By Bree Montana, DVM, VIN Foundation Vets4Vets® Program Leader
The job search and interview experience can be uncomfortable and intimidating, but you aren’t alone. By preparing ahead of time, you can to minimize the pain and maximize the gain in your next job interview.
Let’s start by looking into the kind of position you want. What will you set as your focus?
Often, when we begin to search for jobs, we focus on money or our preferred job location. While these are important considerations, it’s also important to look at the kind of hospital experience you want as well as other key environmental characteristics. Ask yourself “what kind of hospital culture will best support my growth through the next few years?”
Whether you are a new grad just stepping onto your career path, or an experienced practitioner taking a new road, introspection and careful observation will allow you to identify your needs and decide what positions will best meet them.
Newer grads may need broad spectrum mentoring, while more experienced practitioners may be interested in perfecting targeted skills such as surgery, ultrasound, or other aspects of practice. The level and kind of mentoring you’ll need depends both upon your current level of expertise and on your goals.
I have to admit, I’ve been to three ACL wet labs, purchased TTA equipment, and hired an onsite consultant. Even with all of those things in place I’m still not sure cutting knees is ever going to be in my wheelhouse, but my eyes are always open to an opportunity to build toward that goal. Knowing what I want to learn allows me to select my courses more accurately.
Take a minute to select the statement that most closely represents your level of confidence, as you head out into your new job;
There’s no “right” answer. In my experience, the only “wrong” answer would be one that isn’t honest.
Regardless of your experience, if you’re uncomfortable, stress can make it difficult to perform well. Knowing what you need and being willing to ask for it will allow you to perform optimally. Trying to pretend to be confident or competent with skills you don’t fully own can make you appear inauthentic to your support crew, as well as your new boss.
Many new hires (both experienced and fresh out of school) need guidance and support as they start new jobs. Be forthright when describing your support needs and commit to needing less guidance over time. I would always prefer to coach a colleague through new skills rather than having to clean up mistakes or missteps.
Let your prospective employer know how much time you’ll need for appointments as you start out, and make sure the staff booking appointments know as well. When I have a new doctor (either experienced relief, or new grad — new hires) I book longer appointment times and make sure their load is largely “wellness” cases for a while. Even with this plan going in, enough interesting and challenging cases will pop up to allow me to assess my new team member’s strengths and growth areas. We will usually discuss cases daily for a while, then weekly as we become comfortable together.
You may find yourself entering a practice as the owner’s very first new associate. It’s important to remember it’s been years since your boss was a new grad, and they may have forgotten what being fresh feels like.
You’ll need to be willing and ready to ask for support and time! You may need to ask for longer appointment times. Be prepared to ask to scrub in when your boss performs surgery – in some busy practices, this means you’ll need to come in for a couple of hours on your day off. Your new job will be a collaborative effort between you, the boss, and the support staff. Be ready to ask for support and offer to pitch in as well.
A good way to “suss’ out your potential employers’ mentorship potential is a working interview. I recommend scheduling a working interview whenever possible; preferably several days in a row at the same hospital. For me, this works well as I’m very nervous around new people, so I am unable to sense their work style until I can relax. Most of us are at our best when we aren’t nervous, and time can bring that calming response. Working several days with your potential boss will also allow you to observe their practice style…
Take a moment to review the following practice characteristics and decide how you would feel about them. Are any of these deal breakers for you?
Which of the following might cause consternation in your new job?
Let’s think this through a little bit. Many of you will be going into practices different from your previous experience (school). You’ll need to make decisions about which things you require to practice, and which things you may be flexible on. These are important topics to discuss with your prospective employer. When you interview in a practice missing some gadgets and requirements, imagine how you might bring the topic to the forefront.
Compatible hospital culture and practice styles are important to your happiness and success in the workplace. You’ll need to understand the preventative medicine protocols your new boss expects you to support (minimal vaccine schedules or annual vaccines?). Pre-anesthetic protocols, pain management, and diagnostic options will vary. One of the biggest pitfalls for new employees is hoping the hospital you interview in is somehow different from the one you’ll be working in day to day. You may dream the owner will upgrade his equipment, modify her protocols, or wash that paw-smudged front door once you come aboard.
When we notice uncomfortable things during the interview we often fantasize we’ll be able to educate the problems right out of the hospital. Sadly, this fantasy is the source of much unhappiness. The importance of practice style adds weight to your interview, so let’s walk through that topic next.
I always pay for a working interview with support staff but have not done so for veterinarians. I typically have offered to pay to fly interviewees out, but they generally have wanted to do several interviews in my area per visit and have declined my offer. In hopes of helping with the interview process, I’ve put interviewees up in a hotel and covered their meals. If you are travelling to a location to interview at more than one hospital, it looks better if you arrange your own transportation, but it’s not unreasonable to accept lodging and other gestures of welcome.
Your working interview will give you an opportunity to assess your potential new hospital’s equipment and protocols. While many employers are interested in owning the latest and greatest equipment, it’s not always in the budget.
If your prospective employer had the money for a new digital radiology system, he’d have one. If she thought peri-operative pain control was important, she’d be using some. When you interview, realize some modifications may be possible, but for the most part, what you see is what you’ll be expected to practice. However, it’s always appropriate to ask questions about pain control, equipment, lab testing, and other specifics of practice. It’s important to be flexible with protocols, and drug availability. Employers will be hoping you will ask questions about their medicine. We’re proud of our “babies” and want you to ask about them (I’m talking about our ultrasound!). Do be observant during the interview and watch how folks relate to each other.
Observe your potential hospital team and setup with a kind eye; they may be working wonders on a shoe-string budget. You may be able to practice excellent medicine without every latest and greatest new toy, although it will be different from school. Successful new team members will figure out ways of working within the hospital’s system. The key is observing the overall hospital and making an educated guess about your ability to thrive or at least function within the hospital’s culture.
Only you can determine which equipment and protocols you’ll need to practice comfortably. You’ll need to do some introspection as you do your hospital inspection!
How far from your dream location are you willing to travel for your next position? Take a moment to figure out which of the following answers feels the best fit for you:
Geography is a key component to most of our job searches. Geographic constraints often impact the style and sometimes quality of medicine that we are able to practice. We may need to practice in a set area because of a spouse’s career obligation, we may want to practice “anywhere near an ocean”, or we may need to be close to aging parents or other family. If you aren’t able to travel for that perfect job, you’ll have to work more intensively in your target area to find a good fit for yourself. You’ll also need to understand the financial micro-climates of the area in which you are job hunting. As a newer grad unexpectedly relocated by my spouse’s military obligation, I found myself living in a remote area of California with an Ohio license. Not my dream situation! Once licensed, I opted to start a relief service. This allowed me to meet doctors throughout my area and work in a variety of hospitals until I ultimately found a great practice suited to my experience level, personality, and medical style.
If you are confident with basic outpatient care, relief work can provide an effective introduction to your area’s hospitals; spend time with all contractors before starting work, however, to be sure you’re comfortable with their equipment, support staff, and medical/surgical protocols. Of course, relief work can be a mixed bag for us when we’re newer. If you’re a newer grad, I’ll suggest you be really clear about your skill level with potential employers. You don’t want to get thrown into the deep end if you do relief before you get a few years under your belt!
Finally, make sure you’ve applied for all licenses (or exams!) required to practice in your chosen location; most hospitals are unable to employ doctors without the appropriate state licenses.
Once you’ve set your sights on a practice style (large multi-doctor specialty practice, or mixed animal out in the boondocks?) and have narrowed your job search to a targeted area, you’ll need to get a grasp of appropriate pay for the kind of job you’re seeking.
The harsh reality is a practice can only afford to pay an associate somewhere between 18 and 25% of the associate’s gross production. This means whether you’re on straight salary, a base salary plus production generated over a set percentage, or pure production, at some point you’re going to need to bring in enough money to cover your paycheck. As you progress through your career, pay attention to areas of opportunity to increase gross production in your hospital. Perhaps you are interested in dentistry, dermatology, or dog behavior; add services (and charge appropriately for them!) to serve both your interests and elevate your new practice’s bottom line. Look into areas of practice your boss doesn’t enjoy and discuss developing expertise in those areas to improve service in your community. Be sure you evaluate the costs associated with training, equipment, etc. so you have a strong grasp of the actual profitability of anything you’re hoping to bring to the practice.
Stay tuned for a salary expectations worksheet coming soon!
A good employment contract can prevent a significant amount of disagreement between employer and employee. While not all veterinarians have an employment contract, many do, and all should. Generally, employment contracts spell out your job duties and expectations, define how you are compensated and deal with terminating employment – not only on the behalf of the employee, but on behalf of the employer. In some cases they will also include non-compete clauses (more on this later).
If you have an employment contract, make sure these areas are included, understood, and that you agree:
Remember – you must understand and agree with everything. You can negotiate clauses you do not agree with or ask for clarification. Do not, under any circumstances, sign a contract you:
Do not wait until the contract is finalized and in your hand before considering negotiations. If there are specific items in the contract you are not comfortable with or are deal breakers, ask to discuss with your potential employer and be proactive in working through them together.
An employment contract is not a guarantee of a job – even though it sometimes feels like a security blanket. While a contract needs to have a term for which it is valid, it does not mean the contract cannot be broken during the term. In fact, a good contract will contain clauses allowing either party to terminate the agreement. Generally the clauses involve giving adequate amounts of time or warning so neither party is unduly burdened by the departure of the employee. The clauses also define penalties for not abiding by the contract – these penalties can be applicable to both sides for failure to meet the requirements.
As a new grad, or a seasoned but new–to-the-practice associate, you’ll be joining a team with loyalties and shorthand communication habits already developed.
Which best describes you?
A casual perusal of the Practice Management and Professional Communications-Stress folders in the VIN Message Boards (a VIN membership is required for access) will tell you helping a new associate (experienced or newly graduated) get acclimate into a working team is extremely important to career success. It seems unsuccessful new associates come in two flavors; the Super Buddy who tries to be best buds with the support staff, and the Super Bossy who arrives with “my way or the highway” tattooed onto their foreheads. The most successful new associates find a way to walk the line between these extremes.
New associates who bond too closely with support staff often have problems when they need to be more firm with their new friends. Once the honeymoon phase is over, you’ll need to start directing your staff for optimal effectiveness. If you’ve been partying with your support staff, it may be hard to instruct them firmly during an emergency, or to ask them to clean up after that parvo pup when they’d rather handle less noxious duties. Additionally, if you’re overly social with your support staff, it’ll be harder to tell them they need to get off their phone and do callbacks or find other profitable ways of spending time during slow periods.
Owners may not mind you researching cases (or playing) on VIN during your down time, but they won’t appreciate your allowing support staffers to kick back on the time-clock in a similar fashion. Be sure to maintain the amount of emotional distance required to be a leader with staff so they will listen when you say “get back to work” should you need to. Your support staff is key to succeeding in your new job, and can really go a long way towards making your work day enjoyable. Starting off on a good foot by bringing treats is encouraged.
Be sure to notice when the techs, assistants, receptionists, and kennel folk are doing something well and compliment them with targeted notes, “Jen, I love that you’ve used the lidocaine cream before starting that IVC; that’s going to make Barney’s experience much more positive”. Your support staff are (hopefully!) rightfully proud of their equipment and training; you’ll want to be verbally complimentary about protocols, equipment, and other aspects of the practice you appreciate. Go in looking for positives, and wait until you’ve become an accepted member of the team before you start introducing changes.
Ideally, you’ll have visited and worked some trial days before starting the job, so there won’t be any ethical considerations you cannot live with in your new practice. While you’re getting to know your support staff, remember your most important relationship is with your boss. Check in occasionally to ensure you are on the right track with cases and interpersonal communications. If possible, try to catch the boss when things aren’t chaotic, and work to develop a respectful but relaxed camaraderie.