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Stop Offering Crappy Interviews

It’s a buyer’s market.

This means that potential employees get to decide who they want to work for.

Almost every veterinary hospital is short staffed, likely including yours.

If you fail to provide a great interview process, they will likely find another hospital that will.

A Healthy Interview Process:

  • Reply in a Timely Manner to the Applicant (<2 weeks)

  • First Interview. Have them leave understanding the next step.

  • Follow up in a Timely Manner (<1 week)

  • Second Interview (not an unpaid working interview)

  • Notify them of Your Final Decision

Reply in a Timely Manner

The candidate was excited when they applied for a position at your hospital. They may have told their friends and/or family members about the job they were hoping to land. Now it’s been a month and they haven’t heard from you. If they haven’t done so already, they will start looking for another job. If you never reply to them, they will likely never apply to your hospital in the future.

Yes, we all get candidates that aren’t quite who we are looking for. Maybe they have no experience or maybe they are not even aware of what the job is. I’ve had individuals from IT sectors apply for veterinary technician positions. Regardless of the fact that I have no intention of hiring them, I always reply to every single person who applies to my hospital. Imagine if that IT individual goes on to become a veterinary technician one day. Perhaps they know of a family member or friend who is a veterinary technician. Perhaps they are a pet owner in your area. Reply to every single person. It’s worth noting that most hospitals don’t have hundreds of applications rolling in right now. Take the time to reply to everyone in a timely manner which means in under two weeks from when they submitted their application. Anything longer is just plain rude.

First Interview

One great thing about the 21st century is that technology is ever present and available to help us interview more people in a shorter amount of time. I would encourage you to consider your first round of interviews over a video call platform (zoom, google voice, teams). While this seems impersonal, it allows you to interview more people and allows you to determine whether or not they are worth your time for an in-person interview. The other nice feature is that you can interview individuals that may not be located in the area. For individuals that are looking to relocate this allows them the opportunity to interview without the expense of traveling. No one likes their time wasted within the first hour you are likely able to gauge whether this person is qualified for an in-person interview.

If interviewing in-person is your jam, that’s a great option as well. It allows you to screen them inside the hospital. They get a sneak peek at your hospital, and you get to connect with them on a more personal level than a video call platform. Typically, in-person interviews tend to last longer than video interviews. If you have a strong candidate in your hospital, you are more likely to offer them a tour of the hospital and go into more detail. I call these show-n-tell interviews. This is where you like the interviewee enough to start showing them and advertising the clinic in a positive light. You don’t get the opportunity to do any show-n-tell to the candidate if you are doing a video call interview.

Regardless of in-person or video calling, be sure to keep it in a reasonable timeframe. Most first interviews should be scheduled for one hour. Unfortunately, I know of managers that have started out an interview and then turned it into a show-n-tell and then asked the candidate to stay for a few hours to observe the team. Candidates need to be given a timeframe in which they should be expected to be at the hospital for the interview. Springing a longer interview process on them isn’t fair. Many candidates won’t say no because they want the job. They feel like they need to say yes and it’s something they were not prepared for. It’s best to stick to the timeframe that you provided to them rather than them having to rearrange their schedule no matter how flexible they appear to be.

Have a set of standard questions you plan on asking. Too often managers start off interviews by asking, “tell me about yourself.” This broad, uninteresting question will likely leave you with not much more information than what they shared on resume. Here is a list of potential interview questions you may consider asking during your interview.

Interview Question Examples
Download PDF • 174KB

Regardless of what you ask, come prepared. What kind of information are you looking to get from this candidate? Too often managers just wing it, and it shows. Be sure you are fully aware what you CAN and CANNOT ask for questions. If you aren't aware, then you likely should not be interviewing. Check out this article that addresses the legal aspect of questions asked during an interview.

Lastly, before the first interview ends you need to provide them the next steps in the interview process. What?! You don’t have a written-out procedure of how you interview individuals? Please write out the process of how you plan to interview for the position. How many interviews do you require for a veterinary technician position? What is the process for interviewing for a veterinarian? The step-by-step process should be listed out. The interviewee should leave knowing when and what the next step is. You can use the above suggested process to get you on your way to writing yours.

Follow Up

This is the part where many managers fail. You took the time to interview someone, and they dedicated their time to you. Please don’t ghost this individual. They’re waiting to hear whether or not they are moving onto the next interview or not.

You likely know after the first interview whether or not you want to move on with this individual. Be courteous and let them know within a week of when they interviewed. Waiting for all the other interviews to be completed is likely an unnecessary step. If you like them, let them know by inviting them for a second interview. If you are debating and think more information may help you decide, invite them back for a second interview. If you didn’t like them, let them down gently so they can move on.

One thing managers fail to do is to write out a list of competencies that they are looking for in a candidate. The process of writing out a competency list for what you desire in a new hire will allow you to look back at your interview (where you kept detailed notes of the individual and went through a series of standard questions) and compare them to what you desire in a new hire.

For example, if you are looking for someone who embraces working in a team, you will want to have an interview question that allows you to evaluate the candidate for that. Is hiring someone who has a high EQ (emotional intelligence) important to you? Then be sure to evaluate them for it post-interview. Using a point-scale system to objectively rank your candidates will help you in the selection process. I've always been a fan of going through a competency list post-interview and assigning points to that competency so I can look at that candidate and determine if I want to move forward. For an idea of how to create this for your own hiring process you can download this pdf:

Download PDF • 206KB

Unpaid Working Interviews are Illegal

Unpaid working interviews in which the interviewee performs hands-on skills inside the hospital are illegal. Making someone work for free is illegal. When you ask a potential employee to prove their skills in the hospital by working on patients and interacting with clients, you need to pay them. Failure to do so can may result in you being sued or fined.

Some hospitals do pay for working interviews. If you are interested in doing working interviews within the law, you must enroll this person in your hospital as an employee so they are paid and fully covered by your hospital’s worker’s compensation in case they are injured during the interview.

That said, I don't recommend paying for an interviewee to work at your hospital to prove their skills. We don’t make veterinarians prove their skills by performing surgery for an interview. Why do we require veterinary technicians/nurses/assistants to prove themselves? I hear what some of you are saying, "I've hired someone in who said they could do XYZ and turns out they could not." I get it, but the practice of requiring these veterinary professionals to prove their skills is archaic.

This out-of-date practice started because veterinary technicians were only on-the-job trained. It was a trade job where one learned skill only and limited knowledge behind the "why." Even in trade jobs that exist today (like plumbers, carpenters), it’s illegal to require someone to work for free. Since the profession of veterinary technology has evolved where many have education, your hospital should evolve in the second interview process. Unfortunately, I know of too many candidates who have been required to work, unpaid, for 8 hours or more without a break or meal. Don’t be that illegal employer. Stop living in the "this is the way it's always been done" and progress to the "this is how we've evolved our second interview."

Second Interview

So, what should you do for a second interview if you don’t require someone to work illegally for free or pay them next to nothing? How will you know if they have any skill? How will you know if they get along with the team?

It's still important for them to come in and hang out with the team. This is valuable insight into how they will mesh with the team. It’s also helpful for the interviewee to determine if they want to work for you hospital. Let them spend time with multiple team members and be sure to allow them to see the team in action. Just don't have them show up in scrubs. They are there to observe, meet the team and see the hospital in action.

While they are spending time with the team, you can gain some insight into their skill and knowledge simply by talking to them.

  • “How would you handle this case?”

  • “How would you manage a fractious cat?”

  • “What are the common induction agents for anesthesia you prefer?”

  • “When the end-tidal CO2 is high, how would manage that?”

You know what skill and knowledge you are looking for in a new employee. If you need someone strong in anesthesia and they can’t answer the last two questions, then you likely should find a more suitable candidate.

You can also administer a written exam. In under 25 questions you will likely gain a lot of insight into their knowledge base. Asking basic to advance questions will help you determine if it’s the candidate for you. If you need some ideas of what questions to ask for a veterinary technician/nurse/assistant position, you can download this pdf to get your brain juices flowing.

Knowledge Assessment for Vet Tech
Download PDF • 196KB

You should always prepare the candidate that there will be a written assessment as part of the second interview process. Provide adequate time and be sure to specify that the use of a cell phone is not permitted. Provide them a calculator if you want to test their math knowledge (which I would strongly recommend.) Periodically check on them in case they have any questions. Since most people have some level of test anxiety, providing an unlimited amount of time is best. I’ve never had anyone take more than an hour for a 25-question assessment.

The candidate will want to know how they scored. Let them know that you don’t share results so as to maintain the integrity of the assessment. Let them know the assessment is only one part of the interview. It’s not just about knowledge, it’s about the cultural fit, the eagerness of the candidate and the type of candidate the hospital is looking for. Knowledge is only one small part of who you are looking to fill a position.

The time spent in the hospital is ultimately up to you, but I would suggest four hours, no more than six. Anything more than four hours requires you feeding the candidate a meal. Ensure that the time in your hospital is productive and positive. Make sure you care for your potential new hire throughout their time at your hospital. If they have a bad experience, they will tell their veterinary professional friends and you will lose not only them, but other future employees as well. Too often managers dump candidates on the floor without any direction. The candidate will spend hours hanging out with the team who is largely ignoring them. If you are going to leave them to spend time on the floor, be sure there you assign someone to be their go-to person and ensure your team knows there is someone interviewing.

My go-to second interview process is for them to come in, spend time on the floor, take a written assessment and finish up speaking with me. However, you decide to construct the candidate's second interview is up to you, but be sure it has a good flow to it and you are able to assess skill and knowledge through conversation and potentially a written assessment.

Final Decision

So, did they get the job or not? You need to let them know no more than 2 weeks from when they had their second interview with you. The worst thing you could do is not notify them at all. Unfortunately, I know too many individuals, including some of the best in the industry who interviewed for a hospital and then were ghosted. That’s a great way for that individual to tell their veterinary friends not to apply to your hospital. Please be sure to provide the candidate an answer in a timely manner.


Hopefully this helps you define the interview process for your veterinary team. Be sure to come up with a well-defined plan, rather than just winging-it. Interviews that are put together without a constructed list of questions tend to be disorganized. Be sure you take a logical and well thought out approach on how you interview people. Failure to do so will leave the interviewee wondering if they really want to work for you. Remember, it’s a buyer’s market and likely will be for the foreseeable future. If someone took the time to apply to your hospital, be sure to be respectful and courteous back to them.

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