Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Would I Hire You?

My puppies had a wonderful long Memorial Day weekend enjoying the beautiful weather.
This is the punishment that Charlie received for taunting the toads and frogs.
I'm sure he has learned his lesson.
 Summer is one of the busiest times of the year for us. It is also the season for a few notable things here at the veterinary clinic.

The fleas and ticks start to make their migration from the cold harsh ground to our warm furry pets, thus beginning the skin allergy season just as our neighbor to the north, Punxsutawney Phil, pops his head out for Groundhog Day. From February to June we look like Santa's village in August. The winter season is counting down and we are doing our best to be ready for the Summer slam when Spring arrives.

It is also the time we see the emergence of the explosion of kittens, baby bunnies, hatchling birds, and the rest of the wildlife all trying to procreate at the same time, thus causing a flood of worried human mommies with little trinket boxes housing orphans to arrive at our doorstep in search of advice.

The barking kennel chorus gains dozens of new members as their parents depart for their summer vacation. With the boarding filling up, this in turn perpetuates the more frequent food truck arrivals, the washer and dryer run all day and most of the night, and the plans for our summer escapes get squeezed into rationed vacation slots. We bustle, burgeon and balloon with new mouths to feed, clean, care for and monitor. Our summer population doubles our winter numbers.

Can you see the shame in those eyes?

As our season begins I take my yearly staff head count, assess where we will need additional personnel and start the arduous exhausting and dreaded task of hiring new employees. Anyone who says that they like this task is crazy. It is not fun to pour through stacks of applications to try to narrow the field based on a few paragraphs on a piece of paper. From the first round applicants we proceed to the interview process. After this we make some gut decisions, and hope we have chosen correctly. For almost all veterinary clinics this task falls upon either the practice manager or the practice owner. Although neither one of us are trained to do any of this. We all learn by our track record. We don't hire those candidates that remind us of the last few we fired, and we try to round out our team with those who seem to possess the characteristics our team needs or thrives upon.

In many cases those of us doing the hiring look for aspects of ourselves, or our clinic, in our applicants. For this reason I am more inclined to hire someone who is also a client. At least a client already has some basic understanding of who we are, and a good client has a pet record outside of an application form (which may or may not be accurate). A great client is a good foundation for an excellent new team member.

Jekyll, Charlie and our visitor for the weekend Cora.

Every person who is given the chore of hiring has developed their own method.

This is my hiring protocol after almost a decade at the clinic. Part of this is a reflection of how I manage my clinic, part of it is done as a reflection of what I want the clinic to be, and the rest is what I believe is necessary for JVC to be the best clinic on the planet. As I find myself once again weeding through the process I thought I would share some of my thoughts on it;

I. Know what your interviewer is looking for:
  1. I am in almost all cases only interested in only finding an exemplary long term full time employee. 
  2. Every staff member is expected to be able to perform all of the other duties in the hospital. We cross train everyone so that anyone can fill in and help everyone else. It serves our patients best, and reminds everyone else that the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence.
  3. Every staff member has to have a high school diploma, or equivalent. The more education (in any field or area) a candidate has the more they are set apart from the rest, and medicine requires basic mathematics, physics, chemistry, language and social skills. All of our technicians can perform drug calculations, place i.v. catheters, draw blood samples, take x-rays, and understand basic anatomy and physiology. We challenge each other and learn from each other every single day. It is what keeps the job fun and interesting.
  4. They have to have at least one pet. (Personal note: don't go to a vet or hire anyone who doesn't have pets, its sacrilegious in my eyes).
  5. That pet has to be up to date on veterinary medical care. If they don't take of their pets how I expect them to an advocate for our clinic?
II. The interview:
  1. Dress appropriately and professionally. (The girl I interviewed last night arrived in sweat pants, what the heck was she thinking?).
  2. No gum chewing, or cell phones out. 
  3. Smile, engage, and look at the person speaking to you. Applicants often think that working at a veterinary clinic is just about working with animals. No, working at a veterinary clinic is about working with people who care about their animals. The worst employees for a veterinary practice are those that cannot, will not, or do not talk to our clients AND their pets.
  4. Image is almost everything. I am often asking people to entrust their pet, often a pet that they see as a member of their family, (which is exactly how we see them), to be given to us to care for. If my employee more closely resembles a shady member of society it is unlikely that the client feels comfortable leaving their pet in our care. Put yourself in their shoes. There is an expectation that we are a trusted, valued, expert in our field. Act AND look like it.
  5. Attitude is the rest that image and trust doesn't fill. There is never yelling, intimidating, bullying, arguing, in fighting or any other action that jeopardizes our ability to work like a team allowed. I won't hire a person that I believe will be detriment to our ability to work together. People who thrive on creating drama, belittle others, or speak poorly about others will destroy your practice from the inside out. I don't care who they are, you will never be able to have a successful clinic with them. Don't hire them, and if they become this, evict them.
  6. Don't write on your application "that you love animals, and have wanted a job around animals your whole life," if you have never worked around animals. Is it important to love animals if you work at a veterinary office, yes, but what the hell have you been doing your whole life if this is true? Are you coming to me in the hopes that I can fulfill your childhood dreams? Unless you are a child I expect that you are working to make your own dreams come true.
  7. Without animal or veterinary experience on your resume you are not going to get you a job at my clinic. Here's why. It takes us about six months to train you, and that's minimally training you. That's six months of you being a liability, a shadow who costs me more than you can return, and after about 6 months most inexperienced applicants really do realize that this job isn't all about cuddling pets all day. Most applicants don't care about pets half as much as they did 6 months before they were picking up dog poop for 8 hours a day. They quit, or I fire them, within 6 months. Neither one of us lived up to each others expectations. 
  8. Veterinary employees are underpaid when compared to other highly skilled workers in other fields. At some point this is a hard reality to face and live with.  
For all of those girls, (I know, not politically correct, but take a look at vet med these days, its overwhelmingly female), right out of high school, or in high school, who "love animals and think that a vet tech job is the perfect job for them," I feel compelled to give this advice;
  • "If you have no experience in this field, how do you know it's the right one for you?
  • "Why do you think that getting a vet tech degree online, or in school, is the best first step? Get some idea of what this job is really about before you invest your time and money on a degree that might not be right for you. Get some experience in a veterinary clinic before you waste time or money.
  • Ask about what the average pay for the position you want, or are trained for. Can you live on this? For how long? 
  • What does your future look like if you do get a job at a veterinary clinic? Can you move up? What does that look like?
  • What if you get hired as a kennel person? Is that the only job in a veterinary hospital that you want to do? If not, is there a way to do other jobs in the clinic? Ask this before you assume that you will start at the bottom and work your way up. Guess how many applicants I see that were hired to start in the kennel and never left? A lot.

So, here's my hard honest advice before you apply at Jarrettsville Vet:
  1. Have something on your resume that backs up your goals. 
  2. Be humble, be honest, be genuine, and for gods sake, smile. 
  3. Be willing to start at the bottom and be wiling to not only work hard, but make personal sacrifices of your time by working weekends, nights, and emotional sacrifices by bottle feeding babies, returning to the clinic to check on critical patients, stay late to comfort a sick pet, etc..The life of a person in a veterinary clinic is physically, financially, and emotionally difficult. Think about all of these before deciding to dedicate your life to it. (See blog on Compassion Fatigue).

In a recent interview I had the typical young girl, early twenties, and her resume of random minimum wage entry level positions. Her previous work history included a gas station, grocery store, and a chain store. All were part time and all were minimum wage. She, like so many others, had no veterinary experience except for the long time desire "to work with animals." She had graduated high school a few years ago and just begun to take an on-line vet tech course.

My advice to her;
  • "Get some real-world experience any way you can." Without this you really don't know what this job is about.
  • "Stop spending money you don't have on classes that you don't need to start out." Many places will either help you pay for accreditation, or give you a raise once you do get licensed. Let them help you with this, and let your experience help you learn in school.
  • "Think about volunteering. There are lots of places that take volunteers like rescues, shelters, and even here at our clinic. I have given this advice to twenty other girls just like you. If any of them had spent any amount of time here and shown me that they wanted this job and can perform this job I would have hired them. My goal is to make this clinic the best veterinary clinic, and to do this I need the best people. I hire them, and I pay them accordingly. It is my hope that they are happy here, well paid, and want to be here because they share that vision. I don't pay minimum wage, or even close to it." 

Her reply to all of my advice; "I don't have time to volunteer." 

My reply, "You are recently out of high school, working three jobs, all for minimum wage, and you expect me to invest time and effort in you when even you won't?"

III. When writing a resume for a job at a veterinary clinic; 
  1. Keep it to one page. We are tired eternally and we can't muster the strength to read past one page.
  2. Tailor it to the clinic you are applying to. Too often I get a generic resume that has no interest or desire to do anything that relates to what we do. It is imperative to say something about the position you are seeking as we are trying to understand and know you from a one page application. I will ask applicants, "Do you want this job, or just a job?" It should be obvious on your resume.
  3. Put your time and your money where your mouth is. Volunteer at any animal care facility. At least you can have that to list as experience.
  4. List references and phone numbers. They speak volumes about who you are. List people who know you personally and professionally. If they are just friends they do not carry much weight in being a credible source. Tell your references that you would like to list them and ask if they are comfortable with this request.
  5. If you are already working at a veterinary hospital as you are seeking new employment, be open and honest with them, and your interviewer. Word travels, and I am reluctant to hire someone who has been a bad employee elsewhere. I have great respect for someone who comes to me and discusses their concerns with me before I hear about them interviewing elsewhere. A professionally handled problem will benefit us all in the long run. 
IV. Things to remember about working in a veterinary clinic;
  1. Every practice owner is trying to do keep their clients, patients, and staff happy. A happy clinic is a happy boss. We are looking to hire someone who will resist gossiping, jealousy, arguing, and petty infighting. The person with the biggest mouth, causing the most trouble, and bringing the most stress to the work place is usually the first to be excised. I don't care if you think that we can't function without you, if we can't function with you we can function fine without you.
  2. Any decision you make, tiny and insignificant as it may seem, has the ability to profoundly affect a patients life. Working at a veterinary clinic is an immense responsibility and you can't possibly even begin to understand the ramification of a slight oversight. Even the entry level veterinary clinic job, the kennel, is fraught with stress for me. The biggest liability of the clinic lies in our boarding facility. Dog fights, bites, and unforeseen disasters happen in the kennel. There isn't one practice owner who doesn't have a horror story about a boarding pet. And that phone call you have to make to tell a client that their pet died while boarding is the most awful, gut-wrenching, soul sucking moments of your professional life. I am tempted to shut down every single time I have even a minor hiccup in the kennel. So, don't think that the kennel is an easy job, it's not. 
  3. The Receptionist steers the ship. They are the hardest position to fill and the biggest detriment to most clinics. I am not at all opposed to this position being the highest paid employee. No one impacts your bottom line harder (next to your vets) more than the receptionist. If you think that you can do this job without previous experience in either healthcare/medicine or a veterinary clinic you are delusional. 
V. Things to remember when working at MY veterinary clinic;
  1. The patient comes first, the staff second, and the client third. We care about our pets and each other above all else. When it comes to the safety of a person we hold that to be paramount, but those clients who bring their pets to us are entrusting the care of their family member to us and that trust is sacred. Any employee who does not uphold this will be asked to leave immediately. All else is forgivable, mistreatment of a pet is not.
  2. There is always order and chaos at the same time. We are a busy practice in a small building. If we can't work together well in saving a life that is on the brink of being extinguished we have failed at every tiny step over every year we have been in existence. 
  3. I pay you for your skills, passion, and your intelligence. Use all three. I am always open to suggestions on how to improve what we do. 
  4. Each staff member has an individual and unique task that they are responsible for. This helps diversify our knowledge base, share responsibilities, and provide a sense of ownership. 
  5. Our greatest triumphs are measured in tiny heartbeats that often fade into obscurity in the distance. We may never see those souls again but they are out there carrying our skills as evidence of our own existence. Be proud of who you are and measure it by the unsung deeds that only we as a group understand and know to be true. 
  6. This is a family, dysfunctional, human and full of all of the idiosyncrasies that 30 people all working together 7 days a week for twelve plus hours a day brings. Embrace each other for your strengths, weaknesses, and passion over our common purpose.
  7. We have a mission statement, "Always be kind." Live by it.
Oriole leads the way to the great adventures beyond the hedgerow..
(never trust a cat Cora)
If you have a pt question, our want to use your lifelong pet experience to hep other pets the world over, or if you just want to share to your pets tales with other pet lovers, you can meet us at Pawbly.com.
Pawbly is the one place dedicated to helping pets and their people by providing an open, unbiased, credible platform for the exchange of information about all things pet.

You can also find me in person at the clinic, Jarrettsville Veterinary Center in Jarrettsville Maryland. Or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

OK, there is some cuddling of animals..


  1. Okay, this is a great blog. I am so glad I found it. This post, in particular, was incredibly helpful to me. Going to delve through your archives now! :)

  2. Great post and amazing advice for high school student and future employees. Do you get a lot of high school students and are they successful? @jasonschaffer