team isn’t easy. Each step along the way - from polishing your digital brand to fine-tuning your interview processes - plays a role in creating a practice that thrives not only on its medical capabilities but also in its people-centric approach.
With these recruitment tips as your guide, you're well-equipped to navigate the path to success in the world of veterinary care. Happy hiring!