Your office has a good problem – it is growing, and you need to hire more people. You want to hire the best candidates possible both from a skills and attitude standpoint and how well they fit with your current team. What sounds better: hiring someone that you have only met briefly during an interview or hiring someone that you have observed working, with your team, in your office?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could work a bit with a candidate before you hire them?  Well, many dentists have used that approach (and some still do).

The idea of bringing in a candidate for a few hours or a day in a “working interview” to evaluate their skills before you make an actual hiring decision sounds like a great idea. It seems like even a better idea if you decide not to hire the candidate.

Except according to the federal government, working interviews aren’t so harmless. They are illegal!

So how did working interviews get started? Working interviews were created by the temporary staffing industry as a “try before you hire” option. The agency sends out a potential job candidate so you can test the candidate’s skills and see how they fit in your office. If the candidate was liked, the client would hire the applicant. If the candidate was not impressive, the staffing agency would send another applicant until the client found someone that they were happy with.

But today, the prevailing trend is that most working interviews are done without a temporary staffing agency as a middleman. Applicants apply and are invited in for a working interview to evaluate their skills prior to making a hiring decision. Some employers get a written or verbal acknowledgment from the candidate that they waive their rights to be paid during the working interview or the candidate is compensated as a 1099 and paid a fixed amount for the day.

However, employees cannot sign away their rights, even if they want to. In the eyes of the IRS and the Department of Labor (DOL), if you do not pay an employee for time worked, you are attempting to avoid your obligations as an employer. What are these employer’s obligations? Minimum wage, overtime calculations, withholding taxes, matching taxes, wage notice requirements, wage statements (paystubs), I-9s and workers compensation coverage. In fact, candidates who have completed working interviews are legally eligible for unemployment benefits.

What about just avoiding all of that and treating the candidate as an independent contractor. If a candidate performs duties usually done in your office by employees and does so under your control, using your equipment, in your office, during the hours you request, the person is an employee – plain and simple.

Wondering what the difference is between a temporary staffing agency working interview and your working interview? Simple – the candidate is employed by the temporary staffing agency while they are performing their working interview for you. The temporary staffing agency performs all of the “employer” obligations because it hires the candidates and “temps” them out. The staffing agency makes sure all of the appropriate paperwork is completed and all of the applicable taxes are withheld, matched and paid.

Considering the inherent risks in conducting working interviews, how can you evaluate a candidate’s skills and stay on the good side of the IRS and DOL?

Conduct a Skills Assessment. The difference between working interviews and a skills assessment is the environment. Unlike a working interview, when a candidate is asked to demonstrate their skills on your actual patients, during a skills assessment a fictitious scenario is set up and the candidate is asked to walk you through the scenario.

Ask the applicant to describe how they would perform a specific task. Use your current employees as a fictitious patient and have the candidate show you how they would check-in and evaluate the patient, explain insurance options or ensure a follow-up appointment is scheduled. Take a dental assistant candidate into a room and show the candidate your setup. Then ask the candidate to reproduce the setup in another operatory. For a hygienist candidate, create a chart for a fictitious patient and have the candidate look in the mouth of one of your employees and tell you how the chart differs from what they are seeing.

Using a well thought out skills assessment will give you a good look at the applicant’s abilities and demeanor and it is legal! The breadth and depth of a skills assessment are limited only by your imagination. In addition, because no actual work is performed, any time spent in a skills assessment is not compensable to the candidate.

Remember, the following statements are false:

  • You don’t have to pay workers if you call it a “working interview,” and it’s only for a couple of hours.
  • No paperwork means they were “never there” and you can fly under the radar, especially if you pay them less than $600.
  • You can just call them an independent contractor or a “temporary” and 1099 them.

Now that you know that working interviews are risky and, in most cases illegal, how can you ensure that you hire the best people for your practice (what is best for you might not be good for another practice)? In addition to conducting a skills assessment, here are a few guidelines:

Use behavioral interviews. Don’t ask simple yes or no questions or questions that may elicit a rehearsed response, instead ask questions to help you find out if a candidate has done something rather than just determining if they can do something. The idea with behavioral interviews is that past performance is a good indicator of future performance. Ask for an example of a relevant work or life situation that your candidate struggled with and how they handled it and you will get a more valuable response. Most behavioral interview questions start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when…” Fill in the blanks with one of any number of skills, knowledge, or abilities that you value. Also, consider letting a member or two of your team (someone they will be working with) sit in on the interview and ask a few questions. They will bring a different perspective and glean information that you might not pick up in the interview.

Hire for attitude, train for skill. This is one of our favorite HR adages. Too many times employers are so focused on finding an applicant with all of the “right” skills that they gloss right over attitude and fit. While it is undeniable that most positions in the dental industry require a specific set of skills (and proficiency in those skills) if you are going to give a bit on skills or attitude, always give on skills. The dental industry has a long and successful track record of training employees in the specific clinical skills needed to be a valuable member of the team. A candidate lacking some skills can usually be remedied with training and mentoring. A candidate with a poor attitude, if hired, always results in damage (emotional and/or tangible) to the office and usually culminates in an uncomfortable parting with follow-up time needed to reinvigorate the team and ensure a positive momentum for both employees and patients. Every time you hire, your overarching purpose should be to find an applicant that adds value and improves your office. With that in mind, attitude will always trump skills! How to best interview and hire for attitude – look for that in an upcoming blog post.

Develop an “ideal employee” profile. Take some time before interviewing candidates (or even putting together your job ad) to develop an “ideal employee” job profile for the specific position you are hiring for. How do you do that? Think about all of the employees you have had in that position. Consider employees in that role that you have seen or worked with at other practices. Make a list of the top performers (write their names down on a piece of paper) – the ones that were leaders with pleasant personalities and upbeat attitudes; had a natural rapport with patients and co-employees, and always went above and beyond their regular duties. Now look for common characteristics among those top performers (they will be there). You might notice they have similar job experiences, educational backgrounds, personality traits or interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills. Be thoughtful and specific in identifying common traits and write them down. This exercise will take some time and effort, but it will be well worth it. Once completed, you have your proven profile of the type of person you are looking for. When interviewing, focus on identifying those common “top performer” traits and abilities in your candidates.

Hire slow, Fire fast. While you may feel the need to fill a position as quickly as possible, take your time in reviewing applicants and making a hiring decision. A bad hire will hurt your practice in a multitude of ways. Sometimes even with the best due diligence, it becomes apparent that a new hire is not working out. In those cases, review all of the facts with your HR representative to ensure a legal termination and make the decision to end the employment relationship in a professional and courteous manner (remember that the dental industry is a small world – you don’t want an ex-employee damaging the good reputation that you have worked so hard to cultivate). Many times, the employee recognizes as much as you do that it is not working out. Once you have made the decision, act quickly, decisively and professionally.

Searching for and hiring the right candidate does not have to be a dreaded experience. By using skills assessments and good hiring practices, you will have all the benefits of a working interview (without the risk) and find the perfect employee for your office.

Curious about the solutions that we provide to our dental practice clients?

Click here to schedule a free, no strings attached 30-minute call with us.