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Working & Observational


A Quick Guide to Working and Observational Interviews

So you’ve filtered through applications, performed phone screening, and in-person interviews, and narrowed down the candidates to a select few. The next step? A working interview or “observation time”. 

What’s the difference?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but actually, they have stark differences.

Observation Time or Observational Interview

  • Observation time is an unpaid period of time for a candidate to come in and get a better idea of what the role would entail and to meet their prospective co-workers, including an employee who currently works in that role, if possible. This gives the candidate a chance to ask questions of the team, make observations about the job itself, and to decide if the position is the right fit for them. It’s also a chance for you and your team to do the same regarding the candidate.
  • During an observation time or observational interview, the leaders and team need to ensure that the candidate does not function as an employee in any capacity. Since an observation time is unpaid, it would be considered illegal to have the candidate perform any work within the practice. Candidates should not be allowed to touch a patient, cleaning materials, etc., nor should they be asked to provide client service—although they are allowed to be cordial with clients in the lobby.
  • Practices should have the candidate fill out a waiver before starting the observation time to remove hospital liability for any potential illnesses or injuries that may occur as a result of this time at the practice. No other documentation needs to be completed by the candidate for an observation time or interview. Download a template wavier here.

Working Interviews

  • Practices find working interviews very appealing because the hiring manager gets all the benefits of an observation time, plus real-time information on how the candidate works and interacts with the clients, patients, and the team. The candidate also gets a much clearer picture of what the role entails and what it will be like to work at the practice.
  • If you prefer to have a candidate perform work during this part of the interview process, the practice must pay the candidate for their work. The practice will also need to have the candidate fill out a W-4 and an I-9 form on the day of the working interview. The candidate can be paid a flat or hourly rate for the working interview as long as it is above state/ federal minimum wage.
  • It is recommended to have the candidate’s check prepared before the candidate leaves for the day. Please keep in mind that the candidate cannot be classified as an Independent Contractor (1099) according to the IRS, so in certain states, the candidate could technically file for unemployment if they are not hired after the working interview.  

Assessing A Candidate’s Fit With Your Culture

Whether your hospital chooses an observation time or a working interview for your prospective candidates, the priority is to determine if the candidate is in alignment with your hospital’s culture.

Often the culture alignment portion of the interview gets overlooked because of how technical roles can be within a veterinary practice. One study found that only 11% of new hires fail in a new position because of technical incompetence. Instead, interpersonal skills, such as lack of coachability (26%), emotional intelligence (23%), motivation (17%), and the temperament needed for the job (15%) are far more likely to be the problem.

So how do we ensure that your new hire does meet the non-technical competencies the role requires and ultimately become a great addition to your team?

The best way is by seeing that your team is well-versed in your hospital’s culture and giving them the resources they need to help them determine whether the candidate is a good fit. This also helps make the process as objective as possible. Below is an example of the type of form a manager and team could use to evaluate the candidate after observation/ working interview time.

Download our Observation Evaluation Template

An important part of helping your employees give meaningful feedback is to make sure they understand what they should be looking for in a candidate. Review the assessment form you’ll be using in advance. Make sure that all employees are clear on your hospital’s culture, and your standards for client experience and patient care. They should also have a good idea of what reasonable expectations are for someone new to the team.

Each person who interacts with the candidate should fill this quick evaluation out and turn it into the hiring manager by the end of the day. The hiring manager would then consider the team’s opinions and ratings when deciding whether this candidate should be offered a position.

The Test Drive: Tips For An Effective Working or Observational Interview

Working or observational interviews are popular because they help determine whether a candidate is a right fit for the practice on the job. These interviews range in length from a few hours to a day-long try-out, and candidates may be asked to observe or demonstrate essential skills.

Before you schedule one of these with a candidate, however, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • If the candidate is asked to work during the interview, they must be paid and may legally be considered an employee, even if only for a short time.
  • Compensation for a working interview must align with labor laws, such as the minimum wage requirements and tax withholding. If the person is considered an employee, they must complete the pre-employment paperwork, including an I-9, W-4, and be set up in payroll for tax withholding.
  • The practice’s liability may be greater due to safety issues, such as working with animals, anesthesia, and drugs.
  • Talk to your human resources consultant, attorney, and insurance carrier before moving forward with a working interview, clearly defining:
    • Whether the interview is voluntary
    • What the candidate will be asked to do
    • What the candidate will be paid
  • Educate your team about:
    • Goals of the working interview
    • What questions they can legally ask
    • Guidelines regarding what the candidate can be asked to do

If you do not want to go through the steps of paying job applicants to evaluate their skills, you can hold an observational interview instead. For instance: a veterinary hospital may want to interview three potential veterinary assistants but would otherwise have no way to gauge each candidate’s technical skills, laboratory efficacy, or pet handling ability. Instead of paying each one to work for a day, the hospital could assess the candidates by setting up fake lab samples to be read, using previously treated patient charts and lab results to check for diagnostic accuracy. You could also have the applicant verbally walk a doctor through a blood draw or catheter placement.

Regardless of the type of interview you choose, you’ll want to make the most of your time with the candidate. Here are tips to help you do that before, during, and after:


  • Determine how long it will last. Again, if this is a working interview, the candidate should be paid for their time.
  • Will the candidate spend time with multiple departments and multiple team members? If so, how much time and which team members and departments?
  • Decide what’s important for the candidate to see, such as check-ins, check-outs, exams, and/or surgery. Plan accordingly, so the candidate can see and experience all aspects of the process.
  • Ensure that the candidate’s day is as close to a typical day as possible. Are you usually busy? If so, schedule them to come during a normally busy time and not during the lunchtime lull.
  • Let the candidate know ahead of time how long they will be there, what they need to bring, what they should wear, etc. If they are doing an observation or working interview during lunch, let them know to bring a lunch or what food options are nearby.
  • Make sure the candidate is aware that this is their opportunity to get to know the team and for the team to get to know them. Encourage the candidate to ask questions and to tell them to expect questions from the team.
  • Let the candidate know that you will be talking to your team afterward to get their feedback.
  • Have the candidate sign a waiver. Download a waiver template here.


  • Greet the candidate and give them a tour, showing them where the restroom is, the breakroom, and where they can safely put their belongings.
  • Give them a run-down of what they will be doing and when.
  • Introduce them to the team.
  • Introduce them to the person they will be shadowing or working with and let the candidate know when they will be moving to another department.
  • If the candidate is going to switch departments or shadow a different team member, take them to their new assignment.


  • Debrief with the candidate. Ask them about their first impressions and what questions they have about the position or the practice.
  • Give them information on the next steps and let them know when you plan to make a decision.
  • Check-in with team members, veterinarians, and other key personnel to gather their feedback on the candidate.

And one final word of advice: In today’s challenging hiring climate, if the candidate has passed all other parts of the interview process and performs well in the working or observational interview, be prepared to offer the candidate a position at the end of their interview. This means having salary, benefits, and ideal start dates ready to go—do all you can to prevent a great potential employee from slipping away!