Securing a placement: tips from employers
OT asked employers, careers advisors, AOP experts, and students for their advice on what makes the ideal pre-reg applicant, tips for interviewing, and how to stave off stress when applying
15 May 2022
OT asks employers: in one sentence, what is the ideal pre-reg applicant?David Clulow: A driven, positive, and dynamic candidate who is both passionate about optometry and the brand that David Clulow has built itself up to be.
Boots: A communicator, a leader, and someone who is passionate about providing great care.
Hakim Group: Somebody who is willing to go above and beyond, and who really wants to stretch themselves to be the very best optometrist they can – and that will be a moving goal as the profession evolves. Really, if you’re passionate about optometry, and you can demonstrate that passion, we’ll absolutely have you here.
Specsavers: Someone who is friendly and engaging and as passionate about providing an incredible patient experience as we are.
If you’re passionate about optometry, and you can demonstrate that passion, we’ll absolutely have you here
OT asks The Careers Group:
Advice for applying to a pre-reg position
Careers consultant, Estanis Bouza, from the City, University of London’s careers department: When applying for pre-reg placements, remember that there is a vast array of employers that can provide placements. Every optometry student will be applying for the big ones – which is a great idea – but there are also small High Street practices that can potentially give you a placement. Don’t shy away from knocking on doors and asking if opportunities are available. If you can make it work, get out of your local area. There are large areas, such as Kent, where pre-reg placement opportunities exist, and are far away from any university that trains optometrists, and where competition may be less.
When applying, make sure that you do your research and write well-tailored cover letters for each employer, rather than giving all of them the same generic blurb.
The same applies if you are applying for a hospital placement, but also remind yourself that the environment and nature of work will be different. Reflect on what these differences are, why you are suitable, and become articulate at explaining your motivation.
If optical work experience has been difficult to secure
Bouza: One piece of advice for students is to think very carefully about the various benefits that they would gain from an on-site work experience placement as a matter of course, and how they might be able to gain those benefits in other ways.
One way to think about this is in terms of capitals or resources:
- Human capital (skills & knowledge). Opportunities to consolidate, apply and enhance the things learnt on their courses
- Cultural capital (awareness of behavioural norms and values). Opportunities to observe people and scenarios in the workplace
- Social capital (networks & support). Opportunities to meet helpful people and build relationships
- Personal capital (self-awareness & self-confidence). Opportunities to try new things, reflect, and get feedback.
Students may have to be more proactive in gaining those opportunities in different ways by being prepared to ask for meetings and advice.
This can also be helpful when presenting their experiences on CVs. Rather than just recording the experience, students should think about explaining the benefits to the employer. How has this experience increased your value to the employer by increasing your capitals?
OT asks employers: what are your three top tips for interviewing?
- Try to relax into the interview and leave the nerves at the door. We want to get to know who you are as a person, and what makes you tick
- Know about the brand beforehand. We love it when people are as passionate about the company values as we are, and it shows during the interview
- Don’t hesitate to bring your questions with you. We want to tell you about our scheme and the fine details are often some of the most important.
- Arrive on time
- Take your time before answering the questions
- Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer.
- Be yourself and try not to let the nerves get to you. This is an opportunity for us to get to know you, and vice versa
- Prepare. Not only is this a professional approach for an interview, but it is a confidence builder for you. Think of some examples (work or personal) of your achievements and have a couple of questions ready for your interviewer. If it’s virtual, make sure you are in a quiet place and all of your tech is working. If it’s in person, plan your route and your timings, and get there ahead of the meeting so you are as relaxed and unflustered as possible
- Smile. As cliché as it sounds, starting with a smile and a friendly hello is the foundation of a good interview, just as it is the foundation of a great patient experience.
Starting with a smile and a friendly hello is the foundation of a good interview
Firstly, don’t be shy about applying and knocking on doors to get your CV out there. Make sure of all the things that the university tells you: that it makes sense, is spellchecked, and has a cover letter.
- It’s a two-way street – for the practice to interview you, and for you to interview the practice – because you are there for a long time. It is about making sure that the practice is the right fit for you, and that you are the right fit for them
- Think about the whole range of experiences that the pre-reg year will bring you – not just in terms of getting across that barrier of exams – but think more broadly about where this would set you up and take you in your career
- Be curious – whether about the level of equipment that they’ve got in the practice, or the level of support they will give you in terms of tuition.
The Careers Group:
- Do your research on the employer and the environment where they operate
- Try to anticipate interview questions and practise answering
- If you are currently studying, seek support from the University Careers Service. If you are a graduate, find out whether your university can still support you, as many continue to do this until well beyond graduation.
OT hears from students:
What advice would you have when applying for pre-reg?
Martha Glain, optometry student at Cardiff University: Keep an open mind and don’t panic. If you don’t have a particular practice in mind, throw the net out far and wide. Get your name out there and contact as many practices as you can, this way you can get a clear idea of your options. Be sure to do your best to properly research and make sure it’s the right fit for you.
Think about what you want to get out of your pre-reg year. For example, if you want to go into a specific specialism, see if the practice offers low vision assessments, or glaucoma screenings, etc.
You’ll be spending more than a year of your life at your chosen practice, so it’s crucial that you are happy there. Another tip would be this – it’s never too early to do your research on potential practices and doing this could save some unnecessary last-minute stress.
OT asks students: what are your tips for managing stress when applying for pre-reg?Glain: Take time to figure out what you want to get out of your pre-reg; remind yourself that it is a process, and that it’s important to stay positive and maintain your perspective.
Indy Ghuman, optometry student at Aston University and chair of the AOP student committee: If you try your best then that is all you can do. Not getting a position you want is not the be-all-and-end-all and you can learn from it. I think we want to be the best, and get the exact position, but if that’s not meant for you then there will be something else that comes your way, which is for you. Be open to that change when things don’t go to plan, but remember that things will work out for you in the end.
When you are applying and interviewing, you are also seeing how suitable an employer would be as your supervisor – seeing it as two-way can make it less intimidating
Anil Kirit Rach, student representative for Optometry Scotland and optometry student at Glasgow Caledonian University: My advice for fellow students is to remember that everyone is on your side. They want you to succeed, and will support you.
Huda Hathaf, AOP student representative and optometry student at Cardiff University: Wherever you are in your journey to pre-reg, be confident in your strengths and acknowledge them, no matter how small they may be. Don’t feel discouraged if you still haven’t found a pre-reg placement and others have. Instead of giving up, be proud of your achievements and how far you’ve already come. Always keep going and stay motivated. Remember that ‘The best view comes after the hardest climb’ and after all the obstacles you’ve faced, it will all be worth it.
Concerns and misconceptions
The AOP’s employment team shared the common concerns they see when it comes to student or pre-reg employment, and shared their recommendations for what to be aware of, and the support available.
Are there any particular challenges or concerns that the employment team had heard from students or pre-regs?
The main concerns we hear about from pre-reg’s are around tie-in fees and leaving the pre-reg placement during the tie-in period.
The most common reasons we see students wanting to leave their pre-reg include:
- A breakdown in the relationship with the student and the manager and/or supervisor
- Students not receiving enough clinic testing time (and not gaining enough practical experience with supervisor, usually being used as an optical assistant)
- After a student becomes qualified, they often assume they are entitled to a higher salary, which is not the case. If the new salary does not meet their expectations or they are offered something better, they will usually want to leave
- A change in life circumstances, such as moving house or location.
How has the AOP’s employment team been supporting students and pre-regs?
We review pre-reg contracts and sponsorship agreements, and review the breakdown of pre-reg training costs to help push back on the fees and seek further evidence where appropriate.
Are there any common pitfalls or misconceptions to be aware of when entering employment?
It is important to consider the location of the practice. Often students move away from home to do their pre-reg and want to move closer to home after they qualify. Some students want to move to a closer practice, but do not realise that leaving the store will still cost them the full fee.
Another common misconception is that many students think they are entitled to a pay rise as soon as they become qualified. Whilst some companies honour this, the student is not automatically entitled to it after they qualify.
Is there any advice you would have for pre-regs beginning their employment?
It is important for students to establish a good rapport with their employer and in particular the pre-reg supervisor. The supervisor is their first point of call, they are there to support the student throughout the process. The company may also have a pre-reg support team who can provide support and advice throughout the year.
Before commencing the pre-reg placement, always thoroughly check the pre-reg contract, sponsorship agreement and offer letter.
Students will need to ensure they are meeting the practice’s required testing times. It is important that their practical skills meet the requirement for registered optometrists by the end of their pre-reg placement. Students should always ensure good record keeping and go through them to improve their clinical knowledge. Revise and stay organised.
More information on the support available from the AOP employment team is available on the website.
Moving into pre-reg? Three helpful resources from the AOP
- Students and pre-reg members can use the AOP’s Pre-reg register to list their availability for a placement
- OT’s education library hosts OT’s skills guides along with archived CPD articles, covering a range of topic areas
- AOP students and pre-regs, newly-qualified optometrists and locum members can apply for the AOP mentoring scheme to be paired with an experienced member of the profession for support on a variety of topics and issues.
OT would like to thank the following contributors:
- Natasha Luthra, resident optometrist at David Clulow’s Wigmore Street flagship site
- Jayne Johnson, learning and development manager at Boots Opticians
- Claire Slade, head of professional advancement and governance at the Hakim Group
- Careers consultant, Estanis Bouza, from the City, University of London’s careers department
- Huda Hathaf, AOP student representative and third-year at Cardiff University
- Dr Leanne Smewing, clinical lead optometrist for the School of Health professions at the University of Plymouth
- Indy Ghuman, final-year student at Aston University and chair of the AOP student committee
- Anil Kirit Rach, student representative for Optometry Scotland and fourth year optometry student
- Amy Cooper, final-year student at Cardiff University
- Matha Glain, final-year student at Cardiff University.