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How to Hire Great Dental Staff: Part IV – Observation

The following is a guest post by Jill Nesbitt of If you are interested in guest posting for Dental Heroes, please sign up here.

A quick review of our hiring process so far:

In Part 1: Where to place ads? – We reviewed how to attract candidates for your dental position. In Part 2: Telephone interview – I shared the questions and approach to eliminating unqualified candidates. In Part 3: Onsite 1/2 Hour Interview I discussed how to do an onsite ½ hour interview.

Part IV: Observation

Today, we’re moving to Part 4: Observation. If one dentist or staff person liked the candidate well enough after the onsite interview, now it’s time to see what the entire team thinks. Invite the candidate to spend up to 1/2 day observing in your practice. Ask the candidate to bring her interview questions that you gave her at the onsite interview when she arrives for the observation.

What the candidate should bring on observation day

1. Questions (with space to write in answers) that allow the candidate to share examples and stories about themselves.

2. Request for at least 2 professional references

3. Description of responsibilities and compensation for most recent jobs held

4. Signature to allow reference checks, agree to drug testing, background check, credit check and legal statement regarding no guarantee of employment (this varies by state)

What your hiring binder should include

Gather this packet when your candidate arrives and then sit down with her to review your hiring binder. Your hiring binder includes:

1. List of sample questions the candidate can ask our staff and dentists

2. Overview of the practice to help the candidate understand who you are and what your practice is like

3.Career path description – Again, since we use a staff training levels system, we can hire for attitude and intelligence and train the necessary skills for dental assistants and secretaries so this shows a candidate what they will be learning and how that translates into higher pay

4.Benefits information – A page on your health insurance plan, bonuses offered, retirement plan, etc. Even if you don’t offer traditional benefits, this is still a great section – I’m sure you offer free/discounted dental services, perhaps a 4-day workweek, a flexible spending plan?

5.List of who’s who (staff name & position)

6.Evaluation pages the candidate will give to staff and dentists they talk with

The Observation Process

So, here’s how to start the Observation. Your staff person welcomes the candidate to the practice, gathers her interview questions and sits down with the hiring binder. The staff person explains that the candidate is welcome to stay until 11:30am (let’s pretend they arrived at 8:30am) in order to observe the practice. Clarify that the candidate should evaluate both the job responsibilities and the people that work here so they can decide if working in this practice is a fit for them. Set the expectation that by the end of this morning, they should know if they want to work here or not.

Let the candidate walk the office and fend for herself

Next, give the candidate the binder – point out the topics, but don’t waste time by reading through everything together. Instruct the candidate to read through the binder during their morning and next, you’re going to take her on a tour of the office. Show the candidate the evaluation pages and explain that she will write her name and the staff person’s name at the top and give this evaluation page to each staff person she talks to. It’s nice to print a label with the candidate’s name and position they’re applying for and give this to the candidate to wear (that way all the staff knows that this person is interviewing). As the staff person walks our candidate around she should introduce the candidate, “Candidate, this is Sarah who is Dr. Smith’s EFDA. Sarah, this is the candidate, who is applying for our dental assistant position.” When the tour is complete, then the candidate is on her own. She is to walk around and talk with the staff and read her binder. I also recommend to instruct your candidate to find the office manager (or dentist) when they are ready to leave.

By leaving our candidate to “fend for herself” we are learning several things:

1. Does she take the initiative to meet people or does she sit in a corner by herself?
2. Does she read through the binder or not?
3. Does she want to leave after just an hour or does she seem energized and telling you she wishes she could stay longer when it’s 11:30am?
4. Does she give out the evaluation pages as instructed?

The Candidates actions speak louder than words

You can learn more about a candidate based on their actions than their words. However, another major benefit of the observation day is that a candidate will say different things to different people. Your existing staff will also ask slightly different questions and therefore, find out different information. Definitely coach the staff before you have a candidate coming in for an observation – remind them on what they can/can’t ask (no personal info for most state laws) focus them on asking for examples and stories of their past work experience and ask them to use the interview questions and the evaluation page when talking with the candidate.

At the end of the observation, the office manager or dentist should meet individually with the candidate. Now is the time to discuss pay/benefits/bonuses and ask directly, if I offered you this position, would you accept it? This helps you find out if there are other offers on the table. Finally, let your candidate know when you plan to make your hiring decision and that you will be in touch.

Coming Up – Part 5: Voting

You can tell that we put a significant effort into hiring. We have one more step to go – Part 5: Voting. A 5 Step process for hiring is no small thing but even then not a guarantee you’ll hire the perfect person. It does establish a system for your hiring and after a few rounds, your staff will know exactly what to do and they will run the hiring process.

Your Thoughts

Do you incorporate and observation period into your hiring process? Why or why not? How does your observation compare to Jills’?

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