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Hiring a new employee can be a costly and stressful experience. For dental practices, finding an applicant with the right balance of hard skills and customer service savvy is crucial. These tips from practice management expert Tim Twigg can make the process run smoothly.
Ask candidates what they did in past scenarios to gauge their personalities.
Hiring a new employee — whether it’s an office assistant or a new dentist — is about more than just acquiring a set of skills. It also impacts the internal dynamics of the office, customer relations and ultimately the practice’s bottom line.
For dental practices, the hiring process is a high-stakes game that can consume a lot of time and energy. With so much at stake, how do you make sure you get it right the first time?
Tim Twigg, MS, will be tackling that question when he speaks at the Dentrix Business of Dentistry conference, Aug. 17 to 19, in Las Vegas. Twigg is president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, where he leverages three decades of practice management consulting experience to help dentists optimize their businesses. He spoke with Dentists’ Money Digest to offer some do’s and don’ts for hiring a new staff member.
1. Look beyond the resume.
“Probably the number one mistake is that they focus on skills and experience as opposed to focusing on attitude and fit,” Twigg said. “The analogy with that is that you should hire for the things you cannot train.”
Clearly it’s important to make sure your new hires are qualified to hold their position, Twigg said. But if the person meets that bar, don’t get too hung up on how many years of experience they have or whether they know how to take an X-ray. Someone can easily be taught how to use certain equipment or interpret dental terminology. What’s harder to teach is having a positive attitude or understanding the ethos of a particular dental practice.
2. Ask not what they would do, but what they did do.
One way to gauge whether a person is a good fit is to find out how they performed in real-world scenarios. Twigg advises that interviews be weighted more toward these types of behavioral questions.
“You want to make sure that the questions look specifically to how someone has handled or behaved in the situation in the past,” Twigg said. “It’s not them talking theoretically about what they would do, but truly how they did this.”
For example, if interviewing a dental hygienist, a dentist or office manager could ask how they handled a scenario in which a patient refused to have X-rays taken. They can also ask the prospective employee for the name of someone who could verify their handling of the situation.
Twigg said these types of questions say much more about the interviewee, and whether she would fit in the practice, than simply asking if she knows how to perform X-rays.
3. Put a premium on personality tests.
Twigg outlines seven steps in the hiring process, from defining the job to checking references. One oft-overlooked step is performing a personality assessment.
“Outside of dentistry, it is very, very common,” he said. “Even companies like Home Depot do this as an absolute aspect of hiring, and it’s just not a technology that’s been routinely employed in dentistry.”
However, Twigg said a personality test can tell an employer a lot about whether the person has traits and characteristics that make them likely to succeed in the specific position. The test his firm uses has profiles of high-performing people in a variety of dental office positions. By comparing prospective employees to high-performing employees, a dentist can get a sense of that person’s likelihood of success.
“It gives a whole bunch of information that is pretty much impossible to get by just talking,” he said.
Twigg said using personality tests in the hiring process can increase the chances of a successful hire by 75 percent.
It can cost about $100 to $150 for an assessment, but Twigg noted that such a test should be a later stage, so those costs would only apply to your top three to five candidates.
He also cautioned that it’s important to make sure any personality test you administer meets validation criteria. Validated tests have undergone a series of analyses to ensure they’re effective and don’t profile or discriminate. Using a validated test ensures that the test will be worthwhile, and it also protects a practice against allegations of discrimination in the hiring process. Twigg noted that the vast majority of commercially available tests aren’t validated, so practices need to be diligent.
4. When seeking candidates, try your waiting room.
Many dentists use newspaper ads, job-listing websites, and employment agencies to find employees. But Twigg said there’s another place people should look: their patient rolls.
If he asked a practice to make a list of five patients they love, Twigg said, every practice would not have any trouble doing that.
“Why wouldn’t we ask this patient if this patient knows of anyone who might be looking for a job?” he asked.
Mentioning the opening to favorite patients can succeed in a couple of different ways: they might know someone who would be a perfect fit, or they might be looking for work themselves.
5. Consider the costs.
Hiring a new employee is a costly experience, and the costs extend beyond buying ads, paying for personality tests, or hiring an employment agency.
“The statistics are that when you have turnover it’s going to cost you however much you pay for that position for the year,” Twigg said.
If that sounds high, consider the fact that you or your staff will need to spend hours poring over applications and interviewing candidates. That’s time that could otherwise be spent on practice business. Between that extra work and the loss of manpower due to the vacancy, your practice will likely be less productive, translating into lost revenue over time. Twigg said it’s hidden, insidious costs like these that can prove most expensive, so it’s important for practices to plan out a careful hiring process that will lead to a successful long-term hire.
6. Trust the evidence; not your gut.
It can be tempting to “trust your gut” when filling a position, but Twigg said the data simply doesn’t support impulse hiring.
“Virtually every study out there shows that the gut is not very reliable,” he said. “It’s not a very good source for truly making a good decision about whether this person will be the ideal or even a good employee.”
Instead, Twigg advises hirers to base their decisions on “preponderance of evidence.” If you go through all of the steps of the hiring process, you’ll have data that can tell you whether the person has the skills, personality, and instincts to be a good fit in your practice. A gut feeling might play into that mix, but Twigg said the best hiring decisions are ultimately based on evidence, not intuition.