Career Planning & Goal Setting

ArticleLast Updated July 20134 min readWeb-Exclusive

Many recent articles leave little doubt that the veterinary job market is changing (see Suggested Reading list). In fact, some would say it downright “stinks!” 

In the past six years, I’ve witnessed the veterinary job market pre-“Great Recession,” during the “Great Recession,” and now during the recovery. I believe the recent workforce studies represent the job prospects for the average new graduate.

How do you, as a student, avoid the pitfall of becoming average?

How do you, as a student, avoid the pitfall of becoming average? Based on watching recent graduates buck the trends, whether by receiving many more job offers than the statistical average of 1.6, earning compensation packages above the published average of $65,998, or landing the job of their “dreams” when so many job seekers are lucky to land a job at all, common variables have arisen.1

To separate yourself from the pack:

1. Start Early

A mentor once told me that veterinary school is a job. Believe it or not, getting good grades is not your primary job responsibility. Too many students fail to take advantage of opportunities to build their résumé and prepare for life after graduation. Join clubs, volunteer, get work experience, and go on mission trips, because you won’t become the exceptional veterinarian you want to be based on curriculum and grades alone.

2. Diversify

Veterinary school provides the chance to decide which of the many career paths is right for you. Success in life, and veterinary medicine, involves setting and achieving SMART goals (see handout, above). You need a general vision of what you want out of your career. Once you have found your niche, you can hone the skills and traits necessary to get hired and be successful.

3. Establish your Mission/ Vision/Goals

These often get overlooked in a world flooded with technical skills. Take the time, preferably while you are still in school, to determine what you hope to achieve from the profession and the values by which you plan to live your life.

4. Build Credibility

There is no shortage of veterinarians, but there is a shortage of veterinarians with exceptional communication skills, leadership abilities, an understanding of veterinary economics, and the ability to provide new services that create value. Take that communication elective, study the film of yourself in the exam room, hone your business knowledge, and learn what services can add value based on the area you hope to work in.

5. Become a Leader

As a new veterinarian in the practice, your team members and clients will see you as a leader and look to you for guidance. Start cultivating leadership skills in veterinary school. A favorite saying is: “Leaders do what others can’t or won’t.” Most practice owners want a leader who will elevate their practice, and a successful track record will help you get hired.

6. Cultivate Your Network

Many students who receive multiple job offers use their network cultivated from leadership experiences, club/association involvement, and extracurricular activities. The key to networking is to find people with similar interests and develop a friendship, or at the very least, a professional relationship.

7. Create “The List”

Self-imposed restrictions prevent many job seekers from landing a job. Create a list of “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” items to guide you through the interview process. Some things, such as ethics, you should not compromise on, but I’ve seen people lose jobs because they were not willing to compromise on small things such as an extra 5-minute commute (see handout).

8. Utilize your Externships

An externship can also serve as a great “working interview.” Find practices that might be hiring down the road.  An externship will give both you and the practice a better feel for each other and allow you to convey why you’re worth hiring.

9. Do Your Homework

Few things will turn a potential employer off quicker than a cookie-cutter cover letter or résumé. He or she will look for a candidate who has taken the time to research the practice and who demonstrates how his or her specific skills and interests will complement the team.

10. Interview to Win the Job

Most progressive practices will ask situational and experiential interview questions. Be prepared to give specific examples of skills you claimed in your application. Interviewing is a two-way street; smart practices will be screening you to figure out if you’re the right fit, and you should be screening them also. Most employers are more likely to hire a candidate who is looking for the right job versus just a paycheck.

11. Become Invaluable

To earn and keep the kind of job most new graduates want, you must become invaluable to the practice, whether through skills or partnership potential.

12. Find a Mentor

The learning curve is often steepest following graduation, and having a trusted mentor will help you develop into the type of veterinarian you’ve dreamed of becoming.

Veterinary medicine offers a variety of rewarding career paths. Consider these recommendations when constructing your goals and building the future you’ve dreamed.