The Five-Step Process to Hiring Good Dental Employees

Maggie Augustyn, DDS


With the fallout of COVID-19, many dental practices have team members who haven’t returned to work. Based on personal experience and on my conversations with others on social media, some practices’ employees who didn’t return after the quarantine were the same employees that those practices had wanted to fire for years anyway.

Suddenly, the weakest links have disappeared, and now we need to replace multiple members of our teams. To borrow from the “glass is half-full” mentality, I hope I can help you turn an empty space in your practice into a true opportunity. No one said it’s an easy problem to solve, but nonetheless, it’s an opportunity worth pursuing. With these employees gone, we have been gifted the freedom to build a better team, one interview at a time.

Having been left with many hours away from the operatory and with constant CE courses available online, and with consultants graciously donating hours of free content during those classes, many of us began to experience a mind-shift. We rethought our commitments and our priorities. This mind-shift allowed us to formulate a future worth living out for ourselves personally and professionally, and an important part of that consists of rebuilding our team.

The most important step in attempting to build the dream team is to come up with an exact job description and a picture of the ideal candidate. Think about not just the skill level and expertise you want, but also the attitude and energy level. With decades worth of experience in dentistry, I know that skill can be taught, but you can’t alter the candidate’s mindset, perspective, and temperament. Completing your practice’s vision and mission is of utmost importance when you’re finding the next superstar employee for your office.

Step One: Does the Candidate Follow Directions?

In every post I create, I specifically ask for a resume, a cover letter, and a specific amount of experience. Attaching a cover letter simply means that the applicant has made some extra effort and is able to follow instructions. The candidate read the post thoroughly.

But in my experience, more than 75% of applicants don’t submit a cover letter, even when they’re specifically asked to do so. Thus, anyone who sent the requested information got a green light to the top of the virtual pile.

Step Two: Evaluating the Resume Itself

A well laid out resume would indicate attention to detail and interest in self-presentation, including spelling and grammar. It also foreshadows their ability to speak and communicate with your patients. Often, I also will copy and paste the objective as stated on the resume into Google and sometimes find that the verbiage has been plagiarized. This immediately gets a nix.

Next, it is important to pay attention to how much time the applicant has stayed at each position. If the candidate has three years of experience as requested but has worked at six dental offices, that’s a red flag. Switching jobs frequently can signal lack of commitment and maybe even a flair for drama. Also, watch for and address gaps in employment. Is the applicant leaving out employment history due to a “bad breakup,” or were they tending to the needs of their family?

Step Three: Phone Interview

For a time, I would try to skip the phone interview and move right into meeting the candidate in person. I thought it would save time, but I quickly realized that this step wasn’t worth omitting. It’s an important part in the weeding-out process. The most essential part of the phone interview is evaluating the communication skills of the candidate as well as their energy level.

Perhaps it’s a micromanagement issue, but I conduct all the phone interviews myself. How many doctors actually interview their candidates? And I bring this point up with my interviewees. I let them know that I am invested in the process and take pride in the team I’ve developed.

With each conversation, I start by introducing myself, my family, and my passions and hobbies and hope that the interviewee will mirror that in our conversation. I talk to them as a person, not so much as an expert in the dental field. Having interviewed hundreds of applicants over the last 15 years, I can confidently say that the first five minutes of the conversation aren’t only crucial but also very telling.

I have learned that one can immediately tell if the candidate is smiling on the phone and if their level of energy is a good match. One can immediately tell if their personality is going to propel the mission of the office forward or if it will drain the office’s energy, setting it back. One can immediately tell if the candidate has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

When the candidate immediately tries to get me to commit to a certain wage without a proper in-person or working interview, it can mean that the applicant is interested more in money than in a safe and stable working environment. It also can mean that if you hire the applicant and they later find a higher wage, they will leave you without looking back.

Finally, candidates can earn brownie points is if they show that they have reviewed our website and other digital platforms prior to the phone or in-person interview. It means they’re resourceful, they’re committed, and, most importantly, they’re invested in finding a permanent home and an ideal fit. They want to know as much about you as you want to know about them. They aren’t just chasing a job. They’re looking for a place they can thrive in.

Step Four: Empower Them Before You Hire Them

I recently incorporated an additional step following the phone interview. I ask my existing team members if they can act as a reference for the incoming candidate. The potential employee receives an endorsement from my team about the positive atmosphere we all take pride in within our office. Following that discussion, I usually get another call back from the applicant, who is encouraged and excited to continue the interview process. They now want the job with us.

Step Five: Working Interview

First and foremost, I pay all potential applicants for the working interview. It speaks volumes about being fair and considerate as well as respectful of their time and effort. Some states require payment by law.

It’s important to pay attention to how the candidate presents for the first day at the office. Are they on time? Do they present with clean scrubs and shoes? I even consider the length and color of their nails. Consider and pay attention to how much at the applicant smiles and what their teeth look like. Is their hair groomed, and do they wear makeup?

Next, the magic of the working interview comes in evaluating the applicant’s sense of confidence. Are they moved to help out and engage with other team members? Applicants who timidly prop up the wall of my operatory aren’t people who will help guide the mission of my office forward. I also make an effort to spend time with the potential hire during the day and have a team member take them out to lunch.

Your Turn

Every office has its own way of interviewing candidates. Some use personality tests. Others rely heavily on references, background checks, and drug tests. These strategies are important too, but they aren’t anywhere near as important as revealing each candidate’s mindset. By matching up their mindset with the culture of your office, you’re ensuring a successful long-term relationship with the person and propelling forward your office’s success.

In all of my years in practice, as a business owner, I have conducted many interviews and have looked over hundreds of resumes. Very few have checked every mark I’ve mentioned above. But in waiting for those candidates, you’re eliminating turnover.

Finding the right team member, especially when you focus on both skill and energy, is very difficult. Determining your baselines and non-negotiables and maintaining them in your mind during the interview process can lead to finding a great candidate who is thirsty to learn and coachable. Skipping steps or forgiving shortcomings in the application process means that you’re going backwards.

Hiring an employee because you’re desperate inadvertently will set your practice backward in pursuing your mission and vision. Settling won’t propel you into achieving the goals you set for yourself.

In my geographic area, it is very difficult to find skilled dental assistants, and it’s almost impossible to hire a dental hygienist. On, there are pages of dental offices looking for qualified applicants. Potential employees make plans to come in for an in-person interview or a working interview, and many times they end up ghosting.

In the light of this difficulty, we become careless and tired, and we often consider hiring a candidate out of desperation. But as the old adage goes, fire fast and hire slow. We must adhere to a laid-out plan. We cannot go backward.

If we do go backward, we once again will have a disjointed team that struggles to project positive energy toward itself and toward our patients. Hiring the wrong candidate, or settling for just any candidate, will lead to a lack of productivity and a compromise in achieving our mission and purpose. And in this, we all lose.

Dr. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist. She earned a DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has completed the course sequence with the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She completes a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education each year as well, including orthodontics, implantology, periodontics, prosthodontics, and cosmetics. Dr. Augustyn is an avid writer. Additionally, she is a moderator on the Dental Nachos. She can be reached at

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