The (unpaid) “Working Interview,” a concerning new trend in veterinary medicine

31 Dec

Well, I did it.  I finally stopped being a sycophant, compromising my happiness for the greater good of a team, and I quit my job at Aurora.  I could see pretty clearly they were going to be unwilling to change my schedule in any meaningful way or reduce my hours at all, so I put my foot down.  I went home after realizing my “friends” there didn’t actually care about me at all, and looked up veterinary technician wanted ads on Craigslist.  There were 3 in Seattle and I sent my resume’ to all of them.  For dead-end tech jobs, my resume’ is substantial and impressive–and that’s not (just) arrogance talking.  I got replies from two hospitals who wanted to interview me.  The one was farther away but comparable to Aurora–maybe even less advanced.  I didn’t want more of the same.  The other was small, and reminded me of my first job.  There was some confusion I am no longer interested in rehashing which led to a working interview.

Most people have never heard of this concept.  It seems to be an emerging trend in veterinary medicine.  I’m not sure if veterinarians are leaning toward this method of hire because they are notoriously unsophisticated at staffing or what.  Maybe it’s their solution to the common “impressive on paper, but shitty in person” problem.  Vets, one day of working with someone (when they are on their best behavior and unfamiliar with your policies) does not help solve this problem.  For crying out loud–try probationary hiring.!  Whatever the reason veterinarians are employing the working interview, it is catching on like wild-fire.  The “working interview” is where the hospital interviews a candidate, likes them and extends a second “interview.”  You have to go be a toady a second time to impress them enough to hire you.  Only this second interview is more like working–without a job offer, and without payment.

I used to naively go to these working interviews without question.  One place I interviewed with in Seattle had me sign some form saying I would not seek compensation for my time spent at their hospital!  Guilelessly, I signed the thing, and proceeded to work a 9 hour day–for free.  I was credulous that anyone in the veterinary world would knowingly try to gyp me.  Throughout my day of labor, and their nit-picking, I was ingenuously certain that the veterinarian would most assuredly pay me for the day after they hired me.  Artlessly, I never suspected this hospital was just trying to get a day’s unpaid work out of me.  The place did end up extending a job offer to me, but they wanted to grossly underpay me.  Luckily, I got another job offer around the same time, so I wasn’t forced to work for such unscrupulous people.  The experience taught me a valuable lesson.  I am no longer unaffected enough to go to a working interview without realizing what I’m giving up.

There are many drawbacks to a working interview:   Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable doing work in a place where I’m not an employee.  It’s awkward.  There is no good way of diplomatically saying no to a working interview either.  As an interviewee, you are in a position to be more of a bootlicker than deny any opportunity for your future employer to get to know you better.  If they bring up the dreaded working interview, you’d better go, a smile on your face, jump in and help at every opportunity, and not expect a dime (or job offer) at the end of the day.

Secondly, I think my time is valuable.  Not to mention, it is incredibly illegal to have anyone work for no compensation.  Whether it be an interview situation or unpaid labor, it is not legitimate.  In the case of job shadowing, observation, and internships both parties are aware of the situation.  They are equal parties in the decision to work together.  Working for no money during a job interview is in clear violation of employment laws, because that prospective workplace has authority over you.  You are not in a position to tell them no.  Aside from the legalities, I don’t want to have to be a fawner and give away any services for free only to be sent packing if they don’t end up hiring you.  I think it looks bad for the hospital too–it tells me I’ll have to fight for decent wages, and really work to get every dollar I’m owed if I do take the position.  It’s not worth it to me, when I know all kinds of legitimate businesses PAY for all work.

Most importantly, the working interview is a HUGE liability.  What if I was helping and got injured–who pays for my medical bills?  It’s not fair to the clients either–“Oh, by the way Mrs. Johnson, Laurel who doesn’t even work here will be doing <insert pretty much anything here from a nail trim to monitoring surgery vitals> to your pet.  It would NOT go over, I’ll tell you that!  The owners have a right to know that as part of my lickspittle interview I am working on their pet.  Also, it’s a hassle for the staff that is already employed.  You need a certain trust and repore when working with animals–and a working interview just does not provide that.  I think it’s a terrible idea.

So I went to the first working interview that was requested, kind of stood back and let the actual employees do anything imperative, and hoped to leave early and with money for my efforts as well as an immediate job offer.  Aside from getting gypped monetarily, the vet had the audacity to ask me to do a second working interview b/c he was on vacation during the first!  NO.  Among other reasons, including a change of expectations from the vet, and a change of heart from myself, I was happy to stand my ground with the vet.  Needless to say, I didn’t get the job–but I’m happy about it.  No more vet hospitals while I’m tying to get into vet school–especially CITY vet hospitals.

UPDATE:

As one of the most frequently read posts on this blog, I take it many people are put in a situation asking them to perform a “Working Interview.”  For example:

http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2012/08/the_ethics_of_working_intervie.php?page=2

And I found some information (on http://www.dentaleconomics.com/articles/print/volume-101/issue-30/practice/common-practices-fraught-with-risk.html) showing how the practice is detrimental to employers as well as potential employees:

Working interviews, in particular, present complex issues that have serious ramifications for dentists who, knowingly or unknowingly, are not aware of or do not properly comply with the requirements. Here are two actual examples:

  1. A dentist was interested in hiring an applicant as a dental assistant and had her come in for a “working interview.” She filed successfully for workers’ compensation as an employee, alleging that during the day she fell off a chair and hurt her back.
  2. An applicant came in for a “working interview” and was not hired. She filed for unemployment. The doctor was ruled to be her last employer and liable for the unemployment claim.

While it is quite common in the industry to have applicants demonstrate their job-related skills by asking them to participate in a “working interview,” you can see from these two cases that this extension of the verbal interview can become a costly problem for the employer if not handled correctly.

Recently, the Department of Labor issued statements that it is going to crack down on employers who don’t follow wage and hour regulations correctly, which results in an employee losing out on compensation rightfully due to him or her. They are on the hunt, so to speak, for violators.

And to the last–I say, good.  The employer-employee relationship is based on trust.  Screen people on paper, through interviews, or during SHORT spans of time with pay.

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