Invest in interviewing to reduce risk of bad hires

May 3, 2022

For an attentive employer, the interviewing process can be a good predictor of a future employee’s potential for success – or barriers to it. When one interviewer asked a candidate how long they worked at their last place of employment, the candidate responded, “I’d say my biggest weakness is my listening skills.” Responses like this illustrate why looking out for red flags is essential to the interviewing process.

While recent dental staffing shortages may make it tempting to offer a position to the first person who turns in an application, a measured, thoughtful approach to hiring is recommended. The time and planning that you invest to develop your practice’s hiring process will save you money, maintain consistency and reduce the potential risks of “warm body hiring.”

The interview portion of your hiring process should take place after careful screening of potential candidates through clear job descriptions and applications. If you are fortunate enough to have many applicants, conducting brief phone interviews and screening can help to narrow the field. When meeting with candidates virtually or in-person, use the opportunity to both learn more about the personality behind the resume and to put your best foot forward as a potential employer. Be mindful that each candidate is essentially interviewing you as a potential boss.

Interview best practices

The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management analysts often field questions from dental practice owners dealing with employment challenges. Here are a few of their recommendations for conducting effective interviews:

  • Prepare for each interview by reviewing the candidate’s application and resume and making notes of any specific questions that need to be addressed.
  • Create a list of questions that will be asked of all candidates to determine their experience and competencies. This will arm you with fair and adequate comparisons of those interviewed. Be mindful of the critical employment laws that exist through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and your state labor bureaus as you do so. California Dental Association members have access to a list of appropriate sample questions through a library of employment practices resources.
  • Keep the interview organized by explaining the process at the beginning. For example, let the candidate know you will be sharing a bit about the practice, your team dynamics, and will have a list of questions for them. Make sure to provide time for the candidate to answer any questions they might have about your practice and team, as well.
  • Ask open-ended questions to establish rapport and to assess the candidates' experience and qualifications. 
  • After each interview, file your list of questions and other information collected during the interview and selection process in an applicant's file to avoid allegations of discrimination.

To comply with state law, employers should limit requests for information during the interview and selection process to those details essential to determining a person's experience and qualifications to do the job (with or without reasonable accommodations). Employers are prohibited from requesting information, either verbally or through an application form, that identifies an applicant’s membership in protected groups. As one question leads to another, the conversation may veer into subjects prohibited in the employment context. It is never acceptable to ask candidates about:

  • Race / color
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy / breastfeeding / fertility
  • Gender / gender identity / gender expression
  • Current or prior compensation (including benefits)
  • Criminal history

Navigating working interviews

A unique aspect of the hiring process for dental practices is the clinical or working interview for dental associates or hygienists. These working interviews may be beneficial in the decision-making process by allowing candidates to demonstrate their skills in a clinical setting and observe how the practice owner conducts their office. For practice owners, working interviews are the best way to observe a candidate’s technique and see how they interact with patients and staff.

TDIC’s Risk Management analysts caution both practice owners and candidates to be mindful of the scope of liability coverage during working interviews. Sometimes owners mistakenly believe the interviewing dentists will be covered under the owner’s existing professional liability policy. This is not likely the case. Candidates should contact their insurer to request a binder for a working interview. Do not conduct a working interview without verifying the candidate’s coverage.

A working interview case study

A recent call to TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line illustrates the importance of liability coverage in these situations.

As reported by the practice owner, a candidate for an associate dentist role was invited to spend the day treating patients as part of a working interview. One of the treatment scenarios was a patient who presented for an extraction. The patient’s original treatment plan was to extract Nos.16 and 7-10. No. 11 had guarded prognosis and the short-term plan was to monitor this tooth. The candidate noted circumferential bone loss associated with tooth No. 11 and believed that a better option would be to extract this tooth. The candidate then proceeded to extract #11 without first consulting with the patient or the owner dentist.

Later that day, the patient’s wife called when she noted this deviation from the original treatment plan and capitalized on this “error.” She stated that the dentist did not have her husband’s consent for the additional extraction. The patient’s wife claimed to have guidance from another dentist recommending that to address the loss of #11, an implant would be required and would include additional restorative treatment. She ended the phone call by saying: “You and that new, young dentist will be paying for your mistake.”

The analyst who took the call discussed the potential for a claim to be made against both the practice and the hiring candidate. The analyst offered that this experience was a good opportunity to review their procedures for working interviews and to set parameters for how the candidate might be observed and supervised. The analyst also suggested discussing the expectations when the candidate was performing in this role, especially if there was the potential for a change in the treatment plan. Ultimately, this situation created risk for both parties that would require placing their liability carriers on notice of a potential claim. Fortunately, the practice had secured information on the candidate's liability insurance in advance of the interview. The claims representative for the insurance carrier agreed to reach out to the patient and his wife and attempt to amicably resolve the matter.

Even after a new hire is thoughtfully onboarded and trained to join your team, it is difficult to forecast who will be the best long-term fit. However, you can greatly improve the odds of a “good hire” with attention to details and mitigating risks during the interview process. You can always reach out to the Risk Management Advice Line for guidance in interviewing, hiring, and other employment issues.

Hiring decisions are among the most important ones you will make as a practice owner. Your choice of candidates will affect your staff, the well-being of your practice and the welfare of your patients.

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 May 2022.


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