If you are like most optometrist practice owners, the toughest part of your job is hiring the right people.
Obviously, the ideal situation is that you hire the most fantastic team of support staff and they grow with your practice and stay forever. But this is rarely the case; office staff members come and go over the years. The headaches of hiring staff crop up again and again, but it’s part of the territory of owning a practice, and you start to get used to the drill.
Hiring an associate OD, on the other hand, is almost always a long term play, and you will (hopefully) rarely have to replace one with another. For this reason, the hiring process should be well thought-out and deliberate, so that you can feel absolutely sure that you have hired the right colleague for your practice. Patients want consistency and they prefer to see the same doctor year after year, not a new optometrist because you had to hire someone new...yet again.
Your associate OD will represent you and your practice. He or she will build rapport and help to create good will, so that your patients will refer other patients to your practice. You want to be sure that your associate cares about your office as much as you do, and will treat it like his or her own home or office.
As such, it is of the utmost importance that you ask the right questions during the interview process. You must prepare in advance, parsing out the important questions from the fillers. You’ve already read the optometrist cover letter and resume for each application, so asking questions about those items is repetitive and wastes time. The resume and cover letter contain important information about candidates’ credentials and training, but they won’t provide you with the valuable insight into what truly makes a candidate tick, at least not in the same way that an interview will.
Here are my top five questions to ask an optometrist during a job interview and ideal answers.
1) What can you do for this practice, and how do you think our practice can help you grow?
Why I ask this question: The way a candidate answers this question tells me a lot about whether he or she plans to make this a job or a career. If the candidate doesn’t really have a plan for how to help the practice, he or she is clearly going to simply show up and wait for patients to fill the schedule. Similarly, if the applicant doesn’t even have a plan for how he or she will grow, it conveys that he or she would be happy with any optometry job, isn’t interested in learning how to grow the business, and isn’t choosing my practice as a long term “marriage” play.
An ideal candidate’s answer: “My knowledge and personable nature will help to take this practice to the next level. Patients will find me sincere and thorough, and, being a straight shooter, I will ask my patients to refer their friends and family. As for the other part of the question, I am always eager to learn from someone with more experience than myself. I understand how to be an optometrist, but I need to learn the business side of optometry if I am going to be part of a thriving practice.”
2 ) Where do you see yourself professionally in 10 years and how do you plan to get there?
Why I ask this question: This is fairly obvious, but I don’t want the hassle of having to replace an optometrist every year or two. If the candidate is serious about staying with me, his or her answer will at least include me for the first 5 years or so of the plan. Secondly, we value ODs who want to grow professionally, not just kick back and collect a paycheck. So an applicant’s answer can tell me about how much they have thought about growing with the practice in an active way.
An ideal candidate’s answer: “I want a practice that I can call home. I want to contribute in any way I can to the practice including hard work, continuing education, contributing to a professional journal, and volunteering my time to the underprivileged. By building a reputation in the community and continuing to develop my skills, I will establish myself as a leader in the optometry community, which will ensure a successful career over time and sustain healthy practice operations.”
3) When it comes to optometry, what excites you?
Why I ask this question: I pride myself on hiring optometrists who are passionate about their chosen profession. The field is so diverse and we have such a capacity to help others, it would be a shame to hire a burned out clinician who just wants to do the bare minimum and leave every day. I want to know what makes an applicant tick, and I want to make sure that his or her enthusiasm for the field only continues to grow if they join my practice.
An ideal candidate’s answer: “Not having a vision problem myself, I have always been fascinated as to why people had trouble seeing clearly. I knew nothing about eye diseases and I felt a desire to learn everything I could to help as many people see at their best. I love the sciences and working with people, and I saw this profession as a very “clean” way to practice in a medically related field. Ever since I have become an optometrist, I have only become more excited, because nothing makes me happier than helping someone see better. Personally, I remain excited about my own career because I can recognize all of the specialities and subspecialties I can pursue.”
4) Staff relations and teamwork are two of the most important parts of running a smooth office. How would you handle conflict between staff members or between you and the staff?
Why I ask this question: Staff drama is very real, no matter how wonderful a team you have. I am blessed with a fantastic staff, but we still have our moments! This is because owning a practice is a bit like having a family, including the highs and the lows and all the drama that comes from spending a lot of time together. It is vital that any optometrist who joins my team will understand how to diffuse tension, manage conflict, communicate effectively, and generally add an element of positivity to the mix.
An ideal candidate’s answer: “There is no single way to answer this question. I suppose the best answer is to be a good mediator when it comes to staff. I would have to be strong at the same time, making the staff understand that pettiness will not be tolerated. As for solving conflicts between staff and me, communication is the key. Air everything out as soon as possible and create a pathway to a better relationship. The rest of the staff and the patients will appreciate it.”
5) If you have free time due to a light schedule, what would you do with that time?
Why I ask this question: Everyone has days where patients cancel or don’t show up, and these days cost the clinic money and affect everyone from the owners to the support staff. It’s how you spend your down time that defines how well you work in a private practice environment. If an applicant is the type to sit around chatting with the front office and distracting them, or playing on his or her phone during down time, it will only make the problem worse. Conversely, if someone is proactive and spends his or her time doing something productive for the clinic, they’ll go right to the top of my hiring list.
An ideal candidate’s answer: “I am not one to sit on my laurels. Since this office doesn’t have a blog, I would create one for patient education and for marketing purposes. I love Facebook so I could be responsible to bring social media to this office.”
These five questions have served me well over the years, and I have enjoyed relatively low optometrist turnover. Your answers might differ from mine, depending on your own practice’s needs and niche, but the take home message is that the way you craft your interview questions can help you streamline your hiring practice and hire long-term players on your team, rather than having to hire a new OD every 6 months.