Hiring And Firing To Get The Vet Staff You Want

Recruiting and retaining dedicated employees and letting go of ill-fitting employees are significant managerial challenges.

Recruiting and retaining dedicated, competent employees and knowing how to let go of employees who are not the best fit for your veterinary practice are significant management challenges. 

Practices that develop an effective hiring and termination process are more likely to hire outstanding team members and retain employees who are the right fit for the practice culture.

Take the following steps to improve recruitment efforts:

What You Need

When recruiting employees, don’t just look for a warm body to fill the position. Instead, focus on finding job candidates who have the skills and attitude to become an outstanding member of your team. To recruit the right candidates, define the requisite skill set for the position and what kind of employee you need to adhere to the core values of your veterinary practice. 

In addition, focus on what potential employees want from employers. 

Make sure the wages and benefits you offer are competitive for your region and with other area practices. Understand that while compensation and benefits are important, these are often not the only deciding factors when people choose a job. 

Employees want to work in a positive environment. They value flexible work schedules, training and development opportunities, supportive managers, constructive feedback, positive teamwork and camaraderie.

Be sure to present both the tangible and intangible benefits of working at your practice when talking to job candidates.

Why Employees Leave

Try to understand why some employees stay at your practice while others choose to leave and work elsewhere. Ask for feedback from employees about what they are unhappy about. 

One of the best ways to find out why employees leave is to simply ask them by conducting exit interviews. Exit interviews can be done in person on the employee’s last day of work or via phone. Often employees are willing to be honest and candid in their feedback once they know they are quitting. 

Advertise Effectively

Place ads in newspapers, journals or online sites that are read by your target audience. Advertising for veterinary technicians at local or regional technology colleges can be effective; be sure to talk directly with the head of the program or one of the instructors. 

Write concise ads with relevant information. For example, state whether you are looking for licensed technicians vs. veterinary assistants. For receptionists, use the heading “client relations” personnel to attract employees who have customer service skills and experience.

Effective Interviews

Establishing a consistent interview process is critical if you want to hire employees who will be a good fit for your practice. Follow these guidelines for effective interviews:  

Give candidates the job description and ask them if they have questions and if they have the necessary skills to do the job. 

Check out Monster.com and other job boards for information on interview tips and legal questions. 

Another great resource for interview questions is the Society for Human Resource Management.

Use a written, standard list of questions for all candidates to allow for valid comparison of candidates. Tailor the list of questions to the job position. It makes sense to have a different set of questions for technicians and client service representatives even though there will be some overlap.

Because the interview goal is for you to gain as much information as possible from candidates, they should do most of the talking.

Ask open-ended questions to gain the most information. A question such as “What did you like most and like least about your former boss?” will give you more information than if you ask “Did you like your last boss?”

Ask specific situational questions about the candidate’s former job experience. Situational questions are designed to determine how a candidate will perform his/her duties and whether they are a good fit for the practice. For example, “Tell me about a time that you experienced conflict with a co-worker and how you handled the situation.”

Ask questions specifically designed to assess client service skills.  Example: “Tell me about a time that you helped an unhappy customer or client. How did you handle the situation?” In addition, you can provide candidates with a particular scenario they might experience at your practice and ask how they would handle the situation.

Include one or more employees in interviews. This can help with new employee integration and training. If employees participate in the hiring decision, they are more likely to accept new employees and take ownership of training them.

Always check references.

Orientation and Training

Establish a 90-day introductory period for new hires. During this time period, provide a formal, comprehensive orientation and training program. The goal is to make sure new employees are comfortable in their new work environment and sufficiently trained so they can excel in their new position. 

The introductory period allows time for both the employee and the employer to assess whether the job is a good fit for the individual and the practice. Give new employees feedback daily or weekly regarding their job performance. Be sure to solicit feedback from new hires about how they like their job, what challenges they are experiencing and whether they require additional assistance or training. 

If it becomes clear that the new employee is not a good fit for your practice or cannot perform job duties competently, terminate his employment. Keeping employees who do not meet job standards decreases morale and reduces productivity for the team.

Termination of Employees

For underperforming employees, evaluate the employee’s strengths, job performance and dedication to improvement. Assess whether the areas of inadequate job performance jeopardize patient care, affect client service or interfere with teamwork.

Determine whether lack of training is a problem or if the employee lacks the talent to perform well in the areas of weakness. Perhaps you can re-assign the employee to a different area of the hospital where she can excel. 

Before terminating an employee, afford him an opportunity to improve by establishing job expectations, providing training and offering feedback on job performance. Outline specific action steps with deadlines for the employee to meet job standards. If job performance doesn’t improve despite training and feedback, follow a progressive disciplinary policy leading to and including termination.

When disciplinary action is warranted, follow steps outlined in your formal disciplinary policy. This generally includes progressive disciplinary actions of a verbal warning, written warning, possible suspension and termination. 

Be sure to document all unacceptable behavior, disciplinary actions taken and warnings that are given to employees. Remember, to develop the practice culture you want, you must be willing to terminate employees who don’t fit with the core values of the practice or who don’t meet job expectations and job standards. 

This Education Series article was underwritten by Live Oak Bank, headquartered in Wilmington, N.C.


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