Applying for your first vet job
Image © Alexey Novikov / Adobe Stock
So, having found a job you believe suits you down to the ground, now comes the daunting task of sending through an application worthy of earning yourself an interview with your potential new employer.
Is a cover letter important, or is it just a formality? Arguably, you should never submit a CV to any vacancy without a cover letter preceding it. However, unlike a CV, the general advice and standard format relating to cover letters is still relevant to veterinary applications.
Many templates can be found online that are easily adapted for veterinary jobs, but, in general, the content will include:
- An introduction (“I am a final-year student graduating from X university in August”).
- Where you found the job advert (“I would like to apply for the veterinary surgeon role at X practice, which was advertised on X website”).
- Why you want to work for that practice.
- Why the practice should employ you (related directly to the needs of the practice).
Finally, thank the employer for considering your application.
I believe a cover letter gives you the opportunity to highlight and expand on areas of your CV that relate directly to the practice you are applying to, which means it is essential to adapt each cover letter to each individual application.
So, do your homework – does the practice have any particular strengths or areas of interest that attracts you, such as reproduction, ophthalmology and so on?
The CV in itself is a whole topic in its entirety. My experience of submitting a CV for a veterinary job is that it seems to have been glanced at, then some employers will print it off and discuss the content more thoroughly during your interview.
Most CV advice you might find through your university careers service or from "Dr Google" is very generalised. Don’t get me wrong, the general points still apply – be succinct, have a clear, consistent layout and proofread your writing (please spell veterinary correctly!).
But, first and foremost, if you are applying for a role as a vet in clinical practice, you need to be clear about your abilities related directly to that.
Every veterinary graduate has a certain level of knowledge, but what practical skills are you confident at? Which ones will you need some support with?
I found the RCVS day one competences document very vague, so would recommend using the list of RCVS year one competences instead as a guideline for which procedures/skills to include for each species.
Just use these for inspiration – they are the skills you are expected to be competent at after a year in practice, so do not panic if you can’t perform a bitch spay or cow caesarean.
It can be very difficult trying to fit in the vast array of EMS experiences and skills you have in adequate detail, while trying to keep it brief. It will take a lot of time and tweaking to get it right.
This is also where your cover letter provides an opportunity to go into some aspects of your veterinary skills in more detail in continuous prose, rather than the list or bullet point format often used in a CV.
Review your CV
I cannot recommend the SPVS CV reading service highly enough – this is accessible if you are a SPVS member, which is cheap as a student and further discounted if you join at the Lancaster Final Year Seminar. It is completely worth it – even if you only join for the CV advice and salary survey.
I thought my CV was pretty good, but it was, quite frankly, ripped to shreds – admittedly in a very constructive way, but this nonetheless made me realise I had approached it from totally the wrong angle.
If you don't have SPVS membership, vet times jobs has teamed up with the experts at TopCV to offer its users a free, confidential review from a CV expert. This comprehensive review will see trusted experts offer personalised recommendations, including objective feedback on your skills and expertise.
Less is more
I would recommend having a “working CV” with absolutely everything on it, which allows you to tweak it and emphasise the more relevant details while omitting the less important points for each individual role you apply for.
However, don’t underestimate the importance of including your hobbies and interests outside of veterinary. Realistically, on paper, most veterinary graduates look pretty similar – something simple, such as sharing a love of cycling with your boss may put you in the interview pile over someone else.
Although some people would be inclined to just type “references available on request”, I would advise including two actual references with email addresses and contact telephone numbers (one academic and, if you can, one vet in practice from somewhere where you’ve completed EMS).
Vets are busy people and may discount your CV purely on the basis they need to chase you for a reference compared to someone who’s handed them the details on a plate.
Also, beware of the references you don’t specify – the veterinary world is very small, and you’ll be surprised how many people know each other. Any practices you list as places where you have completed EMS could be potential references – especially if your prospective boss knows someone there.