The Art of Interviewing—Tips to Find the Right Candidate for Your Veterinary Practice

The Art of Interviewing—Tips to Find the Right Candidate for Your Veterinary Practice
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Building a strong team of veterinary professionals is absolutely essential to the success of your practice.  To build a strong, cohesive team, you need the right people, in the right roles. However, many practice owners struggle with this. It’s no secret that hiring and retention is a serious issue in veterinary medicine. The field has a high rate of turnover combined with a shortage of high-quality practitioners. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the job growth for veterinarians over the next decade is 19%, and the growth rate for veterinary technicians is 20% (the national average for all occupations is 5%). However, there are far fewer veterinary school graduates than there are open positions to be filled. 

What does this mean for practice owners? Veterinary clinics and hospitals will have to fight even harder to compete for the industry’s top talent. To combat these stats, you’ll need to do more than just create an attractive and supportive work environment for your staff; you’ll also need to be strategic about the way you hire people. 

Having the right interviewing plan of attack is the first step to successful team building. The interviewing process is tremendously important because interviews provide you with an opportunity to assess a potential employee’s experience, skills, and professional background and they can help you discover the candidates who are best qualified to fit in with your team and patients. 

Of course, interviewing potential hires is about more than evaluating the applicant’s skills and experience. With some preparation and intention, you can find the candidate who best fits your needs and contributes to your team. 

Check out these tips to help you interview and hire the right candidate for your veterinary practice. 

Plan your interview process

It’s important to streamline and structure your interview and hiring process so you have a plan of action. It will be to your benefit and your candidate’s to communicate about your interview process so they know what to expect – what is your projected timeline for starting a new hire? How many rounds of interviews will you have? Who will the candidates will be meeting with? Will there be a working interview session? Having a plan of action will help prevent the process from dragging out for too long, and it will help keep potential hires engaged, which is particularly important if they may be fielding multiple offers. 

Who will participate?

Consider who else other than yourself should be involved in the interview process. For example, you may wish to have a practice manager or a senior member of your staff  – or whomever your new hire will report directly to – participate in the process. 

Start with a phone interview

Save yourself some time by starting with a phone interview. A fifteen or twenty minute phone or video call can help you narrow down your applicant pool to a few top candidates you’ll invite for an interview in person. The initial phone interview is a good opportunity to cover some basics about the position and get a sense of whether the applicant may be a good fit. You can also find out about their availability and salary requirements, saving you the trouble of having to eliminate them later in the process if their needs don’t match with yours. A phone interview will also help ensure that only serious applicants accept your offer to move forward to the next step in the process. 

Be prepared

Before you enter an interview, it’s crucial that you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Review the job description and identify what skills and attributes are most important. Consider consulting with other staff members, particularly those who will be supervising or working alongside the new hire, about what they feel will be most valuable in their new team member. You might not interview a candidate who checks off everything on your wish list, but if you pay careful attention you can probably find someone who has the most important qualities. After all, you can teach someone to use your digital scheduling system; it’s much harder to teach someone how to be a team player. 

At the interview, have copies of the interviewee’s resume, as well as copies of the job description. Have a list of questions along with a rubric or scale so you can make notes and evaluate each candidate’s response to each question. This will help you compare them in a more standardized way. 

Ask the right questions

To learn what you really need to know about the person you’re interviewing, you need to ask the right questions. You’ll want to find out about your candidate’s skills and work experience, as well as their approach to teamwork, their values, their personality, and their career goals. Prepare a mix of question types to help you get a more fully rounded picture of your candidate. 

Avoid generic questions like “what is your greatest weakness?” and stay away from “yes or no” questions. Be sure to ask at least one or two questions that require your interviewee to cite specific examples from their past experiences. This will let them “show” you how they perform at work, and not just tell you what they think you want to hear. 

Example questions

1. Describe a situation when you had to act promptly and decisively and your manager was not available to advise you.

This type of question will require the interviewee to reflect on his/her prior experiences and describe how they acted in a real situation (and thus, how they might act in the future at your clinic or hospital).

2. What actions do you take when coping with clients who are in distress?

It’s important to get a sense of how your candidates cope with difficult situations, from emotionally demanding clients to adverse patient outcomes or billing disputes. This kind of question will speak to a candidate’s experience as well as their personality and problem-solving skills. 

3. What skills and expertise can you bring to my practice that is unique from other individuals?

Ultimately, you want to know what sets this person apart from the other candidates being considered for this position. Their competitive advantages might include leadership skills, experience working with specific populations or types of animals, or some form of independent research. 

Take notes throughout the interview so you can compare interviewees later. You’d be surprised how job candidates can start to blur together after you’ve done a few interviews in a row. 

Make it a conversation as much as possible. The interview is a chance to get to know your potential hires as people, not just employees. Be sure to ask your prepared questions, but leave room for the natural flow of conversation. Your interviewee should have questions for you, too, so don’t rush them out the door. 

Avoid jumping to conclusions or making snap judgments about your candidates during the interview. Do your best to check your unconscious biases – this is another reason it can be helpful to have another person conduct the interview along with you. While it’s important to trust your gut, it’s also important to remain as objective as possible until you make your final decision. Remaining consistent with your questions and rating scale will help you compare candidates on a level playing field. 

Highlight what makes your practice special

An interview isn’t just about vetting applicants (no pun intended), it’s also about communicating what you have to offer as an employer. Make a good first impression by preparing the interview area and creating a welcoming environment. 

During the interview you can highlight what makes your practice special. Obviously, your candidate should be doing most of the talking, but they will want to know if you’re a good fit for them as much as you do. Discuss benefits and how you invest in your workplace culture. Share what you enjoy about working there every day, or what makes your practice unique. You can make a strong case for why your potential hire should spend the next chapter of their career at your practice.  

Be positive, but don’t set unrealistic expectations for your candidate. If you overpromise and underdeliver in your portrayal of the job or work environment, it won’t be long before you’re looking to fill the vacant position again. 

Follow up

After the interview has concluded, provide your interviewee with a rough idea of what they can expect for next steps and how soon they should expect to hear from you.  If there is a delay in the decision and hiring process (life gets busy after all), sending a quick email to check in and let the candidate know the status of their application can keep them from giving up and moving on to the next opportunity. If at all possible, it’s good practice to personally reach out to all of your finalists, even those who were not selected for the job, to deliver the news and give any positive feedback you have to share. 

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