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It’s (weirdly) a good time to hire

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It might seem counterintuitive, but the current pandemic could be your chance to snag the perfect employee.

“I think it’s a great time to hire,” says Karen Parker, DVM, human resources specialist and author of A Practical Guide to Managing Employee Performance in Veterinary Practices. Parker told NEWStat that many hospitals were having trouble finding qualified candidates prepandemic.

That’s changed in recent months. Whether it’s because of job displacement due to COVID-19-related hospital turmoil or some long-simmering personnel crisis that came to a boil during lockdown, qualified candidates are on the market who could be a perfect fit for your practice.

But the hiring process needs to be different during the pandemic to ensure everybody’s safety, Parker says.

Parker says to go ahead and do the initial phone interview like you’d normally do to narrow your list down to the top candidates. “But the next step, instead of a face-to-face interview in person in your practice, is to do a virtual interview,” whether by Skype, Facetime, or some other app.  “Many are free and make it easy to have face-to-face contact with an applicant without having to bring them in.”

During that virtual interview, Parker recommends focusing on specific items: “Concentrate on evaluating their communication skills and on addressing any red flags or concerns that you noticed in their application,” such as what might appear to be a pattern of job-hopping. “Establish their minimum skill set to see [whether] you want to move them forward in the process,” Parker says.

She also recommends asking behavioral interview questions, such as “How do you respond to conflict in the workplace? How do you handle difficult clients? How about disagreements with coworkers?” Be sure to ask for specific examples of each. Parker says it’s a great opportunity to discover “their motivations and intentions.“

Parker advises that you use the pandemic to your advantage, as it’s “a perfect opportunity to ask some very specific questions.” For example, try some questions that wouldn’t have come up prepandemic, such as “What adaptations did you have to make at your last job during the pandemic? How did that go? What worked and what didn’t? What would you change about how you managed it?” According to Parker, “That will give you a lot of insight into their agility; their ability to adapt and handle a difficult situation.”

“The next step would normally be to bring them in to meet the team,” Parker says.

Instead, this is another opportunity to use the pandemic to your advantage: “Normally, people would do the reference check at the end of the hiring process, [but] I would suggest that, if things go well and they’re your top one or two candidates after the virtual face-to-face, that you ask them if you can move forward with the reference check at that point.”

And when you call those references, Parker suggests asking specific questions about the applicant’s skill set and their teamwork style. That way you’ll find out fast whether you want to take up more people’s time in either another virtual face-to-face, or whether you’re willing to risk bringing the candidate in to meet them in person.

“You’ll have just about all the information you’ll need to know before you bring them into the practice,” Parker says. “And then all you’re left with really, is [whether they] are a cultural fit.”

The candidate’s initial onsite visit won’t be run-of-the-mill, Parker acknowledges, but you can plan for that: “The important thing is to let them know before they come in exactly how you’re running your business right now, and how that’s different than normal.”

That includes giving them clear instructions about your expectations: How they should dress, where they’ll enter, whether you’ll be providing a mask for them, and if you’ll be taking their temperature when they arrive. “It’s really important to prepare them for the safety level you need in your practice so they can comply with it,” Parker adds.

Onboarding is another story.

Parker doesn’t think the process will be that different: “The critical difference is going to be that you’re training for current procedures that may not be current six months from now. But since training should be an ongoing process anyway, you’d do the same things you normally do.” Present the new hire with your hospital’s procedures and protocols, introduce them to coworkers, give them their schedule, etc. “All those things are going to be the same, all that’s going to be different are some of the details.”

Parker sees the pandemic as an opportunity: “If this has taught us anything, it’s taught us that hiring people who are agile, who are adaptable and have a willingness to learn, who can work as a team and [adjust] to different circumstances and be creative about how they deal with them is important,” Parker says. “These are really critical skills, but we don’t always focus on them when we’re hiring. We tend to be more technically oriented [and ask such questions as] ‘Can you place a catheter? Can you run an ultrasound?’”

In short, Parker says, use the pandemic to cherry-pick the special skills that contribute to long term success, like agility: “They’re skills you always want in a veterinary practice.”

Photo credit: © iStock/courtneyk