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Why you’re recruiting new staff completely the wrong way

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01 November 2015, at 12:00am

PAUL GREEN reckons most veterinary practices aren’t going after new staff in the most effective manner and suggests a number of steps – and tests at the interview stage – to help you find the right people

I’VE been working with independent practice owners helping them grow their businesses for a long time now.

And do you know what the most common barrier to growth is? It’s you. The way you think and act directly determines the results that you get from your business.

But closely following this, the second most common barrier to growth is your staff. Anyone with more than a handful of employees will tell you that an unengaged, change-resistant member of staff can be a total nightmare.

You can end up spending much of your time focusing on fire-fighting their problems, rather than investing that time into developing your best staff.

The trick is to surround yourself with the very best people, who are engaged with the practice, and what it is you are trying to achieve. You want people who are strong in areas where you are weak; who will challenge you to up your game. And who are willing to be led by you.

This starts with getting your recruitment right. It’s so tempting to treat recruitment as just another little job that has to be done. Look at some CVs, do some interviews, get a reference…tick, done.

But that’s crazy. You probably spend more time with your staff than you do with the people you love, such as your partner and children.

You don’t get married to someone after a 60-minute selection process! Why would you trust your business to a relative stranger who you’ve only met once or twice?

This is why I always recommend trial days or weeks. A candidate can pretend to be something they’re not in an interview, but it’s harder to keep that up for an entire week.

A common problem I hear about is the difficulty in recruiting qualified staff. Sometimes that’s about geographical location; sometimes about the inflexibility of the job on offer.

I believe that most people’s approach to recruitment is totally wrong. In my mind, it’s a basic marketing challenge. And that means you need to apply good marketing principles to it.

Having a vacancy to fill is really no different to having clinical capacity that you need new clients to fill. Don’t look at it from your point of view. Look at your practice and vacancy as if you were your potential future member of staff.

What’s good about your practice? What makes it an exciting place to work? What’s not so good? This is the key question to answer: What makes you different (or better) than all of the other vets?

If you’re struggling to get the right qualified staff, you need to tackle any perceived negatives of working for your practice. It’s not what you think about your practice; it’s what the candidate thinks…and remember that their perception will be their reality.

Your advert needs to get the basics right as well. That means following the classic marketing acronym of AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). If your advert reads the same as everyone else’s, then you will get the same results.

“Veterinary surgeon needed. No OOH but some weekends. Must be a self-starter. Friendly practice. Funded CPD.”

Really? Is that the best you’ve got? Is that really screaming out to your future employees that they’ve got to work for you? The best employees don’t just want a job. They want excitement, a challenge. Somewhere they will grow personally and professionally.

You can use other marketing tactics to make the role seem more desirable. For example, apply some social proof to demonstrate that your staff love working for you. This could be as simple as a one-line testimonial from a current member of your team, working in a similar role.

Most people prefer to do what most other people are doing. Applying for a new job is riskier for the applicant than it is for you, so make it feel as safe as you can for them.

Finally then, the interview process. CVs are full of exaggerations, so ignore them in favour of pre-interview phone calls. The more contacts you can have with someone, the better a feel you’ll get for them.

The objective of your recruitment process is to get them to want your job as much as you want them. You have to talk to their heart as much as you talk to their brain. And test them in the interview. Here are some killer questions to use:

  • Test for ability to achieve: tell me about a time you set difficult goals. What did you do to achieve them? Walk me through the process and purpose.
  • Test for ability to fit into a team: tell me about the relationships you’ve had with the people you’ve worked with. How would you describe the best ones? The worst?
  • Test for ability to deliver: is it better to be perfect and late or good and on time?
  • Test for self-awareness: tell me about a time you screwed up.
  • Test for intelligence: in five minutes, could you explain something to me that is complicated but you know well? (Doesn’t have to be work-related.)
  • Test for whether they will keep pace with you and your team: what’s your definition of hard work?
  • And finally: what’s surprised you about the interview process so far? This is a great way to gauge their feelings about you and your role, and give you final confirmation whether they are the one or not.