On the other line was a very frustrated doctor. “Why does hiring always feel like such a hit-or-miss experience? This isn’t something I was trained to do in dental school – but it seems almost as necessary as knowing how to do a crown prep.” They were expressing a concern felt in virtually every dental office. Few things in a practice create more short-term stress, or have more long-term impact, then hiring team members who are the right fit for the job and the culture.
Every practice leader or owner has experienced the pain that comes from bringing the wrong person into your team. It seems on the surface like it should be so straight forward to post an ad, review resumes, have a conversation with the top candidates and then make an offer. Why does it have to be so difficult? The good news is, it doesn’t need to be –– when you use a five-step process that will allow you to ace that new hire. Over the past 30 years of my career, I’ve had the chance to interview and hire over 1,000 candidates. There are five steps that will make your hiring experience and results so much more successful. Let’s explore them now:
1. CLARIFY: The Position and The Hire
The first step may seem an added layer of work, but it lays the foundation for the remaining four steps. Put simply, it is to gain clarity about the position and the person with what I call “hiring with the end in mind.” You do this by taking just 15-20 minutes before anyone is interviewed or the position is advertised to capture in writing the characteristics of the ideal candidate for this role in your practice. What skills does this person bring? What is in their personality, experience level, behavioral style and background that would make them a “home run?” Be creative as you record these and list them in a column in brainstorm fashion.
After you’ve created the list, separate the characteristics by the traits that are (1) givens, and (2) wants. A “given” is a non-negotiable characteristic that any candidate must have to be considered. A want, however, is different. It’s not an absolute, but a desirable trait that would help them be even more effective. For example, a given for a clinical assistant may be a minimum of three years previous experience. A want for that position could be knowledge of your specific practice management system. (It’s not a strikeout if a candidate has never used your system, but all things being equal the candidate who has would be preferred). Not all wants are created equal, so rank them based upon your perception of those that are most valuable on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the max. These rankings will come in handy later on.
At this stage of the process, it can also be very valuable to involve your team, and especially those who will be working directly with the new hire. Their insights can be valuable, and their participation in defining the characteristics will be of great value as candidates are considered later on.
2. RECRUIT: Finding Applicants
With these features clearly defined, the second step is to draft an ad with these traits in mind. (Naturally, there are times your personal network, or the network of your team, will kick into gear and no ad is needed, but the norm is to get the word out electronically). There are many services available for this including Indeed, Craigslist and DentalPost.net. Each can be a valuable tool to get the word out based upon your market and budget. From my experience, Craigslist is the cheapest, but also brings in a lot of non-qualified applicants. Indeed can work well, but the site isn’t the simplest to use and the requirements to apply for a position are easily “gamed.” DentalPost.net is a terrific resource for hiring. It’s a small investment, but based upon their strength in the market, it’s a powerful tool. Regardless of the site, write your ad based up on the criteria you have set up as givens and wants. Remember, there is a lot of competition for attention among job seekers, so the purpose of the ad is to capture attention first, and then get candidates to apply, so craft the ad in a way that speaks to the clear strengths of your practice, and the valuable role this position plays.
3. SCREEN: Givens v. Wants
The third and fourth steps are the screening and interviewing phase. This starts with screening your applicants’ resumes and cover letters based upon how well they meet the characteristics. Here, refer back to your givens vs. wants as you review each applicant. Search their documents actively for the traits you have pre-set and only let those who meet the givens keep moving forward. For those who don’t meet the grade, don’t forget to shoot a quick thank you to each of them.
4. INTERVIEW: Group and Personal
For the rest, invite the candidates to the office for a group interview. Group interviews are one of the biggest time savers in finding a new hire and allow you to get a feel for each candidate at one time and in one setting. Group interview questions are not tough questions but are more of the “get to know you” type while you, and another team member or two (don’t do these alone), have a chance to listen to their responses, gauge their energy, see how the candidates listen, communicate and participate. This is the chance to look for clear “no-go” signals like improper dress, poor communication skills, rudeness, etc. Give each candidate in attendance the chance to answer the same question, ask as many questions as you have candidates in the room, and rotate who gets to answer first. When you call the candidates to set this up, let them know it will be a group interview so there are no surprises when they arrive.
After the group interview is done, narrow your list to the top three or four candidates. Call them the next day and invite them back for a more searching interview using behavioral based interviewing as your guide. The purpose of behavioral based interviewing is simple: let the candidate do as much of the talking as possible (75-80 percent or more of the interview). The key is to listen and search for specific instances from their past that give deeper and clearer insights into how well they meet your pre-established criteria. All too often, interviews are very ineffective because the interviewer tells the candidate exactly what they want through the way questions are asked, therefore limiting insights into the interviewee responses. The other large issue is the interviewer does too much of the talking. Instead, remember this principle: The past is the greatest indicator of the future. Therefore, the purpose of an interview is to let candidates dig into their past while the interviewer evaluates their responses. You do this by asking “tell me about a time” questions, while coaching the interviewee at the start of the interview to respond by following the STAR acronym:
S – explain the Situation first
T – then the Task
A – or Action they took, and finally
R – the Results from their action(s).
The key to this style of interviewing is to (1) be content with silence while they come up with a scenario to describe, (2) listen and don’t interrupt, and (3) craft “tell me about” questions that drill into the characteristics you are looking for in the ideal candidate. For example, if you are hiring for a scheduler and being calm under pressure is a “given” for this role, one question you could ask is, “Tell me about the last time your day fell apart. What happened and how did it end up?” After that, be quiet, listen and see how honest, insightful and applicable their reply is.
5. EVALUATE: A Balance of Head and Heart
The fifth and final step is to bring this all back to step one. Using your head, instead of your heart, review the group of candidate’s experiences, responses, personality, communication skills, career path and fit within the practice’s culture in light of the traits you defined at the beginning of the process. Go through each characteristic for each candidate (yes, I mean each candidate) and put in writing the evidence you have to prove how strongly they meet that characteristic. With this in front of you, the right choice will become apparent. Knowing they each meet the givens you’ve established, it then becomes a matter of how strongly they meet the wants. Once your head has done the work to this point, then let your intuition make the final call.
These techniques require being thorough and taking the time needed to get it right. Like the maxim goes: “Hire slow and fire fast,” it only takes one experience to learn the heartache associated with the wrong hire is never worth the immediate stress-relief of filling an opening on your team. Doing it right, however, is one of the most satisfying parts of owning or running a practice. Especially, as a new team member becomes a key contributor to the practice’s success, while fitting in like they’ve been a part of it for years.