Article Submission Guidelines for Practice Management, EHR, Glaucoma, and Managed Care

Exclusive Date: August 7, 2013

Where to Find Good Staff Members

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I often speak to optometrists who know they are understaffed but just can't find good employees. This issue varies among local job markets, but there are many geographical areas where staff members are hard to find. In some cases, the practice is looking for people with optical training and experience, but the candidates don't have the people skills. In some cases, the practice has hired several new employees over a period of a year and they simply don't last. They either quit rather quickly or they perform poorly and have to be dismissed. It's enough to make the doctor/owner just give up.

In this article, I'll describe a true story and provide some motivation for not giving up.

Recruiting staff
When a job market is very difficult, I'm occasionally asked about the idea of recruiting employees directly from other eye care offices in the area. We all know it happens, but I don't recommend it. I wouldn't actually cold-call or solicit any individual in the optical field because I think it is best to remain in good standing in the eye care community and I think the other eye care professionals would view such action as crossing a line. Of course, it is fine to advertise quite heavily that you have a job position available. You can make the position very attractive by indicating that you offer special training and excellent salary and benefit packages. If employees from other practices are looking for a new job and see the employment ad, they are fair game.

Craig's List is still the standard for job related ads in most communities, but I would also place a classified ad in the local newspaper in both the print and online editions. Many practices only use Craig's List or other similar websites, but I have found the newspaper is still a good resource. Newspaper help wanted ads are incredibly expensive, but this is a time to think big. I would run the ads every day until the position is filled and forget about the cost.

Read on for more innovative ways to find employees.

Hire for personality; train for skills
If the pool of good job candidates is small in your area, I'd give up any requirement to have optical experience. It is much more important to find someone with the right personality and attitude. You really can train the optical skills on the job in your practice and have the employee take additional courses, live or online. Of course, you should always follow the laws in your state or jurisdiction; this approach obviously does not work if you need a licensed professional. But once you remove the experience requirement, the pool of good people increases greatly. Some of them will respond to your employment ads and in other cases, you can just go out and find the person you are looking for.

I think direct solicitation of someone you meet in everyday life in a field outside of eye care is just fine. We have all heard of this technique, but I've used it several times and it has worked very well for me. Here is a recent example:

My wife and I were having dinner in a nice restaurant a couple months ago and the waitress was excellent. I'm sure you know what I mean; sometimes you interact with a person who just seems to get it. This waitress smiled all the time, she got our order perfect, she was attentive, smart, had a nice appearance, etc. As we were closing out the check, I gave her my business card and told her that we were looking for an optometric technician/optician in our clinic and that she is the kind of person we need. I said if she had any interest in exploring a new career to please call our office manager. I wrote the manager's name on the card. I told the waitress we would train her for all the skills she would need.

She called. Our manager asked how much money she wanted to earn and her response was in the normal range for my practice. We interviewed her and hired her. She completed basic training in about two weeks and she is now working for us. She is still that smart, happy person we liked and she is fitting in with our staff very well. Of course, this person could come from any vocation, including retail sales, industry sales rep, auto dealership, hair salon, housekeeper, and many more. You can even find these great people within your own patient base if you look.

A few more tips
Consider these additional points to make the hiring process better:

  • Pre-employment testing. A test of job-specific skills and a personality test before making a decision to offer the job provides very valuable insight. There are a few sources in our industry of such tests. The tests are often taken online and graded electronically.
  • Staff sabotage. If new employees frequently quit, consider the possibility that one or more of your current staff may not want anyone to join them. Some employees want to protect their turf. There are two sides to every story.
  • May need to pay more. If you are in a market where it is extremely hard to find good employees, you may have to pay higher wages to attract them. A better staff can give you an advantage that results in more business and better profits.
  • Hire two? I usually recommend assimilating one new employee at a time, but there are exceptions. If you are extremely understaffed, hiring two new people at once can make sense. Training both at once is not much more work than training one person. Your current staff will see that you are very serious about expanding your practice.
  • Don't always use today's revenue metrics. Some doctors won't hire a new employee because of some metric, like their payroll cost is already 22% of the gross and they don't want to exceed that. But operational experience and judgment always trumps numbers. Practice gross revenue with that additional employee could jump up by much more than the additional salary.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week