It costs up to two years’ salary to replace an employee once you factor in the time it takes to recruit and train them. So, what can you do to make sure you hire the right people the first time around? By Amanda Scotland.
Dr Mark Eagleton, Owner of Vetlink Employment Service (www.vetlink.com.au), spends a lot of time matching the right vet staff to the right jobs, and he says that, while most practice managers seem to do a pretty good job at recruiting, there are some simple things many could be doing to improve the experience.
At the core of this is effective time management. Eagleton says employers need to allocate sufficient time to an interview for the process to be effective. “There are two sides; some people rush and skip through the process and end up making a bad decision, and some people will go too slowly through the process and lose candidates along the way,” he says. “You need to be methodical but efficient.”
Preparation, too, is key and Eagleton advises all employers to spend time thinking about the types of questions they should be asking during the interview. Your questions should, of course, centre on the relevant skills and experience of the role. However, even if an applicant looks good on paper, it is equally important to understand whether the individual’s values are aligned with the culture of the practice. This involves spending additional time thinking about your current culture.
The maxim certainly holds true that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance”, so it is essential that you also allocate sufficient time to proper background and reference checks. Eagleton says that all of these steps will be aided by the preparation of a formal, methodical recruitment process.
Many typical employment problems can be avoided by setting clear expectations. “A lot of employees are willing to please but they’ll be prevented from doing so if they don’t know what’s expected of them,” says Eagleton.
One way to achieve greater clarity is to create a concise job description outlining all requirements of the role. This may mean writing something from scratch, or revising a much longer job description down to a more manageable document of two pages at most. Eagleton adds that it is essential you run through the job description with the candidate to make sure they understand. Importantly, what
you discuss at interviews should be a genuine reflection of what the job will be like in real life.
Similarly, it is important for job seekers to set expectations with their potential employers. “You want to make sure the employer has a very accurate idea about your level of experience so they have no false expectations of your ability,” says Eagleton. “Be yourself, don’t try to be anything you’re not—it can cause real unhappiness down the track.”
The art of induction
The letter of offer and employment contract should be prepared in advance so there is no delay between commencing work and officially signing on. This protects both you and your new employee and provides a sense of security that will translate into a positive working relationship.
“Most people make up their mind if they’re going to stay or go within the first four weeks,” says Eagleton. Indeed, the way a new employee is treated within the first four weeks will make a lasting impression even if they do decide to stick around, so it is vital you follow your recruitment process with a well-organised induction.
Denise Sheekey, a vet science student, talks about her experience looking for work in the vet industry.
When I started studying vet science, I wanted to build up my experience at the same time. I started by searching for vet nursing jobs online but, because I didn’t have any experience yet, there really wasn’t anything that was suitable for me. So, I started emailing practices direct and physically going in to introduce myself. My first job was secured through a combination of luck and timing. I emailed someone in HR and it turned out someone else was leaving. I think they were impressed that I had taken the initiative. At about the same time I got work at a second practice through a family friend. Neither job was advertised.
They are very different (a general practice and a specialist/emergency centre) so I learnt a lot very quickly. They’re also both really flexible, which is very important when you’re a student. While I probably would have been happy to take the first job I found, I’ve been really lucky that both employers are really supportive. They’re willing to let me get involved with their cases and answer all my silly questions. It’s given me that extra level of confidence with basic clinical and animal handling skills so I can focus on the medicine/veterinary side of my studies.
Going forward, when I start interviewing for my first vet jobs, I think I’ll really be looking to get a sense of what the workplace is like from meeting the other staff. I’d also want to know basic things like working hours, remuneration, and whether they had high staff turnover. One thing that’s really important to me is whether they have a focus on continuing education. I really want to keep expanding my knowledge throughout my career. It’s going to be a steep learning curve so I’ll definitely be looking for that mentor figure. At the end of the day, I’d rather volunteer at a really good practice than get paid to work at a bad one.
Tips for job-seekers
Dr Mark Eagleton, owner of Vetlink Employment Service (www.vetlink.com.au), offers some tips to vet industry jobseekers on how to stand out from the pack:
- Spend time putting together a quality CV with a clear and accurate work history and suitable references.
- Include a well thought-out covering letter specific to the role.
- Present yourself well for the interview and arrive on time.
- Think about some sensible questions you might like to ask.
- Do some research on the practice even if that means just browsing their website before the interview.
- Demonstrate good communication skills. This may include listening closely during the interview, or ringing the receptionist in advance if you’re running a few minutes late.
- Make yourself available by ensuring your phone is on and within reach during times the employer is likely to call you back.