Beyond Practice Management: Hiring and interviewing -- Part 1

2009 08 19 10 27 14 220 Don Deems 70

There is perhaps no greater frustration and expense to a dental practice than finding the right team member. With today's dwindling dental workforce, finding qualified -- even trained -- individuals isn't what it was even 10 years ago. In some areas of the U.S., doctors may only have one or two applicants to choose from for a position, as compared to 20 years ago when at least 10 times that number were available.

How can a dentist attract the right team members? What skills, systems, and programs must be in place to market, attract, interview, and eventually hire the right person? In this article, let's explore all the facets of the process of hiring just the right person for your practice.

First things first!

Before we jump into the steps of hiring, let's take a look at several important preparatory steps, the first and most important of which is about you. To incorporate any new team member into your practice, you must be committed to the following:

    Rule No. 1: When you choose a team member to work with you, you MUST be 100% committed to their success. Anything less and nearly anyone will fail.

    Rule No. 2: You must believe in your heart that the team member has the capacity to be a 10 at his or her position. Why would you hire someone knowing the best the team member will ever be is a 7? Quite frankly, you'll set yourself up for failure.

Second, do you really need that new team member? Because team members' salaries, benefits, and such are the single highest part of your overhead, think critically about whether those job duties might be completed in another way with your existing team. If it's possible, look for ways to redistribute the workload. Talk with your team about absorbing the duties, and explore options for making it a win-win for all. You might find that you can save yourself a lot of time and money by just doing that.

For example, do you really need three chairside assistants? If your practice is focused on providing comprehensive, full-mouth dentistry and you have two assistants, you're paying a lot of money to have the other assistant. Practices struggle to keep two assistants busy, focused, and productive. The "insurance" of having an extra assistant generally isn't worth it and usually encourages absenteeism.

Consider using the Internet, computerization, or outside services to handle many of the clerical needs of the practice. Maybe you've been putting that off because you feel more comfortable doing things "the old way." Many practices can easily use one front office staff member to handle the work flow without it being overly burdensome. Obviously, larger practices will need more than one front office staff member.

Finally, have you considered working with a hygiene assistant? Many practices find this a very productive way to care for their patients without the overhead of a second hygienist, or in situations when dental hygienists are in short supply.

Preinterview planning

The third most important step is getting crystal clear about the position you're hiring for. Answer all of these questions before moving on:

  1. Do you have a written job description in place for that position?
  2. Do you have an office policy manual for the employee's review?
  3. Do you know the pay range you are willing to provide for that position?
  4. Do you have the employee benefits and any bonus agreements in writing?
  5. What are the most important attributes that the new employee must have, without fail?
  6. What are the desired attributes you would like the employee to have?
  7. What experience and specific skills must the person have for the position?
  8. Will the position require any special licenses or permits?
  9. Do you have a training schedule already in place for the new employee?
  10. Have you scheduled time on your calendar weekly to meet with that new employee for feedback and training until the team member is up to speed?
  11. Have you chosen the questions you will ask all applicants?
  12. Have you assembled a group of two or more staff members to assist in the interviewing process?
  13. Do you know what personality style will work best with your existing team?
  14. Is everyone in agreement about exactly the person you're looking for?

If all of these questions are answered and completed, you're ready to move on.

Marketing for the position

Where have you found your best employees? Was it through an employment agency? Ad in the newspaper? The Internet?

It goes without saying that the best employees are usually the ones already working, unless you happen to find a dentally experienced person who's just moved to the area or you are fortunate enough to attract an employee who didn't find a good "fit" at their current office. Try these other avenues for looking for possible candidates before spending money on advertising for that new position:

  • Ask your team. Do they know someone who might fit the position you're hiring for?

  • Ask other dental offices that you know have been hiring. Do they have any leads?

  • Go to local dental meetings and talk to your colleagues. Have they interviewed anyone lately that might work for the position you are trying to fill?

  • Contact local state associations, organizations, and dental schools; they may have several leads for you.

  • Go shopping -- for employees, that is. Some doctors have had great success when they met a retail store associate who had the attributes they were looking for. Most retail stores don't hire full-time employees, so if you run across someone you think might work, give them your card and ask them to interview. Remember, the best employees are probably already working, so you'll have to find a way to pique their interest in your business.

  • Talk with other human resources specialists. If there is any "light" industry in your town, such as electronics or plastics, you'll find these types of employees do well in a dental practice. Arrange to meet with the director of human resources and explain the position you have to offer. Don't be surprised to find that they'll think you provide a great opportunity. Often these directors tend to know someone who would fit well in your office.

In part 2 of this two-part article, I'll explore the screening process, interviewing techniques, and the screening resources critical to ensuring that you're hiring the best applicant available for your practice.

Dr. Deems is a professional personal and business coach to dentists and their teams and is a practicing dentist. Since 2005, he has been named to Dentistry Today's Top Leaders in Continuing Education and is the author of several books, the most recent titled The Dentist's Coach: Build a Vibrant Practice and the Life You Want. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 501-413-1101.

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