Dental Team Staff Recruiting: The Interview Process

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing The Dental Team

The interview process involves many steps and, in order for it to proceed smoothly, certain decisions need to be made both before and after each candidate comes in to talk about the position, the practice and its patients.

Make sure you’ve answered, or at least considered, each of these questions before setting up that first interview:

Have you requested input from the rest of the team?

  • If you haven’t already talked with the team about the need to add to staff, consider asking each area of the practice to give you a brief list of the traits they think the ideal team member should have or to describe the ideal team member. Try to make sure that everyone in the department involved in adding to staff participates in this exercise. Encourage everyone to relate their suggestions to the practice’s vision, philosophy and core values.

When’s the best time to schedule interviews? And is it okay to conduct interviews via video call technology?

  • Scheduling interviews requires coordination of schedules, both on your end and for the prospective employee. Hopefully the two of you have been able to easily determine a time that works best for everyone. It’s possible that you will encounter situations where a candidate, perhaps someone relocating from another city or state, will ask to be interviewed via a video conferencing or telephoning system. Know in advance if you and your staff are comfortable using that type of technology. If you are, it’s a good idea to invest some time in learning how that technology works so there aren’t any last minute glitches or delays. Stay open to other options so you don’t inadvertently discriminate against someone who doesn’t have a specific Internet service or particular brand of smartphone.

Who will conduct the interview?

  • While dentists in established practices may not conduct all activities relating to scheduling and managing interviews, it’s important that they be involved throughout the process and personally interview prospective employees.
  • Hiring managers, not other staff, should conduct interviews.
  • The person conducting the interview should note the candidate’s answers to each question and try to gauge whether the answers appear honest. While this can be challenging to gauge, most interviews last a minimum of 30 minutes and that should be enough time to determine whether the candidate is reputable.
  • After each interview, rate the candidate on a scale of one to four to assess whether they should continue in the interview process. This will narrow down the number of prospective new hires who go onto the next step in the process.
  • All notes from each interview should be submitted to the dentist.

Have you developed a basic list of questions that can be used when hiring for almost every position?

  • Ask open-ended questions that require an answer that’s more in-depth than just “yes” or “no.”
  • Be aware that some questions cannot be asked, for instance “Are you planning to become pregnant?” The selected interviewer should be cognizant of this.
  • Assess what training, education and experience is important to each role. Share that information with candidates and ask them to outline how they fulfill those basic requirements.
  • Present a few problems or situations someone in the open position can expect to encounter and ask the candidate to tell you how they’d resolve or approach it. Consider creating a scenario that involves a patient.
  • Ask candidates what they think their professional references will say about them and their work.

Are you hiring for a clinical position?

  • If so, ask detailed questions to help access their clinical knowledge and abilities. It’s generally not a good idea to ask a candidate to perform any clinical duties that would be billable.
  • If you’re interviewing for an assistant position, consider involving the senior assistant in the interview process.

Are you hiring for an administrative position? If so, consider having candidates:

  • participate in role playing scenarios that represent what someone in that position can expect to encounter
  • demonstrate their ability to navigate your practice management software.

Does the candidate have questions?

  • Always invite each candidate to ask questions towards the end of the interview. Many hiring managers recommend spending more time listening to what candidates say and talking less about the practice and the contributions of the position.
  • Pay attention to their remarks: if their questions relate to topics you’ve already discussed, are they seeking clarification or were they not focused on the conversation?
  • Some interviewers suggest ending each discussion by asking candidates to say, on a scale from one to 10, how much they want to work at the practice. If it’s not a 10, ask follow-up questions to determine what would make the practice or the position achieve a higher rating.

What impression did the candidate make when they first entered the practice?

  • Solicit feedback from staff at the front desk to find out how the individual presented upon arrival, whether they interacted with others in the reception area, and whether anything they said or did left some type of impression, good or bad.

Will there be a second interview?

  • Some practices invite strong candidates to a second interview that begins with the morning huddle. If you decide to try this approach, ask the candidate to explain a little about themselves, including why they’re at the meeting. Their ability to handle this type of situation might provide some insights about how they might handle issues that can arise in a dental practice.
  • Having candidates return to the practice and interact with staff also gives everyone the chance to see if personalities appear to be compatible. While there aren’t any guarantees, it allows everyone the chance to get a sense of who they might be working with.
  • Some dental practices do multiple one-on-one interviews, which allow the applicant to spend a few minutes meeting those prospective coworkers with whom they will spend most of their time. These should be considered “getting to know you” sessions rather than actual interviews. Each staff person involved should share their thoughts and reactions with the hiring manager. While this process benefits the practice, it also benefits the candidate since he/she has the opportunity to meet more people and get a better sense of who their potential colleagues are.

Have you prepared a gracious letter to send to candidates who are not continuing on to the next step in the interview process?

  • You can likely use the same basic template and modify the text slightly depending upon whether the person was phone-screened or came into the office for an in-person.
  • Be aware that it’s possible that a candidate who is continuing forward may post a negative comment on one of their social media platforms – or yours – if they feel snubbed or slighted. While any communication should be professional and courteous, it should also convey only the most basic facts, such as that you appreciate their interest in the position and wish them success in the future.

Have you advised applicants who are still viable candidates for the position of the next step and when you expect it to occur?

  • Let those individuals know when they can expect to hear from you regarding the next step. This can reduce the number of phone calls from prospective employees who contact the office to follow up on their status and to remind you of their interest in the position.
  • It’s generally not a good idea to discuss compensation or work hours at this stage since you haven’t extended an offer of employment.
  • Ask the candidate to sign a form giving permission for you to do a background check, confirm the status of their license (if appropriate), and check references. This is also a good time to determine if they should be bonded or if your liability policy covers errors and omissions of employees.
  • Decide whether or not you want to require applicants to undergo a drug screen. Depending on the size of the practice, certain federal laws may apply and additional state laws may be in effect too. According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, workplaces with 15 or more employees that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act can require drug testing of applicants, but may do so only after an employment offer has been made. It’s possible that they will also be required to comply with other state and local regulations. While practices with fewer than 15 employees may be exempt from this regulation, other state and local requirements likely apply. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney before making a final decision regarding your policy of drug testing potential new employees.
  • Some hiring managers think it’s a good idea to check a candidate’s social media profile, before making an offer. Be aware that doing this might provide you with information that you legally cannot use to make a hiring decision. Protect yourself, and the practice, by following these guidelines adapted from the American Bar Association’s monthly magazine, “Law Practice Today”:
  • Hire a third-party vendor to conduct social media searches of prospective employees. Provide the company with a list of specific details to verify.
  • Establish a written policy that advises applicants that you might engage an outside company to conduct an internet search. That policy should be shared during the interview process and should indicate what sites will be searched and what information will be reviewed. This policy should also apply to current employees so make sure they’re aware of the policy, which should be included in your employee policy manual.
  • Do not ask applicants to share passwords for any social media platform. This ensures that the review of a candidate’s online presence reveals information that is available publicly.
  • Document each step of the job search. This is a good idea even if you don’t conduct a review of applicants’ social media activity and reputation.
  • Once you’re ready to extend the offer, communicate that by telephone and follow up with a gracious letter outlining the offer. It’s a good idea for the letter to include a deadline by which they should notify you of their decision.

What else should you think about?

  • Be aware that creating a second position for one that already exists can cause tension, especially if the person currently in the position doesn’t want to share their job or is concerned that you might be phasing them out of their job. You may be able to prevent those types of concerns by letting your team know in advance why you’re hiring new staff.

Keep in mind that the interview process is just the beginning. Once someone has been hired into the practice, they need to go through orientation, sometimes called “onboarding,” and training. Even through dental team members may have some standardized job responsibilities, it’s important to have a comprehensive outline that details what each member of staff should do in order to help train the new person and help make him/her feel welcome. Include due dates for each activity. It’s likely that you will need different outlines, or checklists, for each staff position. This approach to training offers you and the new team member a defined and detailed outline that optimizes training opportunities and ensures that every step of the process is properly managed. It’s also helpful to assign new hires a mentor, preferably someone with similar responsibilities, to whom they can turn for guidance and information.


Waiver to Allow a Reference Check[PDF]

Reference Check Form [PDF]

Checklist for Conducting Background Checks [PDF] 

Professional and/or Personal References [PDF]

Recruiting -- Working Interviews vs. Skills Assessments

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