Interviewing 101: Essential Strategies for the Dental Practice

May 9, 2022

Did you know that the average cost per hire is just over $4,000? It’s no surprise that employers want to hire a reliable employee who will stick with their company for years to come. That’s why this week, we would like to dive into the fundamentals of hiring at your dental practice, including what to look for on a resume, as well as what questions to ask when you interview candidates in your office.

If you’ve ever wondered how to hire a dental office manager, dental assistant, dentist, or other position at your practice, we’re here to help! Let’s dive into some essential tips for interviewing from an expert: Tom Nemcek, HR director of Vivos Therapeutics.

Prepare for Relevant Questions and Responses Ahead of Time

First, when looking at resumes of applicants, look for any gaps and make sure to ask about these during the interview. They could be something innocuous like having a baby, or they could be something more important like serving time in prison. Also, make sure to verify that the candidate has any necessary education and licenses for your open position.

Keep in mind that the purpose of interviewing is twofold:

  • Employer: Could this person work for our practice?
  • Candidate: Do I see myself working at this practice?

Not only are you trying to see if a candidate is the right fit for you, but they are also considering whether this position is right for them.

Apart from focusing on a candidate’s impression, you’ll also need to think about the realistic negatives of your practice. For example, will the job involve working on Saturdays? Does your practice seem dated due to the décor? Then, you can preemptively try to answer these questions. For example, you might decide to respond to these negatives with “Usually, I bring in bagels to help staff working Saturdays” or “We plan on painting the office next year.”

Plan Interviews Proactively

When you schedule an interview with a candidate, try to pick a slow time at your practice and be clear with them in writing via email or text what will happen in the process. One of the primary reasons candidates ghost interviewers is that the candidate feels like their time is being wasted. The clearer you can be from the beginning, the better.

Here’s an example of a great message you can send candidates about an interview:

The interview will begin at [ADDRESS] at 4 p.m. on Monday, June 6. You will be meeting with Dr. Smith for 30 minutes and the office manager for 30 minutes. Please bring two copies of your resume. When you arrive, you can park anywhere in our parking lot. The practice is on the second floor. When you get off the elevator, take a right, and it’s the third door on the left. When you arrive, tell the receptionist that you are here to speak with [INTERVIEWER]. If there are any issues or questions before the interview, dial [CONTACT] at this [PHONE NUMBER].

Ask the Right Questions

Make sure your space is clean and free from distractions before beginning. Then, start by asking a few basic job-specific interview questions for dentists like the following:

  • How long does it take you normally to clean an operatory?
  • What kind of continuing education courses have you taken?
  • What do you know about the practice? (Candidates should be doing some basic research into your practice.)
  • Why are you leaving your previous job? (Realize that if the interviewee complains about their current office manager/doctor, they will probably complain about you. This is not an issue if the interviewee is bringing up something serious (like someone at the practice sexually harassing them), but you will need to follow up with questions to ensure that you have the whole story.)
  • What are your salary requirements? (Not “What did you make at your last job?” which is considered an illegal interview question based on laws in some states.)
  • What type of schedule can you work?
  • When would you be available to start?
  • Do you have any future time-off requests?

These questions will help you learn more about the candidate as it relates to the specific job they are interviewing for.

Ask Behavioral Questions

For the rest of the interview, you should be asking the candidate behavioral-based interview questions related to dentists. These are questions that will make the candidates give specific examples of how they have handled similar situations in the past.

Behavioral-based interviewing questions include the following:

  • Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed in a busy practice. How did you handle it?
  • Give an example of a goal that you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • How do you prioritize between patient issues and practice issues?
  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry patient.

Asking behavioral-based interview questions gives you an idea of the candidate’s past performance, which is the best indicator of future performance.

Consider the STAR Method

Ideally, candidates should answer questions using a STAR format. STAR stands for

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

For example, if I were to ask a question like “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond your normal job duties,” a great answer that hits on all of these points would be something like “At my last job, the office manager had to be unexpectedly out of the office. The doctor asked me to schedule patients for the next week since the manager was out. I taught myself how to use the scheduling software and made confirmation calls for existing appointments. As a result, we did not have any patients cancel while the office manager was out.”

Avoid Possibly Illegal Questions

There are also questions that you should avoid during the interview that could be illegal based on federal or state/local laws. These illegal questions include the following:

  • “Are you a US citizen?” Instead, ask, “Are you available to work in the United States without requiring sponsorship?”
  • “Do you have a disability?” Instead, ask, “Can you fulfill all of the requirements of the job with or without accommodation?”
  • “Are you planning to have a family? When?” No variant of this question should be asked.
  • “Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?” No variant of this question should be asked.
  • “Would you have a problem working with a female/male doctor?” No variant of this question should be asked.
  • “Where did you grow up?” Seems safe, but there are laws stating that you cannot discriminate based on national origin.
  • “Do you have any children? How old are they? Are you married?” Too personal.
  • “What year did you graduate from high school?” Instead, ask, “What’s your educational background? Did you graduate?”
  • “What did you make at your last job?” Possibly discriminatory. Instead, ask, “What are your salary expectations?”
  • “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Possibly discriminatory. Instead, ask about gaps on their resume.

Once the interview is over, you should ask the candidate if they have any questions. Then, you need to quickly decide whether to offer this individual the position or not and provide them an offer letter.

Interviewing can be challenging, especially if you don’t know interview questions a dentist should ask during an interview or what specific traits to look for in a candidate. However, with these tips and questions, you’ll be able to fill the available positions at your dental practice in no time!

Stay tuned for our next post, where we will talk about creating a great onboarding experience for your new hires.

About the Author

Tom Nemcek works as the human resources director for Vivos Therapeutics, Inc. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a bachelor’s in human resources. Tom has over 13 years of experience working specifically with dental offices. Prior to starting with Vivos, Tom ran the human resources department for a dental service organization with over 160 dental offices in 14 states with over 2,000 employees.

Tom is passionate about creating a dynamic and unique culture in dental offices to set them apart from competitors. Tom currently lives in Dallas, Texas, with his spouse and likes to travel and read in his spare time.