Volunteering With Animals – Part Six: Veterinary Clinic Volunteers

When I started trying to break into veterinary nursing a lot of people told me volunteering in a clinic is a great way to get experience and improve your chances of landing a job. However, when I asked around and local clinics none of them were interested in taking on volunteers. So how do you land a volunteer role in a vet clinic?

It doesn’t hurt to ask anyway, and you never know if your local clinic is different to the ones I approached. If you know someone already in the industry then ask if the clinic they work at would be willing to let you volunteer a few hours a week. It’s not uncommon for the kids of vets to help out around the clinic, so having the right contact who can vouch for you might be a way in.

Otherwise some of the not-for-profit animal hospitals do take on volunteers in their clinics. Around Melbourne these include the RSPCA and Animal Aid. Volunteer roles in the clinic are very popular, so you may be added to a waiting list. It’s highly recommended that you take on shifts as an animal attendant or dog walker in the meantime.

I’ve only done a couple of volunteer shifts in veterinary clinic, so I can’t be sure that they’re all the same. You can expect to be cleaning and resetting enclosures, restocking supplies, helping with feeding routines and doing lots and lots of laundry. You might take dogs out for toilet walks or spend time with patients while they’re in recovery. Animals that are sick or recovering for surgery usually need to be kept quiet and inactive, so these kinds of positions may not involve all that much animal handling. What they do offer is the opportunity to see the inner workings of a veterinary clinic and what vets and nurses do day-to-day. It also offers great networking opportunities – introducing you to industry professionals and giving you priority consideration if they start looking for new employees at the clinic. This kind of role is great for people wishing to work in a vet clinic, but if you’re in it for the cuddles I would look at other ways of volunteering.

A lot of the patients you might deal with at a shelter clinic will be surrendered animals undergoing routine desexing surgeries. However, you may also be faced with animals that are recovering from severe neglect, cruelty or disease. Since you will only be there for a few hours a week, and most patients are not in the hospital for more than a day or two, you won’t find out the outcomes of every patient – but, not all of them will make it. These are things to keep in mind when considering a role in a vet clinic.

All-in-all volunteering in a vet clinic is a great way to give back, and to gain experience and contacts in this rewarding field!

Have you ever volunteered at a clinic? If you know of other clinics that take volunteers I’d love to hear about them!

My Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in the Animal Care Industry

Breaking into the animal care industry is proving to be a very tricky task! Even now that I have some background in the industry (5 months as a kennel hand and 5 months as a veterinary receptionist/trainee vet nurse) I am still only getting a handful of interviews, and no job offers. I continue to meet new stumbling blocks and find ways to improve my chances.

Equally true for nurses and animal attendants.
There is tonnes and tonnes of job hunting advice out there, and a lot of it is very relevant to the animal care field. In fact it could be argued that more of it is relevant than in other fields – so many clinics are kind of old fashioned that some of the out dated advice still applies. If you would like advice on general job hunting, I’m a big fan of Ask a Manager. I find Alison Green’s advice to be a more logical and thought through from the hiring managers point of view than other career advice out there. Also, having a single contributor means the website doesn’t contradict itself.

Instead of going into detail of all of my job hunting advice, I’ll just give my top tips for getting a job as a veterinary receptionist, veterinary nurse or an animal attendant that differ from other industries:

  1. Know where to look.
    This was a huge barrier when I started hunting for animal care jobs in Melbourne. Having come from an administration background, where Seek.com.au reigns supreme, I had no idea which industry-specific websites were worthwhile. Months later I can say from my own experience, and the feedback from others in the industry that for jobs in veterinary clinics, that in Australia  www.kookaburravets.com/ is where most jobs in clinics are posted. Shelters, doggy day cares and boarding facilities are more likely to post on their websites and regular job boards.

    For more experienced nurses, there is also www.vetlink.com.au/, which have a service where you can register as a veterinary nurse looking for work and they will match you with positions, both temporary (know as a ‘locum’ job in the veterinary field), and permanent. Unfortunately when I applied they got back to me saying that they only list jobs that require qualified nurses, or those studying with at least 12 months experience in a clinic.

    That being said, even when looking for nursing jobs don’t neglect to look for other job boards. There are plenty of clinics and other organizations that are posting on general career websites like Seek, so be sure to do regular searches. You should also look on some of the bigger organisations websites for openings (such as RSPCA, who don’t always post outside of their website). Dog walking and house sitting companies such as the Lonely Pets Club are generally open to taking email applicants year-round, so search for those organisations in your area. Similarly, some boarding and doggy day care facilities that will take applications at any time, so check the websites of the ones in your area.
  2. Highlight Your Point-Of-Difference.
    HINT: This is NOT a love of Animals.
    It’s great that you love animals, and employers want to be sure of that. But in this case it doesn’t make you special. Every applicant to these jobs loves animals, otherwise they wouldn’t apply.

    We're all like this =)

    This is how every nurse and animal attendant ever sees themselves!

    You are indeed a unique snowflake and there is something that sets you apart from the other applicants. Try to think critically and figure out the point of difference, and then let it shine through in your application and in interviews. Maybe you’re a sales guru and could drive profits for the business. Maybe you’re a neat-freak and could help improve the organisation and cleanliness of clinic. Maybe you’re an IT wiz, and could attract new clients through a social media presence. What ever it is, make it work for you.

    For me, it’s my background in administration. I’ve worked for 3 and a half years as an administrator and manager, which allows me to hit the ground running when it comes to taking on reception and administration duties in a clinic.

  3. Volunteer in the Industry.
    Not only is volunteering a great way to develop  relevant ‘professional’ experience (which is likely to win out over having had a handful of pets growing up), it can also open up job opportunities.

    I got my first job in the industry purely through volunteering. I started out doing laundry and cleaning litter trays at the Cat Haven, but made sure to be clear I’d be willing to do more. I liaised with the volunteer coordinator, and was given a more hands-on role of kennel hand assistant in their boarding facility, and sometimes on the grounds. I got to meet all of the grounds staff, so when the manager needed a new casual I came to mind. Remember to always work hard, seek out more opportunities and be friendly to everyone.

    Additionally, becoming a volunteer may open you up to hidden job boards. The RSPCA for one will always post a new opening to existing employees and volunteers with access to their Intranet before posting it publicly. I’ve noticed more than a few postings that never appear publicly which must have been filled internally.
  4. Wear Pants.
    I used to follow a philosophy that you can never be over dressed/too professional for an interview, but since moving from the corporate world to the animal care industry I’ve changed my tune. You need to look like you would fit into the workplace, and skirts (or shorts) can blow the look.

    I would still go with dress/business pants rather than jeans, but skirts around animals can make you look like you don’t know what the job is about. Even if you’re going for a reception role and might wear skirts when you’re in the job the safe bet to look like you fit in is to wear pants. I can guarantee that the nurses and kennel hands will be wearing pants. Besides, you never know if you might be given a tour and meet the owners crazy Labrador puppy who likes to bite at ankles, or a clinic cat that climbs legs.

    And remember, as was the number 1 lesson of my Animal Studies teachers, LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS!

    And thongs (aka flip-flips) are not shoes. Which brings me to…

  5. Wear shoes that are flat, comfortable and quiet.
    Like skirts, heals might make you look foolish and like you don’t know what the job will entail. Also, what if instead of a Labrador the owner has a rambunctious Great Dane?

    I still wear relatively dressy/business-y shoes rather than the super-comfy shoes I expect to be wearing once I start working, but that is mostly just a preference – perhaps a throwback to my corporate days, or a symptom of having more shoes than I know what to do with.No matter the industry it’s a bad idea to wear new shoes to an interview, but I find it especially true for animal care. Most vet clinics will give you a tour, and you want to be able focus and think critically – not wondering if that burst blister is bleeding or wishing you could sit down.

    Then there is the quiet criteria. I learned this preference the hard way. It was very embarrassing to clomp my way into a hushed treatment area, and see a Rag Doll with a needle to its neck struggle in the nurses arms to find out who the giant making all the racket was.

Those are my top 5 lessons I’ve learned in my job hunt so far. What advice can you give to those starting out in the field? What is your point of difference? I’d love to hear your advice and stories in the comments below!