Questions to ask during an associate interview

From the perspective of a practice owner, choosing a professional associate may be one of the most important decisions that dentist will ever make. This choice will affect the staff, the well being of the practice, and the welfare of the patients. Many practice owners decide to take on an associate with the goal to offer extended hours, gain clinical support and companionship, provide mentorship and allow for the sharing of ideas on complicated cases, work toward retirement and relieve the owner of some of the patient load, help grow the practice, and expand the practice's mix of clinical services.

But before any of that begins, an interview must take place.

"The interview process provides an opportunity for both the practice owner and associate candidate to assess whether the working relationship will be compatible," said CDA Practice Support Analyst Michelle Corbo. "This is the associate candidate's chance to discuss with the owner approaches to treatment, chair side manner and staff arrangements before deciding to become an associate of his/her practice."

The interview process can be time-consuming and complex. As with any professional assessment, dentists need to take great care and consideration to ensure the right decision is made. To do this, the dentist must trust their instincts – if some part of the arrangement doesn't sit well with them, do not ignore this sign. To discover these signs, the dentist must make sure they ask the correct questions during the interview. The following provides a sample list of questions to ask a potential associate. Being prepared to ask these questions will help both parties determine if the working relationship is a good fit.

A dentist should ask questions to:

  • Assess experience (What challenges did you face in dental school and how were they overcome? Tell me about your range of clinical/experience and what you enjoy most/least?).
  • Assess patient time/team management (A patient comes in for an emergency appointment – how would you handle that situation? A patient doesn't agree with your treatment plan. Tell me how you would handle that situation.).
  • Assess goals/desire to learn (What do you enjoy most/least about dentistry? How do you set and measure your success?).  
  • Assess leadership/interpersonal skills/communication (Two staff members are having an argument in front of a patient. What do you do? Which of your previous employers/instructors did you like best and why?).

Other basic questions include the following.

  • Is there anything that would keep you from attending work during a regularly scheduled workweek?
  • What work experience do you have that you feel qualifies you for this position? How do you think your experience has prepared you for this job?
  • Describe an achievement that you are most proud of. How much time and effort did you put into this achievement?
  • When you think about getting along with others, what do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Describe how you determine your priorities on the job. How do you schedule your time?
  • Describe your favorite job to date. Why? Least favorite job. Why?
  • What are your goals and objectives as they relate to this position?

Should a dentist be pleased with the candidate during the interview, they may want to set up a working interview. Working interviews in dentistry are common because they allow candidates to practice in the clinical setting and provide the opportunity to observe how the practice owner conducts the office. It's also the best way for practice owners to observe new dentists' techniques and see how they interact with patients and staff.

From the perspective of the practice owner, it gives them more of a sense of the associate's treatment abilities, case presentation techniques and treatment philosophies to make sure they are on the same page.

"There is a lot to consider when hiring someone that will play a key role in your practice, make sure you conduct a thorough interview process – including reference checks – and make a decision that is going to work best for you, your staff and the person being hired," Corbo said.

More information on the interview process can be found in CDA Practice Support's Sample Interview Questions and Finding the Right Associateship: Navigating Through the Interview Process resources, which are available at cda.org/practicesupport.

For tips on how to recruit new employees in the dental practice, view CDA Practice Support's Recruiting Checklist.

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