Hiring Optometry Staff: Interview Tips from the Other Side of the Table

Apr 14, 2017
10 min read

We all know what it's like to be the one in the hot seat during a healthcare interview. . . the one feeling like all the pressure is on you and you alone.

We've interviewed for college, for optometry school, and likely for our current job, but most new grads have never had to be the one on the other side of the table.

Would you believe that that role can be nerve-racking, too?

Trust me, it can.

As a new graduate completing my residency, I was fortunate enough to land a job as the Center Director of a medical referral practice and that meant I got involved with hiring optometry staff. While exciting, this new responsibility meant that I was solely charged with facing the challenges of staff management, and therefore, immediately thrown into interviewing any potential new hires.

I'll admit I had no clue what to do at first.

I enjoy talking with people, and I knew the standard questions I've always been asked, so I assumed that a friendly chat with those sort of cookie cutter questions would be a good place to start. Let's face it; they don't exactly teach you how to be great at hiring optometry staff in optometry school.

Thankfully, three years later, interviewing candidates and hiring optometry staff has become much more second nature. I've made plenty of mistakes and continued to learn with each one, but if you keep the following tips in mind, you should be starting much further ahead than I, or most new grads, ever did.


1. Start with a phone interview

After you've picked out the resumes you feel fit your criteria; it's time to start the interview process.

Approach this as if the applicant is on the clock from the minute you call them. It is the candidate's job to prove to you that he or she will be the best choice for the position, so pay attention to each part of your conversation with him or her.

Did they answer the phone in a pleasant manner or did they seem annoyed from "hello?"

Someone who can't portray a smile through the phone when talking to you will likely have a hard time portraying one when answering your office phones and speaking to your patients. Not a great fit if you're looking for a receptionist.

Additionally, pay attention to grammar and politeness. Use this time to speak with the applicant about his or her resume and ask any surface questions that you feel will help you make your final decision.

If he or she is easy to talk to, seems genuine, is eager to meet your request to come in for an in-person interview, and is well-spoken congrats! You've found a potential new hire!

2. Consider the position you're hiring for

Different positions require different personality traits.

If you're hiring optometry staff for a front desk role, you would likely want to look for someone who is outgoing, upbeat, and approachable. A shy and passive candidate may find it difficult to talk to your patients, especially if a patient is disgruntled. However, a more reserved employee may thrive in data entry positions such as a billing and coding specialist.

An ophthalmic technician must be friendly as he or she will interact with your patients a great deal, but must also be detail-oriented. So how do you figure out what kind of attributes an interviewee brings to the table?

First, pay attention to the candidate's body language and confidence during the interview. If he or she seems extremely uncomfortable or quiet, a front desk role may not be appropriate.

Secondly, ask the applicant to give you examples from his or her work experience in which multi-tasking, learning on the fly, or solving a problem were needed. Work experience will give you an idea of how he or she handles challenges.

Lastly, consider giving the interviewee a personality test and a test that will demonstrate his or her abilities within the job you're hiring for, such as a workup based test for technicians who claim experience in the field.


3. Note arrival time, appearance, demeanor

An excellent candidate will always arrive early, appear professionally dressed and groomed, and exhibit a positive behavior. He or she may be nervous and therefore, slightly more reserved, but that shouldn't cause a poor or rude attitude.

Additionally, candidates should not exhibit an air of entitlement or come across as if they assume the job is already theirs. Beware of applicants who do not arrive on time, look disheveled, or exhibit personality traits that do not exemplify professionalism as these characteristics suggest a lack of caring on the part of the interviewee.

If they don't care enough to put their best foot forward in an interview, what makes you think they will once they are hired into the position?

4. Witness staff interactions

If at all possible, try to be close by when an interviewee first arrives at your practice. Observe how that person interacts with your staff when presenting himself for the interview. You can tell a lot about a person when he or she doesn't realize you're observing. This is key to hiring optometry staff.

5. Listen to the red flags  1000px-Red_flag_waving_svg

Has the candidate jumped from job to job without a great reason to do so?

  • Does she present herself as unrealistically desirable (in other words, does she keep telling you how amazing she'd be in the position but not support the statement by explaining how she's qualified)?
  • Will the interviewee not allow you to contact previous supervisors?

All of these should strike you as red flags when considering a potential new hire.

Jumping from job to job suggests a fickle employee, while unrealistic performance expectations based upon bragging during the interview sets that person up for failure. Additionally, outside of a current employer who may not be aware that the candidate is looking for a new opportunity, you should be able to contact any past supervisors to help figure out what kind of worker your applicant is.

Not being able to do so should tip you off to potential problems he or she does not want you to know about.

These are only a few examples of red flags. Listen to your gut. If you feel like something is off about your candidate, trust that feeling. More often than not, you're correct.


6. Consider working or group interviews

There is only so much you can learn from a one-on-one interview with someone. If you feel like there are any lingering questions or that you'd like to see the candidate in action, I suggest strongly considering having the interviewee come in for a working interview.

Do some basic training and see how quickly he or she learns. If the candidate is claiming experience in a particular realm, allow him to demonstrate those skills for you. This will help you get an idea of what the applicant truly knows as well as how trainable he or she is.

When hiring optometry staff, group interviews can be approached in a couple of ways and are being recommended more and more by managers across the country. The first type of group interview to consider would be one in which you bring in multiple candidates and interview them all together.

This will weed out those who can't interact well with others as well as demonstrate personalities much better in most cases than one-on-one interviews will. The main drawback to consider is that applicants who take slightly longer to come out of their shell may be overlooked in this setting.

The second type of group interview that has been proposed is one in which you bring the interviewee in to meet with both you and your staff. The strongest proof of this idea is that you can see how the potential hire interacts with your current employees. However, be careful with this approach if you have stronger personalities within your staff that may take over the interview or overwhelm the applicant.


7. Don't be afraid to bring them back again

Nowhere is it written that you have to make a decision after the first interaction with a candidate.

Feel free to bring them in as many times as it takes to feel confident in your hire. For example, my salon puts their applicants through six different interviews before bringing them on as part of the team.

There is no reason why an optometry practice can't employ the same diligence if needed. 

Fight the urge to fill the position as quickly as possible and make sure you're taking the time to find the right fit.


8. Ask open-ended questions and request examples

This may seem like common sense, but an interview goes much more smoothly if you ask the applicant open-ended questions that incorporate examples of the traits you're looking for.

For example, "Can you multitask?" does not garner the same information about the candidate as "Give me some examples of times you've had to multitask in your past jobs" will. 

The more you encourage the interviewee to talk, the more you'll learn about her. Make sure you're paying attention to their non-verbal communication (i.e., body language, tone) as much as you do their verbal.

9. Remember the things you can't ask

Unfortunately, it is easy to slip up and ask something that is not allowed legally in an interview.

As a rule of thumb, if the question may pertain to anything that could be misconstrued as profiling or discrimination, it should be avoided. Some examples of questions that CAN NOT be asked are:

  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Physical attributes- the presence of disability, height, weight, are they sick often?
  • Marital and family status
  • Nationality, including whether English is their first language
  • Type of military discharge (honorable/dishonorable)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Alcohol or drug use

You ARE ALLOWED to ask if they use illegal drugs, however. 

You ARE ALLOWED to describe the requirements of the job and ask if they can meet those requirements

Strive to keep your questioning to items that pertain to the qualifications of the job you are hiring for, and you won't have anything to worry about. 


10. Don't Forget! You can't get it right every time

Interviewing is not a perfect science, and some people are dramatic actors.

Don't beat yourself up if you hire someone just to find out that they are the modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The more interviews you conduct, the better you'll become at both tailoring your questions to draw out the personalities and qualifications you need and recognizing the red flags as they appear.

Don't get discouraged.

Just learn from each one, and you'll continue to build an amazing optometry practice.

About Patricia Fulmer, OD, FAAO

Dr. Fulmer is the sole owner of Legacy Vision Center, a cold start, medically focused practice in Huntsville, AL, which launched at the end of 2020. A graduate of the UAB School of Optometry, she completed an ocular disease and …

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