By Brian Chou, OD, FAAO
Think about some of your applicants for optician: Are they less than what you had in mind? Given a relatively low quality applicant pool in the San Diego area, where my practice is located, sometimes I wonder if the responders saw the following job listing.
“Full-time position available for immediate hire in private optometric practice!
Please apply if you have these characteristics:
• Feel it’s OK to surf the internet during work hours, using Facebook and YouTube
• Have sleeve tattoos on both of your arms – bonus points for a pierced tongue!
• Have a suspended driver’s license due to DUI. Even better, you wear a GPS ankle bracelet
• Can agree that your number of years in the field is more important than good performance
• Somehow only get sick on Fridays and call in at the last moment
• Love to throw your co-workers under the bus
• Have mastered the art of passive-aggressive insubordination
• Fail to acknowledge patients walking in the door because they might go away
• Enjoy turning off the lights on patients that remain one minute past office closing
• Assume that patients can’t afford lens enhancements
• Forget to place orders or follow-up on what you say you will
• Instigate drama in the office because everyone needs entertainment
• Need extra pay to do stuff you should be doing anyway
• View each patient interaction as an obstacle to getting through your day
• Have wild mood swings with unpredictable behavior
• Come to the office unprepared, drunk and ready to gossip
• Won’t share how you complete tasks with your co-workers since that’ll improve job security
• Secretly accept gifts and free product from frame and lens reps for selling their product
To apply for this incredible opportunity, please e-mail your resume. If you get an interview, reschedule repeatedly and then show up at least 15 minutes late without knowing anything about the practice. Hurry, this position will not last!”
You can see from the above “ad” how I feel about some of the staff I’ve had over the years. Here in California, like in several other states, anyone can call themselves an “optician” since certification is not required. I believe, as a consequence, that there is a relatively poor applicant pool for para-optometric ancillary staff. Instead of seeking to develop a career in the optical field, it’s become a field where people end up because their initial aspirations did not work out. The reality is that there is a scarcity of qualified staffing for opticianry, aside from the quality character needed to create a desirable work ecosystem.
On a big-picture level, I don’t see much improvement in this situation as long as organized optometry remains divided and unwilling to direct attention toward cultivating a strong pool of para-optometric staffing. In the meantime, owners can do best by carefully screening their candidates. For those I interview, I have a set of favorite questions I ask such as: “What do you do when you have an interpersonal issue with another co-worker?” A truthful responder acknowledges that conflict happens, and if the applicant can describe a pragmatic resolution, this can bode well for staff compatibility. A comprehensive background check is a must, including calling past employer references. Speaking with former employers has saved me from hiring a nightmare employee on more than one occasion. Finally, I recommend owners train existing lower-level staff with the right aptitude and character, into opticians.
How do you ensure the less-than-stellar crop of applicants for optician yields the best possible employee?