Article Date: 3/1/2010

Choose Attitude Over Aptitude
If I Had to Do It Over

Choose Attitude Over Aptitude

I wish I'd used behavioral interviewing to hire staff from the start.

By Ted A. McElroy, OD
Tifton, Ga.

The most important thing I've acquired for my office isn't pricey equipment or stylish furniture—it's my staff. As an optometrist in private practice, my staff is my greatest expense but they also make the greatest financial impact. I've selected them carefully, and they've helped the practice thrive. But I wasn't always so lucky. I made hiring mistakes, but I learned from them and I hope you will, too. All my trial and error led to one conclusion: The key to hiring great staff is the behavioral interview, which helps me get the right kind of person, not just the right set of skills.

A Multifaceted Position

When choosing staff, consider the actions they perform in your practice — and the enormous value of those actions. Your staff:

■ answers the phone, making first contact with patients
■ greets patients when they arrive
■ performs preliminary tests before you see patients
■ dispenses based on your recommendations
■ collects the fees you bill, combining assertiveness with kindness and caring.

Clearly, our staff has much more interaction with patients than we do. That's why they can help make us look good. But even the best doctor and the latest top-notch equipment can't make the staff look good, and the way the staff is perceived will directly affect the way the whole practice is perceived. So we know what we want, but how do we get it?

Hiring the Right Person

So often, we choose a warm body to fill a position. Or we choose the best resume and skills without evaluating a person's attitudes and demeanor. We base our questions on the resumes candidates have given us. Or we simply list the job responsibilities and ask, "Are you good at this?" Of course, they all answer "yes" but most of them are wrong.

A bad hire means poor service for your patients and dreary office morale.

I once had an employee who was so threatened by anyone succeeding in their job that she felt compelled to sabotage them. She felt this was necessary to avoid looking bad in my eyes when compared with other employees.

One employee regularly napped in the chart room. The worst part is that no one told me because they didn't want to get him into trouble, but they all had to work harder to pull his weight.

The key to determining real suitability — not just what candidates say they can do, but how well they'll work in your office — is the behavioral interview. You can find sample questions on the Internet. Here are a few from the Society for Human Resource Management:1

■ What strengths did you rely on in your last position to make you successful in your work?
■ Describe a time when you performed a task outside your job description. What was the task? How was it outside your job? What was the outcome?
■ Give me an example of a time when you dealt with a difficult coworker. How did you handle the situation?

Behavioral interviewing is used for many occupations, but when hiring professional office staff, it's vital for helping us select new hires for attitude more than aptitude. A teachable person with a great attitude can learn virtually any skill, but a skilled person with a bad attitude can poison your environment and your bottom line. Behavioral interviewing won't eliminate an occasional misguided hire, but it should help you avoid getting burned more often than not. nOD

Dr. McElroy was named Optometrist of the Year in 2005 by the Georgia Optometric Association. He operates Family Eye Care, a group primary-care and contact lens practice in Tifton, Ga. E-mail him at


1. Society for Human Resource Management. Behavioral Interview Questions. Last accessed January 25, 2010.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2010