Recruiting and Hiring for the Dental Practice

Posted on June 24, 2015 by Sandy Pardue

Successful hiring of staff and selection decisions are the foundation of all productive dental practices. It’s unfortunate that the hiring process in many practices has become a gamble at best. The applicant looked perfect, but when it came down to getting the job done they fell short of expectations. Even with a concerted effort to hire a great team, it could take a few years to find the right blend of personalities and talent for your practice. Hiring the wrong person and finding out a couple of months down the road can be costly.

You have spent eight years learning the clinical and scientific requirements needed to graduate from dental school. There is another side to dentistry that your dental school may have not prepared you for; that is the practice management side. Skillful practice management is the key to a successful practice and future. Both young and experienced dentists find this to be the most challenging aspects about practicing today. Those frustrations can be minimized if you establish some basic systems in the beginning.

One of your first tasks in setting up your practice will be to prepare for and create your dream team. I’ve listed out the necessary steps so that you can organize the process and develop a customized hiring system along the way. Take notes and type up your successful actions as you work through the steps below. Save them in a folder in your computer and print out each page for your hiring procedure manual. This will save countless hours in the future.

Step 1- Have a well written policy manual compliant with the laws of your state. This will be the first formal communication the practice has with a new employee. Take time to develop policies that lay out the hours of operation, vacation time, holiday pay, pregnancy leave, telephone use, internet use, dress code, every possible contingency should be covered in detail. The manual will define standards of behavior and outlines what will happen when those standards are not upheld. It should contain the practice’s employee policies and procedures for asking for leave and similar requests. It becomes an empowerment tool should you need to discipline an employee. The policy manual lets the staff know what is expected of them and cuts down on misunderstandings.

Step 2- Before you start interviewing you will need to develop job descriptions for each position. These should be customized for your practice so that you have something to show the applicants about the position they are applying for. A true job description is a simple description of what the job entails. Many confuse a job description with a procedure manual. You will need to familiarize yourself with your state’s dental practice act regarding delegation of duties to assistants and hygienists.

Begin the process by gathering information about each position in the practice. Familiarize yourself with the requirements and functions. This will give you the data you need to determine the skills, education level, licensing and personality traits that best suit the position. You will need to list out the responsibilities, required skills, specific duties, personnel requirements such as education and experience, attributes and pay scale.

Step 3- Develop an effective employment application. The application is a very important legal document that can tell you a lot about the applicant. A resume should never replace an application. In my experience a resume is often used as self promotion with little substance. Some of the things you want to learn from the application are:

  • Their ability to write and spell
  • Answers to job-specific questions
  • Information about past employment such as exact dates worked which is usually left off of resumes
  • Type of work desired
  • Salary requirements
  • Skills and work experience
  • References with contact information
  • Education
  • Eligibility to work in this country
  • Social Security number


The applicant should always sign and date the bottom of the application stating that the information provided is true. You must keep all resumes and applications on file for at least one year after the date of action. The application is also a way to get permission to check references, advise of drug testing and verify that they are a U.S. Citizen. If you plan on doing drug testing, credit report or a background check, which I recommend, you will need to have them sign a consent form. The consent form encourages the applicant to be more honest with you. Step 4- Prepare sample ads for each position and gather information on various advertising resources. The Classified Section of the newspaper is still producing good results. I see practices having success finding employees utilizing the internet. This allows you to streamline your search by targeting a more specialized audience. Many practices have utilized the following websites for promotion of an open position: When writing your ad, keep it short and to the point. I recommend that you create an ad for each position in the practice and keep them in your hiring binder to reference in the future. **You can ask that they can fax or email their resume. Step 5- Once your ad is placed, you will begin receiving resumes. Go through them the same day they arrive. Look for experience and stable employment. Avoid spending time with someone that was a dolphin trainer and now wants to be a dental receptionist while her boyfriend goes to summer school near your practice. She will not be committed and you will be wasting your time. Place the resumes that you are not interested in, in a dated file since you must keep them for one year. Begin calling the prospects that you would like to interview and set up appointments. Do not wait to start interviewing; the best applicants will not be available for long. Step 6- Write down the names and contact numbers on a calendar for every interview scheduled. Do not schedule interviews at the same time you are seeing patients. Be mentally and emotionally prepared. Do not prejudge the applicant and stay positive.

Once the applicant arrives, escort them to a private area to fill out the application. Interviewing is an important step to hiring the right person for the job. If you are not prepared, you will spend additional time on the process and may hire the wrong person, which is costly to the practice.

Develop a list of interview questions. I’ve included some below. Ask all applicants the same questions and you will become a master at gauging their responses. These are questions you will ask during the interview while taking notes as the applicant responds. Try to be natural and comfortable when asking the questions. This will help you get the answers you are looking for.

General Questions:

“What are two reasons you think you would be good for this office?” “If you could do anything career-wise, what would it be?” ”What did you like the most about your previous job?” “What did you like least about your previous job?” ”What are your weaknesses?” ”What areas are you most strong?” ”How do you feel about our business hours?” ”What are your pet peeves?” ”What would you do if a patient told you that they were unhappy with services they received by the doctor?” ”What do you want to be doing in 3 years?” ”Which dental software have you worked with?” ”How would you handle a patient who was upset about their long wait in the reception room?” “What are the most important things you are looking for in a job?” “Would it be a problem for you to work late on occasion?” “How many personal phone calls would you need to make or receive in a day?” “How would you describe your personality in five or less sentences?” “How many sick days will you need each year?”

If you are pleased with the outcome, introduce the applicant to other staff and give them a tour of the office.

The goal is to make the hiring process efficient, streamlined and effective. Planning in advance will increase your chances of finding the right person in a timely manner.

Additional Questions for Administrative or Front Desk Staff:

  • “How could you help our practice?”
  • “What would you tell a patient that called in 30 minutes before quitting time with an emergency.”
  • ”What would you tell a patient that called in 1 hour before their 3 hour appointment saying that they can’t come in due to a flat tire?”
  • ”What would you do if an employee talked bad about the doctor or other staff in front of you?”
  • ”What stresses you out?”

Additional Questions for the Dental Assistant and Hygienist:

  • ”What characteristics should a hygienist/assistant possess?”
  • ”What is your favorite procedure?”
  • ”What are some new skills you’d like to learn?”
  • ”How do you feel about presenting needed treatment to patients?”
  • “What do you like most about being an assistant/hygienist?”

You are not allowed to ask questions pertaining to:

  • Height and Weight- You can get their uniform size after hiring
  • Anything to do with children, childbearing or childcare
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Family planning
  • Age/Date of Birth
  • Criminal background or arrests
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Marital status
  • Nationality
  • Anything to do with wage garnishment
  • If they smoke or have a drinking problem
  • Condition of their health
  • Personal information such as maiden name or where they are from

At the end of the interview let the applicant know when you expect to make a decision. Send courteous letters out to applicants informing them that they did not get the job and thanking them for their time.

Many practices narrow their selection down to a couple of people and then set up a separate lunch with the rest of the team, not including the doctor. The team has input on the top candidates and the doctor makes the final decision after checking references and verifying past employment. I recommend that the doctor not delegate employment verification and reference checks. The doctor should speak personally to the past employers doctors. Avoid talking to staff. Call at least three references. Verify employment dates and wages. Ask if they are eligible for rehire.

Once you are at this point, if you are going to do any other screening such as credit check, drug testing or background check, I suggest that you do it now, in that order

If you are ready to make a job offer, do so and document salary, start date and anything else that comes up in the conversation.

You will need to protect your practice from legal pitfalls by becoming familiar with labor laws. There are many resources available to you. I recommend that you start with the Department of Labor’s Web site, The American Dental Association also has resources for its members through The Council on Dental Practice.

A good solid hiring and training system will save you many headaches and a lot of money over the years. The best investment you can make in your future is to hire and retain the highest quality staff. To build a great practice, hire great people.