The job interview

One hygienist’s experience with asking the employer a few questions

By Eva M. Watson, RDH

As soon as I entered the office, my eyes were drawn downward. “Nice floors.” I gave the reception area a once-over. “Warm. Inviting. Look at that picture. Ooh! Look at that floor vase. Ah! I love the colors on the walls.” I sat down next to a fellow wearing a snazzy tie. “Are you waiting for the doctor?” His smile was pleasant yet nervous, “Yes, I have an appointment with the doctor.” As soon as he said that, I realized the gentleman was waiting for the same reason I was — interviewing for the dental hygienist position.

We both sat quietly in comfortable chairs. Too quietly. As soon as I started to break the silence, I heard a chipper, female voice from somewhere in the office. “I appreciate your meeting with me. You have a nice office.” A woman whizzed by and gave the man and me a quick smile.

A few minutes later, a young, chiseled, frowning lad whom I assumed was the dentist approached us two quiet interviewees. “OK. Who’s next?” The snazzy-tie gent stood up and followed the doctor. Who’s next? I began preparing a mental red-flag list. I wouldn’t have chosen those words when meeting with my possible future dental hygienist.

Not even five minutes elapsed when I heard the dentist say, “I’ll call you tonight. Thank you for coming in.” The snazzy-tie gent left quickly. His face was no longer smiling. Then the dentist approached me. “Come on back.”

My interview was beginning.

It lasted two hours. The dentist and I talked about everything from our career goals to Invisalign to his color selection on his operatory walls. He was young, eager, and a new business owner. I liked his energy and plans for his practice, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to help. As soon as we sat down in his consultation room, I whipped out my notebook. “Is it okay if I ask questions and take some notes?” I already had my pen in hand. “Uh, sure,” he said. I don’t believe the dentist was prepared for my onslaught of questions.

The following were my top six questions.

  • How many active patients does the practice have

In this particular practice, the dentist had 250 active patients since opening his office in October 2009. Wow. My interview with him was in January of 2010. Some newer practices take up to 11 months to build up to that number of active patients in today’s economic climate. Not a bad start.

  • What is the estimated overhead cost for hygiene per hour?

I thought for sure this dentist would say, “You want to know what now?” But he didn’t seem to mind the question at all. My reasoning: If I was to be the hygienist that was going to help catapult his practice into uber-success, then I needed to know the hygiene numbers and set production goals from there. The intention was to get pertinent information to help build a solid and profitable recall base. By asking, I set a tone of ownership to the success of the hygiene department.

  • Is the practice primarily HMO? PPO? FFS?

Typically, I would like to see this information in the RDH wanted advertisement, but since the dentist didn’t include it, I went ahead and asked. I was saying a silent prayer, “Please don’t take any HMOs. Please, please, please.” I had my toes crossed for good luck. “I’m on some PPO plans. I wish I didn’t have to take any insurance, you know?” Woo hoo! Fee-for-service would have been our ideal choice, of course, but I was pleased with his answers ... so far.

  • How much treatment time is allotted for hygiene patients?

“Well, right now I’m booking 30 minute appointments for prophies with an assistant. I think 30 minutes is enough time for you to clean, right?” Ahem … excuse me … Argh! I didn’t really say argh. I said, “Not really.” He replied, “The assistant is going to do everything else for you. All you have to do is scale.” I asked, “Is there any negotiation on this?” He said, “Hopefully it will change when I build up my patient base.” SRP treatment time was an hour for two quads. No concession on that one. Was he sure his practice wasn’t HMO? Maybe he should go back and check.

  • Are marketing/advertising dollars available?

All he said was, “Yes.” Hmmm. I didn’t get a good vibe from his answer. I read between the lines and made a bold suggestion. “Contact the local news channels. They’re always looking for local businesses to plug into their news segments. It’s great advertising, and it’s free.” I got a smile that time. “That’s a good idea.” I also suggested that he introduce himself to other neighborhood business owners, and give out toothbrushes, floss, and coffee cups with his practice name on them. This would leave his mark around town and, most importantly, leave a great impression with his business neighbors.

After discussing the ins and outs of his practice, the dentist presented his final question: What hourly compensation are you looking for?

I gave him my number. Period. “I can do that.” Did he make eye contact when he said that? No. I had a feeling the subject was not a done deal. And I was right. After confirming via e-mail when my first day of treating patients would be, the dentist included the hourly wage that was two dollars lower than our verbal agreement. What?! I immediately e-mailed and phoned the dentist to remind him about my hourly compensation agreement. I didn’t hold back. I said, “If this number is a budgetary burden for you, please let me know so you can make arrangements to interview other hygiene candidates.”

Less than an hour later I received a phone call from his receptionist. She said the hourly amount I had asked for would be fine. That was interesting. I wondered what made him change his mind; then I decided to just let it go. I opted for the unknown. I’m going to work for this dentist. My clinical skills are strong, I enjoy building relationships with patients, and I’m learning the business side of dentistry in each office I work in. I know what I can offer this start-up practice, and I hope the dentist, staff, and I can build an office with integrity, honesty, hard work, and lots of laughs. Who knows what will happen, but I’m willing to find out. Let’s do this thing!

Oh, and I needed a job, too.

Eva M. Watson, RDH, practices in the Chicago, IL, area.

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