The Top 10 Things to Consider Before Hiring Optical Staff

Dec 3, 2016
11 min read

What if someone told you that you could considerably improve your practice’s bottom line simply by hiring the right new employee?

Would you consider it?

My guess is your answer is YES!


If you’re considering making a new hire within your optical, then that thought is now a potential reality.

Optical sales (including contact lenses) account for up to 62% of revenue for optometric practices, with eyeglass sales alone making up approximately 44%*^. This is a clear indicator of how important it is to make sure your optical is equipped with the best staff possible. Below you will find 10 things to consider when you are ready to take the leap and hire a new optical employee, starting with evaluating your practice to make sure you’re ready to hire:


1. Number of employees needed

When you are considering adding optical staff to your practice, you must first evaluate how many staff members your optical demands to run smoothly vs. how much an additional employee will cost the practice.

At an average salary of $32,906*, the practice will be spending between $600 and $650 per week on this employee’s salary alone.

Therefore, you will need to decide if the practice’s current profits allow for that expenditure or if not, if the addition of the new employee will bring an additional $650 or more to the production values. Once you’ve determined that your practice can afford another employee, it is important to decide how many optical staff members are truly required for optimal efficiency.

In order to maximize your Rx capture rate (or number of your prescriptions that are filled within your practice), you want there to be enough staff available that your patients aren’t waiting long to be helped. However, overstaffing can lead to unproductive downtime and take away from your bottom line. Finding balance here is key!


2. Patient demographics

Each practice’s patient base has its own unique personality and characteristics.

Recognizing and understanding those attributes is integral in making sure you have a successful capture rate and overall happy patients. For example, if your patient demographic is predominantly baby boomers, they will likely be more comfortable working with an optical staff member who is close to their age and understands their tastes.

Conversely, if most of your patients are from younger generations, they will most often relate to and trust style advice from someone they can picture as like themselves. You will not be able to have an optical staff member who perfectly connects with every patient you have, but by putting in the time and effort to evaluate your largest patient demographic categories and searching for an employee who relates to those groups, you will help to create a successful optical atmosphere that is overall approachable and enjoyable to work with.


3. Practice brand

Another element of your practice that must be looked at when bringing on board a new optical staff member is your practice brand.

Maybe you are aiming to develop a niche practice recognized as being chic and cutting-edge, or maybe you are creating a family-oriented business that attempts to have something in its optical for everyone.

Regardless of your approach, your optical space must be a reflection of the image you are trying to portray to your patients and the community. This means that everything — from the design to the decorating to the frame selection — must be meticulously chosen and in line with the overall theme.

A new employee is no exception. You must make sure that the person you bring on board will accurately represent your practice brand as they will be the face of one of the most important parts of your practice.

Once you have identified the number of employees you need and the type of candidate you’re looking for, it’s time to begin the hiring process. Close evaluation of the potential hires should begin from the moment of first contact, whether that is through a resume or a phone call, and continue in all interactions moving forward.

Points 4 through 10 will review some things to keep in mind when evaluating a potential new employee.


4. Communication skills

The importance of this attribute cannot be stressed enough. As the hiring entity, you should be noting the communication skills of a possible new hire from the moment you first speak to them.

Most often, this will be in the form of a phone call. The first call is a wonderful opportunity to get an honest reading of the person due to the fact that he or she typically does not know the call is coming. Pay close attention to the tone of voice the person has, whether or not he or she comes across as warm and inviting with a smile on his or her face (yes, you can hear a smile), and whether or not you would want the voice on the other end of the line representing you and your practice. Employees that work within the optical are constantly in contact with your patients, and many times, that contact is through phone interaction.

Beyond phone skills, you should also closely evaluate how the candidate expresses himself or herself in person. You should be looking for someone who can speak articulately and intelligently, while at the same time exuding warmth and friendliness.

A candidate who can do both of these things and maintain a welcoming phone presence will be indispensable to your optical.


5. Professional image

Each position within your practice must present in a professional manner at all times.

However, in some positions slightly more than in others, an understanding of what it means to be professional while still maintaining an inviting demeanor is key. Optical staff is one such role. When considering hiring a new optical staff member, look for someone who can carry themselves with professionalism, but does not let that characteristic make them come across as cold or unwelcoming.

Remember, this employee will interact with the majority of your patients, and just as easily as showing professionalism helps cultivate respect for you, your practice, and your staff, a lack of the same can leave your patients questioning whether or not they should keep their business in-house. Your patients have a choice when it comes to where they spend their money.

Make sure your potential employee is representing the professionalism that will help encourage them to purchase from your optical.


6. Personality and approachability

The personality and approachability of a potential new optical employee are two of the biggest qualities you should consider during your hiring process.

This person will be the voice of an indispensable part of your practice, and he or she must be able to make patients feel comfortable during their optical experience.

Genuine, trustworthy, warm, welcoming, upbeat, and easy to talk to are examples of descriptors you should be looking for when interacting with a candidate. If he or she does not portray that kind of positive impression as an interviewee, it is likely he or she won’t as an employee either. Patients who feel that your optical staff is unapproachable or not happy to help them are much more likely to take their prescription elsewhere.


7. Experience

This is one area in which there isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong approach.

Some practices will prefer to bring in a new optical employee who has had past experience. This previous exposure to the job often lends itself to a shorter training period and a realistic understanding of what the position’s responsibilities entail. However, sometimes habits formed in prior roles may not be in line with the way you prefer your optical to be run. With some employees, this can pose a challenge as the new hire tries to break old habits and relearn things your way.

Additionally, you should keep in mind that an experienced candidate will likely expect a higher starting pay rate.

On the other hand, someone without experience generally will take longer to train and has the risk of beginning the job without fully understanding the demands that the position brings. A new optical member can become overwhelmed if he or she did not realize the amount of work that comes with the role. Fortunately, with an inexperienced new hire, all training is in line with the tasks and methods your practice uses. Therefore, if he or she sticks with it until training is completed, this type of candidate often becomes a very productive employee.

You must decide which route you prefer to take concerning previous experience. Neither choice is wrong, and both will present its own set of hurdles to overcome.


8. Whether or not the candidate is certified

The American Board of Opticianry (ABO) currently offers three certifications in opticianry. The first, the basic certification, is achieved through a test. The second step is the advanced certification, which cannot be obtained until the candidate has worked in the field for many years and passed a second, more detailed examination. Some people may choose to then attempt to reach the masters designation, which requires the applicant to analyze five case reports.

Preference of certified vs. non-certified interviewees is up to the hiring practice. Much like previous experience, certification indicates that the candidate is aware of the skills required for the position and will require less training. However, most certified opticians will expect a higher starting pay than non-certified applicants. The decision is completely up to you.


9. Understanding of retail

As stated earlier, optical production makes up over half of the revenue generated by optometry practices today. This means that an optical staff member has the potential to help grow the practice substantially by making sure the optical is increasingly productive. A candidate who has background in retail or who can express comprehension of retail math is often a great addition because he or she can understand things such as mark-ups, discounts, and sales techniques easier than someone with no entering retail knowledge.

During the hiring process, you can pose situational questions to your candidate to assess their knowledge in this area, develop a quiz with scenarios pertaining to retail, or simply have them express their understanding during the interview.

It’s important to remember that a practice’s optical is a sales-based producer of revenue. Therefore, the “salesperson” — or staff member— can make or break the productivity of this area of the office. Having someone who recognizes the business side of the optical and isn’t afraid to present and explain options, including upgrades, to your patients will be an asset to you and the success of your practice.


10.  Organization and multi-tasking skills

Last, but certainly not least, organization and multi-tasking skills are a must. Day-to-day tasks within an optical are non-stop and often overlapping. A candidate must be able to manage multiple orders, patients, calls, and unexpected happenings without forgetting what he or she was working on and while still completing the necessary responsibilities. These skills can be very difficult to assess during the interview process.

Some practices may be able to come up with a test or challenge of some kind in order to gauge a potential new hire’s abilities, while others may choose to have him or her come in for a working interview in which multiple tasks are assigned to complete while demonstrating organization. Whatever the approach, try your best to keep these qualities in mind when hiring new optical staff. When found, they are exceptionally beneficial.

Hiring any new position is a challenge and a risk. You will never know who you’ve truly hired until employment begins.

However, by keeping these ten points in mind, you have a much better chance of finding the right fit for your practice and someone who will help make your optical the best it can be.

Good luck, and happy hiring and if you want to chat, just shoot me a message in the comments!

*According to data found in Alcon’s Academy for Eyecare Excellence lecture “Profile of Independent Practice Optometry”

^Data published by Southern College of Optometry’s Hayes Center for Practice Excellence in the article “5 Ways to Improve Your Practice Capture Rate,” by Jerry Hayes, OD, on December 21, 2012.


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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