Job-hunting tips for newly graduated veterinarians

You may be a newly graduated veterinarian or looking toward finishing your fourth year of veterinary school. Your sights turn to landing that first job. You are nearing the finish line after 8 years of advanced education, long nights, nerve-racking tests, tears, and pure grit. As you await the results of your North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, you field contacts from recruiters and suggestions from classmates, professors, and family as you weigh the plethora of options for that first position.

The veterinary job landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. At one time, the veterinary industry feared there would be too many veterinarians for the positions available. Veterinary schools were urged to decrease class sizes, and postings for jobs were minimal. Along with the dour prediction of not enough positions, the salary for both new and established doctors of veterinary medicine (DVMs) was reported to be in the mid-5 figures.1 Upon graduation, a veterinarian was considered lucky to have at least 1 job offer.

Times have certainly changed. Job offers for soon-to- be-graduated veterinarians now often come in the third year or sooner. You may also be “promised” to a veterinary hospital after working there prior to veterinary school or during required clinicals, summer externships, and preceptorships. The job market for veterinarians is white hot, which creates multiple opportunities yet still requires professionalism from applicants.

As someone who has interviewed and hired thousands of veterinarians over the past 27 years, from experienced DVMs to new graduates, I offer a few tips in this important process as you search for your first job after graduation.

Prepare

Prepare a curriculum vitae (CV) or résumé; although the grab for veterinary graduates is intense now, it is still important to have a well-prepared CV or résumé. There are many templates online and professional résumé preparation services. In addition, many schools offer help in resumé preparation. Why is this important? First, it presents your full professional career, even if it is primarily school, to prospective employers. You should highlight the roles you have held prior to and during veterinary school. You should demonstrate that your work supported the business, as opposed to just taking the role to satisfy clinical rotation for a grade. Second, preparing a CV or résumé speaks to your professionalism and helps you keep track of your roles through the years.

Be prompt and professional

Respond promptly to recruiters for veterinary positions if you are contacted, regardless of your level of interest. Nowadays, it has become commonplace to delay responding to, or worse yet to “ghost,” professional contacts. You may be inundated with recruiter contacts, postcards, and emails about prospective roles, but it is imperative to comport yourself as a professional. If you are contacted by email for a job in which you have no interest, sending a short email in response to that effect is mandatory. If you are contacted by phone and receive a voice mail about a position that may not be a fit, it is important to also respond to that caller.

Why is this important? The veterinary profession is very small. The adage of “don’t burn any bridges” really applies to the job hunt process today. Although there is a plethora of positions to choose from, this could change; worse, the person you ghost may be friends with someone at the hospital where you really want to work. Reputation matters. Treat everyone as you would wish a family member to be treated.

Interview process: virtual and in person

The interview process today is a bit different than that of previous eras. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought in the use of virtual meetings in some settings. This is very true in the hiring process. You may meet virtually with a recruiter first prior to scheduling with the actual hiring manager. It is important to treat that recruiter respectfully, as they will determine whether you pass to the next level.

  1. Be on time for the virtual interview. Log on 3 to 5 minutes before the meeting is to start. You can turn off the camera until 1 minute before. And yes, your camera should be on the entire time.
  2. Confirm that you have downloaded the platform that the meeting planner will use. There are many electronic platforms and you must have the proper app downloaded beforehand, otherwise you may be late to the meeting.
  3. Dress for the part. Although many of us have become used to dressing from the waist up for virtual meetings, you must fully dress for a job interview online. Dressing as if you were in person will affect how you present yourself. In addition, there are horror stories of people forgetting they were not appropriately dressed from the waist down and getting up or reaching for something only to reveal pajama bottoms or worse. Be professional even when no one else can see it.
  4. As you would in an in-person interview, allow the interviewer to lead the conversation. Smile during introductions and make sure to thank them for their time and express your interest in the role.
  5. Remember that movements on video are more pronounced than in person and the frame is small. Keep hand and head movements to a minimum. Try to be someplace free of distractions and noise. However, pets traipsing through are endearing and very well tolerated within our profession. Be aware of the delay on video and wait until the other person finishes speaking before responding.
  6. As with any interview, have questions prepared about the position. These could include questions on hospital operations, such as how many technicians work with each doctor, whether schedules are posted prior to each month, or how the doctors collaborate in the hospital. As a newly graduated veterinarian, you would want to discuss the mentorship process in that hospital. Write your questions down beforehand and take notes as the interview progresses for others that come to mind.
  7. Ask for next steps at the end of the call. What should you expect next? If the first call is with a recruiter and you pass muster, they should plan to schedule you to meet with the hiring manager of the business. It is OK to ask when you can expect to hear back. Recruiters and hiring managers know new graduates will have multiple offers and interviews. They will want to be prompt and efficient with your time. If your time is limited due to clinics or other work, you may mention the best days and times to set the next call to prevent the back and forth in scheduling.
  8. Be courteous at the end of the call. Smile and thank them again for this opportunity. Even if you have no interest in the role, thank them for their time and let them know you found it helpful to hear more about the position and hospital.
  9. Make sure you disconnect at the end of the call before making any comments or facial expressions or speaking to someone else. A great interaction can be negatively affected if a poorly timed frown or comment is seen or heard as the call ends.
  10. Follow up. It is always appropriate to send a follow-up email. Make sure to send such a communication to the recruiter and hiring manager. This should be done within 24 hours of the meeting. You may wonder whether you should do this if you have no interest in the position, and the answer is a resounding yes. Never burn that bridge, as you never know whether your paths will cross again nor who your interviewer may know. There is no harm in being gracious.
  11. Next steps would be an in-person meeting. You will want to see the facility and meet the team. Plan to arrive the day before to prevent potential travel delays or cancelations. Take 2 professional business casual outfits, just in case. Before traveling, confirm if the trip will be reimbursed and how reimbursement will be handled so you know to retain your receipts. Ask beforehand whether a face mask is required.
  12. You are being observed from the moment you arrive in the parking lot. Comport yourself well when walking to the door. Copies of résumé in a portfolio are still appreciated. Smile, introduce yourself, and always greet the staff. Shake hands when proffered (this varies with COVID-19), demonstrate confidence by making eye contact, and wait to be escorted to the meeting area. Greet all staff on the hospital tour.

From here, the interview process will be very similar to the virtual meeting. A “thank you for meeting with me” is appropriate here, as well. Seat yourself comfortably, refrain from crossing your arms, take notes, and be attentive. Ask questions and show interest in their business. Complimenting the team, hospital layout, and facility will go a long way in endearing you to the hiring manager.

Written offers should be reviewed, and choice of employment based on your professional and personal needs; these can include location, mentorship, benefits, and pay, among others. When accepting a job offer, do so by email or phone call. When declining an offer, do so by phone call. Do not ghost.

Your first job will help set the tenor of your career and development. Being professional from initial contact to offer acceptance requires attention to detail at every step. Lastly, be intentional and fully present to enjoy this exciting time in your personal journey and career.

Hiring is a 2-way street

As a new graduate, you will have many offers for your first position. The job market for veterinarians is expected to grow by 17% through 2030, according to one source.2 Another source estimates the growth in veterinary jobs to be 19% between 2016 and 2026, an additional 15,000 jobs in that decade.3 This portends well for all veterinarians, but specifically for newly graduated DVMs. Most can have multiple job offers months before graduation. Do not mistake these opportunities as a license to behave inappropriately toward any prospective employer. Offers can be rescinded and poor reputation travels quickly.

Your job hunt should be handled professionally from the initial contact throughout the entire interaction. The process will culminate in an important decision that requires your attention to detail at every step. The beginning phase outlined here describes the importance of CV or résumé preparation, the initial contact by recruiters, and your interaction and interview as a candidate. The offer and acceptance phase are equally important, if not more so.

Pam Hale, DVM, MBA, has held numerous high-level leadership roles within veterinary medicine, from chief of staff to chief medical officer. She is a graduate of Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama and earned her master of business administration degree from St George’s University in Grenada, West Indies. She serves on the Dean’s Counsel for Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Professional Liability Insurance Trust. She is a member of AVMA and the Georgia VMA, and joined the Wedgewood Pharmacy Veterinary Advisory Board in 2022. She shares her home with 5 pups and her husband, Chuck.

References

  1. Villalobos A. Too many veterinarians, or a bubble market? Veterinary Practice News. August 26, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/too-many-veterinarians-or-a-bubble-market/
  2. Occupational outlook handbook: veterinarians. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Updated September 8, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.bls. gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinarians.htm
  3. Ilic-Godfrey S. Ahead of the pack: why are veterinary occupations
    growing much faster than average? Beyond the Numbers: Employment & Unemployment. 2019;8(4). Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/ opub/btn/volume-8/veterinary-occupations-growing.htm

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