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Auditioning for a Job

Remember to follow the rules when you bring an applicant into the hospital to shadow a team member or do actual work.

Auditioning for a Job
A working interview can help determine whether a veterinarian or technician’s knowledge and skills are commensurate with their expressed qualifications.

Finding the perfect candidate to fill an open veterinary position is often a challenge. After you conduct a résumé review, reference check and 30-minute conversation, you still might not know whether the interviewee truly possesses the skills, knowledge and personality necessary for success. Inviting top candidates into the clinic for a job shadowing opportunity or working interview can be an insightful step for both sides. Still, it must be done cautiously and with labor laws in mind.

Across industries, as many as 25% of new hires quit within the first six months. Among the reasons:

  • Personal and organizational values were misaligned.
  • The work was different than the job candidate expected.
  • The company misrepresented its culture.

Painting your practice in the best light possible can be tempting when you aim to attract top talent, but doing so could lead to a new hire’s disappointment and disengagement. Remember to set realistic and transparent expectations when you interview a candidate. This rings particularly true when you communicate with someone from outside the veterinary industry who, I have found, might envision a support role as all about snuggling with puppies and kittens.

While practice managers try their best to describe a day in the life of their hospital, there is no replacement for actually living it. Providing a shadowing opportunity can provide valuable clarity for both the employer and potential team member.

Watch and Listen

A shadow interview may be unpaid if the interaction is limited to observations. Unpaid shadow interviews cannot involve training or the performance of any work benefiting the employer.

Shadow interviewees can witness the practice’s pace, morale and camaraderie between teammates, the required knowledge and skills of various roles, and the typical interactions with clients. While shadowing can last an entire shift, limiting the experience to a few hours is likely sufficient. This type of interview sheds light on the shadow’s personality, style of interaction with future teammates, and general level of interest and professionalism.

Actual Work

Any request that an interviewee perform work benefiting the practice economically, such as helping a client or patient, would change the event’s classification to a working interview and require pre-employment paperwork and payment. A working interview can help determine whether a veterinarian or technician’s knowledge and skills are commensurate with their expressed qualifications. For example, it can provide insight into a receptionist’s ability to interact with clients or a veterinary assistant’s warmth and confidence when handling patients.

Regardless of the task, working interviews should be conducted under constant supervision and with much support. The intent is to create a situation in which the applicant feels comfortable, behaves naturally and, above all else, causes no harm.

The U.S. Department of Labor requires that working interviewees first fill out IRS forms W-4 and I-9. The person’s wages can be less than what the position typically pays but must be at least the legal minimum. Also, mandatory tax withholdings are required, and worker’s compensation would apply if an on-the-job injury occurred.

All this legalese might confuse an applicant, so make sure the person knows that a job offer has not been extended or promised. You need to understand that someone who completes a working interview and is not hired can list the veterinary practice as an employer if unemployment benefits are sought. Check your state’s laws for additional rules that might apply to working interviews.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Do not classify a working interviewee as an independent contractor unless the person would be one upon hiring. Applicants under an employer’s control and who use the employer’s equipment are generally considered employees, not independent contractors. In the case of an independent contractor, compensation is required, a W-9 pre-employment form must be completed, and IRS Form 1099 must be filed if wages exceed $600 within the tax year.
  • Avoiding employment taxes or compensation by classifying a working interviewee as a volunteer, intern or extern is unfitting and could subject the practice to penalties. The key reason is that a working interviewee provides economic benefit to the practice by taking on a portion of the day’s workload with the intent of earning a permanent position. On the other hand, externs assist your team while they complete training for licensure that generally would benefit them and their careers, and they might not be employed later at your practice. Even if an applicant agrees to waive the right to payment verbally or in writing, the practice remains liable.
  • A temporary employee classification does not relinquish an employer’s responsibility for taxes, insurance or wages. Using a temp agency to fill staffing needs puts the administrative burden on the third party.

What Do They Know?

Working interviews are not the only way to assess an applicant’s suitability. Consider requiring skills tests to ascertain details of a person’s experience. The tests can be written, verbal or demonstrative as long as the practice receives no economic value in return. Veterinary technician skills testing could include:

  • Talking through how to prepare, intubate and induce a patient for anesthesia.
  • Demonstrating how to place and tape a catheter either on a model or a clinic pet.
  • Role-playing that focuses on gathering a medical history.
  • Reading an old cytology slide and charting the results.
  • Completing a written quiz on calculating drug dosages or triaging a patient.

Skills testing of someone who has no veterinary background would address broader competencies such as customer service, oral comprehension, spelling and conflict resolution.

The use of shadowing, working interviews or skills testing during the interview process can help you achieve the best hiring results.

Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is the practice manager at Daniel Island Animal Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. She has spent nearly her entire life in the industry, earning her keep in her parents’ animal clinic before advancing into the world of veterinary management. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and is a certified veterinary practice manager.


Job Shadow Week is an annual program designed to expose middle school and high school students to career paths and the required skills. Google, Salesforce and YouTube were among the companies that participated in July 2020. Learn more at bit.ly/3efRDN6.