How to qualify for and find a job as an optometrist
Thinking about an optometry career? You've come to the right place! Whether you're a wet-behind-the-ears newbie or a seasoned optometry professional, we can help you learn how to train, get qualified or get that job on the next rung of the ladder.
21st October 2013
In this guide, we cover:
- How to get onto an optometrist degree course
- Where to find optometry jobs
- How to do your best at each stage of application, from CV to cover letter to interview
- Options for CPD
- How to decide where to take with your optometry career - no matter how specific your interests
Just read on now to find out more and best of luck in whatever you need to do!
Applying for an optometrist qualification
To get onto an optometry course in the UK, you need some pretty solid academic skills. GCSE expectations vary from place to place. At the lower end, a mere C in English required and, at the higher end, you're expected to have at least 5 GCSES at C (including English and Maths) with a B in Physics or a BB in Double Science.
A Levels expectations do not vary as much. Generally, you must have taken Biology as a subject, avoided General Studies and, should you have taken Maths and Physics, these will stand you in excellent stead. Interestingly, some universities don't have minimum grade requirements but for those that do, you'll need at least ABB, if not AAA.
Didn't do Science at A Level? There is another option. Cardiff University have a 4-year option for those that scored well in Arts and Humanities. You still need excellent grades of ABB that demonstrate your ability to work hard but your Science know-how can be topped up in your first year and you'll join the standard course in Year 2.
Entry paths also involve some flexibility with some universities willing to consider alternate educational routes (such as BTECs). However, on the whole, you'll do best if you achieved good scores in your country's standard and academic higher educational exams.
Work experience in the optometry field
Optometry work experience is a pretty straight-forward affair. You can either undertake placements or, with any luck, you 'll have worked at an optometrist practice before.
A good place to start is to try your local hospital's optometry department or one of the high-street chains. The latter sometimes offer summer programmes so do look around for these. An independent optometrist would also make for a really interesting bit of work experience – especially if you think you may want to operate independently.
If you're having trouble finding a placement, contact the course leaders for the degree courses you want to apply to. They may be able to help you get in contact with good services or, if there aren't any optometry-specific placements in your area, they should be able to advise you on suitable alternative experience.
Getting your CV in order
CVs are so important when job-hunting. They become the essence of who you are as a job seeker (along with your cover letter). Therefore, making them perfect is incredibly important. After all, they list your experiences, roles held, education, continued development and skills – all crucial categories for securing an optometry job.
The contemporary employment process also affects the way you write your CV. As we all know, employers won't look at your CV for long as they've many many others to consider too. It's thought your CV may get as little as 6 seconds attention when amongst tens or even hundreds of CVs and, when we're working with figures like that, silly mistakes will get you thrown in the bin!
Another modern impact is that of computers – it's common now for HR departments to scan CVs with a computerised program that looks for certain key words. Similarly, as with our site, you may well be uploading your CV for employers to search. This too means that you must be careful to get your wording exactly right for the role you're looking for!
So first, we need to get the basics covered. We always recommend that you start afresh when approaching your CV for a new job as it generally ensures you get each section right! Open a new document and enjoy that clear, white field of possibility!
Now, we're really, really going to start at the beginning because we need to. Lots of people fall at this first hurdle:
• Are your name, address, telephone number and email address all present and correct?
Don't laugh. People do this all the time. I've even made this mistake (no email address, unbelievably.). Take your new document, type your name on the left—giving it a slightly larger font so that it stands out nicely—and then get the other details on the right in a simple, readable font.
This is also a great time to check your self-presentation – do you come across as sufficiently professional? There are two possible issues here; your email address and your voice mail. Email addresses must be professional – addresses like MuScLe69kingbitch@pumpinironinnit.net don't look good.
If you don't have a simple and formal email address, go to one of the global email providers, sign up for a free account and make sure it only includes your first name and last name. If you have trouble acquiring one because your options are already taken, you could add in initials, birth year or an appropriately placed dash or underscore.
Next, take a few moments to make sure your voice mail message sounds good. You've probably forgotten that party when you decided to record everyone laughing hysterically at that trick with the courgette and it's probably provided many a chuckle over time but it will not roll with HR. Double check now and record a simple, friendly message so that HR aren't scared off when inviting you to interview.
Finally, take your new document and enter these four fundamental headings: professional experiences, professional skills, education and qualifications, and references. If you're confident that your old CV is still pretty darn good, then feel free to copy and paste across. If you're starting anew, then merely enter the headings (in that order) and read the next section for advice on how to get your content really good.
Entering the right information
Make sure you're putting the right kind of information into each CV section. To do this, you may want to use it to go back over your old writing when editing or use it to start afresh.
In CVs, the standard practice is to write in reverse chronological order. There are some types of CV or resume where you enter them differently but if you are in any doubt, stick to the classic. Start with your current or most recent job and work backwards.
Make sure you give the right information to your prospective employer by including your job title, name of organisation, start and end dates and a bit about your experiences and responsibilities. None of these should be exceptionally long – just write a few sentences that summarise the basics. The interview is when you'll be expected to go into detail.
Skills technical and useful
This section is a great way of quantifying your worth as a healthcare professional. In a skills section, you get to enumerate all the different things you can do. It's more than 'good team-worker' or 'friendly work persona'; it's things like your technical abilities in patient pre-testing, eyeglass adjustment or contact lens fitting.
Some people prefer to leave these details within their job history and you are welcome to do so. However, teasing your skills out into a section all of their own makes it very easy for HR to see just why they should pass your details along to whoever is making the decisions for interview!
If you're new to the sector and are worried you don't have enough skills to fill this area, think back to your placements and the specific things you did in each. Also be sure to use bullet points for extra readability.
Again, qualifications and educational opportunities are written in reverse chronological order. Start with your most recent optometry qualification and work your way back.
If you're a recent graduate, this will probably be your degree course. If you're an old salt, it could any one of many CPD options that relate to optometry specialism. Equally, long-standing optometrists may choose to omit courses if they are irrelevant and take up unnecessary space.
Last, you must mention references. We no longer need to include full reference details so just leave a line here telling them that 'References are available upon request'. But do drop a line to your references now before you apply and make sure they're happy to be contacted.
Developing your CV from simple to superior
To make sure your CV is a really good CV, think about these three key areas:
- How you use your English.
- The way you present and stylise your information.
- How you format the final document.
Using good English goes beyond the advice of getting a friend to give it the once-over; it requires attention to a few key areas. You can get rid of the biggies by using your word processor's spell check function. This will make sure that errant apostrophes and stray commas are herded back into place and that the key language is spelt right (but make sure it's set to UK English, rather than US English!).
Next, read it out loud to yourself. This is simply the best way I know of making sure that my writing reads well. If it's making you stumble or stutter, it needs rephrasing. If it sounds unnatural or forced, it probably is!
Try imagining it being read by someone you know that holds a professional, formal position – maybe a tutor or teacher? Would it sound right if they read it as it's written? Make sure you aren't informal nor too overly rigid and pedantic. Your information needs to be presented neatly, simply and in a harmonious fashion; all of which can be achieved with by reading it to yourself and making the appropriate changes.
Then comes the need to remove unnecessary fluff. There are two ways we fill our writing with fluff; using the passive voice and including redundant statements.
Redundancy can often be found in our job description section. Phrases like 'Responsible for' or 'Duties included' are a waste of space: it's your CV and you're writing about your jobs. Of course, you were responsible for certain duties. Removing these bits of fluff is a great way to trim back your word-count and get more of that precious space to enter more relevant material.
Similarly, the use of the passive voice really inflates one's word count. Speaking in the passive voice essentially means that you're writing like a newspaper reporter. For instance, “My MA in Optometry was undertaken from 2002-2005'. What you mean is 'I took a 3 year Optometry MA in 2002'. It reads better, sounds more confident and reduces the word count.
Styling your content
Much like we style our hair and bodies (Braids or ponytail? Shirt or T-shirt?), CV writers can make a stylistic choice between paragraphs and bullet points.
Making this decision is based on which section you're working on. Skills sections and education summaries always look good in bullet points.
Job history is a toss-up; it depends on your writing style. If you write you job summary as a few longer sentences, keep it in paragraphs. If you tend to write short bites of information, bullet points are best. Both present well but bullet points are the most readable.
Formatting your optometrist CV
Last, we must make sure your document's marvellous content looks as professional as it is. Only ever print onto white or pale, off-white paper. Your font needs to be in a readable and universally-used format like Arial, Times New Roman or Verdana. It also really shouldn't be above 12-point size. Using anything larger than that means you could probably write more or condense it onto one sheet.
Another feature that will get you in the bin is flashy nonsense - make sure there aren't any personal photos, clip art or borders. After all, this ain't a Powerpoint presentation, it's a formal document.
Finally, be sure to keep your paragraphs short and neat with room to breathe. We do this by making sure there is plenty of white space included. Space between paragraphs (just like in this piece of writing) and ensuring that paragraphs don't extend over a few sentences will make your information ultra-accessible to the person reading it.
Remember, a CV functions as a summary of your job history. You can go into detail at interview!
Writing a great cover letter for optometry jobs
Now, I don't know about you but I always thought cover letters were an idiotic formality, seemingly designed to waste my time and exhaust my mind. How naïve I was! It turned out that I merely had never had cover letters properly explained to me. They're not dull restatements of facts from your CV; they're yet another chance to persuade that recruiter that you're the best gal or guy for the job.
There's even a useful structure you can follow to make your cover letter excellently persuasive! Here's how.
Why you want the job
First, you start by explaining why you want this job and no other. A sort of sensible and practical piece of flattery that helps them connect to you personally and think about how you'd fit in. Maybe you like their patient cohort or maybe you like the way the firm is structured. Whatever it is, tell them about it.
How your CPD matches the role
Even if you're a recent graduate, you'll have had experiences that are similar to the role on offer. Whether you need to plumb your degree course placements or winnow out the most relevant CPD from your years of development, make it very clear as to how you're already experienced in the area. You may need to get creative but there will undoubtedly be something you can talk about.
What you hope to achieve
Another chance to spin the tale of “How I'm the best choice for the job!”. Talk about your aspirations upon employment. Do you look forward to developing along a certain line of specialism? Or perhaps you are excited at the prospect of getting some managerial experience? Paint them a picture of the kind of worker you hope to be.
Your personal qualities
For the last paragraph, you get a chance to show your personality a little. We talked above about hard skills – here is where you can talk about your soft skills. Be careful to write modestly but tell them about the kind of worker you are, whether you're amiable, diligent, focused or organised.
Finish with contact details
Finally, end on a sentence reminding them of how to get hold of you: reiterate your telephone and email address, inviting them to contact if they've any questions at all.
Preparing for your optometry interview
So, your cover letter and CV were a hit and you got your invitation to interview—Congratulations! Next comes the task of getting ready and showing off the best you that you can. All interviews requires the same basic preparation and these six sections will take you through them.
Let's start on a positive note: checking your speech for its infectious positivity. You see, people sometimes find it hard to come across as optimistic. Maybe it's your mindset or maybe it's your cultural background – whatever it is, you need to make sure it doesn't leak into your interview. You see, no-one likes a Moaning Minnie.
It's okay to point out when things are going wrong but if every statement is couched in pessimism or self-deprecation, it gets rather wearing. We advise below to have a role-play run through with a friend – ask them to monitor the way you frame your answers and tell you when you're getting gloomy.
Check for competency tests
In healthcare interviews, it's entirely possible that there will be some form of competency test. It's not a certainty, so ring up and ask if they expect you to demonstrate any practical skills or undergo something a little more psychometric. Hopefully, if there is a test, it will be mentioned in your invitation to interview.
A classic and very simple one – check your route to interview! If you're driving, make sure the day before that your tank is full and that there aren't any roadworks planned; if you're taking public transport, check the provider's website and the council site for things like roadworks or festivals that will alter the route you need to take.
If you've time and you're feeling exceptionally diligent, you could do a dry run and practice getting to the place on time – whatever makes you feel most confident.
Clothes and grooming
To look your best on the day, a little preparation is needed. Get your outfit ready a day or so before – is everything clean and ironed? Similarly, does anything need dry-cleaning or mending?
If you want to get a haircut or other grooming, make sure you do it several days before (even at the start of your job-search) so that it all had time to settle down (owners of newly-shorn, bad haircuts will know what I'm talking about!)
The night before the big day, relax. Try to get everything ready by, say, 7pm so you can have a few hours doing whatever it is that makes you feel brilliant. A bit of time spent feeling good will translate into confidence on the day. Maybe a nice bath and a book, maybe a run, maybe a couple of hours at the pub – whatever makes you happiest.
Roleplay is a really good way of making sure you're not missing any awkward little habits or behaviours that you personally would fail to notice. Fiddling, hair-twiddling, nail-biting, whingeing or self-deprecation are the main things here: get it noticed and do something to address it!
First, research the employers. They are likely to ask you for your opinion regarding them or something they've done – have a look back in recent years for any controversies or big projects and familiarise yourself with them. This can also be a good way of finding intelligent questions to ask them.
It's also likely that they will have had some form of inspection at some point. If this is the case, get hold of the report (by visiting the inspectorate's website) and have a scan. Again, look for big events – good or bad – and think about the professional implications. IF they had a bad inspection, there should be an organisation reply released somewhere. This is another good resource that will inform you of the company culture and attitude towards setbacks.
Another really valuable step you can take to blow them away at interview is that of gathering your information and collating it into neat and easily-delivered packages. Not packages that you rigorously rehearse and stick to no matter the questions you're asked. Just take the opportunity to lay out your achievements and be sure of delivering them usefully and attractively.
Find out about them and be able to talk about your thoughts on what they've done and what they plan to do. Keep up to date with current events and especially with those that will impact on optometry provision. Develop some opinions and practice telling others about them.
Summarising your skills, abilities, experiences and knowledge
This area is another related to information gathering. Interviewers are always seeking to test each of these categories, over and over. What you've done, what you can do, what you know and when you used it are incredibly important categories to be au fait with.
It will take a couple of hours to set up but once you've gotten all the information properly organised, you won't regret it. Similarly, you could do it in order to talk about your study, your previous roles, your future goals and...that dreaded question...your biggest weakness!
A great method for organising this is the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Or, in other words: what happened, what were you supposed to do, what did you do and what happened because of that? You can use this generally, for summarising job roles, or more specifically, for outlining answers to those classic kinds of interview questions, like 'a time when you had to use team work'.
It's really worth taking time to do this. I'll say this 'til I'm blue in the face. It's worth it. It'll give you a real boost of confidence and meaningfully show them that you're a sensible sort of worker that will put in the effort to get the best results possible.
What do you think about current events?
For any professional, qualified role, it is entirely possible you will be asked to give your thoughts on topical current events (or even just current events in general). If you aren't up to date with the news, start reading it each morning.
If you're not up-to-date with the world of optometry, find yourself a good optometry news website, subscribe and take in more information! Of course, you don't have to read everything; just scan some headlines and read more for those you find personally or professionally interesting.
If you don't really have time for this, a quick hack is to use Google News. Here, you can set up alerts for specific keywords and get emails to let you know when something pops up. This method is better for on-going news familiarity, however – in the days and weeks before your interview, spend just 10 minutes each morning reading the headlines and think about those which could impact on healthcare provision.
To register (and stay registered) with The College of Optometrists, you need to ensure you make time for Continued Professional Development (CPD) in your field. The College uses a framework called Continuing Education and Training (CET) to make sure you are adequately informed to operate as an optometrist.
As a registered optometrist, the College of Optometrists want to see evidence of 36 points' worth every 3 years with a minimum of 6 points per year. 18 points needs to involve interactive communication with peers (and the more interactive, the higher the point score!), 3 points should come from a peer review or discussion and points should also be distributed across all 8 optometry competency units. If you are a therapeutic specialist, you need a further 18 points in specialism-specific CET activities, again achieving at least 6 points every year.
For more general CPD, returning to university for courses or modules is a good bet. You might want to take on post-graduate study, attend short courses, or merely take stand-alone modules or day courses. There are a real variety of subjects out there, from Refractive Surgery to Advanced Visual Science to Gonioscopy to Paediatric Optometry.
Typical optometry career path options
Optometry is so much more diverse than just working behind a counter somewhere in town – corporate work, independent and self-employed work, academia, hospital work, education and travel are all options for your optometry career.
As mentioned before, you can apply to work with the big corporate chains; Boots, Specsavers, Optical Express and so on. If you're very much a people person, you could soon work your way up to managing high-street services. Similarly, very large companies sometimes like to employ their own healthcare professionals to look after the staff.
If you love to develop and explain methodology, academia might be a good choice! After some time working in the area and following your post-graduate study, you could return to university to train the next crop of optometrists.
Should you be more of a wandering soul, there are options to travel the world. The armed forces always need health care specialists to take care of their employees or, if working on an aircraft carrier's not your thing, you could volunteer with charities like the VSO and help other countries to develop their optometry provision.
For those that love the clinical and medical side of optometry, hospital work is a good bet. You'll experience diverse and complex challenges to patients' eye health and you'll liaise with the orthoptist and ophthalmology departments too. You'll start out as an optometrist and have the option to work up to consultant level.
Finally, self-employed and independent optometry are very much an option if you value your freedom! You can start or buy an independent practice, allowing you to really specialise and focus on the areas most important to you. Great business skills are needed for this route too. For those interested in self-employment but also the safety of some pre-existing structure, the high-street chains often offer a franchise set-up where you operate under their name. Indeed, Specsavers is entirely made of franchises.
We hope this guide has been useful to you – whether you're just starting out, choosing your A Levels or looking to make a lateral step to another realm of optometry, we wish you the very best! Let us know how it all goes at our Facebook page or, even better, email us to be interviewed about your success in optometry!