Veterinary hospitals employ many talented medical professionals, but it’s an establishment’s culture that really sets it apart. When applying for a position within a veterinary practice, will any job do or are you looking for the best long-term fit?
Team members want more than just a job—they want a rewarding experience every day, where they can use their skills to their best potential and feel supported along the way.
The goal, as a job seeker, is to find a team that is in sync. The best team players support the daily delivery of quality veterinary medicine, the human-animal bond, and mission of the practice. When staff purposefully or unknowingly sabotage the system, it’s difficult to achieve those positive outcomes.
The whole veterinary team should be on the same page, working toward the best pet care possible. Rallying around the idea “We’re all in this together” builds a sense of unity and community, which fosters culture.1
Defining team culture
Culture includes systems that define how a team coexists. Examples include policies and procedures, hierarchy, reward systems, acceptable behavior, and dress code. Team culture often depends on a hospital’s traditions, or lack thereof.
Things you might seek in a positive team culture include:
- Supportive, understanding team
- Full use of professional skills within each team member’s scope of practice
- Fair team accountability
- Fun-loving atmosphere
What kind of culture will allow you to flourish? In detail, write down the policies, behaviors, attitudes, and traditions that define to you an appealing team culture.
Do your research!
Let’s face it: Most job announcements read the same. How will you know if a veterinary practice will be a good fit? To find out, you must perform due diligence.
Once you have identified a position that aligns with your skills and vision for the future, start digging deeper. A hospital’s website and social media postings will give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, how updated is the website and social media? Are only the veterinarians listed on the website, or are all team members present? Is the Facebook page active?
Other key elements to research are a hospital’s mission, vision, and values statements. If they aren’t posted clearly on the website’s home page or an “about” page, this could be a red flag. These statements are guiding principles for the hospital and its team. If those statements are absent, then the team’s direction may not be apparent and could be even multidirectional.
Don’t skip the cover letter
I recommend submitting a cover letter with your resume. In my experience, I can learn a lot by just glancing at the style, format, layout, greetings, and salutation of a cover letter. Plus, this is your chance to give the hiring manager a “feel” of your personality based on the tone and words used.
Be careful that you don’t send up any red flags. Pay attention to such details as addressing the letter to the right veterinary hospital and spelling the name of the hiring manager correctly. I once received a cover letter in which “veterinary” was spelled wrong—it landed in the trash. Consider asking a colleague or friend to proofread your cover letter and resume to ensure your submission reads professionally.
Spend time prepping for this part of the process. Your goals are to demonstrate you have the necessary skills and to find out if this hospital offers the culture you seek. You are interviewing the hospital as much as they are interviewing you! Identify what truly makes a good fit.
There are many websites listing questions for veterinary professionals in the midst of the hiring process. Simply Google “veterinary interview questions.” Answer the questions as if you were being interviewed.
While these may not be the precise questions you are asked, you will have formulated answers in your head and be able to easily adapt later. During the interview, allow your passion, ability to “play well with others,” and expertise shine through!
In addition, write down questions you want to ask the hiring manager. This shows you’ve done your homework and that you are interested in the position and team.
Ask such team culture questions as:
- How are team members supported in personal and professional development?
- How will my education and skills be leveraged to the max?
- What traditions support a fun-loving work environment?
Actively participate in the working interview (a red flag is not providing a working interview). Pay close attention to the support team members give each other (or don’t give), the clinic’s workflow, and the team’s body language. Then listen to your inner voice—there’s nothing like a good gut check to determine if the hospital feels right to you.
Pay attention to how you were greeted by the team when you arrived. Did they know you were coming? Hopefully they introduced themselves. What first impression did you feel? In a good culture, people will feel connected, supported, and appreciated.
How are you being treated during the interview? In a healthy culture, team members are interested in showing you around the clinic, telling you about their duties and role on the team. One red flag is team members leading you to a corner to watch, not wanting you to participate.
Through observation, determine if people get breaks. A good culture supports time away from the floor, regenerating team members for the next part of their day.
You may consider asking team members if they can recite the hospital’s mission statement, or at least come close. Kudos to those team members who can recite the mission statement—a “green flag!”
Finally, take note of the team’s attitude at the end of the day, when everyone is tired. Positive cultures reinforce a feeling of fulfillment, in which every team member knows they have made a difference in the day’s events.
You’ve got this
Between the initial impression (job announcement, social media, website, greetings), your questions, and the vibe you get during the working interview, you will get a good taste of the team culture. While you won’t know for sure until you’re fully immersed in the practice, by doing your due diligence you have a better chance of finding the culture that is a good fit for you.
Veterinary medicine is challenging enough. The right fit gives you one less thing to worry about, enabling you to focus on what you really enjoy doing every day. When everyone works together, good outcomes will occur.
1 Zent M. The 8 Essential Steps to Building a Winning Company Culture. 11-7-14. entrepreneur.com/article/239475.
Rebecca Rose, founder and president of CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants, has 30 years of veterinary industry experience as a veterinary practice management consultant, a practice manager at two AAHA-accredited animal hospitals, and an award-winning veterinary technician. She is a NAVTA past president (2015-2017). Contact her at getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com or visit CATALYSTVetPC.com.
Denise J. Mikita has worked in small animal and specialty clinic environments for 20 years. She was executive director of the Colorado Association of Veterinary Technicians for 10 years and has served on multiple boards, including for the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.