By Larry Golson, OD
In an initial hiring interview, ask candidates questions that reveal the kind of person you may be adding to your practice’s team. Assess their social skills, temperament and ability to provide your patients with proper care.
If you agree that the individuals you select for your eyecare team are an integral ingredient to your practice’s success, read on. When I conduct job interviews I’m doing more than assessing whether the applicant has what it takes to perform the technical half of their work. It’s also crucial that the person will fit into my practice’s cultural environment, whether they will relate well to my other team members and, most significantly, how they will treat my patients. I’m not looking to hire employees. Rather my intention is to select team members who want to make this a career. The following are key characteristics I assess during job interviews and how I do it.
Is the applicant’s resume well organized? Are there any typos or grammatical errors in the body of the resume? Is the resume limited to one page (or two at the most)? The resume is the one document the applicant is putting forth into the world that reflects who they are as a person. If it’s well-designed with attention to detail, then there usually is a good chance the applicant’s work habits will follow suit.
An employee who knows how to do his work but takes no joy in that work or in helping patients is not an employee I will want to keep. For that reason, I assess attitude during job interviews. I ask the prospective employee why the job role she has applied to interests her, and I note whether she gives a generic response like “it seems like a great opportunity with lots of room for growth,” or whether she says something like this (for the role of optician): “I love customer service–I found at my last couple of jobs that I have a knack for helping people find what suits them best–and I’m very interested in fashion. Getting to work with people to find the right eyewear would bring together the two things, professionally speaking, that I love the most.” Your applicants may not be that articulate, but reflect on the difference between a canned, generic response and a response that exhibits enthusiasm to the question of why apply to the job.
“Plays” Well With Others
No matter how gifted a salesperson or pre-testing technician an applicant is, I will not hire them if it is apparent that they will not get along with even one person on my team. I ask applicants questions about their work groups at previous jobs, including a story that illustrates their ability to collaborate with co-workers and to give an example of how he managed a conflict with a previous co-worker or employer. I might ask: “Shirley, I’m glad to hear you say that you enjoy collaborative work environments. Can you tell me a story from a previous job of how you successfully collaborated with co-workers to get a task done or make an improvement?” Few applicants are unintelligent and candid enough to tell you that they loathe working with others or still haven’t mastered the art of collaboration, so it is important to ask them to give you an example of how good they are at working with colleagues as well as how they managed a conflict, since there will be bumps along the road during any practice’s operation. The answers to these questions paint a picture of this individual and her emotional intelligence in a team environment.
Friendly, Open Personality
My employees don’t all have to be the life of the party, but I don’t want to hire anyone who is hard to talk to. Some employees may be better in one-on-one communication and others may excel at leading a trunk show, but they all need a friendly, upbeat personality. One of the tricks I’ve learned along the way is to watch the applicant’s response to the question, “Are you a habitual smiler?” Watch for him to smile during the job interview and give more than yes and no or one-line answers to questions. For example, I might ask: “Would you be open to learning other skills besides opticianry, like maybe doing some training to help out with our pre-testing or pitch in with some of our administrative tasks?” An answer of “Yes, that would be fine” is OK, but much better: “Sure, I would definitely be open to trying out different tasks. I really enjoy learning new skills and seeing what I’m good at. At my last job I was hired just to work at the check-out counter, but I ended up getting trained to be a personal shopper and found that I was very good at it.” Lastly, be aware of what your gut tells you. I’ve interviewed applicants that say everything I want to hear, but if I don’t get the intuition that she would meld well with my current team, she will not be hired.
Intelligent, Fast-Working Mind
Deliberation is great if you’re on a jury, but not so great if you have a handful of patients waiting to be served at the check-out desk or in the optical. It is not enough for the applicant to give intelligent answers; they also must show that their minds work fast. If it takes them a painful full minute before answering most of my questions, I might worry about their ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Applicants who quickly give shallow or insufficient answers don’t get any credit, but pay attention to how long it takes potential employees to respond who do end up giving great, detailed answers. A few moments of thought is understandable, but there should never be a long, awkward pause. If you sense awkward pauses during a job interview, a question is raised of whether the applicant will be able to converse in an intelligent way with ease with your patients.
Engaged and Attentive
I want applicants who make eye contact with me and give evidence that they are listening to what I say by nodding their heads and summing up or recapping what I just said, but I also want potential employees who are engaged enough to ask questions. Beware of the applicant who gives all the right answers to your questions but at the end of the interview has nothing further they would like to know. For example, the applicant could ask:
“What is a typical work day like for someone in the job role I am interviewing for?”
“What are some of the improvements you are in the process of making in the office that the person you hire for this position could help with?”
“If you were hired to the position I am interviewing for, doctor, what would you find most challenging?”
“How many employees will I be working with and what will be working on together?”
“How long have most of those employees been working here?”
Your applicants may not be quite that curious, but a few intelligent questions peppered here and there throughout the interview or at the end of the interview, is a good sign that the applicant is an engaged participant in conversations.
Proper Grammar, Sense of Humor
Does the applicant use “ain’t” instead of “isn’t,” refer to dollars as “bucks” or refer to her child as “my kid” instead of “my son” or “my daughter”? If the majority of your patients speak in a similar fashion, those tendencies might be a plus, but the majority of practices are best served by employees who can speak in a polished manner. Your employees shouldn’t sound pretentious but they should sound educated and intelligent. Your patients are relying on your team for guidance. Would you want to take the guidance of a person who doesn’t seem educated or smart? That polish has to be balanced with a sense of humor. How often (if at all) does the applicant laugh during the interview? If you said something on the humorous side, did the applicant at least give you a perfunctory social laugh? Think about how awful it is to be a patient facing an optician, technician or receptionist who presents a stone face to them during conversation. You want employees who have enough personality and confidence to communicate with intelligence as well as warmth and good humor.
I hope this article has stimulated thought on your personal approach to hiring. Over the course of the year, my patients will spend more time interacting with my team than they will with me. I’ve been told I am picky about who I hire. I take that as a compliment, because to me, the single most important aspect of my office is my team. Our employees represent our practice and our practice’s brand in our community. They have a tremendous effect on the success or failure of any practice as well as the doctor’s level of stress and ability to delegate. Being selective about who I hire has paid off in spades! Happy Hunting 😉
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Larry Golson, OD, is the owner of Envision Eyecare, an independent optometric practice in Asheville, NC. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.