I don’t claim any authority in this area beyond having read far too many job adverts myself, and boy have I seen some stinkers. Seeing things from the other side can be useful though, so I have collated some thoughts below that might be helpful to give your ad the little bit more oomph it needs. Writing a job ad is like any advert; it needs to be targeted at its audience, using language they understand and offering them what they want.
Where to start?
Think about a successful advert; how about the Coca-Cola Christmas train advert, you know that one, right? Everyone knows that because it was successful. Why was it successful? Because it was everywhere in the run up to Christmas (it had exposure), it was selling a dream (happy families and white Christmases) for a prominent brand, it was emotionally arousing and therefore it didn’t need to say what Coke is like to drink, by watching the ad you already wanted it. Buy a Coke, buy into the dream. Also, the Coca-Cola company have an advertising budget that could fund Lithuania for years, which I assume isn’t the case for you.
Now, you may feel this example is a long way from advertising a vacant position in your veterinary business, but there are – and I shudder to say this – actually some things we can learn from the world of advertising if we only open our minds to them and consider their merit. There are simple measures to increase the odds that you will get some applicants and fill that post.
Who are you, and what are you offering?
Let’s start with the absolute basics: to whom are you advertising and what do they want? What did you want at that stage in your career? Do modern vets maybe want something else? What are the barriers to people taking the job you’re offering? To answer any of these properly, you need to understand how things have moved on. Think like the people you are advertising to. There is some interesting information on these aspects in this report produced by VetSurgeon.org even though it is a few years old now.
Start by thinking of the vacant position as a product and the job seekers are your customers. What is it that will draw people to apply and what will put them off? Job seekers value their skills and experience and if you want them to apply for a job, you’ll need to appeal to their wants and needs in the same way you would with a consumer. To understand what job seekers are looking for you are going to need to start to understand ‘millennials’. Yeah, I know. The ‘M’ word has slowly been picking up negative connotations but the fact is that they make up a sizeable percentage of working vets and it will only increase, at least until someone realises we’re almost in 2020 and invents the term ‘millenidecimals’. This is a huge topic on its own which I’ll write about further another time. But basically, these people know what they want from life and aren’t afraid to seek it out, and it turns out that what they want is often a) flexibility from the job and b) support. And they won’t settle for being paid less than their friends, or the last job. Well, what a bunch of demanding… wait a sec, that’s pretty much what I’d look for too. Sounds like something we should all aspire to, right?
From these considerations, you can assess what your advert actually needs to say. Most importantly your ad needs to stand out from the other hundreds that are out there. If it’s mediocre – and oh, so many of them are – it will be lost in the sea of other same-same-but-different ads for identical positions in your competitors. I’ve written previous posts on this if you need some help on what is important. Visual and emotional connection are key, as is building your practice brand with employees, not just clients. For better or worse, social media is training people to have shorter attention spans and be more easily distracted by shiny things; how do you think your small, white ad with nine lines of text and an abstract logo is going to fare?
Where are you advertising? Relying on one form of advertising is reducing your chances by restricting the potential readership. What you need is exposure. These days digital is key, but it needs to be in multiple places; Vet Record, Vet Times, Indeed, VetSurgeon, VetClick, etc. Is the ad optimised for online searching? This is a whole topic in itself (Google ‘SEO’ if you don’t believe me). Then there are various vet-specific Facebook groups but these can be biased by the people reading them, not to mention a small number of shouty ones writing them. Paper magazines are increasingly niche; some might look there for jobs because they’ve been told by older colleagues that that’s “where jobs are”, but don’t rely on it.
Try googling your ad e.g. ‘xxxxx vets job’ and what results do you get? If you are below the first couple of hits then no-one will find your ad. You need to think in terms of keywords to optimise exposure to search engines. Consider the questions that job seekers will be checking in the ads and tailor the language accordingly.
Another form of exposure is by using recruitment agents. A good recruitment agent will be able to cherry-pick candidates suitable for your vacant position and may well get to the potential candidates before they apply somewhere else. A bad recruitment agent will take the top five people off a rotating, unfiltered pile of ‘anyone daft enough to respond to his LinkedIn contact request every few days’ and email them over to you on the basis that if you throw enough mud at the wall some might eventually stick. Worth their weight in gold or a ball and chain? I’ll discuss recruitment agents in a future post.
The days of phoning Nigel at the Vet Record and getting him to put the old Hillside Vets ad back up – “yeah that one, it’s been fine for years” – are gone.
Word of mouth, or more likely word of screen, is becoming increasingly important as a way of potential employees finding out about you before they even apply. We now live in a super connected world so this cannot be underestimated. Networking is the most important form of exposure. It starts even before the employee stage as students on EMS often talk about the places that treated them well, and the ones that didn’t. Unofficially I hear that there is even a student ‘TripAdvisor’ type review system for places offering EMS. You have been warned; treat that student well otherwise others will get to hear about it. And if you don’t take students on EMS, then you’re not on the radar at all. I’m about to drop the ‘C’ word, prepare yourself: This is something the corporate vets have got right. It’s not just students that are at it, either. Ever heard of GlassDoor? The next half-dozen job applicants who pass your business over probably have.
One quick aside: When someone leaves, find out why. Sometimes it’s just normal staff turnover, personal changes, partner moving, that kind of stuff. If not, then fixing the issues and mistakes that led to them deciding to leave is key otherwise more will leave and if you are lucky enough to fill the role they left, your new hire may well leave for similar reasons. Giving someone a pay rise as a sweetener is fine, but if they’re unhappy because they feel isolated then what do you expect to happen a year down the line?
Don’t take it as a defensive exercise, they’re not leaving just to spite you, and whatever else you do try to see things from their point of view. Their motives are very probably different to yours, the way they see the world will be different. Even if you know for a fact (i.e. not just your opinion) that they’re wrong or mistaken and there’s nothing you could have done better, try to find out why their opinions differ because there’s a good chance you have a communication problem to fix. This is one you should know from being a GP vet: Fix the problem the client sees first, the problem the client has second. The same applies to staff.
And still no-one applies?
Currently there are far more jobs being advertised, especially for experienced vets, than there are potential employees for those positions. Market forces suggest you may need to strengthen your offer to attract them, and that doesn’t necessarily involve a higher salary. But it might do. These days you need to be realistic about how many applications you are going to receive and how long it will take to fill the vacant position. It is better to receive one near perfect applicant than a pile of cow dung!
We are graduating more vets than we ever have done in the UK, more are coming over from Europe and yet it can easily take most of a year to fill some vacancies if you have any requirements beyond “life signs desirable but not necessary”, and there are still long-term vacancies. Where have all the vets gone? Well, that is the subject for another blog discussion, another week.