Veterinary recruiting: the best way to hire

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veterinary recruiting
Photography: Santiago Nunez Iniguez – 123RF

At a time of high vacancy rates, the best approach to recruitment may have more to do with the way you run your business than the type of the ad or employment agency you use. By John Burfitt

The facts and figures in the 2019 Lincoln Institute Vet Shortage Think Tank report revealed a challenging portrait of the landscape of job vacancies and recruitment within the veterinary profession. 

The report claimed nearly 90 per cent of veterinary business owners had difficulty in filling vacancies, with 41 per cent waiting longer than six months to fill positions. 

A year since the report, Kookaburra Veterinary Employment agency claims little has changed. In March this year, Kookaburra reported that of all jobs advertised over the previous three-month period, only 55 per cent had been filled. 

With this many jobs on offer, the ball is clearly in the candidate’s court, and so prospective employers need to adopt a more effective approach to recruitment, says Dr Michael Powell, one of the architects of the Lincoln Institute report and a vet at Brisbane’s Anvet Beenleigh Pet Hospital.

“These figures would suggest that up to the arrival of COVID-19, there was still a lot of movement in the market and a relative undersupply of veterinarians to fill positions,” Dr Powell says.  

“The key is standing out in a crowded market. Prospective employers need to spend less time articulating what they do and instead focus on promoting their ‘why’ as a team, explaining the support, flexibility and developmental pathways they provide. These are the keys to influencing the decision-making centre of most candidates’ minds.”

Dr Paolo Lencioni of veterinary practice consultants ValuVet says recruitment remains number one of all the client issues he deals with. 

“Anything involving human resources is the highest ranked, as getting the right team in place is the largest expense for any practice,” he says.

When a practice has a job vacancy, Dr Lencioni says before even thinking of writing a job advertisement or talking to a recruitment company, practice owners need to first undertake some housekeeping on their own business—especially if the business has encountered a high turnover of staff.

“If turnover keeps happening, then you need to look at why that is and what’s really going on within your team,” he says. “You need to evaluate whether your team is engaged, paid well and happy to be working in your practice. The workplace culture is so important and if that’s not in order, then you will just keep recruiting new people, only to replace them later on.”

Creating a comprehensive job description, outlining exactly what the role involves and detailing what’s on offer, should be another focus before any candidate walks through the door.

“This is when you must be 100 per cent honest, as you don’t want to bring anyone in on false expectations who then leaves as you have not delivered what you said the job was,” Dr Lencioni says. “This happens far too often, and it shouldn’t. It’s about being clear from the outset.”

The world of recruitment has changed so much, and you have to adapt to use avenues more likely to reach your target, like new graduates and millennials.

Dr Lindsay Hay, Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital

The foundations of a practice recruitment campaign might include a listing on an online employment site like SEEK, an advertisement in professional publications like Vet Practice msagazine or through veterinary industry recruitment specialists like Kookaburra.

There’s also traditional word-of-mouth and focussed networking through such social media platforms as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Dr Lindsay Hay of Sydney’s Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital recently recruited a new vet to his team. As a practice that retains most of its staff for long tenures, he says going through the process for the first time in years proved revealing.

“The world of recruitment has changed so much, and you have to adapt to use avenues more likely to reach your target, like new graduates and millennials,” Dr Hay says. “Look at your business and think about what it is you offer that makes you stand out from what every other practice does.”

How practices present themselves to the marketplace, particularly their online presence, is a key factor in appealing to potential candidates.

“Professionally presented advertisements, logos, photos of the clinic and equipment, information about staff culture, social media links and photos of staff gatherings—we are finding this is all vitally important to attract candidates,” Kookaburra director Wendy Nathan says. “Also add in other aspects like reasonable working hours, flexibility and family-friendly, and flexible renumeration packages.”

Dr Lindsay Hay agrees that while money is always an important consideration, it seems non-financial factors, such as mentoring and ongoing training, can make a big difference. 

“Millennials want to know there will be significant support, mentoring, and training as they want to learn and improve—they are looking at career paths and what the whole package is,” he says. “These factors can be the point of difference that really counts.”

Mentoring has especially emerged as one of the dominant factors for millennial candidates choosing between job offers, ValuVet’s Dr Paolo Lencioni adds. “There are a lot of things that work as better motivators than just finances, and mentoring is one of them,” he says.  

For all the importance of getting the business in order when recruiting, Dr Lencioni says good networking by senior management should have already identified the best candidates to fit in with the existing team.

“What I have seen work well is when a practice owner has already lined up their next candidates from someone they met at a conference or a network event or they know by reputation,” he says. “This is someone they have then made an effort to keep in contact with and whose progress they have followed, so by the time the practice has a position available, that owner already has someone in mind.”

What that comes down to, he emphasises, is quality over quantity. “The thing to never lose sight of with recruitment is you do not need 100 applicants to make your approach work,” he says. “You just need to have one or two of the right people who will fit in with your practice to make it a success.”

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