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How the big dogs recruit

Corporate-owned hospitals know what is needed to attract top talent. Private practices looking for veterinarians can compete with the giants, too. 

How the big dogs recruit
Today’s candidates don’t want to have to choose between being great veterinarians and having lives outside of work.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. With too many available jobs in veterinary medicine and too few qualified applicants to fill those jobs, corporate groups are pulling out all the stops to attract top talent. How has the current job market changed the way corporations are recruiting, and can private-practice owners compete?

What Candidates Want

The No. 1 thing that associate veterinarians look for is workplace flexibility, said Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS, CEO of The VET Recruiter. But, that’s not all. According to Pursell, who has more than 23 years’ experience recruiting in the veterinary industry, job candidates also ask for:

  • Time off: “We’ve seen requests for vacation days increase,” Pursell said. “It used to be that two weeks of vacation was standard. Now, we’re seeing veterinarians asking for three, four … even five weeks of vacation.”
  • A great compensation package and benefits: “Salaries of new graduates are increasing,” Pursell said. “We placed someone last summer who just graduated in May. Her first-year guaranteed compensation was $125K, and that did not include production pay.”
  • Continuing education: “The ask for continuing education dollars and time off for continuing education is increasing compared to past years,” she said.

Candidates are getting what they want because the job market is in their favor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the veterinary profession to grow at a rate of 19% from 2016 to 2026, adding 50,000 jobs over the 10-year period. The average projected growth rate for every other occupation is 7%.

When this data was released, 24/7 Wall St., a financial news company, ranked occupations from the most secure to the least secure. The veterinary field was deemed highly secure, with two spots in the top 10. Veterinarians were ranked No. 7 and veterinary assistants No. 2, with a combined average unemployment rate of 0.1%.

“That’s almost a nonexistent unemployment rate for our profession,” Pursell said.

Her self-described “conservative estimate” of the number of jobs needing to be filled now in the profession is between 3,500 and 5,000, which includes associates, technicians and practice managers. And, while some candidates accept a job offer within 24 hours of an interview, others are in contact with multiple practices and are waiting up to two months for their ideal opportunity.

“The offers are all over the place,” Pursell said. “We had someone who got an offer for over $100K, another for $85K, and another practice offered more vacation than the others. If [candidates] keep interviewing, they’ll likely find what they’re looking for, especially in major metropolitan areas.”

How Corporations Do It

Veterinarians are in high demand, and corporate groups big and small have the resources to effectively recruit them. Here are nine of their methods:

1. Advertising: Corporations budget recruitment dollars, often spending it on advertising, job board posts and trade show booth space.

2. Veterinary college visits: Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, a network of more than 45 emergency and specialty practices, has teams that visit schools on recruiting trips. “We’ll go to a university and invite all the residents for an offsite dinner,” said Patrick O’Keefe, LVT, veterinary recruiter for Compassion-First. “The offsite dinner is a social event that allows us to get to know them, to get to talk to them in a more relaxed setting about what it is that they’re looking for in their life. They also get to meet us and hear about what we have to offer.”

3. Technology: “We have corporate clients that are interviewing over Zoom or Skype, and they’re extending job offers sight unseen without ever physically being in the room with the candidate because it speeds up the process,” Pursell said.

4. Personalized experiences: “We offer kind of a concierge service — full-cycle recruiting,” said Allison Cawley, veterinary specialty recruiter for Compassion-First. “When a candidate goes on a job interview, we’re there for the face-to-face time. Maybe we pick them up from the airport, take them to the hospital, take them out to dinner, take them on a tour of the city. … We make it a personal experience.”

5. Signing bonuses: “We’ve seen corporations offer up to $40,000 in sign-on bonuses,” Pursell said. According to Cawley, Compassion-First offers a sign-on bonus at every hospital. The handout fluctuates based on the location, candidate, and position.

6. Competitive compensation and benefits: These packages go beyond the typical medical, dental and 401(k) offerings to include some of the following perks that today’s candidates desire:

  • Student loan relief: It’s no secret that student debt has had a significant effect on the financial, mental and emotional well-being of veterinarians. In 2017, Banfield Pet Hospital introduced the Veterinary Student Debt Relief Pilot Program to help associate veterinarians address the burden. According to Stephanie Neuvirth, Banfield’s senior vice president of people and organization, the company contributed more than $4 million toward helping its veterinarians pay off student loans and enabled more than $10 million in educational debt refinancing. Qualifying Banfield associates can participate in any combination of the following three programs: a monthly student-loan contribution of $150 paid directly toward qualifying student loans; a one-time $2,500 payment for each qualifying Banfield student program, up to four, in which the doctor participates before graduation; a low-interest refinancing option with a supplementary 0.25% interest-rate reduction from a third-party financial institution.
  • Paid time off and flexible schedules: Today’s candidates don’t want to have to choose between being great veterinarians and having lives outside of work.
  • CE: In addition to reimbursement of continuing education costs, job candidates desire time off to attend CE events, online learning and opportunities to earn certifications.
  • Well-being programs: “We believe high-quality, compassionate veterinary care for pets starts with healthy, energized associates,” Neuvirth said. Banfield provides stress resilience and energy-management programs, and in 2018, the company created a team dedicated to associate health and well-being. “We are focusing on building a sustained culture of health and well-being with awareness and education through programs, tools, benefits and services that support our associates to be their best selves,” Neuvirth said.

7. Authentic, in-hospital experiences: “We sometimes do interviews that last a full day or more, including lunches, dinners, social time and work time,” said Compassion-First’s O’Keefe. “The candidate really gets to spend time with the staff getting their questions answered. That’s where the message is sent. I can tell you all day that a hospital has a great culture, but you need to be in that hospital and see how people interact with you before you’re going to believe that.” O’Keefe said that some Compassion-First hospitals conduct roundtables during candidate interviews, where the candidate joins doctors, technicians, receptionists, marketing professionals, and other support staff, but no hospital leadership. “I think that’s really valuable because the candidates get the opportunity to ask frank questions about how things work and how people treat each other,” said O’Keefe.

8. High-quality medicine: “Almost all of our hospitals have recently gone through or are going through some kind of expansion to advance patient care and improve patient outcomes,” said Cawley, of Compassion-First. “That goes a long way in selling candidates.” Banfield’s Neuvirth agreed. “If you can create an environment that makes it easier for veterinary teams to do what they do best — provide great care to pets — that can be the differentiator for a candidate,” she said.

9. Giving back and promoting the “why”: While competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits packages are great selling points, Banfield has found that what is becoming more important to prospective candidates is a connection to a company’s purpose, including opportunities to give back to the community. Banfield promotes its corporate social responsibility — learn more at http://bit.ly/32MGyg8 — and community volunteerism.

Now What?

Can independent veterinary practices compete?

“Certainly, they don’t have the resources to have a team dedicated to school visits or trade shows,” Pursell said. “They can’t spend as much on advertising as a corporation can. But sometimes, people are looking for that opportunity with an independent practice that’s not a large corporation. There are certain people in the population that are not attracted by a big corporation. They want a smaller feel.”

Because some candidates prefer a smaller feel, Pursell recommends that when publicizing job opportunities, independent practices should mention that they are privately owned.

She also suggests:

  • Advertising on Facebook and increasing the hospital’s presence on all social media channels.
  • Conducting a community service event to get publicity.
  • Offering flexible schedules and stressing that the hospital understands the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
  • Advertising and promoting their “why.” (See No. 9.)
  • Simplifying the hiring process. A 2016 Career Builder study showed that 60% of job seekers quit in the middle of filling out an online job application because of its length or complexity.

Anyone who recruits for a corporation or independent practice has to work harder to attract associate veterinarians these days. While private practices might not have the same resources as corporations, they can still compete and attract top talent by making a few adjustments to their tactics.

“It’s important that practices evolve their offerings to meet the needs of today’s talent,” Banfield’s Neuvirth said.

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. She owns Rumpus Writing and Editing. Contact her at www.rumpuswriting.com.