Look Outside Dentistry for Hires Who Want to Work

Chris Moriarity


“People just don’t want to work anymore.”

“Millennials are lazy and entitled.”

“I’d like to expand, but there aren’t enough people who want to be hired.”  

These are common feelings for far too many employers and managers these days. In the dental world, the need for well trained and enthusiastic workers has never been higher, but we feel like there just aren’t enough great workers to go around.

As a result, many offices get stuck in a life-draining cycle of recruiting and training. They’re hobbled by a perpetual feeling of unease. These pseudo-teams never get close to what they’re capable of, and the only thing higher than the stress is the number of patients heading for the door.

Sounds like a lot of gloom and doom, doesn’t it? Well, fear not! If we just change the game a little, you can have the engaged, service-oriented, hardworking team of your dreams, especially when it comes to positions in the office that don’t require much (if any) credentialing. 

Poaching: The Employees You Need Are Already Employed

Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not talking about poaching from other dental offices. You don’t need to, and I don’t recommend it.

The reality is that 100% of what we physically do in a dental office is trainable and coachable. We have a much harder time training the soft skills: ambition and the desire to go above and beyond, even when no one is looking. 

The first key is to realize that, in many cases, your current team members should be selecting your new team members. They should be training the new team members, and, if need be, they should be firing the new team members. If you don’t trust your team to participate in these decisions, then you may need to examine your current leadership and the level of support that your team is trained to handle.

So where do you find new employees that your team will love? Get out of the trenches and into the community. Get off Craigslist and all the other typical sources for new hires. In the Pacific Northwest, you’re never far from a drive-up coffee stand or Starbucks. Give your team 100 bucks and have them drive from stand to stand at some ridiculously early hour. Be a little difficult and see who takes amazing care of you. That’s who you want. The worker who’s willing to get up at 4 am, work for minimum wage, and serve coffee with a smile. Come back a few days in a row and see who remembers your name and your go-to drink. These employees are golden. They’re hardworking, they’re service-minded, and they go beyond their job descriptions

Another excellent source for new team members is retail. Look for someone in a thankless, high-pressure, commission-based sales job where the top producers thrive and everyone else lasts less than 90 days. Let Nordstrom and Victoria’s Secret do the vetting for you. We’re not looking for high-pressure salespeople, but we are looking for people who can connect with strangers in less than a minute and find a way to take care of them. You need to hire these people.

“But what do I say?!” you’re yelling. Just keep reading. 


Here’s how you’re going to start the conversation:

“Can I ask you a quick question? How did you get so good at your job?”

This is called a pattern-interrupt. It’ll catch them off guard, and in these low-praise jobs, they may not even have a prepared answer for you. Listen to what they say, and it’ll usually boil down to treating people how they’d like to be treated. Perfect.

“The reason I ask is that I own a dental practice and I made a commitment from day one that my patients deserve the best. Your job is tough and I’ve watched you take amazing care of people. I’d love to talk to you about joining my team. Don’t worry about the dental stuff. We can teach you that. What I can’t teach is attitude, and yours is perfect.”

Take out two business cards. Have your candidate jot the info for you on one, and give the candidate the other.

These words are chosen specifically and are designed to simultaneously demonstrate your leadership and character while explaining what’s expected of an employee: an employee for us is someone who has a great attitude and takes amazing care of people. We can teach you the rest. Simple. 

Practice your script until you can make these sudden job offers smoothly and confidently. This should be a 60-second conversation. Bait the hook, then get out. Less is more. If this doesn’t sound like something you could do, no problem. Go back to Craigslist and cross your fingers. By witnessing this candidate in the real world, you virtually eliminate the issue of meeting a candidate’s “interview-self.” You need to know who the candidate is under pressure, tired and ideally dealing with a difficult person. 

Answering the Big Question

Too many people fall into the trap of thinking that candidates need to know three things: what the job is, the functions of the job, and what the job pays. What your candidates really need to know is “Why this job?”  

If I were to ask you what a dental assistant does, how would you answer that? Most people would list the functions of the job. The actual daily tasks in nauseating detail. Hmm. Serving coffee at 4 am might not be so bad in comparison. Instead, explain how your office has changed lives.

“99% of my patients are pretty nervous when they come see us,” you can tell these candidates. “I rely on my assistants to be the cornerstone of the entire relationship. You’ll be amazed how much patients will rely on you. They’ll ask your advice and you’ll find a way to get them healthy. We’d had patients in here who haven’t smiled in a picture in 60 years and we make that happen. You have no idea how that feels.”

I don’t want to serve coffee anymore. I want people to rely on me and I want to give people smiles. Don’t you?


Yes, this is important. But it’s not the most important. We’ve done a wonderful job creating a generation of dental mercenaries. They’re always seeking another dollar per hour, moving office to office, and working for the highest bidder. Not good.

In large part, we all participate in this. We recruit people who’ve been told what they deserve. They want to dictate the terms of their employment as it best suits them personally. We panic and capitulate.

I don’t need a 22-year-old who needs 13 weeks off. I’ll take the single mother of 3, grinding out the midnight to 8 shift at Denny’s on Christmas Eve. She knows everyone’s name, they know hers, and they love her. That’s who I want. You hire her, invest in her, and restore her smile, and you’ll have a soldier for life, I can promise you that.

The biggest challenge in dental recruiting isn’t the pay. We just never explain what we really do and we try to attract the people who are no longer amazed by the impact we have. Break the mold. Shake some hands. Be different and never forget what you really do.

And never leave home without a card in your pocket. You never know who’ll you’ll meet.

Mr. Moriarity, MA, FA, spent years working with attorneys and physicians before coming into dentistry in 2008 (just in time for all the fun). As a national speaker and as the vice president of client relations for the Productive Dentist Academy, he has been able to share tactics and ideas from coast to coast, helping hundreds of dental offices grow their businesses and better serve the communities they love.

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