With Ben Burris, DDS; and Bridget Burris

Orthodontic Products: How long have you been in practice, and how many offices do you have?

Ben Burris, DDS

Ben Burris, DDS: We started in May of 2004, which was when I graduated. I got my first office in August of 2004. And we’ve bought a couple more since then and started a few, so we’ve got seven offices.

OP: how many staff members do you have?

Bridget Burris: 32.

OP: How did you get started hiring all those people? Did you advertise for jobs or did you know people in the community? How did you find prospects?

Ben Burris: Actually, we’re not from Jonesboro. We moved here and didn’t know anybody, so we advertised in the newspaper for a dental assistant, did the interview process, and that is who we came up with. Now we have gotten away from doing individual interviews to doing a group interview. Bridget can tell you more about that.

OP: OK, Bridget, how does the hiring process start?

Bridget Burris: We normally place an ad in the classifieds section and run it for a week. And after going through the resumÉs, we choose 16 people. We normally ask them to send not just their resume but also a cover letter, as we really believe that the cover letter tells us more about that person than the actual resumÉ. If they don’t send a cover letter, then we don’t even look at their resumÉ. This is because most of the industry is attention to detail, so if they cannot do that in the interview process, then they may not be a good employee.

At this last group interview, we chose 16 individuals. We called them up, and they all came in at one time. We normally have about eight staff members that are on hand. We spoke to them altogether, telling the good, the bad, the ugly, and what we are all about—the hours, the uniforms, all of that—and then we split up into four different groups. Ben’s other partner, Kelly-Gwynne Fergus, DDS, interviewed one individual, I interviewed another individual, and then we did an IQ test and did two dexterity tests. So it was great, and we hired three individuals from there.

OP: How long does it take?

Bridget Burris: It takes 1 hour.

Ben Burris: And just like the cover letter tells you more than their resumÉ, the way in which the people interact with each other and with the staff, and how they react to the testing, is more important than, necessarily, what the results are. It’s about how they handle themselves in a group and how they handle themselves in dealing with people.

OP: What are the big things that you look for in a prospective employee?

Ben Burris: Attitude is everything. We don’t hire experience. A lot of folks that I know want experienced people, but we don’t. We prefer to train people ourselves. We look for attitude, people skills, the ability to get along with others, and the ability to get along with the existing staff. So we feel that, if somebody has a minimum dexterity level and a minimum intelligence level, then it is no problem to train them. But if they don’t have a good work ethic and a good attitude, then you just can’t train that.

OP: Are these employees that you are hiring all full-time or some part-time?

Bridget Burris: The last three employees that we hired are what we consider full-time: 4 days per week, which is 32 hours per week. We have very few part-time employees.

OP: Do you know offhand your women-versus-men ratio in the staff?

Ben Burris: There are all women except for me.

Bridget Burris: One hundred percent female.

Ben Burris: We don’t get any male applicants here.

OP: In the hiring that you have done so far, do you have one great success story and one huge mistake that you could point to?

Ben Burris: We have had lots of successes, but we have also had our failures. Probably, the biggest thing is that you are going to fail, as you can’t tell what people are going to be like. The biggest mistakes that we have made are when we know that it’s not working out but hold on to people longer than we should. As soon as you can tell that it’s not going to work—if they are hiding in the back and trying to get out of work, or if they are unwilling to get along with other people or are causing problems—basically, if I notice them, then there are problems. If I don’t even know that they are there, and they blend into the rest of the group, then it seems to work out well.

Bridget Burris: I’ll share a success story. There was one individual who, when we moved to town close to 5 years ago, helped me at an office supply store. She was just on top of it and remained with me every time that I went in there, and was just friendly and really nice, and then she actually changed jobs to a retail store. And I saw her there and said, “Oh, my goodness, I missed you at the office supply store!” And, of course, she remembered me and was just very personable and made me feel special.

I bumped into her about a year ago, and she wasn’t as happy as she would like to have been at her job, so I said, “Well, come on! Come work for us!” And she was really concerned because, of course, she didn’t have any experience. But I said, “We will train you.” She is still on the team. And she is definitely one of our superstars, and everybody is just so happy that she is here. She makes all of the patients’ day. She makes them feel so special. She is one of our success stories just because her personality and her attitude were what made her stand out.

Ben Burris: People skills are people skills no matter where they work.

OP: Tell me a little bit more about what happens when you have a new employee and that person arrives for her first day of work. What happens then?

Bridget Burris: We do quite a bit of pre-work. I think that so many companies make the mistake of not making their employees feel welcome and useful on that first day. So we make sure that we send flowers to the employee’s home beforehand. We make sure that we deliver the uniforms, and that they are ironed and pressed beforehand, along with their name tag. We have lockers here that have their name tags on them as well. So we have that all ready to go.

The first thing that we do, of course, is all of the legal aspects and get that finished with. And then we want to teach that person one skill that they can use immediately. For example, in our office, it is taking an x-ray. We teach that employee how to take an x-ray, and the whole team uses that employee to take x-rays that whole day long.

OP: So they get to interact with everyone and do something useful at the same time.

Bridget Burris: Exactly, so they leave that day going, “Oh, my goodness, I actually contributed to the team today!” I think that is very important. Of course, the first week, we have a training program. We normally set them up with a trainer, and they work through a 6-week program that we have purchased.

Ben Burris: One of our more experienced staff members will go through the program, and there are quizzes at the end of each one. Also, we had some difficulty when we first started implementing this in getting the staff members to be excited to train the rookie. But now we pay them.

Bridget Burris: We pay our trainers $400 on top of their normal hourly wage. It has totally changed everybody’s attitude. They can’t wait to be the trainer.

Ben Burris: And they don’t get paid until the person is adept at what she is supposed to do. So that seems to move it along a lot more quickly.

OP: How do you determine how much you pay your employees? And do you pay different levels within the practice?

Bridget Burris: We do pay different levels. It is important to find out what the employee’s expectations are. I normally take care of that in the interview process. I let them know what is involved, what is expected of them, the hours, the benefits, all of that information. And then I normally put the employee in a little bit of a tough position and ask them what they would like to make.

OP: What if someone’s request is really high?

Bridget Burris: I have had people that have gone high, and I’ve said to them, “You probably deserve that, but I can’t afford to pay you that. And if I hired you here, then you would be unhappy.”

This an excerpt from our “Hiring and Firing Podcast.” You can listen to the complete podcast at the bottom of the page.

Ben Burris: If we find out that we cannot pay them what they want, then there is no sense in hiring them because they are just going to move onto the next job in looking for that higher paycheck.

Bridget Burris: The irony in this whole process is that they tend to ask for less than what I am actually prepared to pay them. And so we start out as the good guys. If somebody is asking for $10 an hour, then I say, “I’ll tell you what: We’re going to start out at $10.50, and then we will do a review in 90 days.” And so it tends to start out that they realize, “Oh, I’m actually being paid more than what I asked for.” But you’ll be surprised how often it happens that they are actually asking for less than what I expect them to ask for.

Ben Burris, DDS, is in private practice in Jonesboro, Ark. He can be reached at

Bridget Burris is Burris’ wife/business manager.