How To Avoid The Biggest Hiring Mistake of Your Life

By David Harris, Prosperident CEO
Much has been written about hiring the right people for dentists.  Finding a good personality fit and ensuring that employees properly project your office’s personality are things others know far more than I do, so there is little that I can contribute to that discussion to help you avoid making the biggest hiring mistake of your life.

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 However, my background and experience provide some insight into how “serial embezzlers,” who are the very LAST people you want to hire, successfully conceal unsavory pasts.  I’d like to share what I have learned about their tactics.
Published studies suggest that over 60% of resumes contain some form of lying.  This might be as basic as some form of skills enhancement, or it could extend to covering up that the applicant was fired from a previous job for stealing.
Let’s start by profiling typical embezzlers.  They are smart, organized, and have strong computer skills.  They present well in interviews, and convey an understanding of the preciousness of your time, and commit to creating an environment where that time can be used most effectively.  They present an attractive resume without typos (seemingly a rarity today).  And, of course, they have dental experience, although you don’t yet fully comprehend the nature of that experience.
It is likely that you are thinking that I have just described a perfect employee.  One of the ironies of embezzlement is that thieves superficially resemble the perfect employee.  Fortunately, there are areas where embezzlers differ from truly ideal employees, and this article will help you differentiate.
 The most obvious area is that many, but certainly not all, serial embezzlers have criminal records.  A properly conducted criminal records check will uncover this, and allow some rotten apples to be foregone.  Two things should be kept in mind here.  Many embezzlers don’t have criminal records either because charges were never brought, or because of the agonizing slowness of the justice system.  Also, since a criminal record could reside in many different places, criminal background checking is complicated and best contracted out to professionals.  Did you know that 65 million Americans (i.e., 1 in 4 adults) have criminal records?
 On the subject of background investigations, it amazes me that, while there are many organizations that require prospective employees to be screened for drug use, even with the direct access to controlled substances that most dental offices have, drug testing is not normally part of pre-employment screening.
 My next advice is that, when checking with former employers, verifying education, etc., eschew any phone number provided by an applicant.  We have seen many cases where doctors thought they were speaking to former employers, finding out much later that it was actually a friend of the applicant pretending.  So when verifying past experience or a credential, locate the phone number independently so that you know with whom you are speaking.
 Now that you are speaking with the right person let’s consider what you should check.  What you are seeking is the “undisclosed job” that the applicant wants to conceal.  This job can be hidden either by covering it with non-employment (“home with children,” “traveling through Europe,” etc.) or by “stretching” the dates of other employment to cover what they want to hide.
 If an applicant claims a lot of time out of the workforce, request a copy of their tax return and assessment from the IRS.  Like any document, a tax return could be forged, but the nature of this form makes the forgery a lot of work, so most applicants trying to hide something will simply move on to another victim.
My other suggestion is to ask each former employer (and you should normally contact all employers from at least the last five years) a few strategic questions.
  • Check photo ID for every applicant.  Can a driver’s license be forged?  Of course it can.  But most applicants for dental office jobs know how trusting dentists are and typically are not expecting to be asked.
  • Get them to provide the exact dates of employment.    Don’t prompt them with the dates in the resume and ask for verification; human nature may result in them agreeing without verifying
  • Verify job title and responsibilities
  • Ask who the previous and subsequent employers were (most former employers know this)
  • If the applicant claims to be currently working for that employer, confirm this with the employer.  People who have been fired tend to conceal this fact from you.
  • Drug test every applicant.  It makes no sense that I can’t get a job working for UPS or FedEx without a drug test, but I can work in most dental offices without one.  And unlike UPS, you have prescription pads readily available.
  • Finally, ask each former employer a very specific question, “if this person were available and if you had a suitable opening, would you rehire them?”
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The attractiveness of this question is that, while former employers are often cautioned by attorneys to avoid derogatory statements, most will find this question, which simply asks about future intent and not about specific actions or characteristics, to be a “safe” question to answer.  And a single word answer, like “no” (or anything short of an enthusiastic “yes”), shouts volumes about the applicant.   Compare all answers to the resume, and reject any applicant where dates or job history do not line up exactly with the information you determined independently.  

While there is no foolproof means of identifying resume cover-ups, the simple techniques outlined here give you an excellent chance of spotting situations when resumes have been “doctored”.   It is tempting, particularly in areas where qualified applicants are in short supply, to shortcut the hiring process.  However, doing so can have disastrous consequences.

Proper background investigation