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Making yourself the best person for the job
  1. Alison Lambert


Finding a great job that is fulfilling, financially rewarding, challenging and fun is top of every graduate's to do list. Alison Lambert explains how to go about getting the job you want

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WHILE there may be enough jobs to go round, you don't just want a job, you want the best one . . . just like everyone else. Bagging a great job needs focus and determination.

What does an employer want?

The best candidate needs to fulfil a number of different criteria, and when you understand what practices are looking for, you'll be able to show them exactly how you shape up against these key parameters.

We asked a range of practices what they look for in potential employees, and clinical skills actually played only a small part. Some of the most frequently mentioned words were enthusiasm, compassion, connection, clinical skills, personable, empathy, willingness, confidence, team skills, curiosity and conscientious.

The fact is that practices are not just paying your wages; they are making a significant financial investment in the business's future, as 20 per cent of the average practice's turnover is spent on paying its vets. Every post filled has to be with the right candidate. And they'll have plenty of candidates to choose from when 30 CVs and letters arrive to apply for just one job.

Alison Lambert heads the team at market intelligence company, Onswitch

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Stand out, for the right reasons

Faced with so many applications, your potential employer will most probably first scan through them. Any that are scruffily presented or badly spelt will be cast aside at this point. No matter how great your experience or results, if you can't be bothered to present a tidy and accurate persona at the application stage, you won't get past it. Essentially, you're sending a clear message to the practice that that's how you'd be as a colleague and clinician – slapdash and half-hearted.

In order to appear professional and employable, it's important to:

■ Use the spell checker facility and ask your parents or tutors to have a read through too.

■ Not use coloured paper.

■ Keep to a standard text colour, size and font throughout.

■ Keep things brief – no waffle and repetition.

■ Not go past two pages – that's easily enough for you to be able to sum everything up and keep your potential employer's interest.

■ Follow a standard structure for laying out your CV and covering letter (there are lots of examples online).

■ Tailor the content to each specific position. It may seem a pain re-doing each one, but potential employers can spot a blanket approach a mile off, and it doesn't tell them that you're keen to work with them.

■ Spell the practice name (and the word ‘veterinary’) correctly.

■ Address your letter to a named person, not ‘The Practice Manager’. And spell their name correctly.

There's a debate at the moment concerning ‘clever’ applications – candidates who may have made a video, sent their application on a USB stick or via e-mail, connected with the practice via LinkedIn and so on. We found that most directors and principals agree this demonstrates an innovative and free-thinking candidate, and could pique their interest and might secure an interview. As long as it's not too clever, that is, too much like technology for technology's sake, all form and no substance. Be aware that your potential employer is likely to be from a different generation from you, so don't overdo things.

Successful interviews

A well-presented, personalised and meaty CV and covering letter should secure you an interview, and demonstrate to the practice that you could do the job. The interview is your chance to prove that you'd fit it well and do it so much better than the other candidates. Once again, there are a few tips and techniques to keep in mind:

■ Do plenty of research beforehand – check out the practice website and any presence on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

■ Don't be late. Allow plenty of time to find the practice, or park nearby. Have plenty of loose change for public transport or parking, and make sure that you have the practice number stored in your mobile so that you can contact them if anything untoward happens en route.

■ Dress smartly and not too trendily – you want to be a professional version of yourself, but you don't want to scare the olds.

■ Clean your shoes and your nails (you're hoping to be operating at some point).

■ Shake hands firmly, and introduce yourself clearly and succinctly.

■ Make eye contact at all times.

■ Have a spare copy of your CV with you.

■ Prepare a list of questions that demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm, not just basic ones that show that you haven't bothered to prepare.

■ Ask about hours, rotas, emergency cover, special clinics, induction programmes, PDP support and so on.

Of course, they will also have some questions for you. Before you go into the interview, prepare some examples of situations where you have shown particular skills – leadership, conviction, teamwork, etc – as well as tangible achievements in any of your work experience, clubs or college responsibilities (introducing new systems, winning funding, setting up websites, managing a marketing campaign, etc). There are sure to be plenty of examples from every side of your life, veterinary or not.

Take a second to get your thoughts straight before answering each question, and keep your replies to the point. Make sure you know what you've written in your CV (and that it's all true), so that there are no inconsistencies that may make them doubt your abilities. Criteria-based questions search for evidence that you have the relevant understanding and experience of common situations, so expect to be asked questions like these:

■ How do you manage your time to deliver key deadlines?

■ Give me examples of when you have missed a deadline and what you did to manage the situation. How well did it work?

■ Describe a situation where you have had to fight for administrative improvements, perhaps when others didn't want them.

■ Tell me about a time that you have helped a colleague focus on getting details correct.

If, on top of everything else, you keep calm and portray a realistic picture of yourself, then there's nothing more you can do. If you don't get the job, ask for feedback so that you can improve your performance next time. If you do get the job, then the fun really begins.

Finally, once you're in practice, you're going to be working with all kinds of clients in all sorts of emotional states; it will be crucial to ensure that your people skills are just as great as your clinical ones. Demonstrating to a potential employer that you have an efficient and empathic consulting style can go a long way towards making you a desirable employee.

This article first appeared in the Journal of the Association of Veterinary Students, Spring 2013 issue, and is reproduced with permission of the editor, Max Foreman.

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