Rebecca Johnson: The Art of Smart Hiring

Management advice from Rebecca Johnson

Update job descriptions, interview questions before posting your next ‘help wanted’ ad

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of INVISION.

In the eyecare business, the word “turnover” can be either positive or negative. Frame turnover is good! Staff turnover? Not so much. More than 20 percent of practices lose staff each year. When it happens, productivity, team morale and revenue can all decline. Finding a good fit is not easy ... and releasing someone who is not a good fit can be gut wrenching. Over the next three issues, let’s look at better ways to hire, retain and release employees.

When a long-term staff member resigns, we tend to panic. Our impulse is to immediately begin looking for a replacement for that exact position. This can cause regrets. The next time you lose an employee, take time to define (or redefine) the position. List all the tasks the employee did, and don’t assume these duties matched the position’s job description. For example, your departing team member may have taken on the responsibility of maintaining your Facebook feed or watering the plants. Do these things belong in the new job description? Are they tasks another current employee would enjoy doing?

Once you update the job description, it is time to meet your future employee. The first challenge in the process is carving out time to conduct the interviews. Telephone interviews can save time by helping you make a quick, first impression before you set a formal interview appointment. Call the applicant and thank him for applying. Ask about his interest in the job, and you’ll get a better idea whether the applicant is “just fishing” or if he has a true interest in working in an eyecare business. You can also get a sense for the applicant’s language use and professionalism — and whether you’re interested enough to schedule an in-person interview.

The interview is an information exchange between you and the candidate. You tell the candidate about the company and the position; the candidate tells you about himself or herself. Both of you have decisions to make, so providing honest information will allow each side to make the best decision.

Think out your questions ahead of time. Posing the same questions to each applicant allows you to compare answers “apples to apples.” Two good questions for discovering applicants’ specific characteristics are: “In what area do you feel you have a natural talent?” and “What motivates you?”

People thrive in job positions that allow development of their natural talents, and a motivated employee will work hard and remain loyal to your practice. On the flip side, if a person’s answers don’t mesh with the position, it’s best to keep looking. For example, someone who is strongly motivated by money and the desire to win may not be the best choice for an optician if you pay a straight salary instead of base pay plus commissions.

Of course, salary can be a sensitive issue no matter what your compensation program. Ask questions such as: “What salary do you expect to make in this position?” “What do you base that figure on?” “How do you think your compensation should be determined?” “What non-cash aspects of compensation are important to you?”

If you’re still interested after the in-person interview, invite the candidate back for a second “working” interview. Pay the candidate to come in for a half-day to interact with your other team members. Skill testing should also be part of this second interview. For instance, you might ask a prospective back-office technician to perform and document a comprehensive history on a “pretend patient” — or, if the candidate does not have previous experience, you can teach her how to do an autorefraction to gauge her potential.

Ask your existing staff their opinions, too. Allowing your staff to participate in the interview process demonstrates your desire for teamwork. That’s a key part of retaining good employees, which is what we’ll discuss next issue.

REBECCA JOHNSON is a 30-year veteran in the eyecare business. She is the executive director of Business Consultative Services for GPN and owner of EyeTrain4You, an ophthalmic staff training and development company. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..