Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Selling yourself

I had a request a while back on how to sell yourself to a practice as a newly graduated veterinarian. Naturally, I like to write about what you guys want to read, so I betook myself to the computer, confident that I could write this easily. Then I sat. And sat some more. Selling yourself is hard! So, I approached it from my own perspective. If I was hiring a veterinarian, what qualities would be important?

We were lucky as a veterinary class to have Dr James Wilson come and speak to our class about interviewing, contracts, resumes, and the like. We were also lucky to be provided with a huge, fat binder covering all of these things, including samples of cover letters and resumes. I have referred to it numerous times since graduation.

In this binder, Dr Wilson reviewed what experts have found that employers are looking for. It is NOT GPA. In order of most importance, an employer looks for 1) loyalty 2) stability 3) enthusiasm coupled with good judgement 4) intelligence and 5) technical skills.

So, when selling yourself to employers, here is what I recommend (again, just opinions!).

First, confidence, eye contact, and a professional appearance are absolute musts! Dress for success is a cheesy but accurate phrase. For men applying for veterinary positions, a suit and tie are perfectly appropriate. For women, there is a little more leeway. I usually wore suit pants, a button down shirt, heels, and some toned down jewelry. Appearance, while widely panned by our society as superficial and meaningless, is very important. Before I was hired at our clinic, they interviewed the #1 student in her class for my position. She had pink hair, a mohawk, and several facial piercings. She was also absolutely brilliant. The problem? Our clinic is in a small, poor town in NC. She would automatically have not been trusted by 80% or more of our clientele. Is this fair? Absolutely not, she was a phenomenal doctor and person. Life isn't fair however. As a doctor, you have to instill confidence in your clients. Physical appearance is a large part of that. As a result, dress like a professional and act like a professional when interviewing. As silly as it sounds, a firm handshake, eye contact, and a confident manner of speaking can make the difference between you and someone else being selected for a job.

Secondly, know your strengths AND weaknesses. This was a common question asked by interviwers. When asked about my strengths, I could readily spout off many of them. Weaknesses were harder, as who wants to admit to a potential employer the things that they dislike about themselves? Prior to interviewing, it is important to sit down, make a list of these 2 categories, and honestly evaluate yourself. Are you good at medicine but lack surgery experience? Are you shy and have a hard time being up front or strong with clients when you need to be? Are you bossy and aggressive (like I am?), or are you passive? The best way to present your weaknesses is to acknowledge them and to explain how you plan on addressing those weaknesses. Employers like to know that you are aware of shortcomings and actively working on fixing them.

A third important thing to do as a new graduate is to go ahead and root the chip out of your shoulder! I speak from personal experience. When you come out of the Ivory Tower of vet school, your mentation is that the university does it right and does it better. It takes years to rid yourself of this thinking (as I am going on 3 years out, and I still have a problem sometimes). Yes, you will know the most up-to-date way to treat something, and you should ABSOLUTELY use that knowledge to improve patient care wherever you go. But it's also incredibly important to remember that the vets that you work with who have been out for a while have a great store of knowledge and can be very helpful in helping you navigate the "real world" - where clients often have no money, seriously ill pets, and very limited means with which to treat them. When interviewing, the way to sell this point is to present yourself as a new graduate with many possible new ideas to improve patient care - and then make the point that you are also open to learning from people with more experience than you. An open, willing attitude with a desire to learn instead of dictate is incredibly important!

Another important thing when selling yourself is to remember those strengths. Explain to the interviewer what YOU in particular can bring to the practice. Did you win the Sr Award for ophthalmology? Make the point that you are very interested in eyes and would like to develop in that area. Were you the head of the Exotics club? Discuss your extensive experience with exotics and how the practice might expand into that area. Every applicant has unique abilities and talents. It is important to know yours and present them in a way that shows the interviewer that you can bring something special with you.

Become a team player - even if it's against your natural grain. It's against mine. I am very much a "loner" in that I tend to work best quietly and alone. This has led to me being seen as aloof and arrogant, when in reality, I usually just need time to think. It has often sometimes given my colleagues the belief that I don't value their experience or opinions. Learn to work well with owners. Learn to ask questions, be open to the answers, and try new things. There is no absolute RIGHT WAY to do anything in medicine - there are shades of grey in every single diagnosis and treatment. It took me a longer time to learn this lesson than some others, I think - and it is still a lesson I am daily working on. Learning to be a team player and showing your potential employer this willingness will make you a valuable addition to the team.

Enthusiasm will also go a long way towards helping you find a job and impressing an employer. If you love what you do, let it show. You don't have to gush, but let your potential employer see how much you enjoy small animal medicine or equine ambulatory practice. It is often easy to tell when someone is settling for a position versus when they actually WANT a position.

I think those things are the most important for me personally...but what do you guys think? Other important factors that I'm overlooking?


ERDOC said...

I do just have one thing to add --

when looking for a job, don't just let the clinic evaluate you, but remember to also evaluate THEM. Keep in mind some things that are absolutely critical for your happiness. This may be simple things, like IV catheters for every abdominal surgery, the proper use of steroids, or you may really be into dentistry, orthopedics, ultrasound, etc.... Regardless of what your requirements are, make sure that when walking into each interview, you KNOW that things you will not budge on. These may change over time, but many of them will remain the same. If you compromise in areas that are important to you, you will hate your job, and move on quickly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing this! I always have trouble addressing my weaknesses and end up saying something pathetically cliché. I'll have to work on that. Otherwise, I think I'm a pretty good interviewee. Right now I'm more worried about making myself look good for my future residency, which also builds upon many of the skills you mentioned.

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Haven't much to add - agree with all that... we try and tell vet nurses that too -
we also think vet clinics should make more effort to see if staff have a fit for the practice - similar values, interests, the team values etc..
Brains are nto everything eh - soft skills take them alng way.
We always feel we can teach most people "the skills" but we can't always create "people people" from solitary people who prefer their own company or the company of animals over people. Sadly, something the profession does not recognise enough and it is why there are often so many issues in the industry.

HP said...

I was told that if you show up for your interview and they aren't quite ready for you yet, don't sit with your nose in a magazine or play on your phone - talk to the staff at the desk and be friendly. Also, do your research ahead of time, especially if you are in a town or area you are unfamiliar with. Research the population, average income of residents, etc. Go on or a similar website and look up the animal hospital you are interviewing at - read reviews, check out their own website/facebook page, etc. Also, do research on yourself - know a base salary that you need to make to be able to live off of and pay off loans. Of course, since I am a student, I haven't done this before - but we just had a talk about interviewing strategies and these seemed to make a lot of sense :)

The Homeless Parrot said...

ER Doc - good suggestions and one I really harped on in my "how to pick your firs job" post. You basically said what I said! Figure out what you can compromise on and what you can't.

VV: No problem. Hope it was helpful.

Fi: I agree - fitting in with staff, overall practice mentality, etc is very important.

HP: Doing research is a must! I definitely recommend having checked the website, read reviews, and knowing a bit about the people that are employed there (if this is possible). This shows that you are a serious and interested interviewee.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

In the same vein as HP, strike up a conversation with any clients that might be waiting. A great way to demonstrate that you have those 'soft' communicating skills and can connect with clients.