• Jackie Schletter

Your New Hire: Newbie vs. Veterinary Veteran

We've all been there. The vacancy sign looms in neon like we see in hotel horror movies. Whether a staff member is moving or you have had to liberate someone from the practice, you have a space to fill and if you're like most, you dread the entire process from creating the job ad to lining up interviews and working trials.

When this happens I always start in the same place - does this practice need a veterinary veteran or a wide-eyed newbie that I can shape, mold and leave my imprint on like a Sunday comic strip on a piece of silly putty?

Of course there are pros and cons to both hires. Here are some things you might consider when you have two applicants you think would be a perfect fit but only one of them has experience.

The Veteran

This is the most coveted hire, right? Someone you can just parachute in and watch hit the ground running. They have all the skills and knowledge needed to perform the job, you just need to train them in the nuances of "your way". How many times have you heard staff say of your vacancy, "You're hiring someone with experience, right?".

The Pros

~Training hard skills should require less time, thereby having minimal impact on work flow and dollars spent. With experience generally comes a polished skill set. This is of

particular value for a very busy practice that needs a position filled quickly or a practice

with a weak training program (yes, many practices still throw new hires to the wolves, or

assume the new hire will just learn as they watch). If this is you, someone with experience

is less likely to flounder. Of course, if this is you, consider an on-boarding and training

strategy today :-)

~Your veteran may bring new ideas and ways of doing things to the team. A breath of

fresh air is a good thing for a practice!

~Someone who has been in the industry has expectations of the "grey". They know there will

be long days where you stay past close, days with out a true lunch break and days where

the team will work short because someone has called out. They know you may be asked to

come in an hour early because a last minute surgery has been scheduled for first thing in


~Veterans know there is joy and heartache in a day's work and over time have learned to

process emotions while carrying on with necessary job duties.

The Cons

~The fact that your veteran comes fully loaded with skills can mean the team doesn't think

a full training regimen is required. Someone with years of experience should go through the

same training a newbie sees ... they should just be able to complete it much more quickly.

Assuming your veteran "knows" is a common mistake and will lead to miscommunication

and mistakes. Employ your training program to minimize assumptions of the skill set.

~Pay grade. Depending on where your practice is financially and where you are in the country,

it is logical to expect that experience comes with a price tag. You might want to pay $16/hr

for experience but the budget screams for $12/hr. As you're lamenting pay, consider that a polished $16/hr might do the work of 1.5 or even two $12/hr staff. I find pay grade is more

of a mental hurdle than a true fiscal hurdle.

~Habits. Veterans have years of habits that you may love, or pull your hair out trying to break.

The Newbie

I am the first to admit I have a soft spot for those wide-eyed animal lovers that think it would be "so fun to work with animals"!! Why? Because each and every one of us was there once. Some-thing about veterinary medicine drew us in, and at some point someone took us all under their wing. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I was once given and I think when the opportunity presents itself we should return the favor to someone that wants to get a foot in the door. I'll also admit a dark part of my soul enjoys the look of terror I see on staff members faces

at the prospect of a "newbie" wandering onto sacred practice ground like they were never a newbie themselves!

The Pros

~My number one pro for these fledgling staff is the opportunity to mold and train without prejudice creeping in. You'll never hear "At my last practice ....". They simply don't know anything other than what you teach. They are often eager and interested, excited at the prospect of learning something new. They are also new eyes to your environment - use

that newness to gain perspective on what may now be white noise to your team. Is your

decor tired? Is the trim dirty, ceilings stained or floors scuffed? Ask your new hire if there

is anything they would do if they bought the practice tomorrow. You might learn something

of value!

~Newbies can rejuvenate your team. We all know this is an emotionally charged job at times

and too many teams become jaded by things like clients without money and compassion fatigue. Excitement and eagerness are contagious. New hires also test your training regimen

and are an opportunity to tweak, or create that process.

~Pay grade. Because there is so much to learn and so many folks with a desire to work in a

practice, this is an opportunity to hire at a lower wage. I maintain however that you attract what you are willing to pay for, even at the beginner end of the spectrum. Consider a starting rate of pay above minimum wage.

~Another interesting by-product of these folks is they are coming from some other industry

not animal care related but have skills that translate magnificently to their new position. One

of my most successful was a hire from a cellular phone store. Not only did he have amazing

people skills, he loved numbers and sales since he'd had sales goals to meet ... this translated to an interest in the financial health of the practice. Booyaaa!!

The Cons

~Oh yes, there are cons. These newcomers are completely void of veterinary knowledge and

can be a training challenge of epic proportions. If your team does not have a solid training

program in place a newbie can be a recipe for disaster. Even if your team does have solid training the process will require months for the new hire to become productive. It is no secret there is a financial price all businesses pay to train new hires.

~Team attitude. Most of us like coming to work every day and doing our jobs. The thought of

training someone new AND perform our jobs can be daunting and frankly not everyone enjoys it. Remind your peeps that they were there once. Remind your team you hired a newbie because you know they are up to the challenge and down the road you will have another fully joy, amazing team member among you. Your team can be frustrated

at just the prospect of the training that lies ahead if you don't have, or create the proper training atmosphere.

~Team, especially DVM patience. Even if you conquer attitude, a newbie will try your patience.

I would be golfing every day of the week in Hawaii if I had a nickel for every time I've heard a staff member say of a newbie: "I've told her/him over and over", "we went over that last week", or "I've explained that at least three times".

Depending of which study you read, habits take a long time to integrate and

that time frame is never the same from one hire to the next. Avoid thinking "she is never

going to get this" and revisit your training methods or do some reading about habits and

training. Train yourself and your team to have patience.

~If you didn't brief your newbie in the interview process, and even if you did, you may find

that there are some elements to this industry that your new hire just can not handle. Pets

in distress, owners crying, euthanasia, blood, odors, weekend hours. Do all you can to

explain the fun this pet world can be, but outline what is expected and what may be

encountered as well to help avoid surprises.

Happy hiring!

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