How to Land the Right Position at the Right Veterinary Practice

How to Land the Right Position at the Right Veterinary Practice
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With Stacy Pursell
The VET Recruiter 

There is perhaps no better time to be a veterinarian than right now in terms of a person’s employment opportunities and career options. That’s because there are far more job openings in the veterinary profession than there are people to fill them.

But not all job openings are created equal. While clinics and practices are urgently trying to hire the job candidates they need, what are they offering in return? Are they offering the compensation, training, culture, and flexibility that today’s candidates want? There are many veterinarians who are feeling undercompensated, underappreciated, and overworked, and they are not going to make a lateral career move—even if that move comes with more money.

The hiring process is a two-way street between job candidate and employer, and that’s the case now more than ever. It’s just as important for you to find a clinic that you like as it is to find a clinic that likes you. The question . . . is how can you do that?

To help answer that question, Talkatoo sat down with Stacy Pursell, CPC/CERS, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, the leading animal health and veterinary executive search and recruitment firm based in the U.S.

Question: Stacy, as a workplace and workforce expert, how would you characterize the state of the job market for veterinarians, based on your experience as a recruiter?

Stacy: I would say that in my 25 years as an executive recruiter and search consultant, this is the hottest candidate market that I’ve ever seen. According to Zippia, since 2013, the unemployment rate in the veterinary profession has decreased from 1.0% to 0.2%. According to numbers released by the AVMA between January of 2019 and May of 2021, there were 18 positions open for every veterinarian seeking a job on their website. Just about anyone who wants a job in the veterinary profession can get a job or has a job.

And according to numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in April, there will be 4,400 job openings for veterinarians each year, on average, during the decade, with about 1,400 of them being brand-new positions. In terms of new veterinary graduates entering the workforce and retirements from the profession each year, those numbers are roughly the same at around 3,000. Since those numbers cancel each other out, you’re looking at 1,400 open veterinarian jobs each year that employers won’t be able to fill because there is literally no one to fill them.

Question: What does a good job at a healthy practice look like?

Stacy: A healthy practice or organization is typically referred to as an “employer of choice.” Such an employer has an extraordinary work environment, job seekers and candidates consider it a top destination, and the organization has a great retention rate of its existing employees.

Now, it is true that what is an employer of choice for one person may not be an employer of choice for another. There are individual differences and preferences among professionals, which is to be expected. So while it’s impossible to be an employer of choice for every single professional in the job market, there are certain things that all professionals want in an employer. You can call them base elements. These are typically things that don’t deal directly with core values, which is sometimes a reason that a candidate and a potential new employer are misaligned.

A couple of years ago, published a list of characteristics of an employer of choice, and it’s a list that I happen to agree with. This list includes a competitive salary and benefits offering, a compelling mission statement or vision, job security, empowerment and authority, access to information, commitment, involvement, a positive relationship with co-workers, a positive work-life balance, a culture based on performance, fairness, and recognition.

An employer that has all of these things—or even the majority of these things—would qualify as an organization that offers a good job at a healthy practice.

Question: What things would prevent a clinic or practice from being an employer of choice?

Stacy: I know the answer to this question because candidates have told me first-hand what keeps organizations from being considered an employer of choice.

These things include a poor reputation in the marketplace; compensation or benefits that are not competitive; the fact it’s disorganized or doesn’t have good systems in place; the way it treats candidates poorly during the hiring process; a lack of technology, for example no electronic medical records in a veterinary practice; a lack of mentorship opportunities; and a lack of continuing education or the chance to learn new skills.

Question: Considering everything you just listed, what are the elements of a great veterinary job offer?

Stacy: A great veterinary job offer includes a LOT of elements

First, is the base pay competitive and does the compensation meet your financial needs?

Second, is there a solid benefits package? Is there good insurance? Are there things like a retirement plan, vacation pay, sick pay, and family leave? Some offers have equity or stock options.

Third, what are the work hours? Consider the hours you will be working each week. Do the hours allow you to enjoy free time to do other things you want or need to do outside of work?

Fourth, consider the commute. A job with a shorter commute may allow you to have more free time. A longer commute may be worth it if it’s a job that you enjoy.

Fifth, consider the responsibilities of the position. It is important to find a job that you will enjoy and where you will be happy at work. An ideal position offers you responsibilities that will keep you engaged and will be work that you find interesting.

Sixth, consider the job title. The job title clarifies your position in the organization and can be meaningful to some people.

Seventh is company culture. You want to find a culture that matches your preferences and work style and where you can thrive, not just survive.

Eighth, is there career advancement and growth? When you’re considering an offer, you might want to examine it to see what sort of career path it will offer and where you can build your skills and continue to grow.

Ninth is the stability of the company. Is the organization strong financially and are they more likely to retain staff and grow?

The 10th consideration are the demands of the job. What are the expectations of the workplace? A job that might require you to be on call may be less attractive than a position that has set working hours, for example.

Question: When should a job candidate turn down a job offer?

Stacy: There are many reasons why a candidate should turn down a job offer. The mission of the organization might not be a good fit, or perhaps the culture or values of the company do not line up with the candidate’s values or a culture in which they would thrive. Also, the compensation might not be in line with the candidate’s financial need or the benefits package might not be competitive. Or maybe the organization has a high turnover rate or there aren’t a lot of opportunities for career growth and development.

Question: What are the things that a veterinary professional should do if they want to find a better job and grow their career in this current environment?

Stacy: The first and most important key is to be open to opportunity. This means to be open to considering an opportunity if you come across one or one is presented to you. If you’re not open to opportunity, then you won’t be able to take advantage of opportunity, and if you don’t do that, then you can’t grow your career. Being comfortable and maintaining the status quo will not get you where you want to go. Having access to opportunities is key to career success, so don’t turn down something you don’t know anything about. Be opening to listening and then decide, especially when a recruiter calls.

The second key is networking, and that includes face-to-face networking. It’s not just what you know and it’s not just who you know, but it’s both what you know and who you know. And you never know where your next great job opportunity is going to come from.

Third is continuously adding value in the form of skills and experience. The more value that you can provide to your current employer or a potential new employer, the more valuable you are. This could take the form of specialized training or continuous education of some kind. It could involve technical skills or soft skills or people skills.

Fourth, be proactive and not reactive. That does include being proactive about opportunities, but it also includes being proactive about other things, like networking and continuous education. When you’re proactive, you’re affecting and influencing the conditions and circumstances and you’re moving from a position of strength instead of a position of weakness. On the other hand, when you’re reactive, you allow circumstances to affect you and you’re moving from a position of weakness. It’s always better to be proactive and take more control of your destiny.

Question: Even though it’s a candidates’ market, what challenges exist in the current job market for veterinarians?

Stacy: One challenge is the danger of becoming too complacent. In this kind of market, it’s easy for professionals to fall into the habit of being comfortable and wanting to maintain the status quo.

The second challenge is that there are so many opportunities in the job market that it can overwhelming. Just because it’s a candidates’ market doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy. It might be easier to find a job, true, but it might be more difficult to find the right job with the right employer at the right time in a person’s career. Timing can be critical in situations like these. Good recruiters can be your “eyes and ears” in the marketplace and can help you weed out the jobs that don’t meet your criteria.

Another challenge for professionals is personal branding, which is the experience that a person provides for others. Because of market conditions, some veterinary professionals try to take advantage of their leverage and they do things they should not do, like “ghost” an employer. This could include “ghosting” an employer on a face-to-face interview, on the offer of employment, or even on their first day of work. Some candidates also make outrageous salary demands or change their salary requirements at the last minute, thinking they can do that because there is a shortage of veterinarians. The veterinary profession is still relatively small. Behavior like this can follow a person throughout their career. The last thing you want to do is “burn bridges” or “close doors,” even if you do have leverage in the market.

Question: What challenges exist in the current job market for employers?

Stacy: The first and most obvious one is that there aren’t enough veterinarians to go around! In fact, Banfield Pet Hospital predicts there could be as many as 75 million pets without veterinary care by the year 2030.

Most of the employers’ challenges in the veterinary profession boil down to two things: hiring and retention. On the recruiting and hiring side, the challenge lies in the fact that employers can not sit back and passively wait for candidates to come to them. Employers must be proactive in their efforts to identify the best candidates and then engage and actively recruit those candidates. This means that the “post and pray” method of sourcing talent will not be that successful. That’s because for the large part, top passive candidates are not looking through online job advertisements.

On the retention side, employers are dealing with the fact that it’s become common practice for people to spend two years or less at a job before moving on. According to a recent survey conducted by The Muse of over 2,500 Millennial and Gen Z workers, 80% of those surveyed believe that it’s okay to leave a new job in six months. And according to the new “Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index,” released in March of this year, 43% of employees are somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in the coming year, up slightly year-over-year from 41%. So the challenges for employers are substantial.

Question: Stacy, speaking of retention, you are not only a Certified Personnel Consultant, but you’re also a Certified Employee Retention Specialist. What things should practice owners and managers be doing to retain their top employees?

Stacy: According to a survey conducted by Paychex last year, there are four things besides an increase in pay that would convince a person to stay with their employer. They were a retention bonus, more PTO, flexible working hours, and better and more accessible health insurance. With this information in mind, employers must create and execute a retention strategy, and that starts with an audit of your team and the reasons why they joined your organization in the first place. In addition, you must determine the length of time that each employee has been with the organization and plot their career path, including the number of titles held and the number of promotions.

After that, you must perform an audit of your organization. Specifically you should analyze the amount of the raises that you award as a percentage, especially the raises awarded to top employees; whether or not you’re ever awarded a retention bonus, and if so, the amounts involved; your policy regarding PTO, especially the allocation of additional days; the flexibility of scheduling that your organization offers; and the quality of your health insurance and other plans.

These are the top things that are important to today’s candidates and employees, especially the members of the younger generations. But keep in mind that these are also in addition to other things that employees want, including a dynamic company culture and to be treated fairly and with respect. If an employee feels as though your culture is toxic or that they’re not being treated with respect, a retention bonus probably will not do much good.

Question: What specific things should employers be doing to “win the war for talent” in the veterinary profession right now?

Stacy: Basically, employers have to become recruiting and hiring experts! That’s because the margin for error in the job market right now is practically non-existent. There are many things involved with this.

First, employers have to recognize that priorities have shifted for veterinary professionals. Priorities were changing even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation. That is because of the influx of the Millennials and Gen Zers. They crave more flexibility and a better work-life balance than the members of the previous generations. The pandemic has had an impact, as well, as workers realize that their lives are defined by more than just their job, thus setting off the greatest mass resignation in our nation’s history.

Second, employers must recognize that employer branding is a huge consideration. They have to create a positive employer brand and then cultivate that brand with both candidates and current employers.

Third, employers must realize that anyone who accepts an offer is going to receive a counteroffer. It is not “if” a candidate is going to receive a counteroffer, it’s “when.” Making a counteroffer has become standard procedure. Since that is the case, you must have a plan in place to combat the counteroffer, and you should have it in place before you even make your offer.

Fourth, there is nothing more important than the ability to close a candidate. In a way, recruiting and hiring is like sales. Closing the deal is critically important, especially considering the current conditions in the job market, and in hiring, it’s even more difficult.

And fifth, employers must recognize that retention is definitely part of the “war for talent.” Employers must do everything they can to retain the services of the top employees they already have.

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