Karen E. Felsted
CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA
Take Charge columnist Dr. Karen E. Felsted is the founder of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting. She spent three years as CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.Read Articles Written by Karen E. Felsted
Unless you live in a cave, you’re aware of the growing shortage of team members and the difficulty in finding them. According to a 2021 Insiders’ Insights report from the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, over 60% of veterinary practices were looking for DVMs, credentialed technicians and non-credentialed technicians. In addition, about 50% wanted to hire a receptionist. Unfortunately, the demand for help and the difficulty in hiring people haven’t gotten any better since the survey was published.
The CEO of a large retail chain once said, “If the person came in and filled out the application, we basically hired them unless they were followed by a policeman.” That is how many small businesses approach hiring when the labor market is tight. In today’s market, employers must move quickly because job candidates have too many choices. However, skipping critical steps in identifying the best person for your practice will lead to failure. You might solve a short-term problem (a filled position) but create a worse situation (a poor choice of hiree).
Before you advertise a job position, make sure you have a structured and disciplined hiring process to ensure better candidate selections. You’ll save time in the long run. Here are three critical steps.
1. Define the technical and non-technical competencies.
A hiring manager tends to focus on technical knowledge, work experience and skills because they come to mind first when a job is defined and because determining whether a candidate has them is easier. For example, a practice might require a typing or spelling test or ask an applicant to demonstrate putting in a catheter.
Even more important to define are the critical non-technical competencies. For example, if the position, such as a receptionist, has contact with the public, the candidate must have a friendly and sympathetic manner and the ability to accurately gather information from clients and communicate recommendations and other information. People frequently fail to do well in a job because of their lack of non-technical competencies.
2. Review the compensation package.
Salaries and hourly wages are rising, and signing bonuses are more common today. A non-competitive veterinary practice won’t get the kind of people it needs. Money isn’t the only reason candidates accept a job, but other aspects of the work environment, such as recognition, training and excellent corporate culture, won’t replace a poor salary.
3. Prepare effective interview questions.
Behavioral interviewing is an excellent technique — the interviewer asks how the candidate handled situations similar to what the posted job likely will entail. Ask all candidates the same questions for a particular position to make comparisons easier.
Start With a Phone Call
Use your time wisely once you begin the hiring process. If you aren’t doing phone interviews with all candidates, start now. Phone interviews are an efficient way of getting a first impression. You can evaluate a person’s phone skills, identify job disqualifiers, such as conflicting hours or a location issue, screen for essential skills, knowledge and experience, and follow up on anything unusual in the resume or application.
In addition, take notes using a form designed for all job candidates. Be sure to include an applicant’s answers to all interview questions and leave room to document any questions or comments.
While many employers consider a working interview time well spent, more time isn’t always better. Clearly identify what you want from the working interview and train your participating employees.
Once you’ve gathered all the information about the various applicants, the time has come to decide who to hire. When making the final evaluation, judge everyone by the same requirements and make sure the assessment is based on the competencies needed in the job and not how much you “like” the person. Don’t overemphasize the technical competencies, and spend just as much time evaluating the person’s non-technical strengths and weaknesses.
Be specific about why a particular candidate is the right person. It’s not enough to say, “I just liked her and thought she’d be a good fit.” Such a response might mean that not enough time was spent evaluating specific skills and attributes and that the hiring manager found the candidate easy to talk to. Instead, think through their particular strengths and whether they fit the practice and job. For example: “This candidate is a credentialed veterinary technician, has three years’ experience in other general practices, was appropriately dressed for the interviews, was friendly and professional on the phone, and her references checked out.”
Practice managers are so busy these days that neglecting to notify rejected candidates occurs frequently. However, find the time. You don’t have to contact every person who applied but certainly do so with anyone who spent some time in the hiring process. The notification lets the candidate move on and leaves a good impression. The person could be a client in the future or apply for another job opening. Email makes notification much simpler than it used to be. Keep the message short and non-specific, and don’t get into why the person wasn’t hired. Consider phrases such as:
- “Thank you very much for taking the time to send us your resume (or interview with us, etc.) for the veterinary technician job.”
- “We have since filled that position” or “We decided to offer the position to another candidate.”
- “We will keep your resume on file should another opening become available.”
- “Good luck in your job search!”
Hiring is tough, and no practice will get it right every time. So, when you fire someone, analyze what went wrong. Many managers say that, in hindsight, the interview process revealed clues about potential trouble, but in a rush to get someone on board, the warning signs were ignored. If you learn from your mistakes, the next time will be better.
Here are two examples of practical interview questions based on necessary job skills:
Skill: Must communicate well with clients in often stressful situations.
Question: “Give me an example of a time in your last job when a client or customer was angry at you or your business and what you did.”
Skill: Must be able to work well as part of a team.
Question: “Give me an example of a time at school or in your last job when you felt one of your colleagues had been unfair to you and what you did.”