Article Date: 4/1/2009

Hiring the Best and the Brightest
If I Had to Do It Over

Hiring the Best and the Brightest

Don't just trust your gut. Develop an action plan to hire and retain a top-tier staff.

By Paula Newsome, OD, FAAO
Charlotte, N.C.

WHEN I ENTERED private practice nearly 25 years ago, I hired employees based on gut instinct. If I met someone and thought she was wonderful, I hired her — only to learn that she'd oversold herself during the interview and wasn't the best person for the job. While I'm a firm believer in trusting your gut, it was naïve of me to think I didn't need to perform background checks or hire new staff on a trial basis.

In this article, I'll explain what I learned from past mistakes and share suggestions to help you hire the best people right from the start.

Lessons Learned

I used to cross-train new employees to perform multiple duties. While some cross-training is necessary — for example, the person who processes insurance claims should be able to pretest and enter data — too much multitasking isn't efficient. It's best for employees to perform tasks commensurate with their skills and strengths, while meeting the key needs of the practice.

Now, I have an insurance claims specialist who also answers the phone but doesn't have to be a greeter. And I've learned the front-desk job is best suited for someone with a warm, bubbly personality and an affinity for interacting with patients.

Laying the Foundation

As I gained more experience in private practice, I realized the high cost of employee turnover, so I set out to develop processes and strategies for hiring — and retaining — employees.

I met with colleagues who had experience in this area. Then, I put everything in writing. I created a flow chart for job descriptions and an organizational chart to illustrate the hierarchy and reporting structure in the practice. If you don't have colleagues who can offer advice, try an optometric consulting company or read books on the subject.

Other Key Points to Consider

Once you've developed hiring processes and job descriptions, you can:

Use a personality test. Common in many corporations, these questionnaires uncover the personality traits and overall character of each potential employee. Answers to the questions provide clues as to whether each person would be compatible with you and your practice.

Implement a probation program. If you interview someone you'd like to hire, have him work in your practice on a trial basis for 2 to 3 weeks. One week isn't long enough to determine if the employee is right for your practice. During this trial period, determine if the person has integrity, can set goals and accomplish them and if he shares your most important values.

Cast a wide net. Make sure you interview several candidates. Allow yourself sufficient time to carefully review resumes and what each candidate said during the interview process, so you can make the best decision.

Do team interviews. When you ask other staff members to sit in on an interview — particularly those with whom the potential candidate will work — you can compare notes with them and get valuable feedback. If you don't have a staff in place, ask a friend or family member to join you for interviews.

Get it Right the First Time

Hiring employees is one of the most important stepping stones in building your new practice, so don't base your selections on a hunch. Develop job descriptions, speak with several candidates and give the most qualified applicants a trial run before making your final decision. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. nOD

Dr. Newsome is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Optometry. She's in practice at Advantage Vision Center in Charlotte, N.C. You can reach her at

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2009