working interviews

Working interviews are an integral part of the dental hygiene interview process. In a working interview, a candidate comes to the office to perform the duties they would be expected to perform at the dental practice if they were hired as a dental hygienist. Other professions such as business management, engineering, or even other healthcare fields don’t require working interviews, so why are hygienists subject to proving their skills in a working interview? 

Why Do Dental Working Interviews Exist? 

Put yourself in the dentist’s shoes. They are making an investment for their office, so wouldn’t it be nice to try it before you buy it? We do this all the time in dentistry. Our sales reps drop off samples for us to try and compare to other products in order to prove their products are worth purchasing. One reason they are done is that often there are multiple hygienists applying for this one position and the dentist wants to make sure he or she is choosing the best fit for their practice. 

After all, dental hygiene is a unique mix of both healthcare and customer service. Being able to see a candidate’s clinical hard skills in action –– their knowledge of oral bacterium, pathology, pharmacology, and systemic diseases as well as their ability to perform periodontal therapies, administer local anesthesia, produce clear radiographs, is critical. Just as critical are their soft skills like how they interact with patients and the rest of the hygiene team and office. 

It’s personal for dentists. Dentists take pride in forming personal relationships with their patients, sometimes seeing multiple generations of a family throughout their careers. Thus, finding a dental hygienist who will honor and protect that relationship is very important to them. A dental hygienist’s soft skills are key in building trust and rapport, and establishing a level of comfort with patients that then bonds the patient to the practice ensuring regular maintenance and recalls. A working interview can relieve the dentist’s concern that their future hygienist will treat his or her patients like their own family and friends. 

Working Dental Interviews Benefit You!

While working interviews are beneficial for an employer, they are just as beneficial for a dental clinician. A dentist can “talk the talk” during an initial interview, but do they “walk the walk” when you are physically working in their office? By participating in the regular day-to-day production in the operatory, you get to see what can’t easily be faked. So, this is your chance to make sure the office, dentist, and staff are who they say they are in their job post and their sales pitch. This is a critical way to assure they are the right fit for you! Do not view a working interview as an obstacle, but instead, use your working interview as a tool to make sure the office is the right fit for you before accepting your next hygiene job.

Some things to pay attention to during your dental working interview: 

  • Observe how the dentist treats their team. Is he or she friendly, approachable, and respectful? Does the team appear to get along harmoniously or do you sense conflict? Feel the energy in the room. Is there tension? Is there fun banter between patient, hygienist and hygienist and dentist? 
  • Check the ergonomics of your room. Are the operatory chair, patient chair, and operatory set up in a way that is conducive to productivity and long-term comfort? This is important to your physical health and your patient’s comfort. 
  • Examine the instruments. Is there variety? Are they sharp and clean? If you are not satisfied, ask what the protocol is for ordering new instruments. 
  • Do you agree with the periodontal maintenance protocols? How about when and to whom the dentist decides to refer out? 

What To Ask Before Your Dental Working Interview

Before your interview, make sure to discuss the expectations for the day. Nothing can throw you off your hygiene performance more than unexpected obstacles or surprises you were not prepared for. The more prepared you are, the better you will perform your tasks and the more enjoyable it will be, allowing you to do your work and be present to the overall feel of the practice and all its goings-on. 

  • Schedule/Time Commitment: Be sure to discuss, confirm and reconfirm how many hours or days the working interview will last. 
  • Time Allotment: Ask the dentist the length of appointment times for prophylaxis, perio-maintenance, and scaling and root planing. If you are not satisfied with the amount of time allowed, then it may be a sign that the office is not the right fit for you. Ask if you are working a single hygiene column or a double hygiene column so you can be prepared for the pace of your day. 
  • Assistance or solo: Ask if you will be working with an assistant, and if the answer is yes, then ask if you can meet or chat in advance. This will set expectations on the assistant’s end and help forge a working relationship before your first day. If you are not working with an assistant, ask who your go-to person is for help and questions. 
  • Compensation: Lastly, discuss the pay rate for the working interview. When it’s decided, get it in writing so you cover your bases and leave nothing up for debate. 
  • PPE: Is the practice providing the PPE for your work day? Are you expected to? If so, do they have any requirements for PPE?

Should you be Paid for a Dental Working Interview?

Dental hygienists need to be paid for their time during a working interview. By law, hygienists should be paid at least minimum wage for the state they are working in. However, hourly rates can be negotiated by the dentist and hygienist. The pay rate should be negotiated when the working interview is first requested. You should receive a statement indicating that you are being paid for a working interview on XYZ date, at a rate of $XYZ. You are providing services and production for that dental practice, so you should be paid accordingly.

Understandably, negotiating your working interview pay may feel intimidating and uncomfortable to discuss with a potential employer. However, this is not taboo! Do your homework and research the average pay rate in your area. Utilize DentalPost’s Salary Survey, and also talk with other hygienists in your area to get their take.

Taxes are another aspect to consider. The employer must pay all applicable payroll taxes, so you will fill out a W-4 and I-9. If you really want to be on top of it and not have an awkward situation, have one ready and filled out and bring it with you. It will save time, giving you more time to prepare and familiarize yourself with the office during the workday. Also, they will know you are professional and understand the law. If they don’t want you to fill this out or won’t accept it, that is a red flag. 

How To Stand Out From Other Candidates During Your Dental Working Interview

Hygienists all graduate with the same set of skills and knowledge, so what’s going to separate you from another hygienist interviewing for the same position? Here are a few tips to help you stand out during a working interview:

  • Ask to shadow prior to a working interview.  Learning where items are in your drawers and around the office will help to eliminate choppiness and save time. 
  • Get there early! Ask if you can arrive at the office at least 20 minutes before your first patient. This allows you time to greet the staff, review the schedule, check the drawers, organize the room, and ask questions.
  • Come dressed professionally. Remember, this is still an interview. Wear clean scrubs, clean shoes, tied-back hair, and appropriate makeup. 
  • Have your tray ready for the exam. Clean off splatter, throw away saturated gauze, and set aside the mirror and explorer for the doctor to easily find amongst the instruments.
  • Have radiographs up for viewing.
  • Take intraoral pictures of concerning lesions or pathology. Dentists look for efficacy in diagnosis, even though hygienists cannot formally diagnose.
  • Be friendly to staff and patients. These may be your future coworkers, so make a good first impression!
  • Send a thank you card! This is an easy way to set yourself apart from another hygienist. It not only shows your professionalism, friendliness, and gratitude, but also shows that you understand the power of the follow-up, which is paramount in patient case acceptance and recall. 

Things to Watch Out For During Your Dental Working Interview

Unfortunately, there are dentists that try to take advantage of working interviews. There have been instances where dental offices used a working interview as a way to hire a temp for the day.  I have even heard stories where a dental office paid the hygienist with a gift card. And, no, I am not joking! Not only is this unethical and illegal, but it is also, sadly, becoming more prevalent in the dental field. It bears repeating––prior to performing any work, confirm in written form (signed by the dentist or practice manager) the pay rate as well as how and when you will be paid for the work. Additionally, make sure the firm is compliant with tax and employment laws and is correctly classifying you with a W-4 and I-9 form. And if they are not, this is a red flag. 

In my years of experience as a dental hygienist, I have come to learn that the best way to avoid a disappointing hygiene position is to have a list of wants and expectations of your ideal practice that you can use to compare offices. Remember, not only are these dentists interviewing you, but you are interviewing them! So use this valuable opportunity to “try before you buy.” Doing so will assure you make better-informed career choices so that you level up your dental career.  Dental working interviews are an essential tool to assist in your job search. 

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