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Episode #292 – How to Recruit Veterinarians in a Challenging Job Market, Part 1

The Vet Recruiter®
The Vet Recruiter®
Episode #292 - How to Recruit Veterinarians in a Challenging Job Market, Part 1

Caleb: Welcome to “The Animal Health and Veterinary Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, Animal Health executive recruiter and Veterinary recruiter Stacy Pursell of The VET Recruiter provides insight and practical advice for both employers and job seekers in the Animal Health and Veterinary industries. The VET Recruiter’s focus is to solve talent-centric problems for the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. In fact, The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary companies hire top talent, while helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

Today, we’ll be talking about how to recruit veterinarians in a challenging job market. Hello, Stacy, and thank you for joining us today.

Stacy: Hello, Caleb. As always, I’m glad to be here with you.

Caleb: Stacy, I couldn’t help but notice that “Part 1” was listed after the title of today’s podcast episode. I’m guessing that this is the start of a new series of episodes on the podcast, is that right?

Stacy: Yes, it is. And the reason that we’re embarking upon this new series is that recruiting and hiring veterinarians in this current job market is one of the most challenging things facing hiring managers and practice owners.

In fact, we’re going to break this series of podcast episodes into two distinct sections.

Caleb: What sections are those?

Stacy: First, how to recruit veterinarians, and second, how to hire veterinarians.

Caleb: What’s the difference between the two?

Stacy: Both are part of the process of acquiring veterinarians, of course, which falls under the category of “talent acquisition.” While recruiting veterinarians and then hiring them are certainly related and both part of the talent acquisition process, they do represent different parts of that process.

Most of the time—and especially in a challenging job market—you must first recruit a veterinarian before you can hire them. It is possible to recruit a veterinarian and then not be able to hire them.

Caleb: So there’s a difference between successfully recruiting a veterinarian and unsuccessfully recruiting one?

Stacy: Good question. Employers unsuccessfully recruit veterinarians all the time, for multiple reasons. Either the candidate turns down their offer of employment or accepts a counteroffer from their current employer. Or they could accept an offer from another employer instead or just drop out of the process and stay with their current employer, even if that employer does not make a counteroffer or even know that they were exploring other opportunities in the first place.

Caleb: So when we talk about recruiting veterinarians, we’ll be discussing successful ways to do so—how to overcome the obstacles in the job market, so to speak?

Stacy: Yes, that’s right.

Caleb: This all sounds quite ambitious. Where would you like to start?

Stacy: With the fact that hiring managers and veterinary  practice owners must realize there is a need to actively recruit veterinarians, although at this point, I would guess that most of them already know that this is a reality.

Caleb: Because veterinarians have the leverage in this job market?

Stacy: Correct, and there is an almost endless stream of statistics to back this up, starting with the fact that the unemployment rate for veterinarians is nearly non-existent. The National Unemployment Rate was recently at its lowest rate in decades at 3.5%, but the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession is even lower. I’ve cited this statistic before, but according to the job board site Zippia, the unemployment rate in the  Veterinary profession has dropped from 1.0% in 2013 to about 0.2%. And if you ask me, it might even be lower than that, because I can’t remember the last time I spoke with an unemployed veterinarian who was in need of a job. Right now, every veterinarian who wants to be employed is employed.

Caleb: And not only is there a shortage of veterinarians, but veterinarian jobs are projected to grow during the rest of the decade. Didn’t the Bureau of Labor Statistics release numbers to that effect?

Stacy: The BLS certainly did. According to its most recent numbers, veterinarian jobs are expected to grow by 19% between the years 2021 and 2031. Not only that, but Mars Veterinary Health is predicting that there could be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by the end of the decade. And Mars released this report before the latest BLS numbers, so the veterinarian shortage could be even worse than that by 2030.

Caleb: How bad could it be? 16,000? Maybe even 20,000?

Stacy: Depending on what happens in the broader economy, it could be as many as 20,000 by the end of the decade, which is difficult to fathom considering how difficult it is to recruit and hire veterinarians now. Think about it: 20,000 open veterinarian jobs with every veterinarian in the profession already employed. That will make recruiting and hiring veterinarians nearly impossible for some employers.

Caleb: But we’re going to discuss what they can do to help their organization to hire veterinarians.

Stacy: That’s right, and it starts with the correct mindset, specifically recognizing that veterinarian candidates have the leverage in the job market. And they don’t just have a little of it; they have a LOT.

Caleb: This seems like it could all be a little overwhelming.

Stacy: You’re right, it can be overwhelming. That’s why this is so critical. Recruiting and hiring veterinarians is one of the most important things that Veterinary employers can do, which is why they must do it right. And it’s also why having the proper mindset is so important.

And the first step is the simplest. You have to identify the best veterinarian candidates.

Caleb: Identify them?

Stacy: Yes, and this illustrates the difference between active job seekers and passive candidates, which I’ve discussed multiple times on the podcast and in my newsletter articles and blog posts. However, it bears repeating, especially within the context of this conversation. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, there are not many, if any, active job seekers in the market as far as veterinarians are concerned. As we just discussed, the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession is pretty much non-existent.  It is rare to meet a veterinarian who wants to be employed as a veterinarian.

Caleb: And active job seekers identify themselves.

Stacy: Yes, that’s correct, which makes it easier for employers. But since there are not enough active job seekers in comparison to the number of open veterinarian jobs, employers are having a more difficult time identifying veterinarian job candidates.

Caleb: And if you can’t identify the candidates, then you certainly can’t hire them, right?

Stacy: Right! Second, while active job seekers are actively looking for a new job, which makes sense considering we call them active job seekers, passive candidates are not. So right off the bat, you have two degrees of difficultly when you are trying to recruit and hire veterinarians. First, it is difficult to identify veterinarian job candidates. And second, when you are able to identify them, they are probably not actively looking for a new job, which means they’re not going to be automatically interested in your job opening.

Caleb: So with all of this in mind, what is the proper mindset that employers must have when recruiting veterinarians?

Stacy: The proper mindset and the proper approach is to be proactive. There’s no way around that. In this current job market, you cannot be passive. You cannot just advertise jobs on the Internet and think veterinarians are going to flock to you. That is not going to happen, and it hasn’t happened for a while.

I call this the “post and pray” method. That’s because employers post their opening on the Internet and then pray that veterinarians apply for it. For the last several years, I cannot tell you how many hiring managers and practice owners have asked me why they are not getting any responses to their online job advertisements.

Caleb: And what do you tell them?

Stacy: The same things that we are talking about right now—that there is a shortage of veterinarians and that those veterinarians who are in the job market are passive candidates and not actively looking for a new job.

In fact, there are three big reasons why passive veterinarian job candidates are not looking at online job ads.

Caleb: What reasons are those?

Stacy: First, they’re pretty much happy where they are right now. One of the reasons is because their employer knows there is a shortage of veterinarians and wants to keep them happy. They know if they don’t keep them happy, then another employer is going to try to recruit them and might be able to do so successfully.

Second, they’re too busy at their current job to actually conduct an active job search, even if they wanted to.

And third, even if they did have the time and did have the desire to conduct an active job search, they don’t know who can see that they’re applying for other jobs.

Caleb: You mean they’re worried about the confidentiality of their job search?

Stacy: Correct. They don’t want to risk the confidentiality of their search being breached at any point in the process. To them, it’s just not worth it, especially if they’re happy and comfortable in their current role.

And there is yet another big reason why employers should avoid the “post and pray” method when they’re trying to recruit veterinarians.

Caleb: What’s that?

Stacy: Because even if a veterinarian is an active job seeker and even if they look for jobs online and even if they start the application process, that is no guarantee that they’ll actually finish the process.

In fact, According to Appcast, which is a respected recruitment data provider, the candidate drop-off rate for people who click “Apply” but never complete an application is a whopping 92%.

Caleb: Ninety-two percent! I knew it would be at least 50%, but nine out of every 10 people? That’s crazy.

Stacy: Yes. So, think about this from the big-picture perspective. First, the unemployment rate for veterinarians is almost non-existent, Second, this means there are hardly any veterinarians who are active job seekers. Third, even if there are veterinarians who are active job seekers, when they start applying for jobs online, they never finish the application nine out of every 10 times.

Caleb: I can see why you’ve had hiring managers and practice owners tell you that they’ve had no one apply to their online job ads. It makes sense, considering everything that we’re discussing today.

Stacy: Yes, it does. And this is the difference between the “hunting” and “gathering” approaches to acquiring talent, in this case recruiting and hiring veterinarians.

Caleb: What do you mean by that?

Stacy: It’s like hunting and gathering in the wild. When you hunt for food, you’re proactively looking for food. When you gather food, you’re basically picking food that’s grown out of the ground or picking food off trees.

Caleb: So in this analogy, employers have to be proactive and go hunting for veterinarians, because veterinarians aren’t growing on trees anymore.

Stacy: Yes, that’s a great way of putting it! Veterinarians don’t just grow on trees. You have to be proactive and go hunting for them if you want to recruit and hire them.

Caleb: So what, specifically, can employers do?

Stacy: There are a lot of things they can do and they should do, but in a nutshell, they should plan, prioritize, and execute.

Caleb: Can you expound on that?

Stacy: Certainly. Every Veterinary employer needs to have a workforce plan. Basically, that’s a plan for recruiting and veterinarians and also retaining the veterinarians that they already have on staff. But since today’s podcast episode is about recruiting veterinarians, we’ll stick to that part of the plan.

So first, employers must have a plan. If you don’t even have a plan, it will be close to impossible to hire veterinarians. Second, you have to determine the priorities of your plan, which boils down to the priorities of your practice or organization. Everything is not equally important. If everything is equally important, then nothing is really important.

Caleb: Because the important tasks are the ones that are prioritized first.

Stacy: That’s correct. Recruiting and hiring veterinarians should be a top priority for Veterinary employers, and because of that, they should have an “always be recruiting” mentality.

Caleb: What does that mean?

Stacy: It means that employers should be thinking about recruiting pretty much all the time, and not only that, but also focusing on it. The more that you focus on something, the more successful you will be with that something. The same holds true here: the more that you focus on recruiting veterinarians, the more successful you will ultimately be in terms of hiring veterinarians.

Caleb: Do you have some specific things or some action items that employers can be doing if they’re always thinking about recruiting veterinarians or trying to always focus on it?

Stacy: Yes, I do, especially since I understand that some people in our listening audience may think that it’s impossible to think about recruiting veterinarians all the time, since they’re so busy with everything else they’re doing. I am sure there are many people who are of this opinion, but successfully hiring in this current job market requires a commitment and a certain amount of time, energy, and effort.

The key thing to remember is that just like sales professionals have a sales pipeline or prospects, Veterinary employers should have a “talent pipeline.” A hiring manager or Veterinary practice owner must always be in the process of building and maintaining that pipeline.

Caleb: How can employers build their “talent pipelines”?

Stacy: One way is to ask for employee referrals.

If you already have great veterinarians on staff, the first thing you should do is everything you can to retain those veterinarians as employees. The second thing you should do is ask them for the names of friends or colleagues who they believe might want to make a change in the near future or who are ready to explore other opportunities. No matter the market conditions, employee referrals have always been one of the top ways that employers can identify candidates and build their pipelines of talent.

A second way that Veterinary employers can build their pipeline is to create a fantastic employer brand, which is something else that we’ve discussed on this podcast. This is something that employers should already be doing. That’s because today’s candidates want more than just a job.

Caleb: What do they want?

Stacy: They want a life-changing opportunity with an employer that has an engaging company culture and stellar reputation. And remember: an employer brand is created all throughout the recruiting and hiring process before candidates are hired and it continues after the process when they become employees. Creating a superb employer brand is an important step in becoming an “employer of choice” within the Veterinary profession. And when you become an employer of choice, it becomes easier to hire and recruit veterinarians.

Caleb: Stacy, thank you so much for joining us today and for all of this great information about recruiting veterinarians in a challenging market. Since this is the first in a series of podcast episodes about this topic, we look forward to hearing more about what employers can do to hire veterinarians.

Stacy: You’re very welcome, Caleb, and thank you. It’s been my pleasure, and I also look forward to our next episode of the Animal Health and Veterinary Employment Insider!

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