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The five best dental job interview questions to ask — and two to avoid — to build an outstanding team

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Educational aims and objectives

This self-instructional course for dentists aims to demonstrate the importance of the interview process in the dental industry to find quality hires.

Expected outcomes

Implant Practice US subscribers can answer the CE questions by taking the quiz online to earn 2 hours of CE from reading this article. Correctly answering the questions will demonstrate the reader can:

  • Realize the importance of the hiring process and the regulations associated with it.
  • Recognize which questions dental professionals should avoid in the interview process.
  • Identify key questions to ask to find quality hires for dental practices.

Ali Oromchian, JD, LLM,  shows how to hire the best possible candidates and avoid interview questions that can cause legal concerns.

Ali Oromchian, JD, LLM, offers suggestions to find out about your potential new hires without legal concerns

When you’re in the position of leading a company or charged with hiring a team to run a practice, you want to make sure you’re hiring the best possible candidates. However, when your business is a dental practice, it’s not only your financial success that’s a concern, but also people’s dental health and overall well-being. That’s why the job interview is essential to master — it‘s the key to bringing in candidates who can make your practice thrive. It can also be the roadblock that results in the construction of a lackluster team.

To build a practice that consistently brings in loyal patients and provides quality care, start by focusing on the dental job interview. If you can master this first step in the team-building process, you’ll continue to build a solid foundation as your team grows. It’s essential to ensure the interview process is fair, nondiscriminatory, and most of all, legally compliant to avoid getting yourself and your practice in legal hot water. Keep reading to learn about the essential questions you should focus on during a job interview and which questions you should legally avoid.

Why the dental job interview matters

The hiring process has always mattered for a dental practice. Choosing the right people to staff your team can make for a group of employees who work well together and help keep patients happy. Choosing the wrong people can make for an unpleasant and stressful environment both for colleagues and the patients they serve.1 However, the hiring process, including the job interview, is more important than ever because there is currently a shortage of dental job applicants post-COVID-19. In fact, according to ADA News from the American Dental Association, more than 80% of practices attempting to hire staff are currently finding the process either very challenging or extremely challenging.2 More than half of dental professionals even consider recruiting their most challenging HR issue.3 This means that dental practice owners or hiring managers are focusing on making their practice a desirable place to work.

While a cohesive, kind, and qualified team may convince a candidate to join a practice, a disjointed, improperly trained, or unhappy team may turn someone away. Make clear in the interview process that you care about your team members and the overall culture at the practice. Allow team members to engage in open communication with candidates to ensure they receive an accurate picture of what to expect regarding the work environment and the role itself. Approaching interviews in this manner will yield more success and help you find the right, motivated, and qualified candidates you need to serve your patients.

The best dental job interview questions to ask candidates

Now that you understand the importance of acing interviews in the dental industry, let’s see which interview questions are the right ones to ask. To begin, start by making a checklist of the technical skills and soft skills (i.e., personal attributes needed for success such as time management and teamwork) desired as well as the level of experience and competencies you need. This makes it quick and easy to hone in on which candidates are options to consider, and which are not.

You’ll also want to leverage the expertise of an HR specialist to manage the process of hiring a new team member for your practice. HR specialists are experts in interviewing and hiring, and they can ensure your process is legally compliant and effective. They can also identify both promising signs and red flags in a candidate that you may have overlooked due to a lack of interviewing or hiring experience.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can take time during the interview process to express interest in a job candidate and to make a potential new employee feel welcomed. The dental job interview is both a screening and recruiting process: You want to assess whether or not the candidates meet the requirements of the job description and if they are a good fit (i.e., they display those soft skills you desire). Once you have established that, you can determine if it is appropriate to engage them in further discussions that help attract the candidate to the role and your practice. The best job interview questions to ask a candidate for your dental practice follow.

Why did you decide to work in the field of dentistry?

Your field is a particular one: It has its perks and its drawbacks, and it offers very specific hours, benefits, and challenges. When you’re interviewing candidates, ask why they’re drawn to this particular field. This will give you insight into what they’re passionate about doing, how they want to spend their time, and how deep their knowledge of the field is. It is with these questions that you can get the candidates to talk about their education and previous dental work experience.

All of the candidates’ experience should demonstrate purposeful steps toward making a decision to have a career in dentistry. When your candidates answer, listen for the qualities you are seeking. Do they align with the values expected of all employees at the practice? Do they like helping people? Do they have empathy for those in pain? Are they fascinated by the human body and innovative technologies being developed to help it? Alternatively, are they mostly focused on the paycheck? This is a question that reveals candidates’ true values and motivations and gives you insight into whether they’re in it for the same reason as the rest of your team. This can give you a clue into whether everyone’s values will align for a cohesive culture and shared interests.

How do you envision dentistry as we move into the future?

This is an open-ended question. However, it can show you whether candidates see potential growth in the field, and if they’ve considered ways their position might change down the road. In a dental job interview, you don’t just want to know if someone has the right skills to perform day-to-day tasks. You want to see if candidates are thinking about a long-term career with your practice — or at least in the field. The answer candidates give to this question also gives you insight into the candidates’ ability to think creatively, to genuinely understand issues in the dental field and, more importantly, understand new ways dental professionals might be able to help solve those problems.

Static thinkers can keep a practice static. Dynamic thinkers can help ensure that a practice continuously evolves, staying on the cutting edge of what dentistry has to offer. Finally, in a job interview, you want to see if the candidates are planning to be in the field for a long time, or whether the job you’re offering is just a stepping-stone. You want to boost retention as much as possible and minimize turnover, so candidates who haven’t considered the future of dentistry might be giving a sign that you’re not in their long-term plans.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends and news in the dental field?

Similar to the previous question, this inquiry shows whether candidates are invested in the field and show the concrete ways they are doing so. To provide the best dental care possible, you need employees who are interested in how the industry is changing and improving.

Again, dental job candidates who are thinking about the future of dentistry are likely to want to have a job in the field in the future. Those who are not may be thinking of this job as a temporary position on the way to doing something else. It’s important to keep an eye on this because it may be a sign that hiring them will lead to turnover, which is very disruptive and expensive for a dental team. According to a recent survey, 27% of employees in the dental industry will leave within 2 years of being hired.3

Have you previously worked in a stressful work environment? If so, can you describe a time when you performed well despite the stress you experienced?

It’s no secret that working in a dental office can be stressful. This question can help identify if candidates are prepared for the stress that comes from working in a practice and how they might handle that stress. You want your candidates to demonstrate their competence and ability to remain calm when things get difficult. This is especially important because patients look to dental staff to calm them down when they’re scared or stressed. The professionals around them should be able to stay calm and avoid compounding stress in the office environment.

Asking about stress management is also a window into your candidates’ emotional intelligence — a generally important quality to have when you’re working with patients and other team members.

Have you experienced any failures in your career, and if so, how did they help you grow?

This is another question that asks about the candidates’ weaknesses in a dental job interview — and it also allows you to see what mistakes they’ve made and, more importantly, how they have reacted when faced with a failure. You want new team members who can overcome any challenge, and who won’t get defeated if things become difficult.

This particular question gives some insight into creative thinking because candidates may reveal that they were able to come up with a clever solution to help improve their professional “failure.” Creative staff members are always exciting and motivating to have around, coming up with innovative solutions and forward-thinking ideas, which can help keep a practice growing and evolving as time passes.

Table 1: Interview questions to avoid and legal alternatives

Dental job interview questions to avoid asking any candidate

The preceding questions are essential to ask in any dental job interview, as they allow you to examine candidates beyond their qualifications and achievements. The candidates can give you an idea of their quick-thinking and problem-solving abilities as well as how they will interact with patients and colleagues. However, there are also some questions that you should never ask in an interview because they could get you or your practice in trouble.

Many questions may seem harmless enough on the surface, but in reality they could be discriminatory or even illegal. Certain questions can also make your practice seem unappealing, which could drive away potentially great candidates in an already tough hiring market. So how do you avoid certain questions, while still finding out what you need to know about candidates? When interviewing dental practice candidates, make sure all questions are fair, nondiscriminatory, and solely based on experience or other job-related factors. Several questions that you should never ask in job interviews with dental candidates follow.

What’s your current salary?

While you can discuss salary in an interview if a candidate brings it up, it’s important to be aware of the state you’re located in, as many states have laws/restrictions around salary inquiries. Never, under any circumstances, should you ask the candidates what they make at their current job. Not only does it put the candidate in a weird position (allowing their potential employer to manipulate their offer based on what they currently make), but it’s a risky question legally, since many states prohibit it. If your candidates directly share their salary with you, that’s fine — but you’ll want to take note of the fact that they actively shared that info without being asked. Take this opportunity to redirect the conversation toward the topic of salary range for the particular role the candidates are interviewing for. You want to proceed cautiously and ensure your knowledge is up-to-date regarding salary questions. You don’t want to violate a law before you’ve ever even decided whether you want to make a candidate an offer.

Tell me more about yourself [insert personal protected information here].

A lot of personal information is legally protected in the professional realm. Candidates and employees are not allowed to be asked about certain topics, since they might be discriminated against based on these answers. These topics include things such as disabilities (including pregnancy), age, previous medical history, marriage status, and more. Essentially, job interviews should be strictly professional and should be solely focused on the job duties/competencies required for the role and candidates’ professional experience — both in the past and their goals for the future. Avoid all personal topics if possible unless a candidate brings something up — then you can simply listen and attempt to redirect the conversation. Following these guidelines ensures you won’t risk discriminating against candidates based on personal or protected information they shared with you.

How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?

While on the surface it makes sense to ask this question — after all you don’t want to hire someone and get them trained just so they can leave you a few years later — this could get you into serious trouble. Instead try asking “What are your long-term career goals?” This will help you understand where candidates see themselves in the future and hopefully give you an idea of if they plan to retire soon.

How to hone your dental job interview questions for interviews that work again and again

Now that you understand what questions you should and shouldn’t ask during a dental job interview, you can get to work creating a standard list of questions for each position at your practice. After all, the questions shouldn’t vary based on the person — the answers will be what makes a candidate stand out and seem hirable.

Once you’ve created a set list of questions for each position, you should return to that list every time you have to interview new candidates for that job to ensure consistency with your hiring process and to avoid claims of discrimination. The questions should be a good tool for revealing who you will hire, and who is not the best fit for your practice.4 If you already have a set list of questions, but realize you need to change up some of them, you can tweak the questions you already have. You don’t need to toss out the entire interview and start over! Here are some examples of questions that might seem discriminatory, but are actually useful — and fine to ask once tweaked.

  • “Do you have children?” might turn into “Are you able to meet the attendance requirements of this position?” After all, managers or bosses aren’t interested in whether a person has kids or not; they are wondering if there are life situations that will interfere with a candidate’s work regularly.
  • “How old are you?” can be shifted to “Are you over the age of 18?” You don’t need to know how old someone is for them to do the job; you only need to know that it’s legal for them to work for you.
  • “Are you religious?” can be shifted to “Are you available on weekends?” No boss needs to know potential team members’ religion. Bosses may only worry about religion because people who practice religion may be unavailable at certain times. So, ask about the issue directly as it pertains to the requirements of the position — “Are you going to be available on weekends?” If they say yes or no, it doesn’t matter why. It just informs you about whether they have the availability to be at the practice on the days and at the times you need them to be there.

Avoiding an expensive lawsuit and gaining peace of mind is easy when you follow the guidelines already discussed.

This article is intended to provide general information and is not intended as legal advice.

You may have to use your interview questions to hire new employees after a practice purchase. Read Paul Edwards’ article “Transitioning employees after a practice purchase” at https://implantpracticeus.com/transitioning-employees-practice-purchase/

Author Info

Ali Oromchian, JD, LLM, is the founding attorney of the Dental & Medical Counsel, PC law firm and is renowned for his expertise in legal matters pertaining to dentists. Oromchian has served as a key opinion leader and legal authority in the dental industry with dental CPAs, consultants, banks, insurance brokers, and dental supplies and equipment companies. He serves as a legal consultant for numerous dental practice management firms that rely on his expertise for their clients’ businesses. He is also recognized as an exceptional speaker and educator who simplifies complex legal topics and has lectured extensively throughout the United States. To contact the author, please email [email protected] or visit www.hrforhealth.com.

 

Disclosure: Mr. Oromchian is cofounder and Chief Executive Officer of HR for Health in the San Francisco Bay Area.

References

  1. Wojcik S. Destress in the office with these 4 Tips for dental practices. HR for Health. https://www.hrforhealth.com/blog/destress-in-the-office-with-these-4-tips. Published April 20, 2021. Accessed October 21, 2021.
  2. Versaci MB. Understaffed and ready to hire, dentists face applicant shortages as they emerge from COVID-19 pandemic. ADA News. https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2021-archive/june/dentists-face-applicant-shortages-as-they-emerge-from-covid-19-pandemic. Published June 9, 2021. Accessed October 21, 2021.
  3. HR for Health. Unnecessary Risk: The State of Human Resources Compliance in Dentistry. A Special Report on Private Practices, Dental Groups, & DSOs [white paper]. HR for Health: https://f.hubspotusercontent40.net/hubfs/5014795/DSO%20Whitepaper%202021.pdf Accessed October 21, 2021
  4. Wojcik S. Provide Your New Dental Hire with 4 Essential Documents to Prevent Getting Sued [blog]. https://www.hrforhealth.com/blog/four-essential-new-dental-hire-documents. Published September 2, 2021. Accessed October 21, 2021.

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