Finding the right first job

Published: 28 Oct 2014

A good employer will be supportive and fair, will encourage you to learn and become progressively independent, will encourage a high standard of professional work, ethics and interpersonal interactions, and will be someone with whom you can develop a comfort­able working relationship. If there is more than one other veterinary surgeon in the practice, there will be the added advantage of others to learn from and share after hours with.

How can you find such an employer? Contacts are the best way. Contacts may be made through work, at practices or visits, through attendance at veterinary meetings and conferences, or indirectly through others. Some may be found through advertisements or agencies, but whatever the source and however personable they may seem, it is important to check up on their qualities as an employer. It is not necessary to accept the first job you are offered. Be selective. Find the best job and the best employer for you.

Talk with other employees in the practice or the person whose place you would be taking. A good employer will suggest that you talk with others in the practice, and offer contact details of previous employees. If you feel uncomfortable making inquiries about a potential employer, remember that they will be inquiring about you too and the outcome is likely to influence your career. A keen and idealistic graduate can have their enthusiasm quashed by a miserable employer. A timid graduate can find that an excellent employer provides a boost that launches them on a satisfying and rewarding career.


While you are making your own assessment of the employer and the position, you will also be assessed. Your initial selection will be based on your CV or on direct or indirect personal contact. This may lead to an invitation to attend a formal interview or to visit the practice. Find out as much as you can in advance about the practice and its staff. Be ready to be judged on your ability to relate to the clients, other veterinarians, the nurses and other staff. Remember that if you get the job these people will be central to helping you settle in and begin work. It is essential that you relate well to them.

If you are a little shy or lacking in confidence about interacting with others, don't assume that you will be found wanting in your ability to relate to clients and colleagues. Instead, think in advance of likely situations and questions and prepare possible responses, which will help you to respond in a positive and confident way. Also, visualise yourself in the position of the other person — potential employer or client — and think of the type of response they would find appropriate, while not misrepresenting yourself, of course.

Remember that interviewers may also be a little nervous and inexperienced. They may be tentative in an interview situation and struggle to find appropriate questions to keep the interview flowing. So flesh out your responses, while at the same time avoiding verbosity. If you have access to a video camera and a willing helper, try some practice interviews in advance. It is also useful to practice interactions with clients, especially those involving tricky situations such as fee disputes, grief and aggressive behaviour.

Interpersonal skills

Most employers place less emphasis on the technical skills of diagnosis and treatment, including surgery, than on personal and interpersonal attributes. They assume that all graduates have a base level of technical skill. Although this may vary between graduates, all will need some help and support to become proficient. A willingness to learn, to ask questions and to accept constructive criticism is important, as is an agreeable level of self-confidence. Too much confidence can give an impression of arrogance; too little suggests indecision.

New graduates often seek to start work in a mixed or large animal practice with a view to consolidating their skills with various species, and look forward to the experience with much enthusiasm. However, many leave these practices within the first few years, often as a result of long hours of work and after-hours duty, coupled with possibly reduced remuneration, especially compared with that of other young professionals in their area, or with city colleagues. In addition, both men and women may be deterred by the professional and social isolation of work in rural areas. Some, however, make a smooth transition to work after they graduate and continue to have satisfying and rewarding careers in rural large animal or mixed practice. Several factors are likely to help in this transition. The first is a supportive, encouraging employer. Another is reasonable working hours and conditions, with support available from a more experienced colleague when required, including out of hours.

The ability to develop and maintain personal contacts for friendship and support is also vital. The importance of staying in contact with friends from veterinary school cannot be overestimated. The mental equanimity of many new graduates is maintained by being able to discuss frustrations and real or potential disasters with others in comparable situations. By joining your territorial BVA division you can make contact with local practitioners outside your own practice; many divisions operate mentoring or ‘buddy’ schemes for recent graduates. Furthermore, the BVA's Young Vet Network (YVN) can offer practical help and a range of support services.


▪This article is based on advice given in the ‘BVA new graduate guide’, a handbook provided to final-year students and graduates up to eight years' qualified on joining the BVA.


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