Dr. Peter Weinstein owns PAW Consulting and is the former executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association and the former chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee. He teaches a business and finance course at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine.Read Articles Written by Peter Weinstein
With workforce issues plaguing the veterinary profession — not enough candidates, candidates ghosting interviews, candidates not wanting to work the needed hours, for example — the hiring process is getting more and more challenging. If you wish to hire a DVM, practice manager, credentialed technician, veterinary assistant or client service specialist, the interview process is a defining moment in selecting the best candidate.
But, of course, the interview is just one step in the hiring process. You should scrutinize the resume, job application or online profile before inviting somebody to an interview. Depending on the job opening, you can screen people by phone to judge specific characteristics. Even an email can indicate a candidate’s attention to detail regarding grammar, spelling and the speed of response.
Employers tend to be more lenient in the initial review process when the candidate pool is small. However, all that does is leave you with weaker candidates. So, take the time and use consistent pre-screening before you invite someone to your practice.
To be sure, interviewing isn’t easy. It’s a complex combination of activities that culminates in evaluating a person’s potential performance. Can the veterinary industry do a better job with interviewing? Can we combine the art of interviewing with the science of interviewing to improve outcomes?
I spoke with a leading government expert in interrogation, persuasion and influence, John Gervino, about the interview process. He has frontline experience interviewing people in situations most of us could never envision. He now consults and performs executive vetting through his firm, Truth Intelligence.
Gervino and I talked about how small businesses could improve their questioning of job candidates. As we started, he noted that everything ultimately falls on management’s shoulders.
“You are always responsible for the people you bring into your practice, even though you might not have personally interviewed them or even looked at their resume and qualifications,” Gervino said. “You can’t do it all, and it might be necessary to delegate tasks, including interviewing and hiring employees. But make sure the hiring team has the tools to do it correctly.”
Hiring correctly saves you time and money. Time in not having to constantly find, hire and train new people after a hiring mistake. Money because of the time involved and because good hires develop good relationships with clients. On the other hand, bad hires can do irrevocable damage to client service and your practice’s reputation.
From a leadership standpoint, you ultimately need to be involved in vetting potential hires, whether firsthand or by training subordinates.
Practice leaders must develop the skills to read people and pose questions. You ask clients and team members a lot of questions every week, and you observe their body language during conversations. The same skills are useful when interviewing potential employees.
In this post-COVID world, I asked Gervino about virtual job interviews. He emphasized that telephone interviews aren’t effective because so much is missed. And shaky cellphone technology can lead you to occasionally ask the other party, “Are you listening?” or “Can you hear me?” Instead, he recommends in-person or, at a minimum, videoconferences as the most effective interview forum.
Furthermore, he says, vetting personnel isn’t as much about watching body language — I’ll get to that — as it is about listening to the answers they provide or sometimes don’t.
When it comes to job candidates, their unique backgrounds, life experiences and work histories add to the unknown and the possibility of intended deception. Here are suggestions and insights to consider when zeroing in on the best job candidate.
Set the Stage
Where the interviewer and candidate sit sets the tone. Gervino suggests letting the applicant choose the seat. Don’t worry about losing control of the interview. Rather, you’re creating an environment conducive to establishing rapport and allowing the candidate a degree of autonomy.
Your goal is to understand the applicant’s background and how the person might interact with patients, clients and team members. To facilitate the conversation, allow the applicant to talk without interruption. This is what many interviewers get wrong, Gervino said. The applicant should do most of the talking and you more of the listening.
The more autonomy people feel, the more cooperative and open they become and the more crucial details they share, helping you to identify the necessary skill sets and qualifications.
Also, consider what is physically between you and the interviewee. A stainless steel table? As the interviewer, you have nothing to hide, and the applicant should feel the same. Gervino noted that a table can be a barrier to openness, preventing the applicant from being frank and limiting your ability to make a better hiring decision.
In addition, what is the air temperature? A cold room can cause discomfort, while a warm room can evoke aggression and cause fatigue.
Another reason to make job applicants comfortable during the interview is you want them to access their memories quickly.
Science tells us that uncomfortable people generally withhold information or provide only the answers they think you want to hear.
Make Eye Contact
Is it true the eyes have it? In a veterinary practice, looking into a job candidate’s eyes might reveal excitement, nervousness, anxiety or uncertainty. Just making appropriate eye contact says a lot. It’s the first step in building rapport.
I asked Gervino about watching the eyes and their direction during a question. Do the eyes tell the story? Not really. According to Gervino, neither the pupils, blink rate, direction nor movement are reliable signs of lying, dispelling the myth that looking away or averting one’s gaze reveals deception. Science tells us that. Maintaining eye contact indicates interest and focus in the other party, though doing it without a break can be uncomfortable for the interviewee.
Watch the Rest of the Body
The body communicates without speaking. According to Gervino, science also dispels the myth that certain body language indicates deception. However, he still watches the person opposite him.
If you want to know whether you established rapport, mirrored body language is a sign. That is to say, if you cross your arms and the interviewee does, too, or you put your hand on your chin and the applicant does it, rapport might have been established.
As with the eyes, body language is not a reliable guide to anything more than a person’s fidgetiness, discomfort or nervousness, Gervino said. Crossing and uncrossing arms or legs can be more of a sign of anxiety than deception.
Use the Right Words
Think of the job interview as a conversation rather than formulaic questions and canned responses. Applicants prepare for questions they think you will ask. So, it’s perfectly fine for the interviewer to throw in an unanticipated question.
Gervino recommends following the TED (tell, explain, describe) principle. Start with open-ended statements such as these:
- “Tell me about your most recent job.”
- “Tell me about your immediate supervisor.”
- “Tell me why you entered the veterinary profession.”
- “Explain to me why you left.”
- “Explain what you liked about that job.”
- “Explain what you didn’t like about that job.”
- “Describe to me the work environment or duties.”
- “Describe how you handled a challenging client situation.”
Why are the TED questions so effective? Because, Gervino said, they don’t lend themselves to one-word responses. They are not “yes” or “no” answers. The trick for an interviewer is to ask and then be silent, which is difficult. So, ask a question, stop, wait and don’t start talking again until after the other person speaks. The effective use of silence puts psychological pressure on the person to respond.
Interviews should be 20% interviewer talking and 80% interviewee talking. You might have to consciously refrain from talking. I remember interviews that were 80% me and 20% the job candidate. They got a lot out of the interviews, and I was left short of information.
Gervino suggests scripting the first few questions. You might have to deviate from the script sometimes, but without a prepared list, you’ll spend time formulating questions instead of focusing on listening.
Do Your Part
Interviewers need to know their body language as well. In his job, Gervino does everything he can to position and posture himself to appear open, genuine and trusted. Such body language helps establish and maintain rapport, breaks down barriers, and encourages honest communication. Combining safe body language with the right words and tone of voice will start to engage interviewees and open them to deeper discussions. Scientific research on communication outside medical practices demonstrates that the tone of the speaker’s voice can predict critical interaction outcomes.
Potential employees are nervous and uncertain. They arrive with secrets. The job could be so important to them that their stress levels are off the charts. An interviewer needs to:
- Recognize stress levels in a job candidate.
- Make the candidate feel comfortable.
- Ask appropriate open-ended and probing questions.
- Ascertain truth from fiction.
- Measure the candidate’s engagement and commitment.
Gervino also recommends perspective-taking, which means envisioning yourself in the other person’s shoes. It will give you a better understanding of the candidate and help you look deeper into the soul of someone who might soon work alongside you.
Four Ears Are Better Than Two
Having two or three people on an interview team allows someone to ask a question and listen to the answer while
the colleague observes the candidate’s body language, voice and eyes.
Team-based interrogation, frequently seen in movies or on TV as good cop versus bad cop, is largely fictionalized, according to Gervino. The theatrical version is intended to break down a suspect’s resistance by building fake rapport, being accusatory and then minimizing the crime. That interview process is an emotional roller coaster that makes candidates want it to end so they can leave.
In the real world, team-based interviewing isn’t about creating undo stress as it is about better assessing a job applicant’s knowledge, skills and abilities. Anytime two or even three interviewers participate, more data is collected. Multiple interviewers also can ask similar questions in different ways, and they’ll have a collective feel for a candidate’s cultural fit. You’ll be amazed what an extra set of ears picks up.
Visit bit.ly/3U6ltaa for tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association on what job candidates should and shouldn’t do during an interview.
SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Posing yes-no questions to job candidates gives employers little to work with. John Gervino suggests asking experimental and behavioral questions to elicit deep-brain memories. The body language displayed during the telling of an experience is often informative. Here are good questions to ask:
- “Tell me about an experience when your superior made you uncomfortable.”
- “Describe a difficult client, what the person did and how you handled
- the situation.”
- “Share a story of a co-worker you supervised who didn’t respect you and what you did to gain the person’s respect.”
- “How would you handle a situation where you are bullied?”
- “Tell me about a boss who was difficult to work for.”
- “Describe your daily routine at your most recent job.”
- “How do you handle co-workers who view you as not important to the team?”
53% of practices surveyed by the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association reported that employee stay interviews are “somewhat helpful” in improving staff retention. More than one-third of the respondents called the interviews “very” or “extremely” helpful.