How to Land the "Right" Job in Veterinary Medicine
In our previous article we focused on the importance of taking the time to consider just what it is that makes a position the “right” position; after all, what is right for some may not be for everyone. We discussed the importance of taking a full self-inventory prior to beginning a job search, and it is this insight that enables an individual to solidify his or her needs and desires and to weigh potential job opportunities based on this self-knowledge.
In addition to knowing what you want, it’s also important to understand the environment in which you perform best. Many veterinarians are tempted to believe that the only trait that matters is their medical ability and knowledge.
In reality, while technical skill is vital to success, it plays a less important role in finding the “right” fit than does your personality. The number one cause of turnover amongst veterinary professionals is personality conflict. Because practice owners are starting to realize the value of building a team with complimentary personality sets, it is even more important that job seekers understand their own personality, the implications of their personality type and how to market the strengths associated with that type.
Knowing oneself, though, is only part of the battle. You may think an opportunity sounds perfect, but if your cover letter and resume do not pique the interest of the practice owner, they may end up buried on a desk underneath a stack of unread periodicals and journals!
Customize Your Cover Letter
The first way to catch a potential employer’s interest is to customize your cover letter and resume to the job being offered. Customization means that you do not send the same document to every practice where you are applying, but that you tweak your submission to address what you know about that position.
Even if you are working with a recruiter and do not know the practice’s name, there is a plethora of information in the job posting that you can use to tailor your response. Let the hiring party know that you are not blanketing practices with your resume but are actually sending your information as a direct result of their unique opportunity.
For example, consider a job ad that makes a point of highlighting the family amenities and close-knit community of the area where the practice is located. If this is particularly attractive to you, make a point to bring it up in your cover letter. Let them know that you have a family and are looking for a place to settle down and raise your children in a quality environment. This will appeal to their desire to find someone stable, committed and with values similar to their own.
After weaving your personality type into your cover letter and resume, it is time to focus back in on the skills you bring to the table. If you are interested in a practice because they specialize in a particular type of medicine, or have built a niche, make sure to let them know about any experience that you have in this area. Perhaps you have no experience but it is an area in which you are interested; in that case make sure to address it, but take the time to include specific details to show that your sincerity.
Consider a job posting that proudly highlights a newly built and equipped dental suite; while you may not have had the experience of using this equipment previously, it is important to let them know how much this interests you:
“I was excited to read about your new dentistry suite and have recently been reading and attending continuing education on advanced dentistry and radiology. I recognize that dentistry is not only one of the largest areas of growth in veterinary medicine, but it provides a fantastic opportunity to educated clients on disease processes and preventive measures that can increase the life span of their pet. It is my intention to continue to hone my skills in this area and become proficient in reading dental radiographs and performing complex dental procedures.”
A statement like this not only expresses your interest but manages to show your understanding of the big picture, which includes creating income for the practice and providing the highest quality of care for each patient.
Many candidates are looking for a new job because their current position has not met expectations or the practice culture does not match their own. A job seeker that had been chastised for spending too much time with clients at her previous practice wrote the following at the top of her resume:
Objective: To offer the best possible service to clients and the highest level of care for my patients
Based on past experience, this candidate realizes that her personality type and its corresponding characteristics, which include charm, charisma, and friendliness, are not best served in a strict, ultra-intense and structured practice environment; both her production and effectiveness as a veterinarian depend upon her ability to operate in an environment that encourages her personality. By stating this as her objective, she has a better chance of capturing the attention of a practice that ascribes to this philosophy than if she had written an impersonal and vague objective such as, “To gain a position in a progressive hospital that practices high-quality medicine.”
Highlight Your “Essence”
Also essential to capturing the attention of a potential employer is to make sure your cover letter and resume highlight your “essence.” If that sounds corny, so be it; but take it very seriously if you want to merit a second look by a hiring party. You are unique, and the only way to find a position that will both recognize and celebrate your individuality is to let them know about it!
Do not make the mistake of thinking that whoever is reading your resume isn’t interested in learning about you outside of the realm of veterinary medicine. That person is seeking elements of common ground as much as you are.
The key is to offer this information with candor and enthusiasm. For example, a candidate whose personal interests include “reading, hiking, and music” will likely be lumped with those who list “running, reading, and sewing.”
Why? Because these statements reveal little, if anything, about the person as an individual. One would hope that veterinarians take the time to read, walk their dog and use needle and thread to replace the button on their shirt, right? Be specific and make sure that your statement addresses the details of what it is that you enjoy doing.
The following are excerpts from the “about me” or “personal interests” section of two resumes. While these candidates were applying for different positions, and one was a new graduate and the other an experienced veterinarian, the common thread was their willingness to share elements of their lives that are not only important to them, but make them unique.
Candidate 1: “My interests are broad and so are my abilities. I value relationships and communication in my personal life and in work. I believe in quality and satisfaction…I speak Spanish, a bit of French, and am learning Danish. I play 10 different instruments with varying degrees of skill. I am a dancer and an artist, a hiker and a skier, a paddler, and a fly fisherman. I am a veterinarian who has much to offer to his clients, his employer, his coworkers, and to his community.”
Candidate 2: “I am a snowboard instructor and an amateur artist. I play the base guitar and am currently a member of a cover band. I have trained for five marathons, ran in four, and completed three.”
Reading these self-descriptions enables the reader to form a mental picture of the candidate. When that picture is appealing, the person doing the hiring will not only want to make contact with you, but will be looking forward to doing so!
Perhaps in the previous example the first candidate comes across as unfocused and transient to one interviewer, while to another he may come across as interesting, fun, and a perfect fit for their practice. While he probably won’t get an interview with the first practice, he is also saving both himself and the practice time and money, since ultimately this relationship will not satisfy either party.
Cover letters and resume also present excellent opportunities for candidates to convey their personality types. Practice owners may not be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type specifically, but there is nothing wrong with conveying the characteristics of the type you may be.
For example, EVT’s “What’s Your Type” poster utilizes descriptive words such as “dependable, loyal, values-driven, independent, sensitive, easy-going, communicative, driven, committed to a task, and loves to be part of the team.”
If you are going to incorporate characteristics of your personality type into your cover letter, resume, or during the interview, be sure to cite examples. I see several resumes each day claiming “work ethic” or “loyalty.” If you’re going to make such claims, back them up by giving examples of how you portrayed those traits in past positions or during veterinary school. Depending on the practice’s current team, number of mentors, values, and communication styles, different personality types could draw an employer to you or help you both realize it may not be a good fit.
Keep in mind that if customization and personalization lands your resume and cover letter in the interviewer’s “no” pile, chances are that particular practice is not one where you would have been happy. Remember that no personality type is right or wrong and individual traits can be construed differently depending on the context in which they are being considered. Both knowing and understanding this are the keys to ensuring that you don’t end up as another statistic in our industry’s high turnover rate.
About the authors: Stith Keiser is a former hospital administrator and founder of MyVeterinaryCareer.com, where he has been matching veterinary professionals with practices since 2007. Jessica Goodman Lee is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager and is the hospital administrator of Angel Veterinary Center in Flower Mound, Texas. She is also a veterinary matchmaking specialist for MyVeterinaryCareer.