Finding a job in a vet practice
If you've got a veterinary degree and are looking to go straight into practice, you're in exactly the right place.
Read on for information to help you find a job with your veterinary degree, including what employers are looking for, information on recruitment processes, where to find vacancies and writing effective CVs and covering letters.
Tom Cammack, Veterinary Surgeon, RSPCA
Nottingham alumnus Tom talks about professional development, gaining experience in a number of practices, the breakdown of his work and the importance of taking care of your mental health.
Matt Plumtree, Senior Clinical Director
Matt talks about how the EMS can help student vets decide where they would like to work and what he looks for in applicants during the recruitment process. Matt works for YourVets.
What are employers looking for?
It is widely acknowledged that new graduate vets will generally have the same clinical knowledge and skills (RCVS Day One Competencies), so employers are looking for attitude as well as aptitude, and someone who will fit into the team and is willing to train and learn.
Among others, some specific skills employers said they are looking for are:
ability to deal with stress and make decisions
ability to show empathy
ability to manage consultations
friendly, enthusiastic and polite
a strong work ethic
ability to work in a team
proactivity - someone who'll answer the phone if it's ringing
strong communication skills
Do your research - employers want you to understand their practice and the role you're applying for
Look at the company website and their social media
Research the community they are based in
Is the practice involved in any charity work?
Are any of the vets specialists in an area you are interested in?
How does your EMS experience match their requirements?
If you are applying to a charity, find out how they are funded and how it differs from a private practice
Read the job advert carefully and tailor your application
Identify the skills and qualities they are looking for and make sure you answer these requirements
If the practice has a particular area of interest, mention your own experience in this area.
Mention any specific development opportunities you are interested in
If you have spent time in the practice already, mention this in your application
Where do I look for graduate vacancies?
Some smaller practices only recruit a new graduate sporadically when a position becomes available.
Larger organisations have established graduate programmes that can recruit up to 120 graduates per year.
As well as using company websites, recruitment agencies and online jobs boards, remember to make the most of your own contacts. A lot of roles won’t be advertised but graduates are recruited via their EMS placements.
If you’ve spent time in a practice that you’d like to work for, pick up the phone or send a letter or email with a copy of your CV to ask about opportunities. Similarly if you’ve made contacts through conferences, events or other experiences, use these connections to find out who's hiring and to let them know about your situation.
Please note this is not an exhaustive list of companies.
Making an effective application or CV
Most of the processes for making an initial application for vet roles are similar to many other jobs, however there are a few things you may want to consider to help you stand out in your CV and covering letter.
Writing a CV and covering letter
Whether you are applying to a job advert or making a speculative application most veterinary practices will expect a CV and covering letter. To get started visit our information on writing a CV and a covering letter. All the information on these webpages is applicable to veterinary CVs and letters.
How do I put all of my EMS and rotations onto a two-page CV?
The answer is you don’t.
Employers want to see only the most relevant placements, these are usually the most recent and from the relevant specialism (that is, if you’re applying to become a small animal vet, focus on a few of your small animal placements).
Employers know that you have completed your minimum number of placements in all areas in order to graduate, so focus on a select few that are of direct relevance to the job and that will show how your experience stands out from that of other applicants.
Be enthusiastic about your specialism
If you are applying for a role in a specific area, tell them why you're enthusiastic about it. Include any information about previous work experience, or research you've done that made you want to choose this route.
Be sure to include details of your EMS (Extra Mural Studies) placements, including your practical experience and details of the practice.
Life outside of the 'vet sphere'
Many employers will assume you already meet the academic level required, so will want to know more about you as a person.
Include information about your interests and hobbies in your application.
Stages before an interview
Many employers will invite you straight to an interview if they are happy with your CV and covering letter. However, there are a few other ways in which veterinary recruiters can find out more about you before interview:
Skill set questionnaires – you may be sent a list of procedures and be asked to rate your confidence levels for each to enable the employer to understand where further support and training may be needed
Case history exercises – for very competitive equine positions, e.g. internships at Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic, candidates are emailed a case history and asked to comment on how they would have responded to the situation
Attending webinars to find out more about the employer
Standing out at interview and assessment centres
The next phase of the recruitment process will vary dependent on the role, the practice and the interviewer on the day, we have identified some common stages of the interview process that are used by large and small practices alike.
A number of veterinary groups now use assessment centres, or ‘recruitment days’, as part of their recruitment process for new graduate vets. Assessment centres activities are designed to assess your potential to fulfil the role and encourage the demonstration of particular skills and qualities. At these recruitment days candidates are asked to do a selection of the following activities:
Deliver a 10-minute presentation. Usually on a non-clinical subject that you will be given before the day, for example “What do you want to gain from your first year in practice?”
Attend an interview. Questions are likely to be both clinical and non-clinical
Team building exercise. A non-clinical team problem-solving exercise for employers to see how you work with others
Practice or hospital visit. A chance for you to see a practice or hospital, meet staff members and learn more about the business.
Observations/time in practice
It's important for the hiring manager to see how you work in practice, and you may be asked to spend some time in the role while being observed – this could be anywhere between a few hours to a few days.
Employers want to find out how you interact with the whole practice team and with clients.
This will likely involve a director/practice manager, and a senior partner or head nurse. Larger practices may also ask an HR colleague to sit on the panel. Generally, panels will try to keep the tone fairly informal so they get a chance to see your personality.
Most practices ask a mix of clinical and competency-based questions, plus questions about your motivations, preferences, interests and expectations.
General questions may include:
What do you know about our practice/group?
Do you have a preference for medicine or surgery?
How do you feel about on-call or out-of-hours working?
Tell me about yourself
Skill set questions may include:
How long do you take to do a medium-sized bitch spay?
What imaging do you have experience of using?
Could you identify 'X' on this image?
Prepare to ask you own questions during the interview
For more support with interviews and assessments centres, visit:
Advice on preparing for an interview
Advice on assessment centres
Practicalities of choosing your first job
What should I look for in a job?
When weighing up your options and deciding whether a practice is right for you it’s worth looking at the whole picture. Salary will be important to you, but in order to improve on your day one competencies you will want to know how a practice will support your development, so look at the CPD package available.
If you’re interested in understanding salary expectations, check out the SPVS salary survey. The average salary for a Nottingham veterinary 2017 graduate (BVMBVS) working more than 35 hours per week was £29,333*. Some practices offer housing or car allowances in addition to the salary.
*Information from the DLHE survey based on full-time, home and EU first degree students)
Ask about mentoring and the support that will be available to you to ensure you are happy with how the practice will help you to develop as a vet and who will help when you are faced with difficult situations.
Consider whether you feel ready for sole practice and how much on-call or out of hours work you are wanting.
Look at the location of the practice, do you want to live in a busy city or a quiet rural location? Will there be social groups or sports clubs that you can join?
What should I do if I receive more than one job offer?
It can be tempting to accept the first job that you are offered, but choosing the right job for you is really important so do take time to consider what you’re looking for.
Spend time in the practice. If you haven’t had previous experience in the practice, or think that spending another day will help you make a decision, organise a visit before you accept the offer.
Don’t be afraid to say that you need time to think about the offer. If the company are rushing you for an answer, then it might not be the right practice for you.
For more advice on choosing between job offers read this blog post
What should I look for in a contract?
Make sure you are given a written contract of employment stating the precise conditions of your employment before you accept a job. Unfortunately some veterinary surgeons state they do not have a written contract and this leaves them exposed.
Visit the BVA website for information on
Guide to employment contracts for veterinary staff
Download the leaflet Contracts for employment
Read Jamie's blog - My experience of starting in practice
The Vet Record also has information on employment contracts
Employment rights and responsibilities
What support is there once I've left Nottingham?
Once you are out have graduated and are working in a practice ensuring that you have a good support network will help you to navigate the first few years as a vet.
Keep in touch with your peers from Nottingham as they will be going through similar experiences and could be of great support even if you’re no longer in the same location. We're also here for you after you graduate so get in touch.
Organisations offering support