To ask the right interview questions when hiring a veterinary assistant, you must first know what a veterinary assistant IS, and how they function in your veterinary practice. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), this is the definition of a veterinary assistant:
“While every position within the veterinary practice team is important, veterinary assistants play a pivotal role, literally. In the course of a single day, an assistant provides help to veterinarians and veterinary technicians, which in turn allows those team members to perform the tasks and responsibilities of their positions. The next minute, the assistant may be helping a client understand why having their pet's teeth cleaned is so important or providing a receptionist with a second set of hands at the front desk. Helping to fill scripts, keeping exams rooms cleaned and prepped, setting up lab work, helping with inventory, updating medical records, assisting with nursing care — there are more things that veterinary assistants do in a day than most people realize.”
Does this describe a veterinary assistant you want in your practice? Before you even start interviewing candidates for the job of veterinary assistant, you must first ensure that you have a current, accurate, and complete job description for the position in place. This is the most important guiding light in your hiring search. If you need a guide, you can find one at the NAVTA website here.
According to the article “How to Become a Veterinary Assistant” on VeterinaryPracticeNews.com, a vet assistant tends to perform multiple jobs, including:
- Help administer medication to animals
- Clean animals or their cages
- Draw blood
- Sterilize equipment
- Clean an animal’s teeth
- Do clerical work
After you decide what you’re looking for in a vet assistant, you can move on to determining what interview questions you want to ask during your search for a good hire. These are general questions for anyone interviewing for the position, but be sure to add more specific questions based on the tasks that are listed on the job description for your practice.
The hiring process is much easier when you have the right questions.
Vet Assistant Interview Questions and What Answers to Look For
1) Do you love animals?
Although this may seem like a silly question, it really isn’t. At this point, you do not know this person’s motivation to become a veterinary assistant, or to seek out a job working with animals. You want to see their eyes light up when you ask this question, a smile come over their face as they remember the animals in their life, and hear them talk in a positive way about their own pets.
2) What type of animals have you had as pets, and/or worked with previously?
We assume most people have experience with dogs and cats, but if your practice provides services to an assortment of “pocket pets,” (animals like hamsters, sugar gliders, etc.), you want to know the answer to this question. If you do see other species, it may be a big advantage if an interviewee has experience with reptiles, birds, etc.
3) Why did you decide to become a veterinary assistant?
Not only do you want to know why they chose to come into the profession of veterinary medicine, you also want to know why they chose to be an assistant versus a front office person or veterinary technician. In other words, are they only interested in the veterinary assistant position because that is the only opening you have right now? Ideally you want someone who enjoys and chooses to be a veterinary assistant for his or her own personal and professional reasons.
4) Are you a designated Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) through NAVTA?
You may already know the answer to this from their interview paperwork, but it is still good to ask. Many people probably still do not know that NAVTA has the AVA designation and there are formal programs, both online and in person, available to train an AVA.
5) If applicable, tell me what tasks you have performed previously in a veterinary setting?
As they recount the duties of his or her past employment in veterinary medicine, pay attention to any nonverbal communication to see if you can determine which tasks they enjoyed, and which they did not. Build questions off of their response with inquiries about specific tasks, and take some time describing the tasks they would perform in your practice as a veterinary assistant.
6) Tell me about your comfort level with our clients, the pet owners.
Even if you love animals, success in veterinary medicine depends on how much we love the two-legged creature at the OTHER end of the leash! You want to avoid people who work with animals because they do not like people. They may not say this outright, so again be on the lookout for nonverbal communication.
7) If applicable, why did/are you leaving your previous/current position?
This is a good question for any interviewee, so we certainly want to ask it during interviews for a veterinary assistant. Build more specific questions off of their answer to this inquiry.
8) Is there another position in the practice that you feel capable of filling, or hope to train for in the future?
You may have several different positions open in your practice, and you also never know when an opening might appear, so ask about other positions as well. You may also learn that this person is just hoping to get their foot in the door, and they really want to work in a different area at some time in the future. This may be just fine with you, or it may be that you truly need someone who will happily stay put in an assistant’s position for the foreseeable future.
9) What do you see as your future path, or where do you see yourself in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
With this more specific line of questioning, you want to get a feel for whether this person plans on an extended career in veterinary medicine, or if this is just a stop along the way to another career altogether. Again, either way may be fine, but it is good to know this ahead of time to aid you in future staffing decisions. For many young people, this question will catch them off-guard, which is another good reason to ask it.
Hiring a veterinary assistant is similar to hiring someone for any other position in the practice, where you want to know how they fit into your practice now, and into the future. Along the way, pay attention to the other things, read ‘between the lines’ of your conversation, and listen to your gut. Hiring is never an easy task, and there is a lot riding on the hiring decision, so take your time to get to know each candidate in regards to the similar questions you ask each one of them. Then make your best choice, and move forward with confidence.