How to Hire the Proper Employee?
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2004
Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France


Veterinarians who invest in sound employee management practices earn more money than those who don't according to results of the Brakke Management and Behavior Study (Manage Staff for Profit, 2001). High quality staff members are key to success of your practice, so adopt these four strategies to motivate your team and encourage employee longevity:

 Use effective hiring techniques

 Offer competitive compensation

 Focus on team training

 Develop supportive communication and people management

We will focus on the first and crucial part of this equation: the initial team selection through effective hiring.

Candidate selection

It is important to prepare well for the interview. The first step will be to determine what qualities and experience your ideal candidate should possess and make sure that your advertisement for the position will express these features. It is probably a good idea to get together with all colleagues who will eventually be involved with the successful applicant to build up the picture of the most desirable attributes in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and working habits. Such job description could be developed with veterinarians but also other staff members of the practice including future colleagues. For example if the profile of your future employee is one that would essentially be working at the reception desk directly in contact with clients, selling services and products, the profile should not necessarily one of a technical nurse experienced in surgical assistance.

To conduct proper candidate selection one should follow some simple and logical steps: produce a job description matching the position, advertise and obtain a list of initial candidates, make a first selection based on written applications, handle a first glance meeting of all suited candidates, select the last 3 to 5 elected persons, and conduct a full interview with them. I have come to the conclusion that the CV is only a guide. Do avoid rejecting candidates on the simple basis of an apparently poor or badly written resume. Unless you get lots of applications, a good rule is that when in doubt, manage to meet and interview candidates, using a two step system (short meeting and then extended interview). It is also better to involve more than one person in the interview itself, unless you are working in a very small practice and you wish to be totally in charge. The interview process should also be identical for all interviewees in order to obtain pertinent and comparable information. An application form or interview spread sheet with prepared and predetermined questions is the best way to handle the full interview itself and this document needs some preparation. Before the interview always request candidates to bring along to the interview any certificates or diplomas referred to in the CV. Allow some time to check them thoroughly. It surprises me that this is often omitted. Discovering an inaccurate statement on a CV can tell you a considerable amount about the candidate and may save you hours of questioning.

It is my opinion that focus should be given to finding the employee who best fits your practice and will stick around. Remember that retaining good employees is critical and that high turn over of employees is very costly for the practice. To diminish such events, one should starts by the proper selection of your team.

Before the interview

Several issues should be reviewed prior interviewing. These actions are summarised as follows:

 Construct ideal profile and decide how to question for best results

 Prepare an advertisement

 Decide on best advertisement placement

 Study replies in detail and produce the first selection

 Handle a first glance meeting with selected individuals

 Keep your preferred candidates and determine who will be fully interviewed

 Prepare the interview (questions, interviewers, venue)

 Provide (if necessary) suitable training for inexperienced interviewers

 Consider (if necessary) engaging a human resources professional for help, including for assistance in the candidate selection

The place

The place where you will conduct the interviews is important. Ideally it should take place at the practice. If not possible, make sure you handle first a short meeting and introduction with visit of the working facilities. It is crucial that the candidates get a chance to comment on the premises and also for the employees to meet with the candidates and future colleague. Once this initial step is conducted, plan to handle the interview in a local place such as a hotel lounge or friendly office nearby. Allow yourself to have access to a place where you can take notes. Offering some drinks and a minimum of comfort is always appreciated. The following criteria can be used as a rule:

 Comfortable and non threatening environment

 Freedom from distractions (turn-off your cell phone)

 Easy access for interviewers

 Light refreshments available

Always give the right impression of the practice and the job and make sure that you give candidates (and yourself) appropriate meeting time without any interruption (ask to avoid any interruption from your colleagues)

The interview itself: initial setting

Candidates are usually nervous and it is your initial objective to loosen them and relieve their potential anxiety. This is achieved by a warm and friendly introduction. Offering them some coffee or a glass of water is also a good way to start. It is always a good idea to engage in small chat for a few minutes such as the weather, or anything else which appears politically correct. It is not recommend to start by commenting on the last election or local government taxes, etc. Start by explaining how the interview will be conducted and why you will take notes for example. The interview is essentially a way to obtain information about the person. The objective should always be kept in mind. You are not selling your team or practice nor should you talk at length about all the wonderful things the candidates will benefit from with the job. The interviewers should listen and talk very little. At least 80% of the interview should be the candidate talking. Be careful as many amateurs at the procedure will help the candidates when they are struggling with an answer, or worse suggest some of the answers, usually good. This would definitively alter the interpretation of the candidate performance. As a rule, do not help, unless, of course, the candidates ask.

The interview itself: the pattern

It is important to remain as objective as possible and to do so to follow the same pattern for all interviews, particularly when these are for the same position. You should prepare a list of questions with possible answers that lead you to some important features about the candidates. The CVs should be discussed in some depth (this could be part of the initial step or meeting, the initial screening). This process allows you to obtain a complete picture of each candidate. Remember ask the persons to bring the documents relative to their CV (diplomas, certificate, written recommendations, examination results, etc.). Some questions will bring information about the candidates' knowledge, others about his or her motivation or even his or her attitude and his or her empathy and communication skills. Remember that intelligent candidates will not admit all their weaknesses, but will at least give you some. It is my opinion that attitudes are difficult to change, just as bad working habits. These should be borne in mind when such inappropriate attitudes or working methods appear to have been demonstrated. Motivation is also a crucial feature, and more important to me than knowledge and experience. You can acquire knowledge and experience, it is more difficult to gain motivation and change general attitudes. A list of suggested questions is below:

1.  Tell me about yourself

2.  If we were asking your previous employer about your strengths and positive features what would he tell us?... (you noticed that we are here implicitly referring to an interview of previous employers)

3.  If we were asking your previous employer about your weaknesses and negative features what would he tell us?...

4.  In client relationship what is the most painful experience you have encountered or you fear most?

5.  Your favorite animals?

6.  Do you have a pet?

7.  Which animals do you fear to handle? (if the answer is none, you can add "what about pit-bulls? And snakes? And rats?)

8.  Describe a situation where one of the staff members, one of your colleagues could help you, contribute and make your job easier?

9.  Describe to me your IDEAL or preferred client?

10. How would you handle, a client at the reception desk, that you don't know, who comes in and asks for some corticosteroid tablets or tells you "my dog is itching, could you give me a similar product..."?

11. How would you handle a case where a client wishes to be present when his pet is put to sleep? or a case where a similar client asks to remain with his pet until the animal is anesthetized?

12. What has been the most critical and difficult professional experience you have been associated with?

13. How would you manage a situation where you have to announce to a client that his or her pet died?

14. Give me some examples of actions you could think about, that you could follow through, and would contribute to our business growth?

15. What is THE situation where you would lose your temper and potentially become angry?

16. Where do you see yourself in 3 years from now?

17. Tell me about your "hobbies"? and have you participated in any social activities in your community?

The interview itself: legal restrictions

In most countries employment laws require that interviews should be conducted without biases and prejudice. Successful applicants should be appointed because they are considered the best fit for the job. To give an example, males and females applicants should be processed the same way and interviews should be conducted without detailed assumptions about marital status and domestic obligations. Questions about family plans such as intention to have a child could be construed as having a bias against female applicants. In order to avoid any problems make sure you keep records of interviews and document why applicants were or were not appointed in order to counter any possible claims of discrimination.

After the interview itself: selection

You may have to make some difficult choices and important decisions to make. As a rule, when facing with some apparently equivalent candidates, I would suggest you give more importance to motivation over knowledge and similarly to passion over experience. When you have a doubt, trust your initial feelings, your "gut feelings" and make sure that the candidate you prefer will match the team and will complete the existing set of employees.

Complementary tips

There is some interesting information that you can obtain from body language, not only from the words and verbal answers to your questions. Skilled interviewers learn to read body language to supplement their record. The way people use their hands, and cross their legs, or use their eyes are very instructive.

There are some interesting sources of information about these features and it is quite useful to learn the basis of communication behavior.


As most experts say, the most difficult task in a business is to handle human resources. A survey published in Veterinary Economics, showed that veterinarians do not escape from this general opinion. Employees are the reflection of the practice. They often are more in contact with clients and contribute greatly to client satisfaction and loyalty. It is therefore crucial to properly select and then keep employees as long as possible. The initial step that consists of identifying your human resources and selecting the members of your team is crucial. Don't neglect the investment that will be necessary in making the proper choices and selection. Remember also that it is easier to hire than to fire.

Speaker Information
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Philippe Moreau, DVM, MS, DECVIM-CA, DECVN
Limoges, France