More often than not, to enable you to enrol in or continue your chosen veterinary nursing or animal studies course, you’ll be required to source a work placement position. You should always do this in the same manner as looking for, and applying for, paid positions. That is – in a professional manner, presented well, and by researching the clinic you are applying to!
Finding placement is not without its own set of challenges. In some areas, the number of positions available may well be outnumbered by the number of students requiring positions. Some clinics are resistant to taking on placement students – it could be they have had a bad experience in the past, do not have the staffing numbers to supervise, or are just not education driven. Whatever the reason, remember, it’s not you they are saying ‘No’ to, it’s placement in general. Don’t let it dishearten you!
When you are starting to feel disheartened, think back to WHY you enrolled, or want to enrol, in the course in the first place. This may just be the motivation and perk-me-up you need.
Here are some tips and tricks to give you the best chance of locating a work placement position:
Understand what it is you need from the work placement clinic.
This means you should have a clear understanding of exactly how many hours or days, what kind of activities you’ll need to be able to have access to, and what the employer needs to do to fulfill their duties as your supervisor (i.e. will they need to fill in records books, proofread your assignments or other administrative tasks).
Knowing this information will enable you to clearly and confidently explain to any potential work placement supervisor exactly what you require so they can make an educated decision as to whether they can provide you with the support you need. It also shows them that you are serious about your studies and are familiar with the requirements – trust us, this is important!
Contact your training provider to see what resources or information they have prepared for the host clinic. Most providers will have letters and handbooks that you can provide the clinic that explain the structure and tasks necessary.
Ensure your CV (or resume) is updated and appears neat and professional.
The power of a good CV or resume cannot be underestimated. Just like looking for a paid position, you need a resume that states your past experience and education, details your existing study details, and includes details of referees that can be contacted.
Your resume should be tailored to veterinary nursing, but do not discount your previous experience in other fields that may be pertinent. If you have worked in retail – these skills are still necessary in veterinary nursing. Highlight how your experience selling will assist you with product sales in the veterinary clinic. Same goes for reception jobs, customer service roles, even cleaning!
Highlight any experience in the animal care industry you do have and what kind of skills or tasks you performed in those roles. But remember, just owning your own animals is not experience – but it does show that you know about the human-animal bond and why veterinary care is important. Link that in instead of saying you have experience.
If you are struggling to put together your resume and make it present well, it is a wise investment to get a professional to review and edit for you. Tabatha Whitehead, of Help Meowt, is a veterinary nurse and HR expert and is perfectly placed to help you in the resume and cover letter department!
Write a personalised cover letter.
A cover letter is a letter that goes along with your CV. The letter explains a little to the prospective employer or work placement supervisor what it is you are applying for, why they should consider you and give an insight into you personally (something your CV may not be able to do).
Cover letters should ALWAYS be personalised and addressed to the practice manager (preferably by name) and include information about what you understand about that particular business. The reason being, you want the receiver to understand you want a position at their clinic, not just a clinic.
Don’t use stock standard letters where you just replace the addressee details – sure, this is a good base for the content but always, always, customise it to the clinic and role.
Include any pertinent information on the requirements of the placement as an attachment, instead of making your cover letter really long. Use the cover letter to sell yourself, your resume to detail your experience, and attachments to provide specific information like hours necessary, insurance provision, tasks you need to master.
Visit potential clinics and ask to chat with the Practice Manager about possible work placement opportunities.
Many students will just mass email or post their unpersonalised cover letter and resume. If you do this too, you will be lost in the crowd.
Present yourself well and personally take your personalised cover letter and resume into the clinic. Ask if the practice manager is available for a quick chat. They just might be!
If not, ask for a suitable time to return to grab 10 minutes of their time. Make sure you do take that time to talk to them. Don’t just say you need placement and hand over your resume. Let them see your enthusiasm and passion for your studies and the industry. Offer to come in for an interview – this lets the clinic learn more about you, placement, and gives you an opportunity to sell yourself!
Do understand that clinics are busy workplaces, you might have to make a formal appointment time to see the Practice Manager.
It is a good idea to leave with the clinic a copy of your cover letter and resume. Make sure it’s protected in a plastic slip, and has all the necessary information and attachments. Most importantly, ensure your contact details are clear and easy to find!
Whilst the veterinary receptionist might not be the person who gets to make the decision about whether you obtain placement or not, your impression to them will definitely count! Be professional, polite and try to build up a rapport with them, remember they will be the one holding your resume and you want it to find it’s way to the right people, with the receptionist raving about how enthusiastic, professional and friendly you were!
If you have dropped off your CV or posted it to a clinic but not had the opportunity to chat with the Practice Manager, follow up. Call or visit and ask if they received your application and if there might be any possible vacancies or opportunities in the near future. Take with you another copy of your cover letter and CV to leave with them.
Yes, you have to fit placement and study around your other commitments and family, but clinics have to fit you into their busy schedule too. Be prepared to negotiate your availability to suit both you and the clinic.
If the clinic cannot offer exactly what you are after but can offer something, check with your training provider to see if you can use that as a temporary option. Every bit of experience you can get is important and can be added to your resume, even if you don’t get your course requirements met fully. It also gives the clinic the opportunity to see how wonderful you are, and they might then offer you more placement, or better yet, a paid position!