Interviewing 101: Assessing Veterinary Candidates for Employment in Your Practice

One of the most important tasks a new veterinary practice owner faces is building a strong team. The first step to team-building success lies in your interviewing strategy. An interview is far more than just a series of questions; it's an opportunity to determine whether the candidate is a good fit for your team, patients, and practice.

Here's what to consider as you begin interviewing and hiring new team members.

Align with Core Values for Your Veterinary Practice

In "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business," author Gino Wickman writes, "Your core values serve as guiding principles for your company. They define your culture and who you are."

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Defining your core values should be your first priority. When starting from scratch, it's important to identify the core values that make you, the owner, tick. [Insert link to other new practice article on definining mission and core values] Once you define your core values, make sure you communicate them in your job ads and initial conversations with applicants.

  • If client education is a core value, ask a veterinary technician candidate, "How do you best explain to clients why year-round parasite protection is important?"
  • If you're determined to minimize costly mistakes, ask a seasoned customer service representative (CSR) candidate, "How do you make sure charges are captured at checkout?"
  • If integrity is a core value you've defined, you might ask them, "How would you respond if a client asked you to change the date on their pet's record to hide a pre-existing condition from a pet insurance company?"

Match Character to Role

Once you have defined your core values, go a step further and determine what character traits align with them. Then, match them to the open positions. It's the soft skills that are most difficult to train, so you may want to weigh the importance of the right personality versus a candidate's specific skill set and experience. In the words of the old adage: "Hire for attitude, train for skill."

Ask Veterinary Candidates the Right Questions

Once you've determined the essential traits for each role based on your core values, it's time to find the people to match. This means you'll need to come up with a list of interview questions to reveal these traits. Some of the questions that are helpful to ask may not be specific to the field, but they can still help you determine if the candidate has the traits you're looking for.

A good way to begin each interview and get some crucial insight is to ask, "What was it about this job that prompted you to apply?"

That question also demonstrates the tried-and-true technique of avoiding yes-or-no questions, as they can limit responses to just a few words. Instead, ask open-ended questions that get the candidate talking. For example:

  • Can you tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker and how you dealt with it?
  • What do you think a typical day will be like in a new veterinary practice?
  • What would you do if you suspected a colleague was stealing drugs from the practice?
  • What would you do if a team member spoke badly to you about another team member?
  • How do you like to receive feedback?

During the interview, watch and listen as candidates respond to your interview questions; body language can be very telling.

Make the Decision

Follow your gut. Sometimes, within the first several minutes of an interview, it becomes clear that a candidate will not be a good fit. It's OK to cut an interview short so as not to waste your time or the candidate's. Politely wrap up your questions, and thank them for coming in.

On the other hand, if your gut is telling you a certain candidate is a winner, be ready to make an offer on the spot. There's nothing worse than waiting a day or two only to find out your top candidate has just accepted an offer from another practice. It's OK to make a verbal offer, but be sure to follow it up in writing and include information about benefits, start date, scheduling, and pay.

Although it can be challenging to find candidates for your team these days, it's important to hire the right person, who fits your core values, team spirit, work ethic, and professional demeanor. Central to this—along with other tips for veterinary hiring—is learning to ask the right questions during interviews. If you do, you may find the answers you and your practice have been looking for.

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Joan McCue

Joan McCue, BA, CVPM, is practice manager at All God's Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Augusta, GA.  Veterinary medicine is Joan's second act; she worked in marketing, public relations and event planning in New York City prior to starting her family. Joan worked from home, long before that was a thing, while raising her two children. Joan joined Brookfield Animal Hospital in Connecticut in 2014 as hospital manager, where she worked until a desire for a lifestyle change brought her and her husband to Aiken, SC.  Joan worked as a veterinary practice management consultant for about a year after the move, and joined her current practice in January 2022.  Joan is a horsewoman, and enjoys spending time with family and friends.

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