The vast majority of your dental school education is focused on making an accurate diagnosis and implementing an appropriate, evidence-based treatment plan. As you near the end of your time in dental school, however, you will need to tap into skills that are not so measurable when it comes time to score that first associateship. These are the people skills or “soft skills” that are also important yet seldom discussed. How do you relate to people? How do you sell yourself? How can you convince an employer dentist that you are the right fit for the position? And how do you know if this position is right for you?
The process of interviewing is an interesting sociological balance between buying and selling. You, of course, want to sell yourself as the answer to a practice owner's problems, including some that they didn’t even know they had. But you’re also being a savvy shopper, not wanting to buy into a practice that is inefficient, ineffective, or dysfunctional. In this sense, the act of interviewing is truly a two-way street, and gives you a unique opportunity to know whether or not you truly want to be a part of this practice. Dental practices may have hiring opportunities for a variety of reasons, and some of those reasons may be red flags that tell you to shop elsewhere.
If you want to make a good impression during your interview, you must come in prepared to answer and ask thought-provoking questions. And if you want to make an even bigger impression on the hiring manager and differentiate yourself from other candidates, you have be prepared to let him or her know what you will do your first 90 days on the job.
The first 90 days are crucial. It’s the standard grace period for new employees and the time during which first impressions are made. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have a plan that will show that you can perform the role and alleviate any concerns your potential employer dentist may have. With a one-page summary, prepared in advance, you can indicate what you will prioritize in the first 90 days, and you’re making it easier for the practice owner or hiring manager to envision you in the role as a new associate dentist.
To create a 90-day plan, you want to think about the dental practice that you’re interviewing for and what needs to be accomplished. This will require some background research and may even the occasional “secret shopper” tactic. Here are a few questions to consider to help with your strategy.
What are the goals and objectives for the practice?
Whether you already received this information during the interview process or not, it’s important to get a firm understanding of what the employer dentist and other members of the dental practice identify as their important goals and objectives. Revisit conversations and strike up new ones to help you clarify what needs to be emphasized. Be prepared to listen and observe to not only learn what is being said but also what is unsaid.
What are the practice’s main priorities?
This question will help you connect the job to the practice’s objectives. How does your skill set help the dental practice achieve its strategic and financial goals? Furthermore, based on what you are learning and observing, which of your skills are the most important? Take the time to discover the answers to these questions, then draft a plan that will show how you intend to approach these priorities in the first 30, 60, and 90 days of employment.
Who are the people with whom I will work to help me reach my goals?
Work relationships are invaluable when it comes to your career as a dentist. Get to know everyone in your practice and their strengths and weaknesses. Not only is this good information to know generally, but it may also help you in your responsibilities. It’s also good to familiarize yourself with collaborating practices outside of yours and who the key people are in each. Learning about your referral network, specialists, and dental laboratories will help you connect the dots and see how your role relates to others within the larger organization.
What are the “quick fixes” and what requires more time?
In the early days of a new position, it’s beneficial to identify the “quick wins,” those tasks that can be completed easily in a short time frame and will visibly improve some part of the practice. There may be an unmet need for a particular set of dental skills within your community, skills that you may be able to bring to the practice on day one. Avoid making hasty decisions by working with the necessary challenges to determine which needs can likely be addressed immediately versus those that need more time and planning.
How will I measure my progress?
As you contribute to the practice, what tools of measurement will inform you of your progress after 30, 60, and 90 days? It may be setting up weekly or biweekly meetings with your supervisor or utilizing performance metrics (e.g., patient satisfaction surveys) to track your progress along the way. Regardless, the idea is that you will want to establish a system to help you understand how you’re doing and whether any changes need to be made.
By addressing these questions in your 90-day plan, you will show the employer dentist that you’ve given serious thought to your role in the prospective dental practice and have created a strategy accordingly. Your plan will also communicate that you’re able to hit the ground running and do what you’re getting paid to do in an efficient and effective way. Present them with a well-crafted 90-day plan and watch them drop their forceps!