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Interview questions for veterinary supervisors

Looking to hire someone for this crucial management role? Find out what to ask

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It’s an age-old debate when it comes to finding a supervisor in veterinary medicine: Do we “raise” our own, as in promote someone from the current team, or do we hire an “outsider,” and hope that the team can find it in their hearts to welcome this new person in charge? Well, let’s just be honest, neither one is perfect.  However, either one will work if done well.  It’s all about the hiring process, which looks quite different than hiring for any other position on the team.

First of all — and this is absolutely essential — you must open up the position to the current team before you advertise to the general public. Post a notice, send out an email — however you communicate with your team — just let them know. Include the job description for the supervisor position. If someone on the team is interested, let them know they will go through the same hiring process as anybody else new stepping into the practice. This means, they will turn in an updated resume, and be interviewed too.  The main difference is that instead of a typical cover letter, you will ask for a Letter of Intent, which basically will explain why they are pursuing this position.  From there, you interview them like anybody else, except with some slightly different questions:

Let’s look at both scenarios.

The Outsider Interview Questions

(NOTE:  If this person has already been working in another veterinary practice, skip to Question 5.)

1. Why are you interested in filling a management position in an animal-care environment?

Typically this will be when you hear “I love animals.” That’s OK; they need to.  But wait for them to add even more beyond that catch phrase, and see what pops up. Don’t end this question too soon.

2. What exposure have you had thus far to animals, pets included?

The basics, as in what species, how old were they when they had that pet(s), how did they participate in caring for that pet, and perhaps most important, how did their relationship end with that pet?  In other words, you want to see if they have personally experienced loss in the form of death or euthanasia. This will help them empathize with the team and your clients, and give you a glimpse into how they handle these sensitive situations.

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3. What do you already know about veterinary medicine?

This does not have to be about medicine itself, but more about the profession. Do they have a basic understanding of the schooling involved in becoming a veterinarian?  Have they experienced veterinary medicine as a pet owner, and what about those experiences were good and bad?

4. Are you willing to learn MORE about veterinary medicine?

This is essential. They have to be willing to learn more, and often times, quite a bit more.  They have to have “street cred” with the team, and if they do not come in with the knowledge, they have to be willing to obtain it. Which leads to the next interview question.

5. How would you help the team get to know you, and you them?

What you would like to hear in this answer is something about mingling with the team, observing the flow in the practice, shadowing the positions, and learning about the profession, the business, and the team all at the same time.  They should NOT want or think they can simply take over an office.

The Insider Interview Questions

(NOTE:  This person will have already been working in YOUR practice.)

1. Why do you want to move into a position in management?

This is the most essential question, and you want them to spend some time talking about this answer.  What is it they are seeking?  Some possibilities include: a less physically demanding position (yes, our bodies wear out after years of wrestling Rottweilers), the ability to influence change in the practice, an opportunity to expand their career and climb the (step)ladder, perhaps even to earn a raise and better hours.  So again, spend some time listening to what they expect if they get this position, and figure out if it aligns with the goals of the organization. For example, if they are trying to get away from working nights and weekends, but your plan is for this supervisor to work some of those shifts to regularly touch base with those employees, then there could be some major misunderstanding about to happen.  Get to the bottom of why they want the change.

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2. What skills can you bring to a position in leadership?

You’re hoping to hear lots of good things here, like good communication skills, an ability to motivate others, a respect for everyone on the team, the ability to mediate problems and a desire to inspire everyone to excellence.

3. Are you willing to learn more about being a leader?

It is very important that this person WANT to learn more, but of course it is just as important that you WANT to send them to training, buy them resources, hire a consultant to manage the transition, however you want to get them started off right.  Invest some time (and yes, money) into teaching them the skills they will need to be successful.  They need to have the drive, but you still need to fill the gas tank!

The last question for this “insider” interview is one you ask yourself, actually:

Why do I want THIS particular person to move into management?

Be honest with yourself.  Is it because they show potential, they demonstrate an understanding of what it takes to be a leader and the team already respects them?  Or, and this is a biggy, is it because they are the BEST technician or BEST receptionist, so you assume they can excel at any job?  You may be mistaken, and it is a costly mistake.  Typically, if things do not work out, this person will not only leave the new supervisor’s position, but they will also leave the practice altogether, and you are out your best team member plus still have a hole to fill in management.  So be very careful with the answer to this question, and be sure you are looking at the right qualities before you choose to “raise” one person up.

There is nothing easy about hiring or promoting someone into a supervisor, or “middle management” position.  It is an important role — probably the most important in the practice truth be told — so take your time and be sure you have a current and correct job description on which to base your hiring decision. Provide mentorship so this person gets started off right.  This is truly where first impressions can make or break a person’s success, because the team is going to be adjusting and making some rather quick assessments of this person’s abilities.  Give them every opportunity to succeed, and it can be the best person to have your back with the team.

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