OPMag ScarlettThomasBy Scarlett Thomas

How many times—especially after a staff member’s performance failure or termination—have you asked yourself, “How did that person ever get hired in the first place?”

There could be a lot of answers to that question. But there is one point in the process that nearly always plays a part in a bad hire: The interview.

More hiring mistakes are made because of poor interviewing techniques than any other part of the hiring process. All too often, too many poor performers have squeaked through the hiring process, and even when an occasional top performer gets hired, that person oftentimes doesn’t last because of the discouraging atmosphere created by waves of incompetent co-workers. And, one thing is certain: An orthodontic practice can have the best leader, the best business model, and the best training program, but it can still fail for one overriding reason: It didn’t have the best people working within the practice.

So, with this being said, let’s cover how you should handle the interview process to keep everyone on track and ensure that you and your practice get the best possible hire. There are generally five steps to the interview process:

  • Outline the interview
  • Describe the practice
  • Look for red flags
  • Ask key questions
  • Closing the interview

Step One: Outline the Interview

Outline what is to be expected during the meeting to the potential candidate. For example, you could say, “We have a good opportunity for the right individual. I’d like to spend the first part of our meeting by telling you a little bit about our practice. Then we’ll discuss your background, and I’ll give you a chance to ask questions.”

Step Two: Describe the Practice

You should take a minute or two to talk about the practice. It’s an important and often-overlooked part of the interview process. First, realize, that interviewing is a two-way street. The candidate is interviewing you while you’re interviewing the candidate. That means you should be selling your practice as the type of place where the candidate wants to work.

Now, an interviewer may be thinking, “Well, the candidate is the one who wants the job. Why should I have to act as if our practice is under the microscope?” The answer is simple: Mediocre or poor candidates really won’t care about the practice, its goals, or its successes. Those candidates just want a job, any job. Strong candidates, however, are looking for a top-notch, high-performance place to build a career. If you don’t portray your practice as that kind of place, you’ll end up attracting and hiring a lot of mediocre types, or worse.

There are four things to concentrate on when discussing your practice:

  • Your practice’s significant strengths and recent accomplishments.
  • The strategies for growth—long-term and short-term.
  • What makes your practice different from other competitors.
  • Success stories of recent hires and long-term employees, and rewards they have been given.

OPMag MarketingStep Three: Look for Red Flags

OK, you’ve set the stage and explained why the candidate would want to work for your practice. But before we move on to the questions, let’s talk about what to do if the candidate gives any type of red flags by saying and/or doing something that lets you know right away that this isn’t the person for the job.

For instance, you are interviewing a candidate for a financial position in the practice, and the candidate says, “If a patient starts to use foul language, is it OK if I curse at him, too?”

Don’t feel obligated to give this person the same amount of time and in-depth interview that you would give to an apparently good candidate. Have a response ready for such instances, one that lets you easily close out the interview. For example: “OK, thanks. I think we have all the information we need for now. We’ll be in touch. Let me show you out.” You probably don’t want to end the interview immediately after the red flag. You can ask a few more questions and then ease into your prepared close-out statement.

Step Four: Ask Key Questions

Now let’s build a foundation of general questions and types of answers you’re looking for.

Q1: We’re looking for people who will be indispensable to our practice. What skills do you have, or how would you develop yourself, to make yourself indispensable?

The candidate could answer this by citing technical or interpersonal skills that relate to business. Example:

  • Technical: “I really like to learn new programs, so I’m the type of person who could always be on top of the latest programs out there.”
  • Interpersonal: “My strength is developing patient relationships, so that patients place so much trust in me that they feel as if they rely on me and no one else.”

Q2: What’s your greatest strength?

This is a fairly standard question, but look for the answer that relates to and shows knowledge of your business. For example, “I’m extremely detailed-oriented. That could be an asset as a member of your project team because it would put me in a role of the person who makes sure all small, but crucial, steps have been completed.”

Q3: What is your greatest weakness?

This is another standard question. However, the response you’re looking for is the recognition of the weakness and ways to address that weakness. Example: “I tend to be disorganized, so I’ve started using a planner to map out what to do and when to do it.”

Q4: Tell me about a time when your workload was heavy. How did you complete it all on time?

You want to see the candidate describe a process for dealing with work. Example: “I wrote down all the tasks I had to do, and assigned each task a block of time. That way, I broke it up into smaller, manageable parts.”

Q5: Tell me about a time you had to accomplish a task with someone who was particularly difficult to get along with. How did you do it?

There is no single right answer, but here’s a wrong answer: “I avoided the person and did it myself.” The candidate must be able to show adaptability and skills to work with all types. People deal with this in different ways, but the result must be that they worked together and got the job done.

Q6: How do you accept direction and instructions, and at the same time, apply your own ideas and values?

Again, there is no single right answer. What you’re looking for is how the candidate operates in the typical work environment—taking directions and using initiative. Example: “I usually follow whatever directions I’m given. If I have an idea about how to improve on the directions, I’ll run the idea past my boss and see if it will work.”

Q7: What motivates you and gets you excited about work?

Many candidates will give the standard “new challenges” answer. Try to take it further by pressing them for a response more specific to the position, such as “working toward a difficult goal” or “pulling a team together.”

If interviewing were just about questions and answers, we could just write down the questions and ask candidates to respond in writing. A lot of what you get from candidates lies in how they answer the questions—their language, mannerisms, and expressions. However, let’s not make the mistake of believing we can use mannerisms as a crystal ball to tell, for instance, if a candidate is lying. We can’t. Still, we can study some typical traits and what they generally reveal about a candidate. For example:

  • Complains about current job or boss. That’s a sign the candidate thinks, “It’s everyone else’s fault,” and an indicator of questionable loyalty.
  • Speaks quickly before processing a question, or cuts off your question. If the answer is on target, maybe that’s fine. You might have a quick thinker in front of you. Or, the person may be a careless worker who lacks preparation.

Step Five: Closing the Interview

Close all interviews on a positive note. Thank the candidates for their time and interest, and let them know what to expect next. Say, for example, you’ll be interviewing for the next week, and add, “We’ll let you know by the end of next week as to the position and whether we might meet again.” If the person seems like a prime candidate, be encouraging and mention that you look forward to the next meeting.
Bad hires usually result from setting the wrong goals or wrong expectations for an interview. When mistakes like that are made, interviewers get someone:

  • They “liked.” The interviewer followed the misleading adage to hire someone with whom you wouldn’t mind being stuck in an elevator. In other words, the interviewer hired a friend, not a worker.
  • They enjoyed interviewing. The interviewer probably had a friendly chat with the candidate and they discussed mutual interests, rather than the job. In other words, the interviewer hired himself or herself.
  • They settled. Interviewing is time-consuming work. There’s a temptation to close the process by hiring someone, anyone. That someone often ends up being a poor performer or is terminated.

Let’s end at the beginning of the process. Know what you want. When you begin interviewing, have a clear picture of the type of person you want: the perfect employee. And then gear your questions and choices based on that picture.