Last Updated on April 15, 2022 by Aenia Amin
As an optometry student, you’ve been studying optics and pharmacology, determining diagnosis, and honing your exam techniques—all with the ultimate goal of using this knowledge to improve the vision and lives of your patients while making a comfortable living. When it’s time to move beyond school and land the optometry job of your dreams, you need to be prepared with an entirely different set of skills.
We’ve compiled the best advice and top tips for getting the optometry job you want and securing the salary you need.
There are four key components to attaining your dream job:
- Contract negotiation
The two major job considerations when choosing a job in optometry are practice setting and location.
Within the optometry field, there are numerous ways to practice, including private, corporate, hospital, academia, and community health, along with more nontraditional settings such as the federal corrections system or Indian Health Services. Salary and schedule both vary greatly across these settings, so do your research and honestly assess which best fits your temperament, talents, and long-term goals.
It is commonly quoted, “location is everything.” Urban and rural practices each come with a particular patient population and specific challenges. Oftentimes, an urban setting offers the opportunity to specialize where smaller markets need a full-scope optometrist. Also, remember, you will live where you work, so think about whether you’d prefer to spend your off-time time in a bucolic small town, a bustling city, or a suburb somewhere in between. Consider the cost of living.
For both setting and location, do your research, talk to practicing ODs, and make a list with the pros and cons for each. Once you’ve established your criteria, it’s time to begin searching for openings that meet those requirements.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to find optometry jobs:
- Utilize eyecare-specific job boards, like Eyes On Eyecare, iHire Optometry, and Local Eye Site.
- Take advantage of your college’s career center.
- Join your state and local OD associations: Attend meetings and look for opportunities on their sites.
- Network: Get to know eye care professionals as well as a contact lens and pharmaceutical representatives within your community.
- Optimize LinkedIn: Make sure your profile is updated with current goals and accomplishments, a professional photo, and accurate contact information.
- Peruse the major job boards, such as Indeed, Monster, and Ziprecruiter.
You’ve identified potential employers! Now, it’s time to send them a resume they can’t resist. A resume is usually a one-page document that summarizes your education, work history, accomplishments, and skills. It should be formatted in an easy-to-read and straightforward manner with proper spelling and grammar. Let your experience stand out, not your hot pink stationary or crazy font.
A resume should include:
- Contact information: phone number and professional email address ([email protected] is always a good model).
- Education: schools attended, location, graduation year, degree obtained, concentration, and GPA (if noteworthy).
- Advanced education: specialty externships and residencies outside of your primary care experience.
- Work Experience: employer name, location, dates worked, title, and description of duties.
- Clinical experience: clinic name, location, dates and care provided (this section can be very important depending on the potential employer).
- Organization memberships and leadership roles: membership and roles in optometric societies, clubs or groups that demonstrate your initiative and experience.
- Honors /Awards: Here, you can include scholarships, grants, certificates, and other special honors that have been publicly recognized.
- Additional Skills
- Additional certifications aside from your OD license (business degrees, CPR, CPO, CPOC, etc.)
The most important phase of this employment process is often the interview. It is often the defining factor between two otherwise evenly matched candidates. Therefore, when you receive the call asking to schedule a time to speak, start preparing instead of celebrating. Entering your job interview being prepared is the best graduation present you can give yourself.
10 steps to a successful interview:
- Research: Learn as much as you can about the company/practice, and jot down any questions you develop during the process.
- Practice your answers to common questions:
- Can you tell me about yourself?
- What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
- Could you describe a challenging situation and how you dealt with it?
- What is your greatest accomplishment up to this point?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Dress for success: Wear conservative clothing, pressed, and be neatly groomed; there will be time to express your uniqueness later.
- Be on time; a good rule is to arrive 10 minutes early, but no more.
- Turn off your cell phone.
- Make eye contact, and answer honestly and directly.
- Be authentic and avoid “stock” responses: Employers want to work with people they genuinely like who will fit into their practice, not automatons.
- Always have relevant questions to present when asked (usually at the end of the encounter).
- Have references ready.
- Send a “thank you” note immediately following the interview expressing your appreciation and interest.
Keep in mind that an interview is just as much a chance for you to interview your prospective employer. Is this a place you can see yourself working? Do their values and practices align with yours? Will you be able to practice full-scope or medical optometry? Will you have the opportunity to work with the patient population that most interests you? The interview is often a key time to learn the answers to these questions.
TIP: In the age of video interviews, it is also important to have good lighting and sound, a tidy background that does not distract, and a reliable internet connection.
Negotiating salary, benefits, and schedule can be intimidating, and you may be tempted to accept the first offer you get to avoid doing so. Don’t. By confidently asking for what you want, you will not only garner a higher paycheck and more time off but the respect of your new employer as well. Think of the contract negotiation stage as another step in the interview process: is this an employer who will respect sound arguments and treat you ethically?
But before you enter negotiations, familiarize yourself with these three key stages:
Research the job market in your area and see what other ODs are making. According to Eyes on Eyecare’s Optometry salary calculator, optometrists just starting out make on average $109,000 depending on practice setting and location, which is $14,000 less than ODs who have been practicing for 5 years. Don’t forget to research basic benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time, retirement contributions, and covering costs of licensure and continuing education. Become familiar with salary versus production pay structure. Talk to classmates and colleagues about their contracts.
Take some time to analyze what you bring to the practice/company and determine what you feel is worth it. Make a list of why you deserve the salary and benefit combination you’ve deemed as acceptable. Be prepared to remind the employer of the unique skills that make you an asset.
This list may include:
- Being able to speak another language
- Specialty training in a clinic or with devices
- Knowledge of best business practices, such as credentialing and coding, and billing.
- Additional certifications or degrees
- Technical expertise
- The ability to attract new patients, through social media influence or community connections.
If done correctly, both parties will give up something in order to get something else that they want. To prepare yourself for a negotiation, know certain things you want, and certain things you are willing to compromise on.
- Ideal outcome: This is your best-case scenario. Make sure it’s ambitious, but not impossible to achieve.
- Realistic outcome: This is what you would consider fair and could accept without regret; if the negotiation is done correctly, this will be the most likely result.
- “Walk away” situation: In advance, know what is an absolute deal-breaker for you. Be ready to walk away at that moment, so you don’t regret it later.
- Back-up situation: If you have another job offer or a good alternative, negotiate more aggressively. If you don’t, you may need to compromise more.
Now, it’s time to celebrate. By following this advice, you have landed the job of your dreams and launched into your career where you’ll continue to grow and learn in this exciting field. As an optometrist, you have the power to make a positive impact in innumerable lives while enjoying a well-paying and rewarding job. But, ultimately, it will be your patients who gain the biggest benefit.