Staff Management

Insitute a System to Recruit High-Performing Employees

By Danny Clarke, OD

June 8, 2016


A motivated staff keeps your practice primed for growth. Create a system to recruit new hires who will be winning team members.


TAKE HIRING SERIOUSLY. Determine how the addition, or replacement, of an employee will impact the patient experience, including patient care and flow through the office.

GET OUTSIDEHELP, IF NEEDED. Use employment agencies, along with asking your team members to recruit their friends and acquaintances.

ENGAGE CANDIDATES IN IN-DEPTH CONVERSATIONS. Ask questions that enable you to get to know the candidate, rather than just quizzing them. Focus on assessing their attitude and personality.

Recruiting high-quality new employees is essential to practice success and growth–and hiring is serious business.My practice, locatedin Wichita Falls, Texas, has four ODs and a staff of 20. We have found it essential to take a careful, deliberate approach to finding new employees.

Assess Whether You Need New Team Member

Weadd a new employee, or replace an existing one, based on our work load and ability to consistently provide outstanding service for our patients. We always want to make sure the patient experience is exceptional. If we see that our flow or wait time is affected negatively, we may decide we need another technician. If patient flow is an issue at the front desk, we may decide to hire an additional member of the front desk team. The same goes for the optical department.

We incentivize our team on practice profitability, so they are affected just like the owners–and we impart this central premise to prospective hires. We stress how important it is to provide an exceptional patient experience because that lies at the core of practice profitability. We all want to make sure the return on our staffing investment pays off–so a new hire needs to be on board with our goals.

A few of Dr. Clarke’s 20 team members at Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. Dr. Clarke says he hires for personality and attitude, rather than for specific skills. You can teach skills, but not attitude, he notes.

Determine Where New Employees Can Best Be Found

My goal is to have candidates pre-qualified before we ever speak to them. To do this you have to think about methods of recruitment where you have others vet people before they get to you. Hence, about 95 percent of our new hires come from the following two methods.

Team recruit. Have your team recruit for you. Our culture lends itself to this method. When we have a job opening, we make sure our team is on board and helps us recruit among their friends and acquaintances. Usually this is accomplished through social media.

Employment agencies. We haven’t used traditional methods of recruiting in many years. For years, we have invited “temp” agencies (they are mostly really temp-to-perm agencies) to come to our practice to learn more about us and what type of person we are looking for with each opening.

Editor’s Note: A service like Local Eye Site provides candidates specifically with optical industry experience.

When we are clear with agencies about our expectations, it allows agencies the ability to do a good job recruiting for us. We have three agencies in town that often will bring us the best candidates for our positions since they know what we want. Since we are very clear on what we want, the agencies can easily identify candidates who are qualified for our position and, often, the first place the agencies send a new applicant is to our practice. We even get calls from the agencies when they identify candidates qualified for our practice when we aren’t hiring. Imagine getting this call: “Any chance you guys are looking for a new employee because I just had someone walk in my office who would be perfect for your practice?”

Understand that it does cost more upfront since the employee works for the agency for the first 60-90 days, but we don’t have to worry about unemployment repercussions if things don’t work out. And, considering the high cost to replace employees when they don’t work out, it makes much more sense to pay the premium to the agency to simplify the hiring process for us. The other consideration is that many potential candidates use these agencies for placement since they can go to one place and get many job leads. Why not teach the agencies what you are looking for, have them help you recruit better employees and get great people to interview before others get to interview them?

We pay about 50 percent more than the employee’s hourly rate for the term of the employment agency contract. For example, if we have a 90-day contract with an agency for a $12/hour employee, we would pay $18/hour for the first 90 days, while the person is employed by the agency. But, as noted, since this person is on the agency’s payroll during this time, we don’t have to worry about unemployment expenses if the new hire isn’t able to become a permanent member of our staff.

Narrow the Search to Final Candidates

We use the interview process not only to learn about the applicant, but also to make sure they learn about us. We make sure we discuss the importance of the culture of our practice and share the vision of our company with them. We also try to find people who share our core values. We want people who get us and want to work with us. As employers, we often forget that it’s not just about us. Although it’s very important that the applicant is a good fit for our company, it’s probably more important that we are a good fit for them. If we’re not, they likely will not stay with us for long.
On average, we interview about 4-6 people for each job opening. We don’t receive as many applicants as most practices since we are only getting qualified candidates from employment agencies. They are vetting applicants for us, not only evaluating them for attitude and personality, but we have them perform personality tests for us. We always have candidates do DISC and Myers-Briggs personality assessments before we interview. We interview all qualified candidates in person, once we have the personality profiles and have reviewed the employment application. Initially, candidates will interview with our practice manager and the department lead. I no longer interview employees, but I worked with my manager for about a year to make sure we were on the same page regarding the interview process. I now feel confident about my manager’s ability to handle hiring so I no longer feel the need to be directly involved.

We usually will not interview applicants unless we know they find our stated salary range acceptable. The employment agencies we work with always disclose the salary ranges for open positions in our office with the candidates they find for us. In the event we do discuss it, we want to make sure we are upfront about what our open position pays, so we don’t waste anyone’s time, ours or theirs.

Engage the Candidates in In-Depth Conversations

I think it’s most important to see if the applicant can engage in a conversation. I don’t like a question-and-answer session as much as to be able to have a good conversation. We want to make sure the applicant is someone who seems passionate about what they do, and are very personable. We ask the kind of questions that enable us to get to know the person, rather than just quizzing them. We focus on assessing their attitude and personality.
ROB Editor’s Note: It is important to have an attorney review the questions you are asking to make sure they do not directly or indirectly violate any law.

Our goal is to hire for personality and attitude and train for skill. To me, experience is a red flag. I would rather hire someone with a great attitude and no experience than to hire someone with experience and a not great attitude. The one question I would ask at every interview is: “What’s the one thing you did at your last job that you liked doing the best? Think about something that you couldn’t wait to tell your spouse (or significant other) about that you got to do at work today.” My goal with this question is to gain a little insight into what they are passionate about.

The goal here is not to do an ordinary interview asking expected questions or connecting to a situation in our type of office. The goal is to get the applicant engaged in a conversation about their interests and what they like to do. We spend a fair amount of the time also discussing what we do and letting them know about our practice and the vision for our company.

Conduct Second Interviews

After the initial interview with the practice manager and team department lead, the candidate may be asked to come back for a job shadow interview with their potential department teammates for a couple hours. This gives the people who will be working with the candidate a chance to spend some time with them. Since people support what they help create, involving your team in the interview process not only can give you valuable insight, but will also give your team incentive to help them be successful. Once this person is hired, your team will be more invested in the new employee’s success at your practice.

Check References, But Recognize the Limitations

My manager will call references if they come directly to us to interview, otherwise the employment agency checks references for us. Unfortunately, references usually won’t tell you much these days, especially when prospective employees come from larger companies. We are usually looking for glaring discrepancies from references since many previous employers won’t give much information. Often, time frame of employment and whether or not they are eligible for re-hire are the only things you can count on getting out of references.

A thoughtful and systematic approach to recruiting and hiring can make the difference in developing a great team. Don’t always look to traditional methods of recruiting. If what you’re doing is not working, invest some time and money to use non-traditional methods. Just think how much time, energy and effort you would save if you were only interviewing qualified candidates. Invest more time, and possibly money, upfront to educate others to recruit for you, and not only will you be on your way to a more efficient recruiting process, but you will likely be on your path to getting more of the right people in place to improve the culture of your practice.

Danny Clarke, OD, owns Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas, which received an All-Star award by The Great Game of Business. The practicerecently was named the Family-Owned Business of the Year for the SBA Dallas/Ft. Worth district, which comprises 72 counties in Texas. Dr. Clarke is also the President of MODUS Practice in Motion, which offers open-book management training to optometric practices. To contact him:

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