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Hiring a great team

May 1, 2007
No management function is more critical than the ability to hire qualified and competent people.

by Rebecca Boartfield, Tim Twigg

No management function is more critical than the ability to hire qualified and competent people.

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Dental schools tend not to provide any help in this area. As a result, this all-important task can be - at its best - overwhelming, mysterious, and challenging, and - at its worst - a pure gamble.

Consequently, dentists are ill-prepared for their role as a personnel manager since they lack the knowledge and/or skills to effectively manage staff. While seemingly overwhelming, information and tools are available that readily support success in hiring employees. The best part is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Good hiring practices and effective people skills have many benefits. Most significant is a decrease in staff turnover and labor-related problems. The average staff member stays in an office only about 21 months. Conservative estimates show that it costs between $10,000 and $20,000 each time turnover occurs. This cost is a combination of both indirect and direct expenses, such as recruiting through ads, interview time, training, salaries, and lost production.

One of the most common hiring mistakes inexperienced employers make is focusing too much on an applicant’s skills and experience. If an applicant is lacking certain skills, these can be taught. Thus, previous experience does not always equate to proficiency.

In contrast, a person’s attitude rarely can be changed. Likewise, compatibility is either there or not. Therefore, when hiring, focus first on attitude and compatibility or “fit.” Second, concentrate on skills and experience.

Another common hiring mistake is to rely only on resumés and interviews in making hiring decisions. Traditional methods of recruiting, which rely heavily on resumés and interviews for hiring, often do not provide enough information to effectively evaluate a candidate. While resumés provide information regarding an applicant’s experience and background, studies show they can also be inaccurate. These studies of resumés indicate:

  • 45 percent contain false or exaggerated information
  • 53 percent falsify length of employment
  • 52 percent of applicants exaggerate their experience
  • 53 percent misrepresent their education or job titles

Statistically, using a job interview as the principal recruiting strategy has a success rate of only about 14 percent. This increases to 26 percent when coupled with reference checking, and 54 percent when personality and ability testing of an applicant are added. When the factor of job-matching assessments is added, the hiring success rate increases to 75 percent. Therefore, the probability of selecting the right individual the first time increases as layers of multiple modes of evaluation are added.

The process of hiring a great team begins with up-to-date job descriptions. Besides keeping compliance with state and federal laws, job descriptions are one of the best ways to establish expectations and delineate responsibilities. Clearly identifying a person’s job duties within an organization helps to more specifically pinpoint the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to fulfill the position. In addition, giving a copy of the job description to each candidate enables him or her to have a clearer understanding of the job and your expectations before he or she accepts a position.

Job descriptions for each position in the practice that are complete, comprehensive, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and have established core competencies are readily available. These can help reduce the time spent creating job descriptions by simply adding minor practice-specific modifications to your descriptions.

With job descriptions in place, you can more confidently move to the recruiting process. All too often dentists look to just one source for soliciting qualified applicants. Using one source may or may not be successful. To increase the chances of getting more qualified applicants, diversify the methods used to recruit. While your success is somewhat dependent on the labor pool within your job market, look to some of the following resources for quality applicants:

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Excellent recruiting methods should give you multiple applicants from which to choose. After reviewing the resumés, conduct a prescreening of all qualified applicants. The primary goal is to briefly and quickly qualify or disqualify applicants. It is important to remember that well-qualified applicants likely will be exploring different employment opportunities. So it is crucial that you do not procrastinate or you risk losing a good candidate.

Develop qualifying questions to ask each candidate. The questions must be job-related but can range from work experience to behavioral situations. Questions could include, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult patient. What did you do? What was the result?” Typically, prescreening occurs over the phone. If the answers are unsatisfactory, then you have no obligation to proceed with that applicant.

For those candidates who you continue to feel comfortable with, have them complete an application. An application gathers specific information regarding past work experience. In addition, it asks an applicant to sign a statement confirming that information is true. This enables you to verify the supplied information and deny employment if the information is false. (Contact Bent Ericksen & Associates to obtain our Application Form 102D.)

For those applicants with whom you are impressed, invite them for an interview. The purpose of the structured interview is to add to the information you already have from the application-resumé and prescreening process. To prepare for the interview, develop a set of specific questions. Planned questions allow you to target and/or seek specific information to support a sound hiring decision, as well as avoid questions that you are not legally permitted to ask. Avoid asking questions that will elicit a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, focus on behavioral-based questions that will elicit a more valuable and comprehensive response.

Conduct the interview where you can have privacy and no interruptions. Create a relaxed, stress-free atmosphere in which both you and the applicant feel comfortable. As an interviewer, your primary job is to ask questions, listen, and observe. A good rule to follow is that the applicant should talk about 75 percent of the time. Most interviewers are ineffective because they talk too much. Make notes during and after the interview. It’s imperative to keep notes focused on technical skills or experience rather than potentially discriminatory issues. Close the interview by providing a brief overview of pertinent practice information and your philosophy. Inform the applicant of the next step in the process but refrain from making any commitments.

As you narrow the candidates to two or three finalists, have each take an applicant personality and aptitude assessment. This is an essential and valuable aid in selection. The results are designed to reveal talents, attributes, or potential problems that may otherwise go undetected.

As a hiring tool, assessments should not be the sole basis for a particular applicant being rejected or selected. Instead, use the tool to assess perceived attributes, character strengths, and limitations relevant to the job. Combine this with the information gathered to help confirm the overall quality of an applicant. Care must be taken that the assessment does not discriminate, profile, or otherwise target certain groups or protected classes of prospective employees. Therefore, use only validated and approved assessments, such as the “Integrated Performance Management System.” This assessment has been validated for the dental profession.

For positions in which evaluating specific job skills are important, have the remaining finalists take a “skills assessment.” A skills assessment differs from the working interview in that it does not carry the same workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance risks of the working interview. The basic parameters of a skills assessment include limited time (one to two hours), not replacing a regular worker, not performing productive work, and a form confirming the voluntary-nonpaid nature of the assessment. This form is to be signed by the applicant. (Call our office for Skills Assessment Interview Agreement Form 108.)

As you move toward final selection, it is important to check references. When appropriate, perform background checks and drug tests. These checks help reduce potential problems associated with embezzlement, performance, drug or alcohol abuse, workers’ compensation claims, expired occupational licensing, negligent hiring claims, etc. Often, just the knowledge that a reference check, background check, and/or drug test may be performed discourages applicants with a questionable background from applying.

Many former employers don’t reveal important information about previous or current employees. Nevertheless, you should always make a good faith effort in order to avoid claims of negligent hiring. Your efforts will be enhanced by asking the applicant to sign a form that permits prior employers to provide information related to the person’s work performance, and waives legal action related to the disclosure of such information. For consistency, the form also provides a specific routine to follow and a set of questions to ask. (Call our office for Reference Request Form 105.)

By employing the selection process outlined in this article, you can assemble the members of a great team, and significantly reduce the emotional stress and financial impact that is otherwise associated with staff turnover.

Rebecca Boartfield is a human resources compliance consultant, and Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates. For more than 25 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. Contact them at (800) 679-2760, or at

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