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Hire Talent/Teach Skills Part 1: The Search

Steven Schwartz, DDS Article 1 of 2 in The Hiring Process
Last Updated: n/a

You can have the most beautifully designed and decorated office. You can have the most technologically advanced computers to manage your financial and marketing needs. You can have the most ergonomic and efficient dental equipment to provide the most refined clinical dentistry. But it is the people who work for you that will make or break your practice.

Dentistry is primarily a service business. Yes, you do produce a product—healthy and aesthetic smiles. However, successful practices are those in which both the dentist and the staff realize that their most important commodity is superior customer service. The dentist and the staff share the responsibility of providing superior customer service to patients. Unfortunately, there seems to be a scarcity of highly trained, motivated workers interested in working in the dental profession.

Reasons for the staffing crisis in dentistry include:

  • The dentist’s lack of skills to find qualified and potentially motivated employees.
  • Lack of incentive for trained workers to consider dentistry as a career because of low pay and minimal benefits.
  • The dentist’s inability to retain qualified and motivated employees.

This article and another that follows offer suggestions about where and how to find motivated employees for your dental practice.

Understanding Your Needs

Before you place your classified ad in the newspaper, contact employment agencies or call your colleagues, you must define the job you are looking to fill. This definition should include a step-by-step description of how the job is performed. It should also describe the type of person to best fill the job. For example, an applicant for a clerical position must not only have technical and communication skills, but also must have public relations and sales skills.

Describing the Job

If you already have a written description for the position, this is a good time to reevaluate the job description and the qualifications. If there are deficiencies in the description, changes can be made at this time. If the job description for the position is meeting the needs of the practice, then investigate ways to improve the position’s value to the practice.

If you do not have a written description for the position, now is the time to write one. Ask your staff to help write the description and discuss the type of person who would best fill the position.

Every task in the job description contains three elements:

  • The goal of the job.
  • The benefits to the practice upon achieving the goal.
  • The steps taken to achieve the goal.

For example, the job description for the receptionist’s duties for greeting patients upon arrival to the office might include the following information:
Job: Reception of patients upon arrival
Goal: To make patients feel they are welcome to the practice and their welfare and comfort are our primary concerns.
Results: Patients feel they receive value for their money. They will return and refer friends and relatives to the practice, thus insuring our growth.

Steps to fulfill goals: The receptionist will welcome patients by greeting them by name; asking them to come into the business area to review their personal information, medical history and financial information; and inquiring about any current concerns or problems. The receptionist will ask patients to make themselves comfortable in the reception area and inform them of the approximate waiting time. The receptionist will inform the clinical staff of any changes in medical histories and of any patient concerns.

Once the job description is completed, list the desirable qualifications for an applicant to possess to successfully fill the position. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What educational background is necessary or desirable for the applicant to successfully fill the position? Do you need someone with a high school diploma? Do you need someone with a college degree?
  • How much experience does the applicant need? Do you need someone who has worked for ten years in the same position in another practice? Can someone who has worked in another field or job such as customer relations successfully fill the position? Can a sharp kid right out of high school, who had a part-time job in a deli, successfully fill the position?

Just because someone worked in another practice for five years does not mean that applicant will add value to your practice. You may run your practice in an entirely different manner. Your technology may be more advanced. You may see a higher or lower volume of patients. Your patients may have different economic or educational backgrounds. You may have a larger or smaller staff. Hiring someone with previous experience in the same position in a different practice may require training and retraining. In addition to teaching skills required in your practice, you may need to retrain to overcome undesirable habits acquired in the previous job.

By hiring an inexperienced, highly motivated, intelligent applicant you are possibly hiring pure potential. You have a clean slate with which to work. In the long run this may result in a more dedicated and appreciative employee.

Describing the Right Person

In addition to determining the educational and work experience qualifications, you need to decide what personality traits you desire in an employee. Remember, not all jobs require the same personality traits. The billing coordinator who works alone does not have to exude the same warm personality as a front-desk receptionist.

Listed below are personality traits that you should consider when searching for a new employee. The 17 traits are divided into three groups: personal, professional and business traits.

Personal Traits

These traits reveal the basic character and personality of the applicant.
Drive: Has the desire to get things done; is goal oriented rather than task oriented; avoids busy work; breaks overwhelming tasks into smaller tasks.
Motivation: Looks for new challenges; motivates others through enthusiasm.
Communication: Can talk and write to people at all levels (coworkers and patients).
Chemistry: Gets along with others; draws people together.
Energy: Always tries to give that extra effort to achieve success.
Determination: Does not back off when the going gets tough; tries hard to overcome obstacles.
Confidence: Believes in his or her own ability to accomplish whatever task he or she undertakes.

Professional Traits

These traits reveal a person’s reliability, loyalty and trustworthiness to others and the company.
Reliability: Can be trusted to accomplish what has been requested and keep others informed of their progress.
Integrity: Takes responsibility for his or her actions whether good or bad; makes decisions in the best interest of the company rather than for personal gain.
Dedication: Is committed to completing tasks and projects; will do whatever it takes to meet a deadline.
Pride: Believes the results are a reflection of himself or herself; will see that a job is done to the best of his or her ability.
Analytical Skills: Possesses perception and insight that leads to good decisions; does not jump to conclusions; weighs the pros and cons of an issue.
Listening Skills: Listens to others to get the whole picture before speaking or taking action.

Business Traits

These traits show that a person understands that the practice is in business to make a profit.
Efficiency: Is aware of inefficient uses of time, effort, resources and money.
Economy: Watches and spends the practice’s money as if it were his or her own.
Procedures: Understands that procedures are there for a good reason and does not try to circumvent them. Will inform superiors if he or she feels there is a better way to do something before attempting it.
Profit: Recognizes the reason we are all here: to make a profit.

Finding the Right Person

Now that you have insight into the position that needs to be filled and the qualities and skills that will be required or desired of the person to successfully fill that position, your job is to find that person. In this section we explore the various considerations in finding the right person for the job.

Broadening the Selection

The hours you set for your dental practice may limit or broaden the pool of qualified applicants. Some potential employees may be looking for a position with traditional business hours—8 to 5, five days a week. Others may be looking for schedules that fit in with their family commitments and lifestyle. If you schedule patients only during traditional business hours, you need to find employees who want to work traditional hours. If you offer early morning, evening or weekend appointments, you need to find employees who want to work these hours.

As an alternative to one full-time employee you may want to consider two employees sharing a job. A 40-hour per week jobs can be structured as two 20-hour per week jobs. Weeks or days can be split to accommodate the needs of the practice and the desires of the employees. Job sharing can result in a win-win situation. The dentist wins because you now have two qualified employees, instead one, who can fill the required hours and can cover for each other when necessary. The hiring of part-time employees also may reduce your obligation to provide certain benefits. Employees win because they have the opportunity to work a schedule that fits their needs. They also have a coworker with similar skills who can help out in an emergency.

Where to Start Looking

Where do you begin your search for that perfect employee? How about starting in your practice—promoting from within your current staff. Too often we look outside our practices to find that one special person who has the key skill needed to fill a vacant position. Then we spend time, money and effort on training in other aspects of the job for which the person has no aptitude. Why not consider that clerk with the perky personality, who has been filing charts for that front-desk position. Or, the person you hired six months ago to work in the lab and develop radiographs, who has been observing you work during her down time. She may be your next dental assistant. You know their work habits, reliability and personalities. These current employees know their boss and coworkers, and they are familiar with office policies and procedures. They already fit in. With some refinement of a current employee’s skills, you can fill a higher-level vacant position. You can then fill a lower-level position that requires less training.

If you need to go outside your practice, think about the people you come in contact with on a daily basis. Your potentially perfect receptionist may be someone you already know. That supermarket cashier who greets you with a great big smile and says, “Nice to see you,” who spends her days scanning and punching codes on her computer, and who never forgets to ask if you have coupons. Can you picture her sitting at the office front desk, greeting your patients with that same “Nice to see you,” and asking patients for their completed and signed insurance forms?

I have learned to take advantage of such opportunities by keeping a stack of business cards in my wallet and handing them to any person I think would be an asset to my practice. I tell them they would be a perfect fit in my office and offer to pay them a dollar more an hour than their current salary when they are considering changing jobs. Even if I do not have an available position at the time, I urge them to call just so we can have their name on file. [Note to Author/Publisher: Reconsider the appropriateness of the content of this paragraph. If you remove this paragraph the previous paragraph does not make much sense.]

Advertising in the Newspapers

Newspaper classifieds are the quickest and most effective to way to reach large numbers of potential job applicants. Your goals in creating and placing your ad are twofold. First, you want your ad to stand out from the scores of others advertising for the same type of position. Second, you want the responses to your ad to maximize the number of applicants that meet your needs and limit the number of those not qualified.

The best day to advertise is Sunday. If your budget allows, consider advertising on Sunday and one additional day—Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Some newspapers offer significantly discounted weekly rates.

The wording of your headline may dictate the placement of the ad. Because most ads are listed alphabetically by the first letter of the headline you want to give some thought as to how you compose your headline. As readers search the ads, their interest wanes as they go down the columns, so you want to position your ad as close to the beginning as possible. Your best bet to get your ad placed at the top of the column is to begin your headline with the letter “A.” For example, your headline might read “A WOW! DENTAL PRACTICE IS LOOKING FOR A WOW! RECEPTIONIST” as opposed to “RECEPTIONIST WANTED FOR DENTAL PRACTICE.”

In addition to helping you secure good placement, the headline should grab the reader’s attention. Consider these suggestions for headlines:

  • Use uppercase or boldfaced letters
  • Mention the job title
  • Promote practice qualities

Notice that the headline “A WOW! PRACTICE IS LOOKING FOR A WOW! RECEPTIONIST” exemplifies this last point. The reader will sense that your practice is an exciting, energetic and enthusiastic company seeking exceptional people.

Another way to grab some attention is to include your logo or a picture. You also can consider a display ad. These ads, which cost more that line ads, usually appear inside a box and cross more than one column. If your newspaper places ads randomly or you choose a display ad, ask if you can request a specific placement. Try to get your ad positioned as close to the top right hand corner of the page and as far above the fold as possible.

Your message in the body of your ad should encourage the reader to apply for the position by providing as much of the following information as possible:

  • Job title
  • Type of work
  • Major skills required
  • Educational requirements
  • Advancement possibilities
  • Location
  • Practice selling points
  • Training
  • Environment
  • Work conditions
  • Salary, benefits and incentives

The description of your job requirements is of major importance in determining the quantity and quality of responses. On the one hand you want to attract applicants that meet the maximum number of job requirements. On the other hand you do not want to dissuade potentially qualified applicants from responding because your ad is too specific.

By saying something like “Dental Assistant wanted; must have minimum four years of experience with lasers,” you may get some responses. But you will lose every highly motivated, efficient dental assistant with less than four years experience. The more “must haves” you put in an ad the fewer responses you will receive. Your ad should be specific enough to limit totally unqualified applicants and broad enough to prevent trainable applicants from ruling themselves out.

One way to attract a greater response is by emphasizing the benefits of working in your practice. Examples of benefits include:

  • Camaraderie among staff members
  • Vacation and personal time off
  • Continuing education opportunities
  • Modern facilities
  • Convenient transportation
  • Competitive salary

It is important to weigh the pros and cons of including specific salary information in your ad. If current employees who earn considerably less see the ad, you will encounter considerable discontent among the ranks. This is especially true for current employees who feel they are qualified to fill the vacant position but have been passed over for an outsider. On the other hand, ads that do not advertise salary get half the response of ads that do. As an alternative to stating a specific salary, consider using one of the following phrases.

  • Salary starts at . . .
  • Competitive salary
  • Salary dependent upon experience
  • Excellent salary for the right candidate

The manner in which you want applicants to respond to your ad really depends on your situation. If you are contemplating firing someone and preparing for a replacement, you might consider having candidates respond to a box number at the newspaper. One disadvantage of using a box number is that newspapers often hold responses until the ad runs its course. Using a box number also can limit responses from applicants who fear they may be responding to an ad placed by their current employer.

Every ad needs a call to action. You need to tell candidates how to reply to your ad. You can ask them to respond by mail, telephone, fax or e-mail. Providing a phone number will generate significantly more responses than other options, but the volume of calls may overwhelm your staff. There are several advantages to providing a fax number.

  • Anonymity
  • Quick response to your ad without congesting office phone lines
  • The luxury of viewing the responses at your leisure
  • Opportunity to carefully evaluate resumes

By following these suggestions you should attract a pool of qualified job applicants. Your next step is to determine who is best qualified to satisfy the job's requirements.

Action Steps

  • Your business card to anyone with whom you would like to work.
  • Make sure the practice job descriptions are up to date. Ask current staff members to review them for any needed changes.
  • Conduct performance reviews twice each year. This will not only weed out poor performers but also bring to the forefront staff members who can function well in advanced positions.
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