In the last post, I discussed how to start selecting a practice with a good fit during your job hunt, including looking at job ads and what to find out on your initial contact with the practice.
Extended visit and Sherlock Holmes
If everything checked out after the initial visit, I then organised to visit again for a minimum of a couple of days as any practice will find it less easy to hide issues for this length of time. I made sure I spoke to as many staff that are non-vets as possible, as cleaners and receptionists will really be able to tell you the truth. Make sure you get the time to do this when senior members of staff are not in ear-shot. Check to see if staff stop for lunch and go home on time. And does everyone do this, including the boss. Because if the boss is a martyr then they will expect their employees to do the same. How do the individuals and teams handle stress? Most importantly, how does the boss handle stress? I saw some shocking behaviour when the boss was put under pressure, in front of a potential employee (i.e. myself), and I got to see their true leadership style!
It was important to me to check there were good leaders in the practice. Leadership in a business is key. Managers are needed but they won’t make or break a practice. However, be wary of practices where the practice owner/s are also the managers and there are no separate practice managers. I have found that practice owners that try to do all the roles in the practice perform poorly in many aspects because they are spread too thin to do one aspect well and their focus is not always where it would help the business best. It is important to check out how they talk to their staff, especially nurses and support staff and under stress if possible.
Does the practice owner have a designated parking space or are they willing to work at the same level as their team? Ask about toys and any investment program in buildings and people, but be wary if they just reel off a list of the equipment because many problems are not automatically fixed by buying the latest gadgets and realistically digital x-rays are standard now. Ask about CPD and whether you are allowed to choose what you do? Is the building shabby behind the scenes? Is the practice thriving – have staff had pay rises in the past year, or bonuses? Even before you enter the building, you can compare staff cars to the practice owners’ cars.
Explore mentorship and growth, and not necessarily clinical growth. This is important no matter what stage of your career you are at, though is more crucial for the years immediately after graduation. You should choose to work for people you aspire to be like, so they can be role models and mentors and coaches. Ensure they will invest in your personal development rather than just ticking the box for the minimum recommended CPD hours.
A very good tip I was given by Dr Dave Nicol was to break bread with the practice. At meal times, people relax a little and let their guard down so you can get to the truth. You can do this at lunch times or tea breaks but I found getting the practice owner out of the practice for a meal even more important. Spending time with the teams at break times also means you get to check that the breaks actually happen and staff aren’t too busy to take their breaks! Don’t forget to check out the staff room facilities – is the microwave suitable for human food or is it a chili-encrusted bacterium incubator? Do people clean up after themselves or is there a huge mound of dirty cups in the sink?
A method I found incredibly useful was to send the practice some homemade goodies (just some cookies or some such) and wait to see if I got any appreciation and see how they treated my boxes when I have asked for them to be kept and returned. If the goodies disappeared without thanks then this is likely how they will treat my work; if the boxes disappeared and no-one took responsibility for returning them to me then is maybe how I would be treated if I worked there. I found this out the hard way ☹
I found it essential to get my partner involved in the process of looking at new jobs. Together you need to imagine what your life is will be like if you work at this practice so looking at houses together, looking at the schools or the restaurants, checking out whether your hobbies can be supported (for me crafting classes). You will hopefully be spending may years, or potentially the rest of your lives, in this area so you have to want to be there.
Wow, that seems like hard work!
All of this may seem like hard work, but it is better to find the skeletons in the closet before you start somewhere because then you can clearly assess whether they are that important or not. These are ways I found of testing the waters before committing but I found a lot comes down to feel – Jedi force, instinct and gut feeling. It will also be very personal and what works for me might not work for someone else.
In summary, you are looking to find out about:
- The practice values and are they aligned with yours
- The practice culture from the top and the bottom
- Find out about leadership NOT management, but check there is a practice manager
- Consider what will your life be like if you work there?
Remember a job interview and search is like a polished version of reality. Anywhere can lock away the bad stuff for a few days in this kind of situation, when the boss says to staff they must give someone a good impression. You will only truly know somewhere when you have been working there a few months and even then things can still surprise you no matter how much due diligence you do, as a lot of practices are desperate for people like you. There is no such thing as a perfect job and a perfect life, no matter what some people make it seem on social media, but don’t let that ruin your chance at a life that makes you happy.
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