My career advice

“We want to support and coach people who want to develop”

Christine Wrenn, head of operations at Valli Group, on the importance of teamwork and why the company prioritises those with ambition

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Getty/Malte Mueller

What is the one piece of advice that you would give to someone who wanted to work for Valli Opticians?

With the right attitude, you will go far with the Valli Group. We look for people who feel as though they want to develop their skills further. So, they want to improve on the skillset that they've got, or they want to progress to the next level from where they are. There are lots of facets that make up the role within an optical practice. Some people are quite happy to be in one place. Other people want to grow; they want to develop their skills. We want to support and coach people who want to develop.

When you’re shortlisting candidates, what’s the very first thing that you look for?

Great attitude, enthusiasm and a smiling face. We will always support development to the level that the employee wants. We've had people who have started working with us on Saturdays, who are now qualified optometrists and clinical leads within the group, because they wanted to progress further and further. We do a lot with student dispensing opticians, and with optical assistants who want to have more of a role in frame choice. Whatever they feel is lacking in their role, we can identify a training schedule for them to be able to develop to the next level.

How important is work experience?

Sometimes, when you have somebody who has no optical experience but has a lot of customer-facing or customer service experience, you can mould them to the way that you want them to progress. Sometimes when people have a level of experience, it's difficult to create change, because they've been so used to doing it a certain way and they're a bit reluctant to do it another way that would be beneficial.

It goes back to enthusiasm. If somebody comes to us and they've got no experience, but they are enthusiastic, or if they've got some experience and they want to progress, and I think that they're very open to discussions with us, we can help them on that journey.

I like it when people, in their cover letters, include hobbies that are a little bit unusual


How important is the cover letter in applications that you receive? What should be included?

It’s a good introduction to getting to know a candidate’s reasons for applying for the role. However, often grammar and spelling mistakes can alert me to their lack of attention to detail.

We like people who feel as though they are engaging in community. Other than the level of experience they have within optics or customer service, if there is something that they have done that has had an impact on the community around them, it fits in with the ethos of the Valli Group. We are very much into being able to help and assist the areas local to our practices. So, anything that they've done like that would be beneficial to us because it gives us an idea of their general attitude to other people. We can see that those people are inclusive; they want to be part of the team. So, that's very positive. I like it when people, in their cover letters, include hobbies that are a little bit unusual. That will say to me that their personality is something that I want to know more about.

What’s the biggest mistake that someone can make in an interview for Valli Opticians?

Having not researched our company beforehand. It’s important that candidates know what our ethos is so they can deliver the same values.

How do you go about ensuring fairness and equality in your hiring process? Do you have specific programmes in place to guarantee it?

Fairness and equality are part of our everyday values. Each candidate is assessed on their attitude and quality of their responses.

A new employee is preparing for their first week at Valli Opticians. What tips would you give them to be successful?

Be on time, be presentable, be enthusiastic, and apply a team player attitude. Teamwork is massive for us. We all have responsibilities within the practice, but our main responsibility should be towards our team and the people that we're working alongside so that we can help and assist them. Ultimately, the patient will benefit from this. So, we want team players. We want people who have the right attitude towards their colleagues, who can support and coach them. I've always said that I've never asked anybody to do something that they hadn't already seen me doing.

What is your favourite interview question?

I always try and find out why someone wants to move on. I always say, ‘tell me the reason you feel as though you want to move on from your current employer.’

Our main responsibility should be towards our team and the people that we're working alongside so that we can help and assist them. Ultimately, the patient will benefit from this


The other thing I like to ask is, 'if I was going to your employer now and I asked them to describe you, and how you integrated into the team and the practice, what would they say?' Sometimes, when those questions are answered, the response is, ‘well, you can't really talk to anybody. The managers don't listen.’ That makes me think, 'okay, we've got an issue here with teamwork or expectation.' So, I then have to delve a little bit more into it to try and find out the real reason why they're leaving.

How important is employee wellbeing at Valli Opticians?

Very important. We regularly assess our staff happiness and endeavour to actively support, coach and nurture our teams. We have an open-door management policy, so colleagues can contact senior managers if they have any concerns that are impacting the enjoyment of their employment with us.