By Dr Dave Nicol
When I was a graduate, I made a mistake really early in my career. In fact, it was a mistake right out of the gate – the first job I chose. Let me tell you the story…
I graduated in June 1998 and was determined to get work in Scotland, close to Glasgow, where I had ties. Back then, nobody wanted to hire graduates, and jobs in Scotland were difficult to come across.
After several weeks of fruitless search, a role appeared for a position in a corporate group. It sounded great! They were opening new locations and would be putting a team of two vets into a brand new, purpose-built location at the end of summer. Perfect, I could enjoy my last summer of leisure before diving headlong into my career. That was the theory, anyway.
I attended an interview at one of their other practice locations, and things seemed to be going well as I chatted away with the hiring manager. However, there was a seminal moment I should have paid closer attention to. One of the vets employed at this site (who I knew from college) peeked into the room where I was being grilled and shook her head vigorously while mouthing the words, “Don’t do it.”
The rest of the interview progressed well, but I left with my head full of concerns:
- It was corporate medicine, and I was worried about my clinical freedom.
- The location was not yet built, so an actual start date was a mystery.
- The vet’s warning.
- The other vet I was to work with was someone I also knew from college, who was just one clinical year above me. So how much could I really learn from this person, compared to a vet who had been in practice for 20 years?
If I had my time again, these reasons would be more than enough for me to decline the offer.
But through the fresh, naive eyes of a twenty-four year old, the fear of not finding another job and (importantly) the reward on offer meant my mind was made up.
Soon after, an offer came, and I was officially ‘part of the team.’[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Job Doubts The First Moment
The giddy excitement of having a well-paid job was nice. But there was doubt from day one, and doubt, like mold, has a habit of growing and rotting with time. So it was in this case. Over the next few weeks, the following questions that started as nagging doubts slowly grew to a raucous volume in my head.
Would I have space to practice medicine the way I wanted?
How would I learn how to do things right?
And what did the vet’s warning mean – was she joking?
Things did not improve when I received the practice operations manual telling me exactly how to do my job. “There goes the clinical freedom,” I thought. The only learning I would be doing was learning this book.
Of course, deep down, I knew the answer. This wasn’t the right job for a graduate (at least not this one). Taking it had been a mistake. But what to do next?
Thankfully an ‘out’ presented itself in the form of a significant construction delay meaning there was no foreseeable start date, and I needed to start earning some cash.
So I quit before I even started and began my search over. However, this time I was armed with some awareness of what I truly wanted as a graduate.
Clarity On What I Needed in My First Role
It all boiled down to one thing. My first job needed to be working as part of an experienced team who could teach me to be a good vet.
So, with the help and recommendation from a mentor at vet school, I found myself heading to Newcastle to interview and then work with Croft Vets. Bullet dodged, I’d found my new graduate home.
It had a lot less salary than the first offer, but a LOT more support. It was a great decision and one I instantly felt comfortable with.
The rest, as they say, is history. Upon reflection, I’d make the same choice a second time around.
So what are the lessons from this tale?
Takeaways For Graduate Vets
Your first role is a MASSIVE CHOICE. If you get this one choice wrong, you will be set back for years or even ruin your career. Before taking a job, work out what you need to thrive, then commit to saying no until you find the conditions that suit you best.
Do not choose your first role based on salary or location. Neither of these job elements are likely to be well aligned with happy outcomes.
Choose a place where the staff seem happy. Confirm this by talking to them.
Takeaways for Vet Practice Owners
When clinical talent is scarce on the ground, and it seems like you cannot compete with corporate sign-on bonuses, take heart from the fact that you have a weapon they cannot compete with. That weapon is your culture and your ability to be flexible to the needs of others.
People won’t work for crappy pay, so you can’t be miles below the market rate. That being said, pay isn’t everything to everyone. If you cannot compete on pay, what can you compete on that matters more? My advice is to aim for culture, support, and growth. Be good at all of these because they are all linked.
Job ads alone will not get you the applicants you need. You are going to have to work on your networking and employer branding. I got my first job through word of mouth first. The best applicants for my roles have come via the same route.