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Inside Dentistry
April 2010
Volume 6, Issue 4

How to Hire Great Employees

Selecting the right staff could be the single most important thing you do for your practice.

Peter Gopal, PhD; and Hema Gopal, MBA, DMD

One of the keys to success in a dental office is recruiting top employees and building a strong team. Conversely, hiring the wrong employee can cost the office dearly in terms of lost patients, decreased production, and increased work load for the other team members. Countless hours are wasted in training that new employee, and the entire cycle of screening, interviewing, hiring, and training has to be repeated with another candidate. While recruiting is not a pure science, there are ways to dramatically cut the risk of a hiring mistake.

Many dentists rely purely on intuition for hiring. They believe they are naturally equipped to “read” people and make hiring decisions based on gut instinct. Others want to make a quick decision to get on with things. Hiring in this manner without a rigorous, carefully planned process will generally produce poor results.

The payoff from a rigorous selection process is huge, as having “A players” in your practice is often the fastest way to improve and preserve practice performance.

Who is an “A Player” for Your Practice?

The first step is to determine the characteristics of an “A player.” Ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. In the past, what behaviors and qualities have you seen in great employees?
  2. What critical competencies do you need in your practice? These are the soft and hard skills necessary to perform superbly in the specific job at your office.

Here are some critical competencies and behaviors that you should consider. You may wish to augment or modify this list to suit your office requirements.

  • Dependable. Comes in to work on time and has an excellent attendance record.
  • Professional competence. Knows their subject matter.
  • Communication skills. Speaks clearly and confidently without being verbose.
  • Attention to detail. Does not let important details slip through the cracks.
  • Initiative. Takes action without being told. Takes a proactive approach to resolving problems.
  • Team work. Respects and values the contributions of their co-workers.
  • Customer service orientation. Cognizant of customer service issues and looks for increased patient satisfaction.
  • Coachable. Learns quickly. Open to new ideas.
  • Maturity. Welcomes opportunity for self-improvement. Receptive to feedback and criticism.

Once critical competencies and behaviors have been determined, the following process will lead to higher levels of hiring success.

Evaluate the Resume

Your first step is to evaluate the resumes you have received for the position you are looking to fill. In this initial assessment:

  • Look for a match based on the skills required for the job.
  • Look closely for length of time on previous jobs. An applicant who has switched jobs frequently and has not held any job for at least 3 years may not be a good prospect.
  • Verify employment history. We do not find reference checks to be particularly useful, as past employers are often wary about providing honest input regarding an applicant’s performance.

Conduct Initial Screening Interview

We suggest you call the short-listed applicants and conduct a 5- to 7-minute screening interview by phone. This step in the process is not meant to be a detailed assessment of the candidate. However, it can eliminate applicants who cannot comply with your office hours or location, do not seem enthusiastic about the position, harbor unrealistic salary expectations, or have extremely poor communication skills. Schedule an in-office interview if there appears to be a reasonable match.

Conduct In-Office Interview

It is crucial that two people interview the candidate separately during the applicant’s visit to your office. Aside from the owner dentist, a senior team member or the office manager should be assigned and trained to interview applicants. A second opinion enhances your odds of making a sound decision. The second person brings a different perspective and will usually bring to your attention areas of concern or strength that you may have overlooked.

Before the second person interviews the candidate, there should be an exchange of information with the first interviewer. Areas that need further clarification should be noted. The second interviewer should ask a different set of questions from the first interviewer.

Ask questions that require more than stock answers, ones that will require the applicant to share real experiences. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Check for the critical competencies and behaviors that you identified earlier.

Conduct Working Interview

Bring the most promising candidates back in for a full-day working interview. The best way to evaluate people is to watch them work. The working interview is a day when you ask the candidate to fill the role for which you intend to hire them. While the candidate may not be able to do the job competently (without further on-the-job training), you are looking for the following:

  • Can they follow instructions?
  • Can they learn quickly?
  • Are they able to communicate clearly?
  • How do they interact with co-workers and patients?
  • Can they keep pace with the doctor (dental assisting position)?

Gather input from your staff regarding the candidate’s performance and suitability for employment. Elicit both rational and intuitive feedback. Ask your staff if there are specific areas of concern. If there are areas of real concern, discuss them with the applicant at the end of the day. Do not shy away from these concerns, as they often come back to haunt you later. Probe these specific issues in detail before you make a final decision regarding the candidate.

Red Flags

Some red flags to look for throughout the interview process include being late for interviews; not being able to explain job moves/changes; speaking poorly of past bosses; and having unreasonable expectations of office and co-workers.


By identifying the competencies and behaviors you are looking for in an applicant and then following the process above, you will be able to identify and recruit the talented employees you need to take your practice to the next level.

About the Authors

Peter Gopal, PhD; Hema Gopal, MBA, DMD
The Gopals are co-founders of Visionary Management, a dental practice management consulting firm based in Pennsylvania. They can be reached at 215-295-6975 or

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