A Look at Working Interviews (And Why You Should ALWAYS Be Paid!)

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Working interviews: Are they good? Or bad? Not all types of career options have the opportunity to have a working interview. In the dental world, this type of interviewing does exist, and looking at working interviews from all sides is important to get the most out of them.

A working interview is an opportunity for an applicant to prove their skills to a company or employer. As a dental hygienist, you might work for a few hours, a full day, or even a couple of days. During a working interview, you see the office’s patients and complete the whole nine yards: assessment, radiographs, periodontal charting, periodontal treatment, patient education, polishing, fluoride treatments, communication with the doctor during exams, and other dental tasks. Either the office manager or dentist (or both), may evaluate and assess your work throughout the day. Usually, at the completion of the working interview, someone from the office (dentist, office manager) will sit down with you and provide feedback of your day’s work.

The Clinician’s Side

Some dental professionals are on the fence about working interviews. Some don’t mind it, while others are insulted to have to “show their skills” or have had a poor experience. Some hygienists simply believe there is no need for a working interview; you went to school, graduated, took all your boards, and are licensed by your state – meaning you are qualified to perform the duties of a dental hygienist. Other medical professionals, like nurses or doctors, aren’t required to go through this type of interviewing process, which can make it feel odd that dental hygienists do.

A few hygienists have experienced working interviews where they don’t get paid, which according to labor laws, is illegal. According to the United States Department of Labor, if a person is “suffered to work,” whether it be normal working hours, after scheduled work hours (even as an interviewee), or otherwise, as “the reason is immaterial,” you must be paid. In other instances, the interviewee has received payment in gift cards rather than an hourly wage, thus saving the employer taxes which should be legally paid to the IRS. Again, even though it is an interview for a possible job, you are still working and providing services/treatments, and should be compensated. Work = pay. With that said, Federal law only requires minimum wage to be paid, not necessarily a hygiene wage that would equal what you’d be paid if hired. Before a working interview takes place, make sure to discuss an agreed upon amount of pay.

A working interview can also give the dental professional a quick understanding if the office is the right fit. You are also interviewing the office and its employees. Do you like what you see? Are the operator chair, patient chair, and operatory practical and ergonomic for you? What are your thoughts on patient policies, including periodontal care protocol and when referrals are made? Is the equipment and instruments up to par and replaced as needed? Are their patient care standards up to your standards; this includes infection control and ethics? Can you see yourself working here?

The Employer’s Side

Employers see working interviews as an opportunity to see you in action; caring for patients, seeing the interaction with patients and other employees, and your abilities. They ask themselves, are you a good fit? Their view is this is like a test drive or “try before you buy.” In many cases, the doctor(s) put a manager or supervisor in charge of interviews and finding new employees. Remember, some administration and/or office managers may not have any dental or clinical hands-on experience. Many are not dental hygienists or understand what our responsibilities look like.

Some employers or companies completely skip the regular interview process, where you sit down with the employer and have a professional discussion, as they may see the traditional interview unnecessary. They may think they do not gather enough information about the job candidate and would rather only see your work. If employers prefer a working interview, it would be a benefit also to include a regular interview because, as with any type of dental professional, you are composed of multiple layers. You aren’t just a “cleaner” or “worker.” You are a professional for a reason!

Like with anything, there are different viewpoints to working interviews; both positive and negative. Some believe employers conduct this interview type as a way of temping. Here, they can kill two birds with one stone; an employer can interview a possible new employee while not having to cancel patients. It’s a win for the office that day, however, if they really aren’t hiring, it might not be a win for you.

The Patient’s Side

Another view to consider is the patient in the chair. There is a comfort factor in seeing the same hygienist each recall appointment. With a working interview, the employer blindsides the patient with someone different and new to them who is asking a lot of questions and is unfamiliar with the office’s procedures. To the patient, even if they were called prior to their appointment and given a heads-up on a different hygienist, there can be some uncertainty for the patient in this position. Some patients are carefree about having a new hygienist treat them, while others stop in their tracks, puzzled, and make a face at the front desk as if to say, “Help me!” Or ask you, the clinician, several questions before they even sit in the chair.

My Thoughts

I have a love-hate relationship with working interviews. In my opinion, one day at an office for a working interview is not even close to enough time to get a full picture of how you are as a dental professional, whether you are a dental assistant or dental hygienist. To me, working interviews are not necessarily realistic as compared to a regular, average working day as an experienced and comfortable employee. I say this because when I am put into new situations, I can be slightly nervous and may not perform to my potential. At a regular, just talking interview, I am usually a bit anxious, however, at a working interview, I experience much more stress.

When an employer wants to skip the traditional, talking interview and goes straight to the working interview, I feel like there is even more pressure, especially if I am unfamiliar with the office.

During working interviews, I have millions of questions: Where’s this? Where’s that? How does your practice function? It seems like the appointments are choppy because I am a stranger in the office. To me, it feels like being a fish out of water. I prefer to be organized and prepared. I hate to just walk into an office and figure it all out on the fly. If you can do this, you are amazing!

One solution to avoid some of the stress related to the unknown is to shadow for a brief amount of time before jumping in and seeing patients. Shadowing first allows you to see where supplies are, experience the flow of the practice, and have the opportunity to ask the many questions you may have. If shadowing is not an option, which is sometimes the case, you can get to the working interview early to get a chance to compose yourself and ask needed questions.

If you find yourself in a working interview situation, first and foremost know your worth. Again, you should be paid, and not with a gift card, but a reasonable wage for a working interview which was decided prior to the working interview. You do not work for free. You have earned a degree and are a licensed professional who works hard and is producing for the office. If an employer does not see the value or worth of you and your abilities, it’s not for you, and frankly, is a red flag.

When an employer asks me for a working interview, my first thought isn’t to jump up and down with excitement because of my nerves. However, I do understand that sometimes being thrown into a situation is the best way to learn. I do see the employer’s view, as this is a chance to see you where you normally work – clinically, in the operatory. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to make sure your patient care standard is shared and to check out the equipment and instruments you will be using if hired.

At times, it is challenging to find the right office. Sometimes it takes time to find your work home, trust me. Even though the office you are interviewing for might not be your forever office or future dental home, look at this as being one step closer to finding the right fit. Plus you gained more knowledge and experiences for the next part of your journey.

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Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS, MEd, FADHA
Since a very young age, Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS, MEd, FADHA, has always wanted to be a dental hygienist. She was the youngest student to graduate from her dental hygiene class in 2017. Since then, Kate has returned for her bachelor's and master's degrees. She is a faculty member at her local dental hygiene school and a clinical dental hygienist. Kate has been a part of Today's RDH since its launch. She is extremely passionate about homecare, loves her prophy paste and fluoride varnish, and enjoys attending professional conferences. In addition, Kate loves to work with a local non-profit organization that helps fight against hygiene insecurity of all ages in her community. As a lifelong learner, she enjoys being as involved as possible in the dental hygiene profession. When Kate isn't working, she enjoys traveling, sports, watching movies, and spending time with her amazing, supportive family.