Expanding your business is exciting, nerve-wracking, and often unavoidable. Taking the leap to hire dog walking staff can cause anxiety because it inherently requires you to give up control. It’s one of the most challenging aspects of growing a dog walking or pet sitting business.
How can you trust a person you barely know to represent your company with the same attention to detail and customer service that you provide? If you’re feeling anxious or stressed out about that, you’re not alone. It is, however, important to keep in mind that other business owners have successfully completed this important step to growing their business, and you can too. By following established best practices when you hire dog walking staff, you can mitigate a lot of the potential issues that are causing you to stress out.
Step One: Search for candidates
Searching for dog walkers to hire is basically the same searching for dog walking customers. It’s all about marketing yourself.
Tip 1: Lead with the benefit.
Why should a qualified candidate want to work for you? Try out a few different openers and see which one gets the best response. Marketing is all about trial and error. Over time you’ll get better and better at it. Start with something simple, like “Get Paid to Play With Dogs!”, “Earn Money While You Exercise!”, or “Ditch Your Desk Job!”. Start by thinking of all the reasons you became a dog walker. The goal here is to get as many people as possible to keep reading past the headline.
Tip 2: Don’t eliminate candidates too early.
Think about how an ad works when you’re looking for a new client. It’s exactly the same when you hire dog walking staff. You’re just trying to get them to take the next step in the process. Not everyone is going to be a good fit, but the more people who contact you the better your chances of finding someone who is. You’ll have time to assess their qualifications and eliminate candidates in the application and interview process. I can’t stress this enough: You want as many people as possible to fill out an application. I add a few very basic skill requirements, like “good communication skills” and “own a smartphone,” but I focus mainly on the sales pitch.
Tip 3: Don’t forget to include a call to action.
A call to action lets the person reading your ad know what the next step is. For example, a link in your job posting that says, “Fill Out an Application.” If it’s an offline ad, it can be as simple as “Call us” or “Email a Cover Letter and Resume.” For offline postings, I recommend having a tab or business card they can take with them to contact you later. This may seem obvious, but I see a lot of postings that don’t clearly communicate the next step in the process.
Tip 4: Post the job offer everywhere you can think of.
Some of the places I’ve had success are:
- My website
- Current staff
- Current Customers
- Pet Shops
- Vet Offices
- Coffee Shops
The more people who see it, the more potential candidates you’ll reach and the higher your chance of finding a good fit.
Step Two: The Application Process
When you hire dog walking staff, the application process is the first step you’ll take to eliminate candidates that are not a good fit. The key to a job application is to obtain enough information to move forward with an interview (or not) while not overwhelming the candidate with a form that takes so long to fill out that they give up on it. I use our job application to identify 3 basic prerequisites for offering an interview.
Are there long employment gaps? This can be a sign that there is something they don’t want to disclose. It’s not a disqualifier per se. Plenty of people fall on hard times, women take a work break after having kids, and others have perfectly good reasons for an employment gap. Regardless, this should be noted and at the very least, addressed in the interview.
Can the person write well? Good communication skills are important, especially since dog walking and pet sitting requires a lot of written communication with pet parents. If a candidate has poor grammar and spelling on a job application, it is also a sign that the person doesn’t pay attention to details or care enough to review their work. Having good written communication skills is a line in the sand for me. To evaluate this, I require a cover letter when in addition to an application.
Does the person have the basic skills needed to do the job? To work for me requires, at a minimum, a smartphone, the ability to commute using a bicycle and the ability to lift heavy objects (like a sick dog). I also ask about their history of owning, volunteering or working professionally with animals. The skills required of potential employees will differ from company to company. I recommend saving most of the long-form questions and scenario-based evaluations for the live interview process.
While the application process is the first step in eliminating candidates, you still want to encourage people to fill it out. Even a person who is a good fit and excited about the opportunity to work with you might abandon an application that is too time-consuming. From their perspective, getting a job is a numbers game. Spending an hour on one application isn’t an effective use of their time. Choose a few criteria you want to evaluate with the application but leave the really detailed stuff for the interview process.
Step Three: In-Person Interview
The interview process is where you want to be very thorough. This is where you will eliminate 99% of potential employees.
The first thing I evaluate is whether or not the person is on time. Over the years I have become less and less forgiving about being late for the interview. If a candidate can’t leave enough time to account for delays like traffic and getting lost, then they aren’t a good fit for me. I expect my dog walkers and pet sitters to be on time to their first appointment every day, even if it’s the first time they are going to a client's house. If they can’t do this for an interview, they can’t do it in real life.
Most of the time, the interviews run about an hour long. I ask a lot of detailed questions about their work history and their experience working with animals. I like to use a lot of scenario-based questions like:
- “How would you clean up a mess in a dog’s crate?”
- “What would you do if a dog is afraid of you?”
- “What would you do if you can’t find a cat in someone’s house?”
I’ve been doing this for over a decade, so I have no shortage of these types of questions. I also like to give two different full walk scenarios and have them write the summary that they would send to a pet parent.
Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as it takes to satisfy you that a person is a good fit for your company. If it takes an hour, great, if you need 90 minutes to get a feel for the person then take 90 minutes. Leave no stone unturned in this process. It’s the last chance you have to eliminate a candidate before it starts costing you a lot of money.
Step Four: Background and Reference Check
Once I feel confident that I have a great candidate, I do a background check. This costs money so I like to be really upfront with them during the interview. I have them sign a release and ask them if there is anything I should know about before I spend money and run the report. I have a zero-tolerance policy for criminal activity. We have a unique business and while I support helping people who have committed crimes and paid their debt to re-enter society, this isn’t the type of job for that. Your clients are trusting you with the keys to their home and the care of their pets. I don’t gamble with that responsibility.
I also check 3 personal references, 3 professional references, and employment history. Don’t expect to get too much information from their references since the candidate has hand-picked these contacts. Regardless, I still like to go through the motions. I do always validate employment history. Most businesses won’t say much more than confirming they worked there and the dates, but that’s really all you need to confirm.
Step Five: Working Interview
Once I have confirmed the information the candidate provided in the application and interview process, I will rank the ones I like, and offer the one I like most the opportunity to shadow with my other walkers for 2 weeks. If everything goes well after that, I’ll offer them the job. If for some reason it doesn’t work out, I’ll go to the next person on my list. It does happen where I finish a round of interviews and either no one meets my criteria or the people who do meet expectations are no longer interested. Don’t settle!
If you don’t find a candidate at first, keep looking. Try different methods for finding applicants and keep at it. Just like starting your business and finding your first few clients was a learning experience, so too is hiring staff. You’re not going to get it perfect at first, but over time you’ll develop the skills to find competent and dedicated staff members.