What does a hiring doctor look for in a recent graduate? It may not be what you think! I have been a practicing optometrist for over a quarter of a century now; I have long since passed being a “new” anything. I remember being a recent grad, and I remember thinking that no one prepared me for transitioning from the world of optometry school to the reality of practice.
Today, my partner and I own 15 clinics, employing over 20 optometrists. There are several things that we eagerly seek in a young doctor, and a few that we cannot abide.
What positive attributes do we look for in a new or recent graduate? An author in the business world that I particularly enjoy is Patrick Lencioni. In his recent book, The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni states that the ideal individual will be humble, hungry, and smart. Let’s look at each of these as they particularly pertain to hiring an optometrist.
First, be humble, and never be entitled
Well, that’s a fine line to walk, right? We know that you are unique, and that you have a great deal to offer. You know that you have worked hard for years to get to this point, and you need to convince us that you are the single best candidate for the job.
So how do you accomplish this while remaining humble? Give credit to others who have helped you along the way. Talk about what you hope to learn from the senior doctor. Most older docs are eager to share the knowledge that comes with experience; be eager to plug into that. Ask questions. If a topic comes up that you are unfamiliar with, ask.
For example, if the hiring doctor mentions a business term that no one in optometry school ever mentioned, ask what it means. You can 100% believe in yourself and in your particular intelligence, talent, work ethic, and relational skills, while remaining humble. If you’re asked a question like, “What is your greatest fault,” have a real answer. It shows introspection and a willingness to learn from your own mistakes.
Next, be hungry
How does this apply to approaching an interview, or new employment in an established office? Show that you are eager to work hard. You can do this in several ways. Be available to be on call. Ask the hiring/senior doctor how you can help them grow the business – they should already have ideas. If not, maybe that tells you a little about what kind of employer they would be!
Prior to the interview, think about compensation. How I think about a young associate varies based on what they want comp structure to look like. If they are willing to have a guaranteed base pay that is more robust year one, but drops a little in year two with an increased bonus structure, then I know that they are both hungry and confident.
When you own your own business, essentially 100% of your pay is based on performance. As an associate, that should never be the case; you should not carry that kind of risk. But a willingness to shift some income to the bonus side of the equation reflects confidence that you can grow your own patient base inside the existing practice.
Finally, be smart
The hiring doctor, for their entire career, has probably put everything they have into this practice. Likely, they are unfamiliar with the concept of paid time off, and have never taken more than 4-5 days off at one time. Just have the sensitivity in your conversation to having an awareness of this fact. Let that awareness filter your attitude and speech. You can use this opportunity to affirm the efforts of the hiring doctor.
Simple things, like dressing well, are a given. If you show up late, or disheveled, it plants a seed that you may be sloppy in patient care as well.
Be smart about practice choice as well. All of us have unique personalities; so do most practices. Some are dramatically skewed toward medical, others retail, others a good mix. Some will require membership in local civic groups, others not at all. Some clinics are “white coat clinics,” others are sports coat or tie clinics, and some are khakis and golf shirt clinics.
I’m not saying any one of those are better than any other; I’m simply saying that they have an existing personality and style. Try, as best you can, to apply in a setting in which you will feel most comfortable. You will be more content there, and enjoy your job much more than if you are in a place that is a poor fit for your own personality.
What do you have to offer?
Ultimately, realize that you have something to offer a prospective employer, and that they have plenty to offer you other than income. Embrace the opportunity for this type of relationship. Optometry, done correctly, is an amazing profession. It is deeply satisfying and rewarding, done the right way.
What am I looking for in a recent graduate? Someone humble enough to know that they still have a lot to learn; hungry enough to go for it with all they’ve got; and smart enough to know that our common goals are best realized by working together to achieve them.