Practice Tip #84: Hiring the Best Staff


For years we’ve posted tips to keep your practice running smoothly and to help you become more independent as dentists, hygienists, and dental office staff. We’ve helped you avoid (or at least minimize) down time with routine maintenance and simple repairs of things like air water syringes. The requirements of owning and operating a dental office go well beyond these matters. On top of everything, you need to worry about accounting, marketing, and staffing. That can feel daunting and overwhelming. Let us try to help you alleviate some of the stress that comes with hiring with a few pointers.

Staffing issues seem to be extremely common in dental offices. There are a LOT of misconceptions about hiring and firing being circulated in the dental industry. Fortunately, American Dental has in-house experts in HR as well. This month, we’re going to look at resumes. We will show you what to look for, how to screen candidates based on resume’s, and the all-important second step of resume screening, the phone pre-interview.

Much has been published by HR experts about the importance of a properly written and proofed resume. Unless spelling and grammar are important to the position, we don’t recommend giving them too much weight, however. For an assistant, these things aren’t important. For a front desk or associate position, the ability to use proper spelling and grammar (or at the very least a computer and the spell checker function) may be more important. Keep the requirements of the position foremost in your mind when reading resumes.

When first reading resumes, some things that should raise concern (not necessarily red flags, but a yellow flag at least -- proceed with caution):

- Multiple gaps in employment can be an indication of an unreliable employee and one that may have been terminated more than once.
- Short term employment (<2 years) at several positions. This can be an indication of a job hopper or problem employee.
- Long unexplained gaps in employment can also be a bad sign (although this is something you should ask about when phoning the candidate if it isn’t explained in the resume).

Of course, screening isn’t all negative. Look for employees with relevant experience and the requisite training/certification/education (as applicable to the position for which you are hiring). Fewer positions, with longer employment periods at each, is usually a good sign of a loyal and worthy candidate.

For some positions (e.g. front desk), dental-specific experience or training may not be required. Keep this in mind as people with experience in retail, hospitality, or food service (restaurants) often have great people skills that can translate well to a front desk or treatment coordinator position. You’ll need to be prepared to train on filing claims and other procedures they are not likely to be familiar with. Generally, personality and attitude are things you need to hire for, skills and knowledge can be trained (regardless of prior experience, you WILL want to train them to use your systems and processes).

Once you’ve sorted resumes (and discarded those that have eliminated themselves), call candidates to further screen and pare down the candidates.

By giving the potential employee a call, this will grant you a unique opportunity to review the candidate’s phone skills. This can be extremely valuable if you are hiring for a position handling your phones. Secondly, this can give you insight into the candidate’s demeanor and professionalism. While you’re almost certainly calling a home or private phone, something as simple as how they answer the phone can reflect on their professionalism and attitude.

Before calling candidates, keep in mind these questions to avoid throughout the process (these can get you in trouble):

  1. Anything pertaining to a protected status (e.g. age, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation [in some states], disability, etc.) is to be avoided. A common age-related pitfall is their date of high school graduation. Most people graduate high school (in the US) at the age of 17 or 18, so a high school graduation date can be a fairly reliable indicator of age. It is OK to ask for educational credentials, however.
  2. Questions pertaining to marital status and children should be avoided. On a related note, health related questions and particularly anything pertaining to pregnancy is to be avoided.
  3. A number of questions that may seem innocuous on the surface could also be construed as questions pertaining to race or religion. Things like appearance-related questions (hair or eye color) can be indicators of ethnicity; club or organization affiliations (these are often religious or ethnic in nature), or even if the employee may be unable to work on specific days (e.g. Sundays -- a very common religious restriction is a prohibition from working on a certain day of the week). That is, you cannot ask “Are you able to work Saturdays?” It is permissible to ask “Are there any days you are unable to work” or “What hours and days would you like to work?” It is permissible (and a good idea) to inform the candidate of your days and hours of operation. “We’re open Monday through Thursday, from 8 AM to 6 PM, and Fridays at 8 AM to noon. Does that work for you?”
  4. As implied above, there are things that you need to know and which are permissible to ask. Much as you can discuss the specific hours required, you can also ask the candidate if he or she has “reliable transportation.” You can discuss any physical requirements of the position (perhaps standing for long periods for a sterilization tech) or special skills that might be required.

NOTE: the above list is not all-inclusive, but are some common landmines to avoid. For complete information and particular legal considerations in your state, consult a lawyer specializing in employment law in your state.

When speaking with the candidate on the phone, you will want to review job history, covering at least the last 3-4 positions (this is generally adequate for your purposes). In particular, verify dates of employment at each position and job title. Review compensation to determine if the pay is what they are accustomed to and is in line with what you are prepared to pay (it doesn’t need to be an exact match, a good candidate may be worth a little more than you originally budgeted, perhaps). Review job duties to see if they have experience that will pertain to the position you wish to fill. Ask why the candidate separated from each position. Note that termination from a previous position in and of itself isn’t necessarily an automatic indication of unsuitability. You need to consider the candidate as a whole (and the circumstances of the termination) before eliminating them from the process (and in relation to other candidates). By reviewing employment history, you should develop a decent profile of the candidate’s work ethic, career path, and type of position he or she is interested in. Last of all, inquire why the candidate is applying for the position with you. This can give great insight into his or her motivation to see how well it blends with your existing office staff and practice culture.

As you may have noticed, most of the information you’re asking about in the phone screening should be already on the candidate’s resume. You are simply confirming what they wrote. If any information was fabricated, they may not recall what they wrote, so their verbal answers will differ. Large discrepancies between their resume and their verbal answers is a red flag. More than one such discrepancy is a good sign the candidate can be eliminated from the pool. “I’m sorry, your experience and qualifications aren’t a match for the position.” Avoid getting into a discussion of the particulars of why you’ve eliminated the candidate, it will only go poorly for you (and possibly open up legal complications). Just repeat a derivation of the “experience and qualifications” phrase above. You also don’t want to start a debate with the candidate. You just want to politely and professionally let them know you aren’t interested.

Last of all, question any irregularities or causes for confusion generated by a resume. Things like large gaps in employment can have legitimate or even helpful explanations (e.g. “I took 4 years off of work to get my hygiene degree”), so ask about them. If the candidate dodges the question or provides an evasive answer, this should be considered a good sign they aren’t the candidate for you.

Once you’ve phoned the candidates who passed your initial screening, you should have a smaller pool of candidates that may be suitable to interview. Review your notes to form a pool you can call to start scheduling interviews.

Next month will we go over the next phase of hiring: The interview.



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