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Best Practices for Hiring the Right Employee

April 6, 2022

Moviegoers love a case of mistaken identity, especially when the mix-up has characters taking on jobs for which they are wholly unsuited. While it may be entertaining to watch a rock star try to teach elementary school or a precocious teen evade the FBI as an airline pilot, the reality of dealing with an employee who has misrepresented their competencies is not nearly as fun.

Per the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of a bad hire is at least 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings. And that’s just the monetary cost — other considerations are the loss of dental practice production and the labor loss of current employees being distracted and slowed by training. There’s also a potential negative impact on employee morale when a new team member isn’t a good fit.

While bad hires come in several forms, candidates who misrepresent their competencies are the most frequent topic of calls to The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line.

When good candidates become bad hires

A sampling of phone calls received by the Advice Line reveals some unfortunate similarities.

  • One dental office called for guidance on a newly hired financial coordinator. The employee had been on a performance improvement plan for a month due to not being able to perform tasks as indicated on her resume. In addition, it was discovered that she had been arrested for criminal offenses. Among other problems, the shift of this employee’s responsibilities to other staff caused resentment for those team members.
  • Another caller had learned that a recently hired hygienist was practicing with an inactive license. The issue only became known when a patient complained about an interaction with the hygienist and demanded her license information. The discovery that an unlicensed employee was providing patient care caused reputational damage to the practice and a concern by patients about a perceived lack of controls implemented within the practice.

There’s a simple adage that applies to these situations: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Both bad hires could have been detected as unqualified candidates before they were hired had a few essential steps been taken to vet their qualifications and capabilities during the screening and interview process. When these filters are in place, you essentially refine your pool of candidates to avoid costly and time-consuming hiring mistakes.

Filter One: Good Job Descriptions

Michelle Coker, employment analyst at the California Dental Association, explains, “The job description will guide you when reviewing resumes and applications and in crafting your interview questions. Narrow down your pool of candidates through the job description.”

  • The job title should be clear and concise. “Fluffy” job titles may only make sense to your practice. Keep it simple.
  • Outline the responsibilities and use bullet points. The shorter and easier to understand, the better. Plus, it’s better for online viewing.
  • Focus on the key job functions. Summarize the essential functions to answer the question “Why does this job exist?”
  • Avoid unrealistic requirements but make a point of stating the requirements that are nonnegotiable (such as maintaining an active license).
  • Define the work hours (full or part time) and attendance expectations (remote or on-site).

Beyond the hiring process, a well-defined job description will assist the employer as a reference when providing performance feedback and, if needed, the development of a performance improvement plan. Your documentation of their job description is essential should any employee not meet the expectations of the role and you find it necessary to end the relationship.

Filter Two: An Employment Application

Too often, employers decide that a resume and cover letter will provide all the information they need to know about a candidate. Not requiring the candidate to fill out a job application is a missed opportunity for filtering out potential bad hires.

There are several advantages to having job seekers fill out a job application along with submitting their resume:

  • An application provides a consistent format for employers, and consistency can reduce liability. When the same data is gathered in the same format from each candidate, employers gain standardization of information, making comparisons of candidates’ credentials easier. It also establishes a consistency of process to avoid potential allegations of unlawful preferential treatment of applicants.
  • Discrepancies between application and resume information are a red flag indicating a potential misrepresentation of competencies and should signal employers to proceed with caution.
  • An application gives the potential employer the ability to obtain the applicant’s signature certifying that all statements on the application for employment are true and authorizing an investigation of all information submitted.
  • The application is also an opportunity to obtain the applicant’s signature to certify that they have read and understood certain policies and procedures of the employer that are spelled out on the employment application.

When creating an application, it’s important to be mindful of the employment laws that exist to protect potential employees from discrimination. Use a state-specific application that includes, at minimum, a basic waiver that allows the employer to check past employment, personal references and education.

Filter Three: Interviews

Once you have identified candidates who can fulfill the duties of the job description and who have accurately portrayed their qualifications, an interview is the next step in the filtration process. Maintain consistency in the questions you ask other candidates applying for the same job as a basis for equitable comparison. Make sure to keep copies of the application questions and answers in case they need to be referred to later.

TDIC’s Risk Management analysts provide additional tips for vetting the knowledge, skills and expertise of clinical staff.

  • Ask for a copy of the candidate’s license (RDA, RDH, DDS) and verify that the license is in good standing with the state dental board. This is often assumed, but not confirmed, during the hiring process.
  • Ask the candidate how they prepare for the workday and for each patient’s treatment. What is the candidate’s process for organizing trays? What is their process to keep different procedures straight? This will demonstrate the candidate’s ability to follow directions and follow a system.
  • Ask the candidate to describe a procedure from beginning to end. This will show the candidate’s knowledge of the procedure and attention to detail as well as indicate holes in that knowledge that will need to be addressed through training.
  • Ask the candidate to walk you through a typical schedule of the practice they have worked in most recently. How many chairs did they support? What was the procedure mix? How many patients were seen per day? Were treatment notes dictated by the dentist and entered by the RDA or did the doctor do all the treatment entries? How was treatment presented and by whom?

When your staffing needs are immediate, you may be tempted to expedite available candidates and minimize their shortcomings. Frequent staff changes can reflect negatively on patients’ perceptions of your business practices, impact morale of existing staff and create an emotional and financial drain for practice owners. Protect your practice by implementing effective processes to find and hire solid employees. Your patients, your employees and your practice will all be the grateful beneficiaries of your careful screening procedures.

TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit of CDA membership. Schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst or call 800.733.0633. Reprinted with permission from the California Dental Association, copyright April 2022.


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