Hiring staff for your medical or dental practice is a significant investment in your time and money—but it’s worth it. Your receptionist, billing clerk, and office manager interact/perform necessary tasks and set the tone for your practice, ultimately enabling you to become successful. To your patients, the front office staff is the face of your practice, so you need professional workers who best represent you. Here’s how to find and hire the best staff for your practice.
1. Post an enticing ad
- Create an appealing job listing that is specific about the job requirements and your practice. Include a straightforward title, summary, responsibilities, qualifications, work schedule, compensation, and performance expectations for evaluation.
- Qualifications should specify exceptional communication skills, strong negotiating skills, a calm demeanor, and tech savviness.
- Indicate the personality type that would best fit your practice.
- Be creative (without being flip) when describing the work environment—the ad is marketing for your practice and should attract the right candidates.
- Post to sites like Indeed.com, LinkedIn, and industry-specific job boards. Local colleges also have job boards for students and graduates who are searching for part-time or full-time work. Newspaper classifieds are also useful.
2. Plan to compensate generously
Invest in your staff and your profits will rise. Both pay and cross-training—enabling employees to learn skills that they can employ during so-called idle time—ensure higher levels of productivity and better service for your patients. “Pay more than your competition,” says Leslie Blackwell, a Richmond, VA-based dental practice office manager. “Several dollars more per hour can make a big difference in the caliber of employee you may be able to hire.” Use sites with pay estimates like Salary.com and Glassdoor for a baseline figure and offer more. This will elicit more qualified applicants and increase the likelihood your hire will be more satisfied and stay longer. It’s less expensive to retain happy staff than to deal with the lost productivity and time lost due to turnover.
3. Solicit referrals
Ask your current employees if they know someone good for the role you’re hiring. “Chances are good that they have worked in other offices and may have worked with great people in the past,” says Blackwell. Getting a referral is a cheaper and faster way to hire and generally produces a better hire. A referred hire typically stays at the job longer than a traditional hire; the same is true for the employee who successfully referred a candidate. Incentivize referrals with a bonus award program.
4. Look for applicants with relevant experience
Previous work in a similar practice is an obvious marker of an applicant’s suitability for a front office job, but don’t limit your search to this criterion. Many customer-facing service professions, like those in high-end hotels, restaurants, and banks, require traits and skills that are directly applicable to dealing with patients. “These people have been trained to understand that customer service is of prime importance, and have been taught the tools to bring that to their job every day,” says Dr. Edward Alvarez, a New York City-based cosmetic dentist. Individuals with experience in the military are also primed for the demands of a front office job. “They are disciplined, responsible, and have excellent work ethic,” Alvarez says.
5. Interview and pay attention to personality
More important than work experience and skill sets, personality cannot be trained. Front office staff should mirror your typical patient in terms of dress and demeanor. A sincere smile will go a long way towards making your patients feel comfortable when entering your practice. “A smile is a must,” says Florida-based dentist Katia Friedman. “We’re in the smile business.” Ask questions to determine the applicant’s attitudes regarding sensitive information (confidential to the patient), conflict and confrontation management (payment collection), professionalism, and organization. “I do role-playing,” Friedman says. “I pretend I’m a difficult patient or I have a specific question. How do they handle that situation?” Remember that you can train skills, so hire based on personality. “I look for the right mindset,” Friedman says. “I want someone interested in what our practice is about and in seeing us grow.”
6. Take note of everything
You can learn a lot about a candidate before you ask him or her your first interview question. “Look at the small things that your potential new hire does during the interview process to know how they’ll show up later,” says Dr. Meredith Sagan, a Santa Monica-based psychiatrist. “By watching how your candidate shows up for their initial interactions with you, you will know how they will show up for you and your office in the future.” Promptness in returning calls and emails, the ability to follow directions, and arriving at the interview on time, well-groomed, and ready to work demonstrate the type of employee the applicant will be.
7. Take your time
Finding and hiring a new employee can take as much as three months. Don’t rush the search process: plan to interview as many as 10 or 20 candidates before making a decision, and don’t settle for a hire that you don’t click with. “I interview a lot of candidates to make a hire—up to twenty before I make a decision on somebody,” Friedman says. “I’m happy to do it because sometimes I need to meet another person to get closer to what I really want. Of course, sometimes there’s a great connection right away, a perfect fit, and I don’t have to do that many.”
8. Talk to references
Before making a job offer, call the applicant’s references to confirm prior employment and work performance and to learn what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, what it was like working with him or her, why he or she left the previous job, whether the reference would rehire him or her, and anything else relevant to his or her suitability for the job you’re hiring for. Prompt references to address specific traits like punctuality, crisis management, work ethic, and how he or she handles mistakes.
9. Start a new hire with a probationary period
Some aspects of working in a practice’s front office may not be apparent to a candidate prior to starting work. Similarly, some traits of a hire might not have been obvious during your pre-offer interactions. Use a trial period to confirm there’s a good match for both you and the new employee. “A hire may have a stellar résumé and stellar references but is just not a good fit,” says Dr. Brian Levine, a New York City-based reproductive endocrinologist. “Have someone spend a day in the office. They’ll tell you if they don’t like what they see.” Then continue with an extended trial. “Do a 90-day trial period with all new front office staff,” Blackwell says. “Make it clear from the beginning that this is basically an extended interview. If you discover anything that concerns you during that trial period, don’t be afraid to part ways.”