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I have come across some phrases in jobs ads and practice visits that really have a double meaning. I know, I know, this looks really cynical – but it’s borne out by extensive personal experience as well as trusted anecdotal evidence from other colleagues. One or two of these in an ad might be OK, just bear the dark side in mind when you’re forming your list of questions to ask. If the practice can’t deal with a couple of awkward questions at interview, how are they going to handle them once you’re there? Their answers to your questions about these topics will give you a good insight into how the practice really is.

A real danger sign, from the Falklands!
  1. Forward-thinking or progressive. I would hope it means a practice that wants to keep up to date and use current research, new techniques and innovation. However, that means change. Let’s face it, most people don’t like change. It can easily become “let’s just keep doing the same thing, but people have left recently saying we’re stuck in the past so let’s deny that on the advert for their replacements”.
  2. We don’t change for change’s sake. This basically means if it is not broken they won’t try to fix it. Or try new things. Or improve. Because that would mean change, and admitting they were doing it wrong/badly before, and since it was the boss’ way of doing things it can’t possibly be wrong, by definition, can it? Which means that if it is broken they not try to fix it either.
  3. Hard-working, dedicated. Come on guys, we made it through 5 plus years of crazy hours and constant pressure at vet school but you won’t accommodate me if I have kids, or a life outside work like a class with a fixed time, or expect recognition for the five hours a day I spend at work after I’m meant to have left.
  4. Dynamic. This could be that you’ll be ripped from one “urgent” task onto the next constantly, depending on where the latest fire-fighting is required. Read as “Unplanned firefighting is the norm”.
  5. Assets, team dynamics, high impact feedback, practice metrics, KPIs, buy-in, empower; if any of these are mentioned, the managers have been on some business courses so know all the buzzwords and business jargon. But they still mightn’t the foggiest idea how to lead a team though, and will see you as a line on the ‘All-Seeing Spreadsheet of Truth’. Or are scared to make the changes to implement what they are learning about. Also watch out for colourful graphs on the wall without any idea of what their purpose is. For a different take on business buzz words read this.
  6. A flat management structure. Means they don’t have a structure. Or possibly any management. Or the boss is a micro-manager so nobody else gets a say anyway. Also be very wary if there’s no practice manager; who will actually be managing day-to-day, will it be the full time clinical boss in the wee hours? Be extra-wary if the practice manager shares a bed and/or genetic history with the owner, though this can take some time to find out.
  7. Hospital status, especially if independent. On my job seeking trip around the country, I was shocked by the clinical standards in some practices that were Practice Standards Scheme Hospital status, much lower than similar sized and equipped practices that didn’t go for hospital status. For them the hospital status was a badge of achievement or a marketing tool, but they didn’t really mean it. They treated it as box ticking exercise – in some cases proudly boasting about how they’d lied to the inspector to get it – but didn’t change anything for the better.
  8. Fiercely independent. Eh? We’ll discuss independent vs. corporate owners in a future article and show it is not what it seems on either side. For now, read as “Corporate Bad, even if they have a great idea that we should absolutely be copying”.
  9. Nurse training practice. Your nursing help will be learning on the job. Check there are trained and experienced nurses there, not just for your sanity but also for the poor trainees. Are they paid while they are on placement or is this a “be grateful we allow you to work for nothing” attitude? There are still a number of these practices around.
  10. Any mention of ‘young people are all so lazy/won’t do OOH/…’ The boss thinks “I had to do it in my day so why shouldn’t you”. Through the rose-tinted glasses of time (more like cataracts), the 70-80 hour weeks with on-call every other night and weekend your boss said he worked when he was your age have mellowed somewhat. Things are different, much different (again, another article).
  11. Busy. Yes, but how busy is too busy? Too busy to change from 10 minute appointments for 10 hours straight. Run!
  12. Competitive salary. If I was a cynical person, I might think they will try to pay you as little as they can get away with, starting with not discussing salary until the interview, the second interview, the trial day…. Similarly, “Salary Neg.” means “negligible”, not “negotiable”.
  13. Big egos. Does the boss have a designated parking space? The senior vet who will only work with one particular nurse. I’ve seen it and the consequences.
  14. A practice without a decent website (and not a stock one from their corporate provider) and an active presence on social media. Or Google reviews below 4 point something. Or a cluster of Google reviews, all of which are glowing 5 star, within a few days of each other, dated about three years ago.
  15. A practice that won’t let you see the contract and employee handbook before you accept their job offer.
  16. They won’t let you meet or speak to the person you are replacing. Oh, we don’t have their number, they’re travelling in Outer Mongolia, it’s a data protection issue etc.
  17. A practice that won’t let you meet or speak to the boss/line manager/head vet/practice manager. At one practice I had six phone calls and two visits before they eventually admitted that the person I’d be working under, who had been inexplicably busy/absent/sick/in meetings was – quote – ‘a bit of a problem’. The person I might have worked around; the practice deciding to try to hide them from me was unforgivable.
  18. Finally, listen to your gut feeling. It doesn’t matter how good the pay and perks, if something doesn’t feel right then listen to it. Pay attention to all warning signs!

Remember that these are only my opinion and first, or second, hand experiences. Not all practices that have these phrases in their ads are a concern!