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After graduation from dental school, the world seemed like my oyster. I could not wait to find my first job and start earning a living. What I didn’t know was that I didn’t know so much. Looking back, I am glad I had such zest for my quest, but I am not so glad I made dumb – I mean dumb – mistakes. Here are the things I wish I had asked when I interviewed for my first few jobs:


1. How many people have been here before me, and why did they leave (if they did)?
(O.K., so I asked these things, but never asked to speak to any of them). I believed the sugarcoated answers of my employers responses. Instead, I now follow up with these former employees and ask them questions about their experiences in the work environment. I also ask several people this question while in the office interviewing, including team members. They often recall many more names than the doctors.

2. Who will be making the hiring and firing decisions? Will I have input, and how much input?
In one associate position, I came to work and found out my main assistant had been fired over the weekend. Oops, I guess they forgot to tell me. Groan! As dentists, we all know our assistant is our lifeline to surviving the day. Input for hiring and firing is essential.

3. Do you have regular team meetings?
A team that does not meet regularly will revisit problems over and over again. And, if there is a transition in team members, the lack of communication within the office will make workdays very stressful.

4. How do you resolve problems within your office?
This question helps me understand the office culture. If there is no clear system in place, I know I should be prepared for the worst. Now, I ask for an example of a recent problem and ask how they resolved the problem. Early on, I never asked this question and found out many offices have no system in place to address conflict. Red flag.

5. Why did you interview me, and what qualities do you think I will bring to the team?
You may as well know what they are looking for. This is your chance to interview them as much as they are interviewing you. I would ask this towards the end of the interview. It tells you if they like to be in the controlling position and if they are willing to share a leadership role. A dominant leader may take offense to this question. An educational leader will admire that you asked and patiently give you answers. It also tells you if they are accurately observing your skills in the interview and in the paperwork you provided for them.

First jobs are rarely perfect. There will be surprises about the position that help you learn for the next time. Seek good people, and ask good questions. Oh, and make notes about things you will ask the next time you interview with someone. You will have a list like I have after a few experiences. No job is perfect, and you will learn what is important to you as you go along.

Congratulations, graduates! The dental profession welcomes you!

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