Veterinary Management Resource Library

Content Categories:


July 10, 2018
October 9, 2018

The 6 Most Common Hiring Mistakes

Mark Opperman

So how are you doing at hiring and retaining employees? With low unemployment, finding qualified employees can be a challenge and this makes it even more important that you hire the right person the first time. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the more common hiring mistakes made and see if we can help you to avoid them.

1. Crisis Hiring

Probably the most common hiring mistake people make is crisis hiring. Someone just left your practice – one way or another – and you need a “warm body” to replace that person. Well, stop replacing warm bodies, or that is what you will be doing for a very long time. One key to help you avoid this situation is to make sure your team is composed of 50% full-time and 50% part-time employees. With this mix, if an employee leaves, you have the flexibility to fill in with part-time employees until you can properly hire a new team member. You will usually need a good six to eight weeks to properly hire and train a new employee. You should also be aware of seasonal changes that might occur in your practice. A practice may hire additional help over the summer and then, at the end of summer, many of those employees return to school leaving the practice short staffed. Plan well in advance of this and start recruiting new team members before the end of summer.

When you “crisis hire”, you are not giving yourself the time to find the right candidate for the position and you are certainly not providing adequate training for that new employee. The result is a never-ending cycle, because that employee will not stay with you and you will be forced to crisis hire again and again. Break the cycle by developing a ratio of 50% full-time and 50% part-time employees. I also recommend you develop three- and four-week phased training programs so that new hires can be systematically trained into their new positions.

2. Failure to Perform Background Checks

One practice we consulted with had been in the process of hiring an associate veterinarian. There had been some promising phone interviews and one candidate had come to the practice for a two-day working interview. The problem was that, when we did a background check, it turned out this individual had neither a degree nor a license to practice veterinary medicine! She had flunked out after two years of veterinary college, yet she had been practicing at another veterinary hospital and was now seeking a new position. In another situation, a practice owner was about to hire a practice manager when it was discovered that the candidate had failed to list on her resume the practice at which she had previously been employed. The reason for this became apparent when we did a background check – she had been convicted of embezzlement from that practice. I would never hire anyone without doing a background check. Fortunately, there are numerous internet companies that will conduct background checks for you. Companies such as will conduct various background checks such as criminal convictions, credit, license, driving records, employment verification, etc. These companies will verify that you are a legitimate company yourself (so you can’t check up on your neighbor). You have a right to do a background check on anything relative to that employee’s position - if you have an employee handling money, you can do a credit check; if you have an employee driving for you, you can do a driving record verification. It is well worth the money, if you ask me. Prospective employees need to sign a release form to give you permission to conduct the background check. I suggest that you attach this release form to the application. Doing this, you may find that you do not get some of the applications back, and for good reason.

3. Failure to Require a Pre-Employment Drug Test

This one really blows my mind. For the life of me, I do not understand why every veterinary hospital does not require a pre-employment drug test. It is for good reason that almost every Fortune 500 company requires new employees to take a pre-employment drug test. Think about this for a moment – we have controlled drugs and access to money in our practices, yet many practices still don’t do pre-employment drug tests. Perhaps we are the ones who need to be tested! It costs only $25 to $50 for a pre-employment drug screening and companies across the country that offer this service. You will usually have the results within 24 hours. Again, a release form needs signed, so I suggest you attach the release form to the employment application. Again, this may result in some applications not being returned to you, but it should not be any mystery as to why.

Pre-employment drug testing is different than a drug-free workplace policy where you might randomly perform drug tests on current employees or if you have cause. I would recommend setting up a drug-free workplace policy in addition to pre-employment drug tests, however there is work that must be done to set up a drug free workplace policy. On the other hand, pre-employment drug testing can be put into place immediately; you just need to make certain you test every candidate at the same point in the interview process. As an example, you might have prospective employees take a pre-employment drug test before their working interview. Protect your other employees, protect your patients and protect your practice – implement pre-employment drug testing tomorrow!

4. Failure to Perform Reference Checks

Some people think that reference checks are a waste of time. I disagree. I have discovered many eye-openers by performing reference checks. Some examples include finding out that an applicant embezzled from their previous employer, had poor attendance records, or made major medical mistakes in their past position. Past employers are often reluctant to give references for fear of being sued, yet there is risk in not revealing past activity. An example of this is the business that, upon being contacted for a reference check, failed to divulge that a past employee had physically assaulted a co-worker. That person was hired by the second business and, a short time later, assaulted a co-worker again. The second business, along with the assaulted employee, are now suing the first business for not informing them of this employee’s past actions. The rule of reference checking is that if you have it documented and it is factual, you can relate that information to another employer. You cannot say an employee “was always late”, but you can report from documentation that the employee was late 40 out of 60 days. I think we do other employers a great disservice when we quote name, rank and serial number. State the facts, those things you have documented. I would also suggest you always call for references or use an outside service to conduct a reference check for you.

5. Failure to Conduct a Working Interview

I have long been a proponent of the three-step interview process: an initial interview of 10 to 15 minutes, a second or follow up interview of 30 to 60 minutes, and then a working interview. A working interview is one day (maximum eight hours) that you invite a prospective employee to come in and observe the position for which they are applying. Normally, you would pair them with your current “10” employee for observation. This is not a training day, as the applicant has not yet been hired. It is a time during which the applicant gains a better understanding of the job for which they are applying and get a feel for your practice environment. At the same time, you can get a better sense of the applicant and their capabilities. I remember once when we were hiring a receptionist… one young lady who applied seemed to be perfect for the job and, following our protocol, I offered her the opportunity to do a working interview. For the first part of the day she did great; she was friendly, intelligent and seemed to fit in. Then, right before lunch, a client came in whose pet had long term medical issues and they had decided to euthanize the dog. It was very emotional – everyone loved that dog. After lunch, the prospective employee never returned. It was two days later she called me. She was very apologetic for leaving like she had but she informed me that she had no idea receptionists had anything to do with euthanasia, and although she understood why it needed to be done, she was not able to handle it and thanked me for letting her do the working interview. She said that she would have hated to have taken the job only to find out later and then resign.

A working interview is not only for you but also for the prospective employee. It gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about the candidate and gives that individual a chance to learn about your practice and what will be required of them. I would never hire anyone without doing a working interview – it is that important.

6. Failure to Recognize That You Don’t Have a “10” Employee

Hopefully, you have heard of the concept of “10’s”. The concept of “10’s” says that if you were to rate your employees on a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst and ten being the best, you would find that you can make a “8” into a “10” and you can make a “9” into a “10,” but you can never make a “7”, “6”, “5” or lower into a “10” employee. In fact, trying to change a 7, 6, 5 or lower into a “10” is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. The informed owner or manager realizes that the 7, 6, 5, or lower employee will never be a “10” and does the kindest thing they can and liberates that employee from their employment. There is always a chance that the employee might be a “10” somewhere else.

In the hiring process, we need to understand the same principle. If we have developed an applicant pool, conducted initial, secondary and working interviews and, at that point, realize in our heart of hearts that we do not have an “8”, “9” or “10” candidate – we need to start over. This is indeed one of the hardest things for owners and managers to do, because by this time we really want a “body” in that position. But if we succumb to this temptation, we will soon find ourselves either having to fire that person or they will quit. The informed manager will realize they were not successful this time around in finding a “10” and they will start over. Do not go back to the original applicant pool – unlike fine wine, it doesn’t improve with age. You must start over in developing a new applicant pool. I know this is hard, I have had to do it several times myself, but taking the easy way out will be a major hiring mistake for you and the practice.

So, are you guilty of some of these hiring mistakes? You are not alone, I’m sure we have all made these mistakes at times. Just remember – we are only as strong as our weakest link, so hiring the right person can make all the difference. Hopefully you can improve upon the success of your hiring practices by avoiding some of these mistakes and develop more “10” employees for your practice.

Learn all you need about practice management from Mark Opperman, CVPM, including hiring, at the VMC School of Veterinary Practice Management, a week long seminar with two sessions a year. Find out more and register.

Return to Category Page