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Making the Most of Veterinary Graduate Interviews

12th September 2017

We all know how hard it is to recruit veterinary graduates. Even though there is no shortage of great veterinary graduates, small practices across the country are struggling to recruit. Why is it so hard to find the right talent?

Interviewing veterinary graduates is a great way to really find out if a candidate that looks good on paper is actually the right fit for your practice. But it’s easy for interviews to become a wasted opportunity. Interviews are the one time in an application process you really get to see if a candidate is right for you!

How should you structure the interview?

It can seem like job interviews are a simple task for a veterinary practice: once your job description is sorted you just have to meet a few candidates, have a chat with them, and make a decision based on who seems best. To make sure you’re really giving candidates a fair chance, though, it’s worth spending a little more time preparing for the interview.

Having a set interview structure in place makes it much easier to compare veterinary graduates: if they seem particularly impressive you can be sure that’s down to them, not because a fairly informal discussion happened to unfold in a certain way. A great interview structure could look like this:

  1. Introduce your practice to the candidate. Meet the candidate and help put them at ease. You could start with small talk, asking how their journey was, and then move into a description of life and work at the veterinary practice. They could meet a few members of the staff they would be working with, in a fairly informal way to give them more confidence for the actual interview.
  1. Conduct the interview. Make sure all candidates are interviewed by the same members of the practice, or at least that all interviewers are keeping clear notes they can use to compare. Have the job description at the front of your minds, so you know just what kind of candidate you are looking for. Ask the same questions to each applicant, so you can easily compare their ability.
  1. Wrap-up. With the interview over, ask the candidates if they have any questions for you. Let them know how you will follow up the interview and thank them. If they need to complete any extra competency tasks, now could be the time for them to do that, before guiding them to the exit while you meet the next candidate.

This simple interview structure will help veterinary graduates feel relaxed and more confident, meaning you’ll be getting a better picture of how they will fit into your practice. It also makes it easier to meaningfully compare the performance of different candidates, making sure you’re recruiting the right veterinary graduate for your practice.

To make it easier to compare similar candidates, you might want to have a rating system in place. So, if you ask a candidate about a particular competency, you might want to mark their response out of 4, giving them 1 point each for being able to:

  • tell you a situation where they needed to demonstrate that particular competency
  • describe what was required of them in that situation
  • describe what they ultimately did in that situation
  • say what the ultimate result of their actions was

This is known as the ‘STAR’ technique (short for ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’, and ‘Response’). It is a clear way to differentiate between candidates answers at interview, helping you to make sure that your veterinary graduate has the right skills for the job, beyond simply coming across as a good person.

When arranging times to interview candidates, be as flexible as you can: the very best candidates will often be very busy, so if you can interview outside of working hours they are more likely to be available.

What questions should you ask?

When you’re working out the questions to ask in the actual interview, you should have the job description you’re recruiting for at the front of your mind. Work out what criteria you’re really looking for in a veterinary graduate: do they perform well under highly stressful situations, do you want someone with a wide range of skills or a particular expertise, do you want someone that can work flexible hours? There could be all sorts of criteria based on the particular role at hand.

When you know your criteria, think up about 10 questions that address them. These could be fact-based (“why did you choose to study this particular aspect of veterinary practice?”, or “why are you looking to work in this specific field?”), hypothetical (“what would you do if an owner wants you to euthanise a pet that you believe could be perfectly healthy”), or behavioural (“tell us about a time you dealt with a particularly stressful situation).

Don’t be afraid to ask really specific questions in relation to the nature of your practice: if you need a graduate willing to work long hours, then ask. Don’t shy away from any undesirable aspects of the job, otherwise this will cause problems in the future and you may be unable to retain your new graduate!

Also, know what questions to avoid: if they are recent graduates, asking lots of questions about work experience they don’t have is not likely to show whether or not they are right for the job! You can be sympathetic while still testing their abilities.

The important thing is that the interview questions are relevant to your particular practice, and the veterinary graduate you are interviewing. Look at their CV, and ask them questions that will help them tell you more about things that look particularly relevant or interesting. Doing this small bit of preparation will give your interviewer the best chance to show whether or not they are right for you.

How should you follow up on the interview?

Once you’ve interviewed all your candidates, arrange a time for your interviewers to meet as soon as possible to discuss their notes on the different candidates’ responses. If there is clearly a suitable candidate: great! Get in touch with them to let them know the good news.

Also be sure to contact unsuccessful candidates in good time — it looks good for your practice if you treat them with respect, and it’s always good to maintain relationships with veterinary graduates. Although they might not have been the right fit now, you may want them to be in touch in the future for a different role. If possible, offer to give them feedback on their interview — again, this might help you recruit in the future, and will certainly help other veterinary practices they might interview for in the future.

If no candidate is the right fit, there’s no need to appoint someone just for the sake of it. You could have a second round of interviews, asking different questions to get a more particular view of a few candidates. Just be sure to communicate clearly with your candidates what they should expect and whether or not they are successful.

You’ve got the right candidate — how can you secure them?

When you’ve chosen the right candidate for the role, the best thing to do is to be clear and prompt with them: they may be looking for other roles and have other offers waiting. Arrange a time to meet or have a phone call with them, let them know they are successful, and offer them the role. Be sure to answer any questions they might have about possible start dates and salary as clearly as possible, being able to accommodate them as much as you can.