Today’s conversation will touch upon a crucial topic in our domain – recruiting. Our guest, Stacy Pursell, CEO and Founder of Therio Partners and The Vet Recruiter, joins us to explain how the relative shortage of qualified veterinarians leads to an array of imbalances in the hiring space. We discuss the top priorities for candidates and receive great advice and recommendations.
Welcome to Consolidate That! We’ve got a really great episode. I know Ivan and I have had the fun of doing a few one-on-ones recently but we’re really excited to have a new guest so Ivan, why don’t you introduce our guest today?
Yeah, I’m Ivan Zak, I’m very excited, Ryan, to record this episode with you. Today, we have a guest, Stacy Pursell. Stacy is a CEO and a founder of Therio Partners and The Vet Recruiter. She is a CPC. CERS, is an internationally respected executive recruiter and search consultant based in the United States and ranked in the top 1% of search consultants worldwide. Stacy builds world-class animal health veterinary and pet industry organizations. Stacy, thank you so much for joining, thank you for finding the time.
Well, thank you Ivan and Ryan, I’m so happy to be here, thank you for having me on your podcast today.
I want to jump in, this is a huge problem that we’ve been chasing from sort of the why and what’s happening and how we can change it and why we’re in such shortage of vets. Before we jump into those specific questions, how did you get into the veterinary recruiting and how did you get into this domain?
Yes, that’s an interesting story. I have a degree in broadcast journalism, I attended Oklahoma State University and when I was in college, I was hired an executive search firm to help them find a new president for the University and at the time I was there, I was working for the school newspaper, The O’Colly and the editor of the newspaper sent me to interview a dean who was the head of the search committee at OSU and I was asked by our editor to write a story about the process of executive search in how OSU is hiring a search firm to conduct the search and frankly, it sounded very mysterious to me right up there with something like working for the CIA or the FBI where you’re conducting a lot of undercover and covert work.
That was always something in the back of my mind even after I graduated with the degree in broadcast journalism. By the way, my story about that search was on the front page of The O’Colly at the time. Early in my married life, my husband was working for Deloitte & Touche and he would get called from what he called, headhunters on a regular basis and he would talk about that and I was very intrigued by that.
Later, my husband’s sister accepted a position in executive search, working in the IT space and that was in the ’90s when everybody was talking about computers and Y2K and after that, my husband suggested that I consider a career in executive search and it was something that I had not actually thought about for myself but he thought I would be good at it so he encouraged me to research it.
One Sunday, we were looking through the newspaper and my husband saw a classified ad in the paper, back at the time when that was how people searched for a job. The search firm was advertising for an executive recruiter, so I typed my resume, we drove to Kinco’s and I faxed my resume to this to this executive search firm on a Sunday afternoon and then I got a call the next day to come in for an interview and I went through a series of interviews, I was offered the job and then I went through a training process and learned the field of executive search. I started on a desk where I was put on a desk conducting searches and the consumer package good space, primarily recruiting sales, marketing and food and beverage executives.
Some of that experience is really interesting and I like how you’re saying headhunter because actually my dad was an executive recruiter in the bio-tech space for a long time and I was a little kid and one time I heard him say head hunter and my whole life, when I was a little kid, people asked me what my dad was, I said, “Yeah, he’s a head hunter.” Because I didn’t quite know what that meant but I thought it sounded really cool, tough job that he was out there tracking people like bounty hunters.
It is cool to hear that and it’s an unusual path. What part of your journey from being in executive search and all types of recruiting really honed you into the veterinary space specifically?
Well, that’s another interesting story and I’ll go there in a second but it’s interesting that your dad, Ryan, was in executive search. My kids don’t tell their friends that. They tell their friends, my mom just talks on the telephone all day for her job.
He did that too, I remember he made the mistake when I was younger, well, this is a US mistake but he got a manual car and it made it so that he could not talk on the phone while driving. I got very good at shifting gears for him while he was driving, so he could use one hand to hold the phone.
Which is even safer than the first case.
Yeah, he was like, “Well, you know, I got to – it’s like, I got to talk to these people because that’s the job, right?” Talking on the phone all day long.
That’s too funny. I started on a desk where I was doing searches in the consumer package kid space, primarily recruiting sales marketing and food and beverage executives and one of my clients at the time was Nestle and they needed a head of sales for their pet specialty division and I filled that position and then one of the other executives I met during that search worked for Ralston Purina and they connected me with that company and Ralston Purina at the time, they needed to fill an executive position and they specifically wanted to hire a veterinarian.
I filled that role and then after I filled that search, I was connected with an executive at – which was at the time, Novartis Animal Health and Novartis was doubling the size of their veterinary sales force and at the same time, they were doubling the size of their veterinary technical services team. I help them do that and then I was connected through that, the networking, I was doing with that search. I was connected with the head of human resources for what was called Pet Smart Veterinary Services and the head of HR for Pet Smart Veterinary Services was a veterinarian. That conversation led to a contract with Pet Smart Veterinary Services, which later became Banfield after Pet Smart Veterinary Services merged with Vet Smart.
I built a team of recruiters and we filled several hundred positions in the late ’90s in early 2000s for veterinarians and then in 2004, I bought out the business that I had created within that international search firm and I went on my own and founded The Vet Recruiter. Now, I’ve been recruiting in the animal health industry and veterinary profession for more than 23 years.
That’s great. You know Stacy, you and I had the chance to meet for the first time in person in Orlando and if anyone listening wants to meet someone that has met every person, it’s Stacy. Because we were at the show and I remember we were having coffee and I think every other person that walked by was like, “Oh, hey Stacy. Hey, how are you doing?” We were talking and I said, “That’s The Vet Recruiter.”
The beginning of that is very prominent because you do really have a great insight into the space. What’s the biggest things that you’ve seen that have changed since you started in vet recruiting to where it is now?
This sort of dates me but back in the early days of my care, we had this big room of file cabinets filled with paper resumes and so when we would conduct a search, it was like, going to the library and looking in the card catalog for candidates. We had DOS computers back then and we literally had a room that was wall to wall, built with filing cabinets full of candidate resume, so the As and the Bs and the Cs. I would look up a candidate’s resume, I would stamp it with our contact information, I would fax the resume to the employer and then call to make sure that they received a fax.
There was no Google, there was no LinkedIn, there was still a recruiter in our office who was there before me and before my time and she would talk about how she would put candidate resumes in envelopes to mail to employers before our office had a fax machine. When I entered the search profession, the fax machine was considered new technology and I had a rolodex filled with contact information of our clients on my desk and I would actually go to the library, I would get directories of companies and I would use phone books that I would call out of phone books.
Not everyone I call would have voice mail and I’d have to sometimes call back until they answered, no matter how many times I’d have to call back. Then later, we got email and the internet and of course now, we have LinkedIn, which has been around for a while now. The technology is what has changed the most since I’ve become a recruiter. We hadn’t even heard of artificial intelligence when I first got into the industry and back then, people did pick up the phone more. Now, there’s a lot of texting involved in the process. Ghosting was not a thing back then. Overall, people were more courteous if they were no longer interested in a job, they would tell you that they were not interested.
They wouldn’t just disappear in a middle of an interview process that they weren’t interested in a job, they would have the courtesy to let you know. Now, sometimes, if people decide that they’re not interested in the middle of the interview process, they sometimes don’t tell you, they just disappear like a ghost. Even sometimes people that have gone through the whole interview process and have a job offer at hand, they might just disappear and not tell you that they’re going to decline the offer.
That wasn’t something that we experienced 23 years ago. I’d say the evolution of technology has changed the most since I began my career in executive search and it has continued to evolve more quickly during the past recent years and I don’t expect that to change any time in the near future.
That’s amazing. I’m just looking at our producer here on the call and he’s about 12 years old, so he has no idea what you’re talking about. He never saw a fax machine in his life, so this is hilarious looking at his reactions.
I was feeling bad for Ivan. Actually, I was thinking about a rolodex with Ivan’s name with the Z at the very end and Ivan, you are like the last choice, they had talked to Amy Adams, Bob Baker and they finally got to Ivan Zak, yeah, they were like –
That’s amazing but that’s the technology side of things. But also, we know that the veterinary recruiting changed. I heard these statistics that about 66% of ads with the veterinarians stay unanswered at all. I mean, when I graduated in 2006, this was never a thing that we thought that is a problem, you have – if you are looking for a job then there’s a clinic and then you open the clinic and you’ll find the vet to work for you.
Right now, that’s not the case isn’t it? Right now, it’s so hard to find veterinarians. How did the world change throughout these years, not only technology but the accessibility to talent, the quality of the talent and just how difficult it is to fill in the roles?
Yeah, that’s a great question and one that I get asked multiple times on a daily basis. There has been a talent shortage within the veterinary profession for the past several years that’s been a candidate’s market since at least 2015 and quite possibly before that. I personally first noticed the shortage in 2008 during the great recession and what employers are currently experiencing represents a new extreme.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it’s refilling, it’s April of this year, there were 12.5 jobs available for every job seeker on the AVMA veterinary career center. For veterinary technicians and assistants, that number was 5.9 jobs for every job seeker that it was even greater for veterinarians at 18.5 jobs for every veterinarian applicant on the AVMA site. Those numbers are the highest that the AVMA has tracked since January of 2019 and they track that data over the past two and a half years. There are extreme conditions right now within the veterinary profession in terms of hiring.
The supply and demand is dictating the terms of those conditions and they include higher starting salaries and bigger signing bonuses and with a scarce of top candidates are right now, those candidates are becoming more costly and that will continue to be the case going forward. Everything that’s happened over the past year and a half also then, is something against the backdrop of what is already happening with the veterinary profession. Prior to the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was predicting double digit growth in terms of veterinary jobs over the course of 10 years and that hasn’t changed in light of the pandemic conditions. The latest information released in June of this year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is showing that veterinary jobs is expected to grow by more than 16% between now and 2029.
That is about 14,000 new jobs within the profession during that timeframe. I also want to say that we’re retiring about 3,000 veterinarians per year and some of the veterinarians that are retiring, when they came out of school, they were used to working not 40 hours a week for full-time but 50, 60 and 70 hours a week, full-time. Today’s veterinarians don’t want to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week for the most part. Sometimes 32 hours is considered full-time.
If you’ve got people retiring that were used to working 60 hours a week and you’ve got people wanting to work 32 hours then sometimes you have to have one and a half or even two veterinarians equal the hours that somebody was working that’s retirement age. There’s going to continue to be a shortage of talent within the profession, the disparity between the number of job openings in the marketplace and the number of qualified candidates in the marketplace continues to grow bigger every day. We are definitely in a candidate’s marketplace and veterinary talents is going to continue to be in demand and employers are going to have to spend more money to be able to hire that talent that everyone is looking to hire.
Let’s dive into that, so you know, this is with such a scarcity of veterinarians, what are those most attractive things? What I know from the statistics that were collected, I think it is also AVMA that about 40% of veterinarians on top of everything that you said are considering leaving our profession and the top three things are work-life balance, when the core value or the values misalignment and the third one is money.
By the industry throwing more money at the people that are leaving professions for a different reason, are we really fixing something or are we kind of sort of exacerbating the problem, paying more money, the services have to go up and making things worse?
The question is, are we making it better? I mean, I know that the pandemic has impacted the work flow with the veterinary practices over the past year, year and a half with clients not coming into the clinic. I was listening to a podcast or a webinar yesterday that was talking about how some of the practices have become less efficient as a result during the pandemic, which has also created more stress for the veterinarians and the rest of the staff. I’m not sure, I mean I know that there’s a lot of people working on fixing these issues that we are experiencing in the profession but we have a long way to go.
You are talking to hundreds of veterinarians that are seeking for jobs. What are those top three things that they are interested and asking you about when they are looking for a new position? What is the main interest for the veterinarian when they’re considering a new position?
Well, what we hear the most is like you said Ivan, the work-life balance. Sometimes it’s a culture change, the culture is not the right fit and for the younger people, the newer people coming out is the mentoring. Sometimes, they’ll get in with the practice and they thought there was going to be mentorship and then they get there for a period of time and they realize that the mentorship is not what they expected so then they’ll look for a different practice with the culture that offers them more of that mentorship.
Then money, money is another thing. We had a candidate just last week that realized that he was significantly being underpaid and our client offered him, believe it or not, 60,000 more dollars on the base salary in order to make a move so he is evaluating that offer right now. We’ve got some questions that are going back and forth but it’s a significant increase in money over what he’s currently got.
I say the work-life balance, culture, more money, you know sometimes, it’s other things too like a shorter commute to work. I mean we have a candidate right now that just had a baby and she’s looking for a shorter commute to work, so there is a lot of different things but work-life balance, mentorship and money, those are the three common things that we hear.
With the difference in the number of jobs I think you said it was 18 per veterinarian that are out there, do you find yourself being more pulled towards the candidates and are the candidates the ones that are really engaging that need for you and sort of drive in the conversations or are you getting more interest in activity from the clinics and the groups that are looking to hire those veterinarians to fill those 18 spots and how do you balance that understanding of who’s your client, who’s needs are coming first and make sure that people end up in the right spot?
Those are all very good questions. You know, the candidates are driving this demands exists on the client’s side, so the employers are the ones with the openings and we know that there are thousands and thousands of job openings across the profession right now. It’s really a candidate-driven marketplace where candidates, you know, like we just talked about, there is 18.5 jobs for every job seeker on the AVMA site.
Our candidates are getting eight, nine, 10, 12 job offers so they can really write their own ticket so to speak. They can really go where you pick and choose and so we’re whoever offers them the best opportunities, so our clients or our search firm clients are the employers. These are our clients who hire us and pay for our services to help them find the best talent and fill their critical positions that are open. For us, we want to create a win-win for both the client and the candidate.
We don’t want to put a candidate, you know, put a round peg in a square hole. We really want to find the best opportunity for our candidates and at the same time, helping our clients build our most critical needs but we don’t want to try to put somebody in the wrong job or with the wrong employer. I always kind of equate it to real estate, you know, if I was working with a real estate agent to buy a home, I wouldn’t expect that real estate agent to show me just one house.
I would expect them to show me, you know, a dozen houses or 20 houses and so, we give our candidates options. We find out what they’re looking for and what we can tell them to make a move, what their criteria is, and then we do all the leg work for them to help match them with the employers that are offering what they are looking for, and then we make those introductions to those employers and then we work with the candidate to go through that entire interview process.
We are working with the employer and the client, so we really help manage that whole process. We help coordinate the interviews, our candidates are busy. They’re working at a job or they’re probably highly needed and highly regarded but at the same time, if they have a job they’re conducting this covert job search that we really have to help manage their calendars for them. For example, they’ll give us our availability and say, “This is when I’m available to conduct interviews.”
We’ll do all the leg work in getting all of those interviews scheduled for them and then we save our clients and our candidates’ time in managing their calendars and just handling everything throughout. It’s really more of a white glove service just handling all of the details throughout the whole interview process.
That’s excellent. When you’re servicing sort of two sides, right? It is a two-sided market, you have the candidates and then you have on the other side the clinics even though your customer, let’s say the paid customer is the clinic, you want to make sure that you find the right fit for the candidate and the customer so basically – because both needs to be happy to kind of propel your business and to kind of give references and continuously drive business to you.
When you are faced with, this is a particular candidate, this is their life sort of situation right now and then you have 10 customer’s clinics or maybe it is the corporate groups and they’re all there to hire veterinarian with a similar sort of set of skills, how do you prioritize? How do you actually choose between the organizations that they join because they’re quite similar? Is there sort of any particular things that you could say, “Well, that’s not probably a good fit for you, you’re better going to be with a privately owned practice. You’re going to be better in a corporate.”
Because ultimately then, you are becoming the person that will direct to one or another employer. How is that process? Is there a process? And how difficult it is for you to choose whom to recommend a particular candidate.
When we have our first conversation with that candidate, we go through an intake form process so do an interview with them and go through a series of questions. Just asking them questions about their career and where they’ve been up to this point, what they have enjoyed about each of the positions they’ve had, what they don’t like, what would compel them to make a move, what are they looking for, what are their criteria.
Then based on the information they give us during that intake conversation, we don’t decide what’s best for them. We let them decide, so we don’t ask them, we don’t try to steer them to one practice or another. We really let them decide based on what they tell us and that intake, that’s how we match them. We ask them the questions, “What are you looking for?” And then based on the information they provide, that’s how we match them up with the different practices.
Our goal is to send them to as many practices that meet the criteria, so if they are very open and we have eight practices in their area, then we’ll introduce all eight practices and then suggest that they talk to the different practices in initial phone call to see what would be the best fit and then they’ll narrow it down. It’s really directed by the candidate. That process is not directed by us if that makes sense.
That totally makes sense, so then another question I have and whether you are dealing with anything like that but the whole relief veterinarian market. It’s an interesting thing right now, there is quite a few clinics that I talked to, they’re kind of leaning more towards utilizing the relief vets but they’re more working sort of like a part-time rather than – you know, the true relief when I was doing it, it was like I’m sort of out there.
“Here is my schedule and you can schedule me for this radius of clinics around the geo where I live” but then right now, I hear more and more people finding sort of, I would call them more like part-time rather than relief vets. They are not fully employed but they enjoy the work-life balance and then do you also handle candidates like that and how much do you see of that vets transitioning from full-time opportunity seeking for like one or two part-times where they can change environment rapidly?
That’s a great question. Historically, our firm has been in the direct hire placement space, where a client is looking for somebody, most of the time it’s full-time although we do fill some part-time positions. You know, over the history, we have filled – we don’t like to use the word permanent. We know nothing is permanent, we know if we place someone they are not going to stay in that job forever but more of the direct hire placements versus the temp or contract.
However, we’re just now getting into the contract space. We have a new company that we are working with that will handle all of the back office for us, so that we’re able to offer that service now but this is something new that we’re just getting into with the contract or the relief placements.
Now, I’m curious about the future so I want you to paw your magic eight ball and let me know what do you think the future holds in terms of veterinary hiring?
Well, I think that we are going to be on the same trajectory that we’re currently on for the next 10 years. I think, it is going to – you know, if we look at the VLS data, if we look at the trends, unless there is something that happens in the world, you know something at the level of pandemic, which was of course a black swan event, nobody was expecting that but I think that there will continue to be this shortage of veterinarians.
I think it’s going to continue to be a candidate’s marketplace. I think the consolidation will continue. In terms of the future when it comes to hiring, I think they’ll continue to be a disparity between the number of job openings and the number of qualified candidates. Veterinary talent will be in high demand and companies will have to continue to spend more energy to find the talent that they’re looking for and they’re going to have to spend more money to hire that talent.
Well Stacy, I think there’s a million things we could probably ask you because as I said earlier, you do have a really great insight into the whole world of what everyone’s looking at but we are coming up on time. I want to ask you two questions that we like to ask all of our guest. The first one is, if there is a book that you would recommend that people read to glean some of the knowledge that you have and what would that book be that you’d recommend everyone?
I’d recommend The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It is a really thick book, it took me a while to read it. I had it up on my treadmill. In the mornings when I would get up and run on the treadmill in my house, it was sitting up there and I would just read a few pages every morning but it is very applicable to people’s careers because in some of The Success Principles that Jack Canfield talks about in his book are very basic.
You know, what I would call common sense things but not everybody has common sense or not everybody thinks about some of these things but that’s one of the best books that I would recommend that will help people be successful throughout their careers.
Awesome and then our second and last question, if you can pull out that rolodex, if you still have it, the big one and don’t be scared of the end of it too, who do you think would be a great guest for us to have on the show?
Wow that is a great question. I think that Dr. Ed Kanara would be a great guest on your show because he does consulting now but he had a very successful practice before he went to go work for Pfizer Animal Health and he could talk a lot about how the industry has changed over the years and all the different things that he has seen. He would have a lot of interesting stories, so I think he would be a great guest.
That’s wonderful. Well, he wasn’t at the end of the alphabet but he’s pretty good there so we appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. I know hiring is a major topic that’s on top of everyone’s mind right now, so I think a lot of people will find a lot of use in the great things that you had to say. Just for the plug, now what is the best website for people to go to, to be able to find out more about you and about your company and everything like that?
Well, thank you for your time and we’ll hope to meet with you in one of the upcoming shows.
I look forward to it. Thank you so much everyone.