Mar 012015


Jamie Damato Migdal - Contributor

I’ve been in the pet industry for two decades, and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate just how difficult it is for pet-centric businesses to find, and keep, good employees.

On the other side of the equation, it can be just as difficult for quality candidates to showcase their talents via traditional job boards, especially if they are career changers or have a lot of experience but no formal training to speak of.

WVM March 2015 Jamie ECONOMY ImageThis is why I started FetchFind, the only staff recruitment and career networking site dedicated exclusively to the pet industry. Are you looking to hire someone for your pet industry, or are you looking to work in the pet industry? Here’s some advice from both ends of the leash!

Let’s Start with the Business End

Lots of small businesses – dog walkers, pet sitters, groomers, etc – can keep going indefinitely with only a handful of core staff members, but if they want to grow the company, they will inevitably run up against the great wall of unqualified candidates.

Unless you are very lucky and have a network of people who consistently refer good candidates to you, you will spend a LOT of time finding, training, and keeping employees. Most small companies advertise on craigslist or sites like Indeed.

This tactic has the advantage of reaching a lot of people, but once you start looking through hundreds of resumes, you quickly realize that only about 10% of them are even remotely qualified, and of that 10% only half might be truly interested in the job.

So how do you, as a small business owner, weed through vast numbers of unsuitable candidates to find the one or two gems who can help you take your company to the next level?

Look for Reliability

This is absolutely at the top of the must-have list. You can teach people how to walk dogs, or clean kennels, or sell pet care products; what you cannot teach them is how to show up on time, day after day, without excuses.

Look for Longevity

If the candidate hasn’t lasted more than six months at any job before bouncing to another company, shuffle that resume to the bottom of the heap.

Do those Background Checks

Don’t assume because someone has a plausible presentation in an interview he or she won’t have a criminal record. Spend the money for a comprehensive background check, and call those references. Ask all the questions you are legally able to ask, and pay as much attention to what isn’t being said as to what is.

If all of the references come back with, “She’s the best employee we’ve ever had, she showed up on time, she was able to work independently, and we would absolutely hire her again,” then put that resume at the top of the pile.

Just remember, no candidate is going to give you a reference that is likely to say bad things, and if that reference still can’t say unequivocally good things, then keep looking.

Check out the Social Media Presence

Just about everyone will have a Facebook page. If you see one or two pictures of a girls’ night out, fine. If you see distasteful photos or reposts accompanied by sexist, racist, or otherwise phobic comments, it’s not fine.

Ditto with Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, or other accounts. If you feel uncomfortable reading them, the chances are pretty good this person won’t fit in with your company culture.

These people won’t be working in a vacuum, and if your good employees quit because they feel threatened at work, you’re going to have a heap of trouble on your hands.

Look Beyond the Job Descriptions on the Resume

Look beyond to see what the candidate can really do. For example, the ideal candidate for your growing dog walking company might be an experienced professional dog walker with a portable clientele, but if you see a candidate with a consistent work history in customer service who also has a couple of years of volunteer dog care at the local shelter under his belt, call him in for an interview.

Quite often, someone with diverse experience can be more valuable to you than someone who has been doing the same thing, the same way, for ten years.

Now, Let’s Look at the You Seeking a Pet Industry Position

One of the hardest things for pet industry professionals (experienced and aspiring) to do through traditional employment channels is to showcase their talents and desirability as employees.  The employee pool for the pet industry in general tends to be very diverse. It can range from high school graduates to college students to career changers who are tired of working for The Man.

So, what can you, as a prospective candidate, do to make yourself stand out in the sea of resumes on the hiring manager’s desk?

Include a cover letter

I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. So many people want to start working in the pet industry, but if the resume shows only home health care or office work, there is no way of knowing why they want to make the switch without some sort of explanation.

If I see a resume with no related experience and no cover letter detailing how xyz experiences can be extrapolated to fit the open position, I won’t give it a second look.

Tailor Your Resume

If you can’t take the time to adjust your resume to fit the available position, that tells me a lot about your attention to detail and real interest in the job.

Include Your Volunteer Experience

If you have a gap on your resume (and a lot of people do, these days), volunteer at a local shelter or rescue. Even at a small shelter, you can get a wealth of experience in and exposure to areas such as customer service, dog handling, cat care, pet photography, special events, administrative work, and clinic assistance.

Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate reliability and increasing responsibility. And, if you do a good job, your volunteer coordinator will give you a glowing reference.

Ask Questions

Remember the interview is a two-way street, and you should get as much information as possible to make sure the company is the right fit for YOU.  Confirm the salary, work hours, benefits, and expectations before you accept the position, and don’t be afraid to negotiate. The answer to your request for a higher salary might be “no,” but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Network, Network, Network

For as big and diverse as the pet industry is, it can still feel like a small village where everyone knows each other. The more people who know you, the more job prospects you will have. If you’re new to the industry, then join LinkedIn discussion groups, or take classes, or go to trade shows.

The more people you meet, and the more exposure you have to different segments of the industry, the more likely you are to find a job that makes you happy.

It’s going to be a big year for the pet industry, and the need for qualified staff will continue to grow as more startups open shop and established companies get even bigger. Stay tuned to FetchFind as we help the pet industry to connect, share knowledge, and grow together.

Jamie Damato Migdal is a nationally recognized dog expert with more than 20 years of experience in the pet industry. Thanks to founding four companies in the pet industry and working hands-on with more than 20,000 dogs and 100,000 clients, Jamie is a thought leader and expert in entrepreneurship and canine behavior. ContactWebsiteFacebookLinkedInTwitter1Twitter2Twitter3