There's an employee shortage in most industries and ours is no different. Pandemic-alleviation stimulus and the work-from-home revolution is keeping record numbers of people out of the workforce.

Not hiring will cost you. Working short-staffed is stressful, it affects the quality of your work, and causes people to cut corners.

But not hiring well, it will cost you ... big time. The only thing worse than being understaffed is having the wrong staff.

One underperformer, one bad attitude, one person not fitting in – it's enough to make the wheels fall off. Before you know it, your once dynamic team is in turmoil. No one gets along, no one loves their work and everyone rushes home at 5 p.m. They spend all week counting down to Friday and all weekend dreading Monday.

Even worse, your staff loses trust in you and your ability to run the team. Your great performers get frustrated working with subpar coworkers, and they leave. And when you have high turnover, you must keep hiring. And around you go. Rinse and repeat.

And we haven't even touched on the dollar value of a mediocre hire. How much are lost opportunities costing you because the new hire wasn't up to par in their job performance? Wasted time and energy, only to have to start from scratch because it didn't work out.

Remember the good ol' days of hiring? Post a job listing, read through a stack of resumes, interview, hire, and move on with your life? Your only problem was which candidate to pick. Well, those days are over and probably not coming back. The power balance has shifted, and great employees hold all the cards.

So, if you can't work short-handed and can't hire just anyone who can fog a mirror, then what's the plan?

Hire smarter.

Hiring smarter works because no one else is doing it. They don't teach you how to hire staff in dental school. Every dentist hires the same way because they all just copy each other. It's all they know.

Hiring well is the great differentiator. With a great team in place, everything else in your practice becomes a lot easier.

Pay close attention, because times like these actually present a great opportunity for dentists who are willing to do what other dentists can't, won't or don't know how to do.

Here are seven common mistakes dentists make when hiring.

Which ones are you making?

And are you ready to try something different?

If so, read on.

interviewing for dental practice

Dental practice hiring mistake #1: Not being crystal clear about what you're looking for

You wouldn't prep a full arch without doing a little planning first, would you?

“Start with the end in mind” is a mantra we all know when prepping a full arch of crowns.

Hiring is no different.

What is the most important step in hiring great staff so your practice can thrive? Know exactly what you're looking for. The more clearly you can define what your ideal hire looks like, the better you will be able to find them. And if you can't answer this question yet, you have some important work to do!

Here's an easy way to define your ideal new hire.

Start with a pen and a blank piece of paper and write down every quality that makes an employee great. Use past experiences to guide you. Think back to all your best employees from the past. What did they have in common that made them great? Do this for the qualities in your worst employees too. I'm sure you will find some common threads. You'll have an easier time knowing who and what to avoid.

Brainstorm first.

Get it all out of your head and onto paper.

Now prioritize.

It's just not practical to screen people for 10+ different qualities. And not every one of your 10 (or 15 or however many) qualities you wrote down is equally important.

Which three are the most important? Circle these ones. These are the deal breakers. The ones that matter the most. If your new hire only checks these three boxes, that gets you 90% of the way there.

Now you should have a much clearer picture of what your ideal new hire looks like. And now you will be able to identify one when you finally meet them!

Too lazy to go through all this? No problem. Just borrow mine.

The 3 Cs of an ideal new hire

Over the past 10+ years I've refined the top three qualities I look for in an ideal new hire. Here they are.

Chemistry —

Do we like each other? We don't need to be best friends, but we're going to be spending 40 hours a week together for the next 10 to 20 years. It sure would be easier if we actually enjoyed each other's company!

We use the “Dinner Party Test”:

  • Would we look forward to having this person over for dinner?

Character —

Do we believe in the same type of workplace? Does their definition of a great workplace and a great teammate match ours?

Capability —

Do they have the potential to be elite at their position?

Note: I said “potential” to be elite, not necessarily currently elite. And I also said “elite,” not good or even great.

We use the “Superstar Test”:

  • Given the right training, coaching and experience, in two years can we see this person being as good or even better than Sally, our current top hygienist?
smiling dental team members
Work is a lot more fun and productive if you actually like the people you work with. The one in the middle is my wife, Dr. Meagan Bennett, so I'd better get along with her!

Dental practice hiring mistake #2: Turning off great candidates by putting pointless requirements in your job posts

Your job post should cast as wide a net as possible

The goal of your job post is not to find the perfect candidate.

No — the only goal is to generate as many applications as possible. Quantity first, Quality later. Too many practices miss out on great employees because of the arbitrary restrictions they set in their ads.

Does this sound familiar?

  • 5 years of experience required
  • Ability to handle a busy, fast-paced office
  • Knowledge of Dentrix preferred

These types of requirements weed out too many people from the start. The applicant who only has three years of experience might not apply for the job with the requirements above. Same with the one who comes from a small, slow office who's never worked in a busy, fast-paced one (which doesn't mean they can't!). And the applicant who has never used Dentrix before will feel like they're at a disadvantage. Applicants won't play games they don't think they can win.

Is it a must? Or a nice-to have?

If you are going to put requirements in an ad, you'd better mean it. So, decide if they are musts or nice-to-haves.

When my practices look for a hygienist, our only must is that they must have an RDH license. Everything else (experience, training, skills, etc.) is just nice-to-have. Therefore, we don't mention them at all in the job posting. We love inexperienced applicants because we can coach them to fit our team. It's much easier to teach someone good habits from the start than to try and break their bad ones. Your practice might be different.

When you mention skills, experience, or qualities that are nice-to-haves in your job posts, it only scares away candidates who aren't sure if they qualify. And remember – the only goal of the job post is to get as many people as possible to apply. You can screen them for quality later.

The 'Tom Brady Test' for what to include (and not include) in your job post

To decide which requirements are musts and which ones are nice-to-haves, you can use what I call the “Tom Brady Test.”

Here's how it works.

If Tom Brady walked into my office and asked for a hygiene job, as much as it would kill me, I would have to reluctantly decline because he isn't a licensed RDH. A hygiene role in my practice requires a hygiene degree. It's an absolute dealbreaker. A must.

However, you might also think that five years of experience is a must. But if in some weird parallel universe, Tom Brady got tired of winning world championships and the constant adulation of his fans, went to hygiene school, and then walked into your office with only four years and 11 months of experience, would you really turn him down because he's a month shy? If you'd bend your made-up rules because all of his other skills more than make up for it, then five years of experience is not a must. It's only a nice-to-have.

If it's a must, make it clear in the ad. If it's a nice-to-have, forget about it completely.

Dental practice hiring mistake #3: Writing boring, look-alike ads

If your job post is the same as all the others, then hardly anyone will read it, and even fewer will click to apply.

Now that we've eliminated the nice-to-haves and are left with only the musts, it's time to write a compelling job ad.

Here are some tips to get you started writing great ads immediately:

  • Read other dental job ads in your area. And then don't say what they say. This is the easiest way to stand out. Yet another ad seeking a “highly motivated team player who is passionate about oral health and excited to join a growing team” is sure to get lost in the sea of other job posts.
  • Make it conversational by writing the way you speak. Think about what you would tell your neighbor about why your practice is a great place to work and use those words in your ads. People want to work with other people. So, sound like a real person, not like an HR department.
  • Don't be too cute. Sometimes clear and simple is best. Something like:
    • Full Time Dental Hygienist Wanted in Burlington. ALL applicants welcome, and we personally respond to everyone. Are you open to seeing if we are the right fit to work together? If so, email us at _________ to arrange a chat. What have you got to lose?
  • Write two different ads and track which one brings in more applicants. You can put a different phone number or email address in each ad to see which one gets more (and better) candidates. Ditch the loser.
    • By the way, in the comments below this article, I'll show you how to get a PDF file with my top performing job posts that you can use for yourself word for word. There's one ad that has been a consistent winner for more than six years. I'm still trying to write an ad that finally knocks it off the top of the mountain.

Instantly get more applicants by adding a single line to your ad

This leads us to the one line you can add to your job post that will instantly increase the number of applicants you get:

  • Guaranteed better hours and better pay

I know what you're thinking: How can you promise someone better pay if you don't know what they make or if they're any good?

Don't overcomplicate it. Once you find someone who's great, find out what they're making and then offer them a buck or two more. If you don't think they're worth it at that number, then move on to someone else who is.

As far as the better hours go, of course you can only promise that if it's true. But I've found that candidates are willing to let that one slide if the hours are close enough to what they work now.

Why does this work?

People who are thinking about changing jobs don't want to make a backwards or sideways move. Most people are hesitant to go through the hassle of applying to a new job, updating their resume, going for an interview, and risking that their boss will find out, only to find out that it pays less than what they already make.

The days of lowballing new hires because they've got nowhere else to go are over. If you want a quality team, you've got to be willing to pay for it. Dental staff these days are tired of dentists who:

  • Are evasive about pay, except that they “pay based on experience,” which is code word for “less than you think you're worth.”
  • Expect them to take a pay cut for the great honor of working with them, and then hopefully earn a raise later on.
  • Won't pay a dollar over “industry average” out of principle.
  • Think they can fool you into taking pay in the form of “opportunities for growth” instead of cold hard cash.

Don't be that dentist.

If you want to attract different, you have to be different.

Dental practice hiring Mistake #4: Accidentally eliminating 80% of candidates because you posted your ad in the wrong place

The great employees can't apply if they never see your ad

You're making a big mistake if you only post ads on job boards like Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter. About 80% of candidates will never see your ad because the best and biggest talent pool is made of people who aren't actively looking for jobs.

If you're looking to hire a hygienist, it's safe to assume that 10% of the hygienists in your area are miserable at work and actively looking for something new. This is the 10% that is cruising Indeed every week. At the other end of the spectrum are the 10% of hygienists who absolutely love their jobs and would never dream of leaving.

That leaves the middle 80% of hygienists who aren't particularly unhappy in their jobs … but they would be open to listening if the right opportunity came along. They're not actively looking.

This is the 80% of candidates you eliminate if you only post on traditional job boards.

If you have a population of 100,000 people within a 20-minute drive of your practice, there are probably somewhere in the range of 50 dentists and 150 hygienists in that radius. If you're only posting on job boards, you're likely only reaching 10% of them. That's only 15 sets of eyeballs on your ad.

No wonder you aren't getting any applicants, or you're getting the same poor ones over and over again!

Now for the good news!

There is a platform that all hygienists (not just the ones actively looking for jobs) check every single day. Even many times a day.

It's called Facebook.

If you use paid ads on Facebook properly, I'm confident you can get your job post in front of 100+ of the 150 hygienists in your neighbourhood.

Now that's a candidate pool I would feel a lot better about fishing from.

Dental practice hiring mistake #5: Avoiding Facebook Ads because they are too complicated

All you need to know about Facebook Ads in 250 words

If Facebook Ads seem daunting at first, relax. Here's all you need to get you started to get your job posts in front of virtually every dental staff in your neighbourhood:

  • First, ignore 99% of the settings. The only one that matters is geography. You don't want to pay Facebook to show your ad across the country. Set a radius around your practice so that only people who live and work close to you will see your ad. I like to use 15 miles, or 25 kilometers, but you will know best what a realistic distance is for candidates to commute.
  • Decide how you want them to apply. You can ask for a Facebook chat message, a text message, a phone call, an email or a contact form. It doesn't matter. Pick whichever method you will monitor the closest and the fastest.
  • Set a budget of $5 per day. If your budget is too low, Facebook will never figure out who to show your ad to.
  • Include a photo of your smiling team. A photo of real people beats a stock photo which beats no photo. A group selfie near a window with good lighting is perfect.
  • Videos work great here because they make you look friendly and approachable. The script can be simple. Just say something like:
    • “Are you a dental hygienist in Burlington? If so, I have some exciting news for you! We are hiring a full-time hygienist in Burlington, and I'd like to personally invite you to apply. Just click below to message us, and let's see if we are a good fit to work together. I look forward to meeting you soon!”
smiling dental team members
A photo of your happy smiling team is sure to attract applicants who want to be part of a team just like yours. Don't have a professional photo? A cell phone selfie near a window for good lighting is just as good!

Dental practice hiring mistake #6: Screening candidates for the wrong things, and missing out on the right things

Resumes haven't been useful since the 1980s

Here's how most dentists hire: Place an ad, collect resumes, skim through the resumes and then decide who to interview.

They may complain that they never get any good applicants. But I bet they've already come across plenty of good ones – they just ended up in the trash can because their resume wasn't that special.

I've hired hundreds of dental staff in my career. And I've found zero correlation between the quality of someone's resume and their job performance. Resumes just don't matter in dentistry. At all.

The only thing a resume tells you is how good the candidate is at writing a resume.

​​If you insist on reading resumes, please do me (and yourself!) this one favor: Use the resume as a method to screen candidates out, not to screen them in.

There are certain resume red flags that make someone an automatic “no thanks.” For example, if you are hiring for a hygienist and this candidate is not a hygienist … well they go in the no thanks pile. Other major red flags include extremely messy, sloppy, or unprofessional resumes.

Otherwise, everyone else is worth at least talking to. It's way too early to eliminate candidates based on a single stupid piece of paper. Remember – if you are struggling with finding enough applicants, then cast as wide a net as possible. Quantity first, quality later.

So if you're ignoring resumes, what do you do instead?

If you get lots of applicants and have trouble sorting through all of them, then I would intentionally add some barriers that filter out anyone who isn't a serious, highly qualified candidate. But I rarely hear docs complain about too many candidates these days, so we will save that for a future article.

If you are getting less than 20 or so applicants, then the easiest and most effective way to screen them is to just call them and chat. It doesn't have to be complicated. The call can be as short as five minutes, and anyone on your team can do it for you. I treat it like a “coffee date” – keep the conversation light and informal.

And I'm only looking for one thing during the five-minute call: How fast can you make me like you?

Even in a chat as short as five minutes, you can screen for people who can quickly build trust and connect with people. Those are pretty good qualities to have in a dental practice, wouldn't you agree?

Interview with a plan

If you don't go into your interviews with a plan, you might as well save everyone the time and hassle, skip the interview, and flip a coin instead.

Don't count on “trusting your gut,” or your ability to “read people,” unless you believe you have a superhuman ability to violate the laws of psychology. Because all humans are hardwired to have biases.

A recency bias occurs when you put extra weight on the most recent experience. Your latest good candidate will seem better than the other equally good ones. They're not actually better, they're just more recent.

A confirmation bias occurs when your brain looks for evidence to confirm whatever it is that you're looking for. So much that it often ignores evidence to the contrary. You've probably experienced this for yourself already. You start the typical interview with some chit chat to kill time. Then with the applicant's resume in hand, you start reading through their chronological list of employment history and asking questions like, “So ... I see you used to work at Dr. Morrison's. What was that like?”

And I'm sure we can all admit to asking the real eye-opening, hard-hitting interview questions like, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Or, “What kind of practice management system did you use?”

And then after you've interviewed everyone, you search back in your memory from the previous weeks and decide to choose Mary because … well … she seemed … nice?

Like I said before: Might as well flip a coin.

What kinds of interview questions should you ask instead?

Remember way back to “Dental practice hiring mistake #1” - Not knowing exactly what you're looking for. If you did the exercise of brainstorming all the qualities that make someone great to work with, and then if you identified your top three most important qualities, you've got a great starting point for your interview.

A great interview plan would be to just focus on those three qualities. No need to reinvent the wheel. You can go on Google and search for:

  • Best interview questions to ask about ____________

See how easy it is to create a list of 10 to 20 potential interview questions to ask? Now you can go into the interview with a list of great questions to ask about things you've already decided really matter.

I'd feel a lot better about that plan than listening to yet another applicant magically turn their greatest weakness into an actual strength!

Dental practice hiring mistake #7: Settling too easily for a mediocre new hire

The most important work starts after you've hired someone

So, you've finally found a great candidate, made an offer, they've accepted and started working with you. Congratulations!

But don't lose focus now — your job is only half done.

Now it's time to make sure you made the right choice.

No matter how good you get at hiring, no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how many times you do it – choosing the right candidate is an educated guess. In our practices, we have three qualities we look for (see “The 3 Cs” above). Once we are 80% confident that the candidate checks all three boxes, we hire them.

I often get asked if there's a test that will tell us ahead of time how good they will be, what they will be like to work with, and if they will get along with the rest of the team. There are lots of tests out there with varying degrees of usefulness – Kolbe, DISC, Myers-Briggs, Wonderlic, etc.

But there is only one sure-fire way to know whether you made the right choice:

  • Work together and watch them closely in the real world.

People can fake almost anything for an interview. They will obviously be on their best behavior when they first start a new job. But over 30, 60, 90 days, the real truth will emerge.

If you start to have doubts about your new hire, ask yourself this question:

  • Why should I believe that this issue will get fixed if we give it more time?

If it's a skills or training issue, then you might decide to re-evaluate in a month or two to make sure they are on track.

But if they are struggling to keep up with the pace of the work …

Or if they are good workers, but they rub everyone the wrong way …

Or if they just don't seem to fit in with the rest of the team …

Well, these problems will almost always be there forever. No amount of time or training will fix them. I always assume that people don't change, until they prove me otherwise.

Remember the Superstar Test from earlier in this article: Now that we've worked together for a couple months, can we see this new hire as being as good or even better than Sally, our top hygienist, within two years?

Great teams never settle for someone who doesn't raise the talent ceiling on their team. Why on earth would you hire someone who brought your average talent level down?

‘The Netflix Question' prevents you from settling for mediocre new hires

There's one more question to ask yourself to clarify whether you made the right choice with your new hire. I call it the “Netflix Question,” because it's a variation of a question used by management at Netflix to evaluate their team.

  • If this new hire were to give their two weeks' notice, would we fight hard to keep them and change their mind? Or would we be a little bit relieved?

The answer to this question will be a clear yes or no – there's no grey area. And it will tell you all you need to know about whether you are settling for mediocre or not.

Remember – hiring is an educated guess. It's OK to get it wrong once in a while. Dentists who brag about having zero staff turnover are the same ones who never break an endo file and never have an implant fail.

The worst thing you can do when you've made a mistake is to double down on that mistake. If you've realized you got the hire wrong, it's OK. Fix the mistake, move on, and try again. The faster the better. Yes, it's annoying to have to go back and re-do part of the hiring process again, but it's worth it in the long run.

Building a great team is hard work, and it requires discipline and tough decisions.

Mediocre teams will make all kinds of excuses why doing all this is too much work, too hard and won't work for them.

7 mistakes = 7 Areas of opportunity

Progress, not perfection.

If the only thing you did was fix one or two of these common hiring mistakes, you're already light years ahead of virtually every other dentist out there.

Everyone else is doing it the same way, and everyone else is complaining about not being able to find any good staff.

So, why let this current labor shortage beat you?

There are great employees out there — they didn't all evaporate into thin air.

To find these great employees, you just need to:

Good luck! And let me know in the comments what other hiring questions you have.

Contact me on Instagram or LinkedIn (@drmichaelling) for a PDF version of this article, including a bonus section with my top performing job ads of all time.