First interviews - the questions you should ask

First interview questions
You will only have one first job in practice, and it will probably have a huge influence on the rest of your career. If it goes well, it will be the start of many satisfying years in a hugely rewarding profession. If it goes badly, it may damage your confidence and take away the pleasure that you should expect from a job you have worked so hard to achieve. So put yourself forward in a positive way, while remembering that you are the interviewer too.

Prepare well. Find out where to go and be on time. Think about your appearance. Do your research. Check the website, read the brochure, speak to anyone who knows the practice. Find out about the local area.

"Put yourself forward in a positive way, while remembering that you are the interviewer too"

Responding to interview questions is the easy bit: just answer honestly. You are being assessed on your potential to work well with this team, so be open about your personality, attitudes and aspirations. The culture in different practices varies, so don't try to guess what they want, but remember that compatibility works both ways. Listen to what they say and do. Is this a team that you will learn from and enjoy working with? If it is, say so.

The formal interview is only a part of the process. What would it be like to work here? Is the atmosphere welcoming? How do the staff interact with one another and with the clients? Is there the equipment for you to do a good job and the right people to help you use it? Is the practice clean and well maintained? How busy will you be? Speak to other employees and ask questions. Is this a good place for a recent graduate? Don't forget that this informal time is part of the selection process. Use it to seek information, but remember that you are still being assessed, often by staff who are very proud of their practice.

The questions you should ask

There will be so many questions that you want to be answered, but only some of them will be critical to your decision about whether to consider a job offer, so ask first about the arrangements that will most directly affect your job. For instance, what will you be doing during your working day? How will you learn practice protocols and how much autonomy will you have? Will you be able to follow cases through? Are there things that you will not be allowed to do? Who will support you when you need advice or help? How long before you are expected to cope without immediate back-up?

Interviewee tips

  • Make a note of the questions you want to ask
  • Try to relax
  • Remember body language
  • Be open and honest
  • Remember to treat the interview as a two-way process
  • Don't say yes to the wrong job!

If you are happy with the outline of the job, move on to the details, for example: rota and on-call duties? What happens when other staff are away? PDP/CPD arrangements? Communications (appraisals, practice meetings, etc)? How will the job progress if things go well? What happens if you are offered the job? The answer to that last question should include a timetable for the provision of outline terms and conditions, followed by a written draft contract, a job description, staff handbook, and so on. It is important to see this material before you start work, and it is not unreasonable to politely insist. An oral contract is supposedly as binding as a written one, but it can be a lot harder to prove and is much less satisfactory. If you are offered the job on the spot, it is okay to accept provisionally, pending agreement of the details.

The burning questions...

...of salary, holidays and benefits may not be answered at the interview. Some employers tailor the package to the individual candidate, and will not make a commitment until the job offer, by which time the details should be crystal clear.

Read every word of the paperwork. It should include everything necessary to prevent misunderstandings. If there is anything that you do not understand, or that contradicts what you were told at interview, ask for clarification before starting. It is good practice to have the draft contract checked by a solicitor. Take advantage of the support available from organisations such as the BVA and the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons, and the information and advice available through their recent graduate support packages.

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