I graduated from the RVC on 8th July 2009 and started work in mixed practice on 2nd December. Many people would say that a break between university and starting work is exactly what you need; however, when this break is unintentional and is due to being unable to find employment, life can become extremely frustrating.
I started my jobsearch in August – some would say that this was my first error and that I should have begun looking sooner: however, I did not feel it was sensible to jobhunt in the build-up to my finals and unluckily for those of us at the RVC our exams didn’t start until most other vet schools had graduated.
I had always been told that getting into vet school was the tough bit and once you’d made it out the other side people would be begging for you to come and work for them, so it was with some confidence that I took my first look at the “Vet Record jobs” website.
I was fairly optimistic to begin with, there were a couple of mixed jobs that sounded promising and which looked like a good starting point. Carefully thinking about all the advice from our Professional Studies week at college, I rang up the first practice.
Long wait begins…
After a long and pleasant conversation the partner asked me to send him my CV (which I had already crafted) and that I would hear from him shortly. I also sent my CV to a couple of other practices.
Then the long wait for responses began…
I began to get into a routine: get up just after parents have left for work, turn on the computer, have breakfast, see if computer has loaded, go to village to fetch newspaper, shout at internet for not working, hang out washing, fix internet, go to Vet Record jobs website.
For anyone who is about to start looking for a job, I would recommend visiting the website on Mondays and Tuesdays as most jobs are loaded up then, just occasionally there would be a glimmer of excitement on a Thursday or Friday when more jobs would appear, but this was seldom the case. At one point I was checking the website approximately 15 times a day, just hoping that my perfect job would appear.
The big problem was that I didn’t hear anything. Weeks would go by from the time first contact was made and I wouldn’t even know if people had got my CV. I think there was a group of about 10 of my peers all looking for roughly the same sort of job. Naturally we all ended up applying for the same ones but it was some comfort to know that there were other people out there in my situation and getting just as miserable.
Rumours started to come through that 100 people had applied for one job. To me that is insane but it did make me feel better about the fact I hadn’t heard back from anyone.
There were jobs being advertised, but long ago I made the decision that there was no way I could possibly work only in small animal practice (if this weren’t the case I’m sure this article would have a very different tone) and therefore I was limited to looking for jobs which were less than 50% small animal and more than 50% something outdoors.
I remember being particularly irritated by some correspondence in Veterinary Times. A vet was suggesting that there was clearly still a shortage of vets or there wouldn’t still be 100 jobs advertised in the magazine each week.
I counted every advert: eight welcomed new grads and five were for mixed practice (experience preferred). Having spent half my life working to the point where I would finally be a vet, there was no way I was going to compromise.
As the weeks wore on I became more and more frustrated. I had made a decision not to go travelling and get started with work so I wouldn’t forget everything I had just been taught at college.
There is nothing more depressing than sitting in rainy England and reading about all the fun your friends are having in Thailand, Australia and India. The urge to join them all was very strong, however there was always the chance that the next day someone might ring to ask me for interview.
Finally, towards the end of September, I got my first interview. Again I remembered everything we had been told at college and left Yorkshire for the enemy county of Lancashire (this tells you just how desperate I was for employment).
Now, people who have met me know that I am not the shy and retiring type, but I found it very difficult to get a word in edgeways at this interview. The two partners were very lovely and told me in great depth everything about their practice, but didn’t ask me a single question other than, “Do you have any questions?”
I left with a sense that I definitely didn’t have the job but was unsure how in that situation I could have improved my chances.
By this point it was all becoming too depressing for words. Mother told me to go on the dole, Father advised against it. CVs were sent off to every corner of the country, jobs in New Zealand were investigated, a very unhelpful vet employment agency tried to help and failed.
A trip down to BVA congress in Cardiff resulted in me being informed by a senior member of the profession during his speech that vets were most definitely employable, which I found highly amusing.
One of my friends who had made a small mistake in her finals passed her re-sits at the end of September. Within a week she had a small animal job. Still a big group of my friends and I sat alone at home twiddling our thumbs looking for a large or equine job.
Working was not an option as you had to be free if an interview came up at a moment’s notice; the same was true of travelling. Mother made full use of me as her (unpaid) housemaid, the dogs had never been so well exercised and I am now able to make chutney from most of the things growing in our garden. Fun though some of this was it was not quite what I expected to be doing after five years of veterinary training.
I had another couple of interviews, one in Durham and one in Devon. I was very pleased when I was offered neither as it would have been very hard to turn down a job you didn’t want if you couldn’t be sure you would ever get another interview.
More CVs were sent off. The problem is it all takes so long. For example, a job appears in the Vet Record; the advert runs for four weeks and then the partners try to narrow down people for interview. Then the interviews happen, spaced out over two weeks, and then you hear about a week later.
That’s if it’s a job you are lucky enough to get an interview for. Otherwise you just don’t hear anything for over two months. I still haven’t heard back from a couple of practices – I assume that they are in the process of writing to me because it is just plain rude to not respond to a job application, even if you receive far more applications than you expect.
Now, it’s hard not to make this sound like an article written by someone who is whingeing because they expected to get a job very easily and didn’t. One thing which became abundantly clear was that no one in the veterinary world seemed to realise what was going on.
Every practice I contacted spoke of their utter amazement at the number of new graduate applicants for each job and the difficulty they were having going through all the CVs.
I have very strong feelings (and did have throughout vet school) that far too many vets are now being trained: 250 of us graduated from the RVC last summer, which was a figure a lot of vets I have spoken to could not believe, and is probably the reason why so many of us are struggling to find work.
Maybe it will all turn out fine but if I was coming up to sitting my finals now (and considering a career in farm or equine) I would be rather concerned. I would say the average time it took my friends to find a job was three months; in some cases it took up to six months.
I obviously can’t speak for my entire year group but the stories seem fairly consistent no matter who you speak to. Perhaps we have just been unlucky due to the state of the economy but that is something that seems hard to assess.
By mid-November I was beginning to consider other career options – baker, professional dog walker, gardener, stripper … however, I received an email asking me to come for interview for a mainly farm job in Oswestry, Shropshire. By this point I felt I had nothing left to lose.
I felt the interview had gone OK but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much as it was a very nice practice (friendly staff, plenty of parking space, big building, nice town) and I didn’t want to be disappointed.
One morning a couple of weeks later I got a phone call. “We really liked you and think you would fit in well here…” I was waiting for the “but…” which I had received from the other four jobs I had apparently got down to the last two for; however, the sentence ended “and we’d love to offer you the job”.
This was followed by a long silence and me stammering “Could I give you a ring back in just a minute.” I took a few deep breaths and tried to recover from the shock. I then rang Chris back and apologised for not accepting straight away and explained it had been a bit unexpected. He replied, “Surely you knew someone would offer you a job eventually.” I didn’t like to point out that for five months it felt as though this moment would never happen. I have now been working for six months to the day at the time of writing and I am loving every minute. All the trauma from the summer seems a distant memory stirred only by my need to write this article. I do about 90% farm work and 10% small animal with the occasional horse vaccination thrown in.
The practice is in Shropshire near the Welsh border so a lot of my time is spent looking for unpronounceable farms.
I have learnt many skills since leaving college: I have perfected the art of the three-point-turn on very narrow country lanes, my ability to locate a farmer having reached the farm is gradually improving and I am now confident that I can perform the task I have been called out for.
I am incredibly lucky to be working in a practice that is so supportive – there is always someone on the end of phone if needed, although finding a mobile signal can be a problem in the valleys of North Wales!
So the transition from vet student to vet hasn’t been quite as smooth as I imagined it would be but I am certain I made the right career choice. I am incredibly grateful to the practices that welcomed me for EMS and prepared me so well for the experiences of working life that can’t be learned in a lecture theatre.