6 interview questions dental assistants should ask

illustration of colorful question marks

Many dental practices across the country say they’re looking for educated and experienced dental assistants but have found it hard to fill their open positions. This means that for dental assistants who are looking to switch jobs, there are many opportunities available. But of course, you’ll want to ensure a new office would be a good fit for you for the long haul.

During the interview process, dental assistants should ask the hiring manager about important topics, such as expected duties, the schedule, and other questions that ensure the role is a good fit for everyone.

But sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper to help uncover what working at a new practice would really be like.

Here are a few interview questions you might not think to ask but that can tell you a lot about a dental practice and what your long-term outlook there might be.

What opportunities are there for professional growth?

If you are passionate about developing your dental assisting career, ask the hiring manager about the office’s approach to fostering professional growth.

You might ask, for example, if the practice supports its staff in pursuing continuing education. This could include in-office learning opportunities like “lunch and learns” or reimbursing staff for taking classes or attending webinars outside of the workday. Another good question to ask is if there is a policy on reimbursement for earning and maintaining DANB certification, or if raises are given to dental assistants who earn additional credentials.

According to the DANB Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, dental assistants who hold DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification reported earning a higher salary and receiving more raises than those who aren’t certified.

Beyond earning a higher salary, dental assistants who take extra steps to demonstrate their commitment to lifelong learn enjoy a plethora of other benefits. These include personal and professional pride, increased knowledge, greater confidence, and standing out when applying for a job.

The best office is one that encourages dental assistants to do all these things. Cathy, CDA-Emeritus, COA-Emeritus, CDPMA-Emeritus, CPFDA-Emeritus, agrees: “It is very important for dental assistants to be involved with professional organizations and continue professional development.”

Do employees take lunch?

Work-life balance is an important factor in any role. Dental assistants who are interviewing at a new practice likely want to know about the workload at the office they’re considering joining. Is the schedule jam-packed? Does the culture seem to indicate that the dental team feels overloaded? One way to assess this is to ask whether dental office employees are encouraged to take time for lunch or other short breaks.

Taking a break from a busy workday is essential for dental assistants to recharge and take care of themselves. It helps them provide the best care for patients, plus the best support for their colleagues.

“Employees don’t want to work through lunch and work late, especially when they don’t get paid based on production,” believes Britney.

Sandra agrees that breaks are so important — and acknowledges that many offices do support breaks. Make sure this is the case where you’re interviewing, too. “Only in one office did I ever have a problem with taking a restroom break,” Sandra shares. “At the last office where I worked especially, the manager encouraged us to take breaks. You must!”

Do you have a cleaning service for the office?

During the interview process, dental assistants should strive to get a feel for what duties specifically they’d be performing.

It’s typical that dental assistants juggle a variety of tasks. But lately, dental assistants are taking on more duties than ever before — and not all of them may be welcome additions.

Keeping the office clean and implementing dental infection control are often parts of a dental assistant’s day-to-day duties. However, we’ve heard from some who say the expectations on them have increased — and vacuuming or scrubbing the restroom after providing a full day of patient care is pushing them to the brink.

Marie says what she looks for in a good employer is that they show appreciation and respect toward assistants, many of whom are experienced, licensed professionals. “Instead, I’m sometimes told to stock up the toilet paper in the staff bathroom,” she says.

Asking whether the office employs a cleaning service can help you understand what the practice asks of dental assistants and whether it aligns with your expectations.

Do any family members work for the practice?

Feeling like part of a team is something dental assistants enjoy. Having a good rapport with your dental teammates is important to feel satisfied and connected at work. But some dental assistants have shared that dental team drama can crop up — and when a family member works at the practice, resolving these types of issues can be a challenge.

It’s not uncommon for the dentist to employ their spouse, child, or sibling, for example. Sometimes, this can create a positive dynamic for the entire dental team. But it can also introduce stress into an office when home-life issues creep into the workplace or when there are conflicts with others on the team.

Tammy works for a former-husband-and-wife team that is divorced but still works together. “This can be stressful for those who work with them,” Tammy admits.

Alternatively, Mona believes family members working together at the office is a nonissue. “My boss’s wife and daughter both work in the practice; it’s not a huge problem at all.”

If you’d rather not step into this type of workplace, you’ll want to ask the hiring manager about it off the bat.

How long have your employees been with the practice?

If you’re trying to get a sense of whether dental assistants are happy working at the practice, consider asking how long other team members have worked there. The greater the team’s loyalty, the more likely it is that the employer has fostered an environment where people want to work for the long term.

For example, dental assistants who hold DANB’s CDA certification tend to have high job satisfaction and high employer loyalty, typically working for their current employer for almost 8 years.

Robin, CDA, has enjoyed many years with the same employer. She encourages job-seekers to find an office where they’ll want to stay and develop their career, and the best employer and teammates to help make this happen. “To be honest, most of us come to work every day because we love dentistry,” Robin says, “so simply hearing ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate your hard work’ can be vital to our loyalty and longevity with our dentist.”

What is the practice’s approach to raises and bonuses?

You’ll want to phrase this question carefully, but we can’t deny that salary is one of the top factors dental assistants look for in a job. When dental assistants are looking to change offices, one of their top questions is: What would my salary be?

There’s no one answer to this question. What dental assistants earn can vary based on a variety of factors, DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey data show — including practice location and the assistant’s experience and education level.

After discussing duties and responsibilities, expectations, and workplace culture during the job interview, you will likely want to ask about the position’s starting salary and opportunities for advancement. But don’t stop there. Ask the hiring manager about the practice’s policies on raises and bonuses. This will provide insight into whether this dental setting is likely to be a good fit with your skills, goals, and expectations, as well as how your career and compensation could progress if you stay at the practice for the long term.

Read more: 5 common interview questions — and how to answer them!