Making Hamburgers or Making Magic?
Creating quality job descriptions improves hiring and employee performance
Randy Leininger, MBA
Consider the following job descriptions. To which of the openings would you be more likely to apply? Which position would you prefer to manage?
Crew members work in the kitchen preparing food and help customers through the ordering process at the front counter. Job duties include cooking hamburgers and other menu items, operating the cash register, running the drive-through window, cleaning the restaurant, and completing other tasks as assigned.
Food & beverage quick service cast members create magical and enjoyable dining experiences by ensuring the highest standards of guest service. Cast members are responsible for working in a fast-paced restaurant environment preparing food, taking orders, handling cash, stocking supplies, and keeping the restaurant clean.
These job summaries are for restaurant worker positions in the same city, and both are from giant, well-known companies who are competing for the same employees. However, the first sentence of each will have a significant influence on the specific type of candidate who will apply. Some job seekers will choose the first job over the second because they don't want to "make magic"; they just want a job making hamburgers. Other more highly motivated candidates will choose the second job because of the elevated work environment depicted in the description. The skills or "what" required for the two jobs are the same, but the expectations for the employee's attitude or "how" he or she will perform them is entirely different.
In "How Does Your Garden Grow?," which was published in the May 2021 issue of Inside Dentistry, I emphasized that dentists need to employ teams of engaged, resilient, and adaptable staff members.1 The key to building such teams is to hire attitudes and train skills, and specifically tailoring your job descriptions toward attitude can help you to accomplish this. Excellent job descriptions will both attract the new team members that you are looking for and set performance expectations for after they are hired. But what should they include? Let's examine the following job description from a typical post for a dental assistant.
Typical Dental is growing and looking to add another dental assistant to our incredible team. This is a full-time position working Monday through Thursday and every other Friday for a half day. The compensation is competitive and based on experience. Benefits include health insurance, dental coverage, paid time off, a monthly bonus, and a 401(k) with a matching program and optional profit sharing.
Typical Dental does not want to provide run-of-the-mill dental care to their patients. They want the practice to be the happiest practice on Earth. Unfortunately, this won't be accomplished by simply "adding another dental assistant." Like you, they need a dental assistant with an attitude that aligns with the practice's vision. To create job descriptions that attract the best candidates and help retain them after hiring, consider the following guidelines.
1. Open the Books
According to a 2018 study by LinkedIn, 61% of the participants indicated that specifying compensation was essential for a job description.2 Base pay should be part of all job descriptions if for no other reason than to prompt candidates who find the compensation unacceptable to self-eliminate, saving you the time of reviewing resumes that will be dead on arrival. In addition, there is a wave of new legislation in some states and localities surrounding how compensation is treated during the hiring process, including rules that require compensation to be listed in job postings and prohibit asking candidates about their salary histories. Get ahead of the curve and get used to the idea of greater transparency regarding compensation at your practice.
If listing the base pay in a job description concerns you because your current team members will know how much the new person is making, then you are likely paying your current team members below market value or have significant disparity in how much you are paying individuals who work in similar roles. If you are worried about one team member seeing another's paystub, that is on you, not them.
2. And the Oscar Goes to...
Imagine that you had to present awards to the best dental assistants that you had ever worked with. Describe how they performed their roles with the perfect attitude. Were they always smiling? Did they help other team members without being asked? Did they embrace the unexpected? In what ways did they interact with patients that demonstrated to you, the team, and the patients that they truly cared about their work? Remember that the primary focus should be on attitude. Don't focus on "what" they are expected to do; focus on "how" they are expected to do it.
Take a moment to revisit the job descriptions at the beginning of this article. The phrase, "create magical and enjoyable dining experiences" paints a subjective emotional picture whereas "work in the kitchen preparing food and help customers through the ordering process" is objective and bland. Instead of including a vague cliché such as "must be a team player" in the job description, say "helps without being asked, and asks if others need help."
3. Be SMART About Expectations
The acronym SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, is typically associated with setting goals or performance objectives. Too often, we see "required skills" in job descriptions that lack the level of specificity necessary to attract the right candidates. SMART skills set specific expectations for performance. Instead of saying "make temporaries" in the job description, say "create, finish, adjust, and cement temporary crowns and bridges in 15 and 25 minutes, respectively." You may even want to refer to the specific materials/protocol that the candidate will be expected to use. Taking the time to create SMART skills will eliminate the "sorry, but that's not how we did it at my last practice" conversation halfway into a new hire's first day at work.
4. Get Rid of Your Amalgams
If you don't have specific education or experience requirements, then don't post "expanded functions dental assistant with more than 5 years of experience preferred, but will train the right candidate." Such amalgamations may save you the cost of posting descriptions for two job openings, but it isn't worth the risk of confusing potential applicants. Instead, post a job opening for an EFDA with 5+ years of experience and a separate one for an entry-level dental assisting position.
In "How Does Your Garden Grow?," I compared ideal team members to "oaks" and "acorns." Both oaks and acorns have great attitudes that allow them to make magic at the practice. Oaks already possess skills, whereas acorns still will require training in order to grow into oaks. If you have the time to train, run two job openings instead of one. Running one amalgamation risks discouraging entry-level candidates from applying because your job description says that you prefer someone with experience. Don't dissuade any acorns from becoming your next mighty oak.
5. Steal From Your Competition
The temptation is to start by doing this, but you shouldn't. It is best to get your own ideals and ideas down before you poison your mind with what other practices do. If you are completely stuck, look up job descriptions posted by businesses from other industries that have a brand or customer experience that you admire. Pay attention to how their job descriptions are structured and the type of language that they use.
Once you've captured your own ideas using appropriate language, open Google and type "dental assisting jobs near me" into the search bar. Look for posts from practices that you recognize. Read their job descriptions, take any ideas that you like, and incorporate them into yours. In addition to further improving your job descriptions, this will also give you an idea of your market's salary range and benefits.
Don't Stop There!
Many practices only develop job descriptions for posting open positions. More often than not, when I ask practice owners for a copy of the job descriptions for current employees, they freeze like a deer in headlights. Follow these five guidelines for creating powerful job descriptions to create ones for your current team members as well. Even if team members have been working without a job description for years, they will appreciate knowing what you expect from them. These job descriptions should include the following:
• Role title (eg, assistant, certified assistant, expanded functions assistant)
• Role-specific compensation range
• Expectations regarding attitude
• SMART skills and performance measures
• Employee benefits
Developing quality job descriptions makes the management of team members much easier because it sets expectations for the entire practice. When your team knows that you expect magic, they will deliver it!
1. Leininger R. How does your garden grow? Inside Dentistry. 2021;17(5):8-10.
2. Lewis G. Here's what candidates actually care about in your job description. LinkedIn Talent Blog. https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-acquisition/job-description-heatmap. Published June 19, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2022.
About the Author
Randy Leininger, MBA, is the founder of Troutberry management consulting and the CEO of Just Crowns dental laboratory in Boise, Idaho.