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Hiring strategies to set your dental practice apart

Jan. 3, 2024
Staffing-wise, times remain tough in dentistry. These tips can set your practice apart and land you the right hires.

The pandemic-era phenomenon known as the “Great Resignation” remained a factor across the labor market throughout 2022. Many people quit their jobs early in the year, and more began actively looking for better employment opportunities. Although the phenomenon slowed throughout 2023 in many other industries, staffing remains very challenging for dental practices.

It is now understood that while the coronavirus pandemic did affect dental staffing, enrollments in dental hygiene and assisting programs have been declining for years. An October 2022 report from the American Dental Association cautioned, “While there has been some recovery of enrollment in dental hygiene programs, data suggest that dental assisting program enrollment will not rebound in the near future. As a result, workforce shortages are likely to remain an issue for years to come.”

Learn more: Dental practice staffing shortage: Where practices are struggling the most

What does this mean for dentistry? We’re experiencing immediate and future staff shortages and significant staffing instability for most dental offices. Staffing challenges have resulted in great demands on office managers’ time and resources to maintain staff while dedicating even more energy to hiring and training—all of this in addition to the usual challenges of running an efficient practice.

Do office managers actually have time to search out qualified candidates, complete the background checks, interview potential hires, and then onboard new employees properly? Realistically, this can only be achieved with a well-thought-out strategic plan that will result in a workable and practical hiring process. 

This strategic hiring plan can be divided into three components:

  1. The candidate’s contact experience
  2. Competitive wages and benefits
  3. Patience 

The candidate’s contact experience

The compensation and hours are often less important than the first impression made and friendliness conveyed to the candidate. People work for people, not jobs. When starting the interview process, be certain that the first contact with the applicant is made in a professional but congenial and timely manner. After application, candidates made to wait weeks for an interview will already have a negative impression of the workplace. Prompt action implies genuine interest and professionalism.

Work with the candidate’s calendar when scheduling the interview. This demonstrates respect for their time and speaks volumes about the way employees are treated in the office. If an in-person office interview is difficult, consider conducting an interview virtually instead of over the phone. The pandemic has proven just how far technology has come; a computer screen isn’t perfect, but you can still get good impression of a candidate’s qualifications.

Candidates don’t appreciate feeling like just another number in a sea of résumés. Referencing details from their application or résumé, such as work background or participation in organizations, can help create rapport. Bottom line, the candidate wants to stand out in an interview, but it’s just as important that the office manager presents a job and work environment that conveys interest and desire in the candidate.

Competitive wages and benefits

Paying a candidate their worth is critical to successful hiring. The days of cheap labor and zero benefits are long gone. The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” couldn’t be more on-point than when referring to employee wages. Spending more for a stellar candidate with awesome skills is absolutely worth it and will actually save money in the long run.

As well, replacing an individual employee, who often leaves due to inadequate wages and benefits, can cost as much as one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. I recently hired two employees at the highest starting pay we ever offered in my office. They have been worth every penny. They have great skills and lots of experience, and are true team players—two of the best employees in the company. Hires like these make everyone's days brighter and demonstrate value well beyond their wages.

Prepare to be patient

Last, but certainly not least in strategizing for hiring, is the virtue of patience. Waiting for the right person. Even though you are short-staffed and in dire need of someone, wait. Resist the temptation to hire just anyone or the first minimally qualified applicant. Be patient and be picky. Hiring the wrong candidate and subsequently dealing with office drama due to ineptitude or incompatibility or worse yet, having to let them go, is immeasurably stressful on the office manager as well as the whole office. And then you’re back at square one! So, be patient during the hiring process, be thorough, ask direct and intentional questions, let the other staff members meet the candidate or consider a working interview. Slow and steady wins the race. Be sure the applicant is the perfect fit for the office and the position.

Your leadership in creating a welcoming environment, offering competitive wages, and having the patience it takes to find the best candidate will benefit everyone in the office. Hard work will pay off in the end.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2022; updated with information from Dental practice staffing shortage: Where practices are struggling the most in January 2024