3 Steps to Hiring the Right Staff for Your Pet Care Business
By Kristin Morrison
Hiring staff to work for your pet boarding and daycare business is only a positive step if you hire the right people. The time, money and energy required to properly screen, hire and train employees should be reason enough to make sure you hire the very best staff members every time you have a job opening.
Whether you are hiring your first or your fifty–first staff member, the process comes down to three key steps: efficiently screening applicants, effectively interviewing the best candidates, and preparing new team members to self–manage without constant direction.
1. Use an Application Packet to Efficiently Screen Candidates
When I first hired staff to work in my pet care business, my experience was hit or miss. Some of the people I hired did a good job, but many did not work out at all. After a few bad hires, I felt like my hiring “picker” was off and I doubted my ability to choose the best applicant for the job. I knew I needed to come up with a better screening process or stop hiring altogether.
The need to only hire the best staff became especially obvious during the very busy times for my business, including holidays and summertime. I needed to hire a lot more staff to keep up with the upturn in business, and I did not have time to interview and train another person who might end up being a bad fit for my company.
During this challenging hiring time, I often wished I had an assistant whose only job was sorting through applications and recommending who would be the best long–term fit for my company. However, this wasn’t entirely what I wanted either; since I knew my business better than anyone, I wanted to be the one to personally choose each staff member.
After giving the idea some serious thought, I decided to create a “hiring assistant” in the form of a document that would help improve the process but still let me do the actual choosing. The application packet I designed allowed me to quickly see if each applicant was the right fit before I even set up an interview.
Not only did my application packet help me find better candidates for my job, it also saved me a lot of time. The packet was so detailed that not everyone was willing to go through the application process, which was a good thing! On average, only 50% of applicants returned a completed packet. And of those applicants, only one or two usually ended up being someone I wanted to hire. Thanks to the application packet, I interviewed a select number of applicants, which saved me many hours of effort.
The key to a thorough application packet is to give candidates the opportunity to show how well they follow directions and, from their answers, to gain understanding about whether they will fit well within the company. Each packet should include a cover sheet with detailed directions, job descriptions for each job, a basic job application and a questionnaire with open–ended questions that allows you to evaluate candidates’ experience with pet care and how they would handle common situations that arise.
For example, if one of the questions included in the application packet asks the applicant to describe themselves in three words, make sure they have given you exactly three words. The answer to this question will help you determine if they are adept at following directions, which is crucial when dealing with clients’ written and verbal pet care instructions.
2.Plan Ahead to Interview Effectively
Hold this interview in your boarding facility or a public place that is pet–friendly so you can see how the applicants interact with pets during the interview. If you decide not to have the interview in your business location, take your own pet to a pet–friendly coffee shop or park.
If the job requires being comfortable with pets and able to handle dogs, ask applicants to walk a dog or interact with a pet while you observe and evaluate how they react. A large and energetic dog provides a great opportunity to evaluate how comfortable applicants are with dogs, especially since not all daycare and boarding pets will be small or well–behaved. It is one thing for an applicant to say they love animals; it’s another thing entirely to see that passion in action—especially with a “challenging” dog.
When it comes to face–to–face interview questions, 4–5 questions is plenty, as long as they are questions that will give you a good sense of the candidate. If 5 or fewer questions seems low, remember that the application packet will already have the answers to many standard questions you are probably used to asking. By the time you have gone through the application packet and scheduled an in–person interview, you will already know a lot about each candidate.
I recommend only asking open–ended questions (which give you a more complete picture of each applicant than simple “yes” or “no” questions), specific questions about concerns you had while reviewing the application packet (for example, limited work experience or why they left a previous job) and specific questions about pet care. I like to ask questions based on actual challenges I’ve experienced on the job such as, “What would you do if a pet seemed more lethargic than normal?” or “What’s the best way to administer medication to a dog who isn’t treat–motivated?” Be strategic in choosing questions that give you the best chance to evaluate the applicant.
At the end of each interview, ask yourself two questions: (1) Is this someone I want to work with? and (2) Will my clients feel comfortable trusting their pets with this person? In situations where you aren’t sure if a particular candidate is a good fit, listen to your instincts. If you get an uneasy feeling about any applicant, no matter how qualified, trust that feeling. When I have ignored that instinct, I have often regretted it. Don’t make that mistake!
3. Prepare New Staff Members to Self–Manage
Ultimately, hiring new staff to work in your pet boarding and daycare business will only be helpful if they are self–starters who will do a great job without you constantly needing to tell them what to do. Create a welcome packet and employee handbook for each new staff member with all the company expectations clearly laid out. When you and your new staff member are on the same page, you can avoid many problems with employees right from the start.
A clear and precise employee handbook can also help you avoid legal trouble since it will be a record of what your employees agree to do (and not do) at work. Give each new hire a date by which to finish their review of the handbook and have them sign a statement that they have read and understand all the information inside the handbook.
Once the handbook has been read and signed, you can begin training. A rule of thumb that has served me well is to make sure each staff member knows exactly what they need to do before they start doing unsupervised work, including who and how to ask for help when they need it. That may mean double-staffed shifts while your new team member is learning by shadowing you or experienced team members. But the extra expense will be worth it because proper preparation at the beginning could help prevent costly and time–consuming problems down the road.
By using a detailed application packet, welcome packet and employee handbook, as well as conducting effective interviews and preparing staff to self–manage, you will be able to staff your company without the need to clean up problems caused by hiring the wrong people. Instead, you will have more freedom as a result of your self–managing staff thanks to skillfully choosing the right person for each job.
Kristin Morrison helps pet business owners create successful businesses. Kristin is the founder of Six-Figure Pet Business Academy, which provides pet business coaching and start-up and hiring tools including the Application Packet, Welcome Packet, and the Employee Handbook for Pet Business Owners. She is the host of the Prosperous Pet Business podcast, is a nationally-recognized conference speaker and the author of five books: Six-Figure Pet Business, 30 Days to Start and Grow Your Pet Sitting and Dog Walking Business, The Hiring Handbook for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers, Six-Figure Pet Sitting, and Prosperous Pet Business. Kristin’s website is: www.SixFigurePetBusinessAcademy.com