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If you’re a “people person” who also enjoys working with animals, a position as a receptionist in a veterinary practice might be right for you. You’ll need basic office skills, an ability to multitask, and a willingness to be a member of an animal care team.
What Skills Are Necessary to Be a Receptionist?
In any business, the receptionist is often a customer’s first point of contact, whether it’s in person or on the phone. Have you heard the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?” Making a good first impression is the most important part of your job as a receptionist. As a veterinary receptionist, you need to welcome pet owners and help them feel comfortable that their needs and those of their animals will be addressed and taken care of.
Do You Need Formal Training to Be a Veterinary Receptionist?
Formal training is generally not required. Most practices seek candidates with a minimum of a high school diploma, and some may prefer to hire a candidate with more education. Being a good receptionist in a veterinary practice, as in any office, requires skill sets that human resources professionals classify as “hard” and “soft” skills.
Hard and Soft Skills for Receptionists
Hard skills are those that are easily quantifiable. These include proficiency with computer software, number of words typed per minute, knowledge of filing systems, and the ability to operate standard office equipment such as multi-line telephones and copy machines.
Soft skills are difficult to define, but they may be even more important than hard skills for a job as a receptionist. Hard skills can be learned through systematic training. Soft skills can be developed, although certain soft skills seem to come more naturally to some people than to others. Soft skills include traits such as friendliness, organization and the ability to communicate effectively, including the ability to be an active listener. A good memory, enabling you to greet returning clients by name as they enter, is another very desirable soft skill for receptionists.
Skills for Veterinary Receptionists
As a veterinary receptionist, you’ll need basic office skills as well as skills tailored to the veterinary office and the specific veterinary practice. If it’s your first job as a veterinary receptionist, you’ll learn terminology as you go. Boost your chances of getting hired as a veterinary receptionist by demonstrating that you already know some of the terminology.
Veterinary Terminology for Receptionists
There are a number of online resources that can help you learn veterinary terminology. PetMD, Veterinary Business and Veterinary Practice News sometimes feature veterinary receptionist articles. Individual practices may have blogs on their websites where you can learn veterinary terminology for receptionists. The website StudyStack offers free flashcards for a variety of subjects, including veterinary terminology.
Find a free veterinary receptionist guide at the practice website DVM360, which also contains news about both the medical and business sides of veterinary practice. You can find a free veterinary medicine dictionary online at PetMD and similar sites. The veterinary school at Louisiana State University provides links to a number of veterinary terminology resources on its website.
Working With Animals
Working with animals requires special skills in addition to those associated with typical office work. Even healthy animals often approach a visit to a veterinary office with considerable anxiety. For them, it’s a place filled with strange people and animals, frightening smells and unusual sounds. Animals who are sick or injured can be even more fearful of a veterinary office. A calm, reassuring demeanor is essential for dealing with pets and their owners.
Depending on the practice, it might be your job as receptionist to escort pets and their owners to examination rooms. You may have to clean up “accidents” on the reception area floor. You will likely schedule appointments, process payments, and maintain files and records. You’ll need to be called upon to provide compassionate support to pet owners who receive a serious diagnosis or who have brought their beloved animal to the veterinary practice for a final good-bye.
Finding a Job
How do you find job openings? Look in the classified section of your local newspaper. Many papers have job listings online as well as in print. Check job sites such as Monster.com, Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com and CareerBuilder.com. All are reputable sites that have helped millions of people find work. Use caution, though, when making any application online. If it sounds too good to be true, or if you are asked to pay a fee or provide bank account or credit card numbers, stay away.
Employment agencies sometimes advertise jobs for veterinary receptionists. Before signing on with an employment agency, find out who is responsible for paying the agency’s fee if you’re hired. Sometimes, the employer pays the fee, but other times, it’s the responsibility of the new employee. That’s OK if you’re willing to pay the fee. Just find out first what your obligation will be, so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise.
Employment announcements often can be found on job boards and websites sponsored by academic institutions. Some communities have job board postings as well. If there is a local veterinary practice where you’d like to work, you can always ask if there is an opening or anticipated opening for a receptionist.
Create a Resume
The first step in securing a job interview is getting the attention of a prospective employer with a professional-looking resume. Although you can pay someone to write a resume for you, it’s easy to create one yourself with a standard word processing program such as Microsoft Word. Study the job announcement carefully, so you can explain how your skills and qualifications match what the practice is looking for. Find sample resumes for veterinary receptionists online.
All resumes should contain a heading with your contact information, highlights of your qualifications, and a brief summary of your education and work experience. If you’re a pet owner, you may want to include a sentence or two about your pets, with their names and breeds or species.
Keep your resume to a single page. Remember: The goal of a resume is to get a job interview. You’ll have a chance to explain your qualifications in greater detail when you’re able to speak to your prospective employer in person. Print your resume on white or off-white paper for a professional look. Standard copy paper is fine, although you set yourself apart by using specialty resume paper, available at office supply stores. Be sure to proofread your resume before submitting it to ensure it’s free from typographical and grammatical errors.
The Job Interview
Although you may be asked to wear nursing scrubs or allowed to dress casually once you’re hired, go to a job interview wearing conservative, professional-looking office attire. A dress suit or pantsuit in a solid neutral color such as navy or black works well. It’s also acceptable to wear a simple dress or skirt and blouse. Make sure both hemline and neckline are modest. Avoid overly bright colors and prints, and keep jewelry to a minimum. Keep hair and make-up simple.
You may have more flexibility in showing off your personal style once you’re hired. Make a good impression at your interview by dressing as a serious professional who’s ready to go to work.
Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for eHow.com, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.