Low in Work Experience, High on Need: Hiring Outside the Industry

Hiring is hard right now—not just for veterinary practices, but across the board. As result, we're witnessing a loss of team members with veterinary work experience, and an army of recruiters actively encouraging it.

It seems that many of them are looking for new opportunities in and, increasingly, outside of the industry. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, turnover in veterinary medicine is higher than for other health professionals, and CNN reports that half of veterinary techs burn out within the first 5 years.

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To avoid a constant merry-go-round of team members, it's become more necessary to bring in new team members with less work experience in the veterinary industry than we'd like and then provide the necessary training. Here's how to make that work.

Where Team Members Can Learn

Some positions are better suited for those with little or no veterinary work experience than others. The key is to find roles where your new hire can add value while they train. Each practice is different in how they define roles. In assessing yours, look for areas where a lack of experience can be easily managed by working closely with a senior team member. In my practices, we hire people with no industry experience for a couple of positions:

  • Customer service representative: Your front-of-house team is usually the first and last stop for your clients, and that interaction can make or break the experience. Even without veterinary work experience, a skilled customer service representative can help clients while they learn about vaccines and surgical protocols.
  • Junior tech/kennel tech: A junior technician can support your team by cleaning, stocking, and running patients as they learn safe-handling techniques and medical protocols. If a boarding facility's kennel technicians handle and care for large numbers of pets, they may learn to read animals better than some experienced technicians.

What Hasn't Worked

There are also a couple of areas where we placed a less experienced team member, but the outcome was less than desirable:

  • Room technicians: It may seem a good idea to use your new team members to load clients into rooms and collect medical history, but my experience is that this is detrimental. Not only do they not have the experience to probe inconsistencies with clients, but they also don't have the knowledge and confidence to explain protocols or procedures. This shifts the load onto the doctor and noticeably lowers average transaction fees.
  • Compliance caller: Outgoing calls need to be made by a team member who can explain the "why" and "what" when reminding clients about services coming due. No one likes to be put on hold while a team member goes to ask a question—doubly so if they didn't initiate the call.

Making the Right Hires

Not everyone is going to be a good fit for your team; many don't understand that what we do is more than playing with puppies every day. But there are some who can become valuable team members despite not being able to bring industry-specific work experience to the table. These are some of the generic skills I look for:

  • An interest in animals: A love of animals is a great place to start. Just being a responsible pet owner gives them a step in the right direction. Any experience in boarding or fostering pets is a bonus, as is volunteering at a practice or shelter.
  • A desire to learn: A person with a clear desire to learn is of immense value to any practice. I really notice when a candidate has looked into what a vet tech does every day and tells me which areas they are keen to learn first.
  • Strong work ethic: The work we do is hard and requires a strong work ethic to keep up. As such, it's important to get a sense of a prospective employee's work history. Perhaps ask how they grew in their previous position.
  • An interest in your practice: Before investing in a new hire, make sure they really want to work with you. At a minimum, they should have looked at your website and know something about your core values.

While hiring outside the industry may not always be ideal, if you're clear about which roles to fill with these candidates as well as the traits to look for, you can bring on non-veterinary hires with great success.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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