10 considerations when looking for an associateship opportunity in a dental practice

Sept. 16, 2013
In this tough economy, it’s harder for young dentists to find associateship opportunities. Theodore Schumann, CPA, CFP, summarizes 10 things you should keep in mind in your job search today.

One of the changes we see in today’s tough economy is that it is harder for young dentist to find associateship opportunities. With this in mind, I have summarized some things to consider in the job search:

1. Know your objectives
When looking for an associate opportunity, you need to consider exactly your objectives. Are you looking for a job or an opportunity to buy in? You will need to consider your financial objectives. It is a good idea to put together a detailed personal budget ahead of time to know what you will need to make. Next, you will need to consider your geographic preferences. To find a good opportunity, you may have to look to rural communities. Be careful of what I call the “Myth of Mentorship.” Many young dentists have high hopes that the employer dentist will mentor them both clinically and operationally to help them be ready for ownership. While some fortunate associates are lucky to have an employer who does make it a priority to teach them, many aren’t so lucky. Finally, if this is your first associateship, choose wisely.

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2. Locate an opportunity
Perhaps the most difficult part of the process is finding an opportunity. It is important to get the word out. Talk to practice brokers, attorneys, labs, supply sales reps, local specialists, other dentists, and nondental people as well. Don’t just rely on online and journal ads; knock on some doors. Prepare a list of offices and find out as much as you can. Google makes this much easier. Never rule someone out because of age; we are seeing younger doctors who are adding associates. Develop a specific letter for each practice. Concentrate on the benefits of hiring you. Be specific on what you would be willing to do to attract new patients. Also consider attending dental meetings and get involved in the dental association. Find every opportunity to network with other dentists.

3. Follow up
Make it a strategy to follow up on every contact. Your follow up can be by telephone, personal visits, and a second letter. Remember your mission is to get an interview at this point and not a job.

4. Interview strategies
Remember this process is as uncomfortable for the employer as for you, so relax. Try to find out the employer’s objectives by asking questions throughout the interview. Talking dentistry is important, but remember that most dentists make these decisions on emotional feelings rather than logic. Your job is to get the employing doctor to love you. Focus on establishing rapport. If you are married, assume your spouse is being interviewed as well. Answer each question directly and make good eye contact. While this may sound basic, dress well. Always insist on paying for lunch or dinner. Find a reason during the interview to call back in a few days. Finally, write a detailed thank you note and express great interest in the position.

5. Investigate the opportunity
This is delicate in a strictly job type associateship, but is truly important to your eventual success. Find out as much as you can about the practice. Find out why the doctor looking for an associate, is this first associate or replacement. See if you can find out the history of the practice. Inquire about the practice financial success. Ask about the number of patients to determine if the practice is large enough to support another doctor.

6. Avoid showing desperation
The employing doctor will want an associate who represents his or her practice with confidence.

7. Your resume and cover letter are a marketing tool, not a list of activities
Your resume and cover letter should get prospective employers thinking about how bringing you into their practice will help solve their problems.

8. Contract issues
The simple answer here is use an attorney with experience on associateship contracts. This is not an area that you want to attempt by yourself!

9. Look for an employer who wants you to succeed and will help you grow as a dentist.

10. You have no right to turn down a job that hasn’t been offered.
Make an excellent effort on every interview to win the job. You can turn it down later, once it has been offered.

Theodore C. Schumann, CPA, CFP, is the CEO of The DBS Companies. The DBS Companies is a full-service financial services firm providing accounting, tax, financial and estate planning, practice transitions, practice management, and leadership coaching for dentists. Ted has been helping dentists reach their financial and personal goals for more than 30 years.