Career advice: your CV, job applications and interviewing

BVA offers comprehensive advice on finding and applying for jobs in the veterinary profession

Preparing your CV to get you that interview

A CV is a self-marketing tool, designed with the goal of obtaining a job interview. The information in your CV should be targeted at a specific veterinary career field and address the needs of a specific employer.

Generally, employers spend only a few minutes reading a CV so be concise and to the point. Your CV needs to briefly indicate the sort of position, title and possible area of interest sought with language that is relevant to the employer. Your CV should summarise your skills, accomplishments and expertise and include all work experience including extramural studies (EMS) placements and electives.

It should present your strongest qualifications first and should have one page for every six to 10 years of work experience. Your contact details should include address, mobile and any other phone number and your email address.

A professional CV should

  • be inviting, easy-to-read and not include too much information
  • be free from typos and spelling mistakes
  • be in an easy-to-read font style and size (10 to 14 pt)
  • incorporate enough white space between sections to facilitate skimming
  • have adequate margins
  • have paragraphs that are aligned
  • have visual impact: use bullets, bold, italics and different font sizes to emphasise headings and key words
  • be clearly printed on good quality paper, at least 80 gsm

Your CV should

  • support the objective and demonstrate your ability or potential to do the job
  • speak to the employer's needs and requirements and where possible refer to phrases in the job advertisement
  • indicate knowledge of the field, typical issues or problems and solutions
  • omit reference to racial, religious or political affiliations unless a bona fide occupational qualification

Writing style

  • paragraphs and sentences should be short and succinct
  • language should be brief and clear without unnecessary words

Education and training - what to include:

  • The highest level of attainment should be listed first, working from current degree or degree in progress
  • information about the type of degree, name and location of the university and date or anticipated date of graduation
  • other degrees, relevant higher education coursework, continuing professional development or training courses, study abroad and secondary school education
  • relevant courses, papers and projects, including paper and project titles
  • any awards and scholarships

All employment experience matters

Although you may never have worked as a qualified veterinary surgeon before it is still important to provide details of relevant work experience. Even part-time jobs outside of the profession show the employer that you have the ability to commit to a position. Include:

  • all paid, volunteer, EMS and work experience programmes relevant to your objective, with the most recent experience listed first
  • position title
  • employer name and geographical location
  • dates of position held (if several positions have been held with one employer, list the employer once), responsibilities, listed in order of the value of each to the future employer, transferable skills and adaptive abilities used on the job
    • accomplishments, problems faced and solutions found
    • contributions to the employer, such as ways in which your work helped to increase profit, motivation, efficiency, productivity or quality, or improve programmes, communication or information flow
    • quantitative or qualitative indicators of the results of your contributions or accomplishments
    • learning that took place on the job which is relevant to the advertised post

    Skills

    • technical skills relevant to being a veterinarian
    • computer skills, including software applications, languages, hardware and operating systems
    • language skills - describe level of fluency and ability to read and write as basic, intermediate or advanced

    Extracurricular activities, community service and professional associations

    • significant positions of responsibility, including title, name of practice or team and dates
    • leadership roles, achievements and relevant transferable skills
    • relevant hobbies and personal interests

    Writing application letters

    Your application covering letter is an important marketing tool which highlights your most attractive qualifications as a potential employee and, if well written, will lead the employer to your CV.

    Before writing your letter, analyse your reader and think about how you want to present yourself. Put yourself in their situation and consider their requirements and needs.

    Principles of good letter writing

    • Personalise each letter and start by researching the employer’s practice. Indicate that you know something about the practice to show you are careful and interested in the employer. 
    • It's not possible to do this when replying to a box number - it is worth considering why a practice might want to remain anonymous and whether or not they are likely to be an attractive employer.
    • Highlight one or two of your most significant accomplishments or abilities to help your chances of being remembered.
    • Use a polite, formal style that strikes a balance between confidence in yourself and respect for the employer. 
    • Be clear, objective and persuasive rather than simply describing your background.

    Be positive in tone, content and expectation

    • Do not add details that may call attention to your weaknesses or raise questions about your confidence or ability to do the job.
    • Should there be any failures that must unavoidably be included, such as a course that you didn't complete, give a positive spin and say what you learned from the experience.
    • Use the active voice and powerful action verbs to hold the reader’s interest and convey a sense of energy.
    • Be logical. Group related items together in a paragraph, then organise paragraphs so they flow logically.
    • Be specific. Back up general statements with facts or examples.
    • Avoid jargon and clichés such as ‘self-starter’, ‘proven leadership skills’ or ‘excellent interpersonal skills’. These represent parroted formulas rather than original thought.
    • Check spelling and grammar. If you are not confident in your ability to detect grammatical, punctuation or English usage errors, or if you need help in organising your letter, get a professional to help.
    • If English is not your native language it is even more important to use it correctly, to allay a potential employer’s concerns about you being able to communicate effectively with clients and staff.
    • Never misrepresent yourself by overstating your experience or skills.
    • Even if you do not have every qualification sought by the employer, stick to the facts, tell the truth and emphasise your strengths.
    • Make sure your letter is in a conventional business style - use a template if necessary - stick to white and ivory and use a quality printer and paper.

    How to find a job

    You may have found a practice which appeals during extramural studies (EMS) so a first approach may already have been made. Or comments from fellow students, networking or a university noticeboard may have revealed a suitable employment opportunity.

    Our Veterinary Record journal carries a large number of job advertisements which you can also view online. 

    Establish a target date for securing a job and decide how much time you can devote to your search. Some individuals believe they cannot afford to take time off from their studies, others procrastinate. Whatever the reasons, the results are the same: your search will languish and you may miss out on job opportunities. So, get organised early by setting aside a certain amount of time each week to work on your search. Use a calendar and weekly planner and work backwards from your target date. The greater the number of contacts and interviews a job seeker has, the greater the number of job offers likely to be received so it makes sense to use multiple strategies.

    Job searching is hard work and there are times when you will feel discouraged. However, if you keep up your efforts, you will start to feel less anxious and will find that you have more energy. If your search does not produce the results you would like, avoid blaming yourself. Try a new strategy. 

    Do not be reluctant to submit your credentials on more than one occasion to a practice for which you would like to work. This demonstrates your enthusiasm and interest.

    Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Practice Standards scheme

    The RCVS Practice Standards scheme may well be referred to in job advertisements. It is a voluntary initiative to accredit veterinary practices in the UK. Through setting standards and carrying out regular inspections the scheme aims to promote and maintain the highest standards of veterinary care. To become accredited, practices volunteer for rigorous inspection every four years and will have met a range of minimum standards for hygiene, 24-hour emergency cover, staff training, certain types of equipment and cost estimation procedures. 

    They may also be subject to spot checks between inspections. Accreditation under the Practice Standards scheme gives you an idea of the level that the practice is aiming for and an assurance that basic health and safety and personnel management criteria are met. Practices which are not accredited may or may not be to the same standards or better as the scheme is entirely voluntary.

    Effective interviewing

    Preparation is the first key to being successful at an interview. Careful research about the job and the practice for which you are being interviewed is essential.  

    Knowing about the job will help you to prepare a list of your qualifications that shows point-by-point why you are the best candidate. Understanding the employer will help you prepare an interview strategy, appropriate questions and points to emphasise.  

    The veterinary job interview

    A job interview is a strategic conversation with a purpose. Your goal is to persuade the employer that you have the skills, background and ability to do the job and that you can comfortably fit into the practice. At the interview you should also be gathering information about the job, the practice and future career opportunities to determine if the position and work environment are right for you

    You can strongly influence the interview outcome if you realise that an interview is not an objective process in which the employer offers the job to the best candidate based on merit alone.

    Personality, confidence, enthusiasm, a positive outlook and good interpersonal and communication skills count heavily. 

    Success requires you to develop effective interviewing skills that include:

    • selective presentation of your background
    • thoughtful answers to interview questions
    • well-researched questions about the practice
    • an effective strategy to market yourself

    Interviewing is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. If you have good contacts with a local practitioner ask them for a dummy interview and for constructive criticism of your technique. 

    Always arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early so you have time to walk around the immediate area and spend time in the waiting room. This will enable you to see how people are treated and whether or not you would like to be treated in the same way. Dress smartly, sit up straight, look the interviewer in the eye and smile. 

    Some enlightened employers like to hear the impressions of others who would be working with you. So, if you are offered work on the premises or in the field for a few hours, seize the opportunity.

    Conversation in unguarded moments in the treatment room, kennel area or paddock may be very revealing.

    If this isn't offered ask if the boss would mind if you stayed around after your interview to meet the staff. Most practices like to be open and should have no problem with such a request. An experienced interviewer will probably have formed an impression of you on the phone or at the desk and will want to garner extra information on how you may perform. Answer thoughtfully. Being over confident can be as intimidating as being too shy.

    Communicating effectively in interviews

    A job interview is a communication process and your skills will become more polished over time. It is helpful to remember the following:

    • Speak clearly and enthusiastically about your experiences and skills. Be professional, but don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Be yourself.
    • Listen carefully. You will want to remember what you learn about the job and you will certainly want to answer all of the questions asked. 
    • Be positive. Employers do not want to hear a litany of excuses or bad feelings about a negative experience. If you are asked about a low grade, a sudden job change or a weakness in your background, don't be defensive. Focus briefly on the facts and what you learned from the experience. 
    • Pay attention to your non-verbal behaviour. Look the interviewer in the eye, sit up straight with both feet on the floor, control nervous habits (such as cracking knuckles or drumming fingers) and smile as you are greeted. 
    • Don't be afraid of short pauses. You may need a few seconds to formulate an answer. The interviewer may need time to formulate an appropriate question. It is not necessary to fill up every second with conversation.
    • You are interviewing them too - it's important it's the right employer for you. One of the main factors identified as contributing towards a new graduate's satisfaction in their workplace is a supportive and encouraging employer.