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Interviewing for Your First Associateship: Answers to 5 Key Questions

Aspen Dental

Date: March 9, 2018

If you're readying for this step in your career, congratulations—it's a milestone unto itself! Every job interview comes with a set of standard questions, and chances are they’re ones that you will come across at one point or another as you seek your first associate dentist position.

Even if you encounter the same questions many times, you’ll still have to work hard and prepare beforehand. Every interview is sure to work organically.   

Many of these questions can be tailored to your advantage. If the employer dentist or interviewer approaches them in a certain controlled matter, you will have a great interview. Take a step back and understand what exactly the interviewer is trying to learn from you when posing these questions. You may even benefit from role playing these questions and your answers to them with your peers so you can frame out your thought process for each. Here are five of the most common questions you'll be tasked with answering during your interview, and a strategy for handling each:   

What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?   

This is probably one of the most common questions, and in some aspect you’ll be asked at least one of this two-parter. For strengths, play back to your experience and qualifications, asserting your most important qualities confidently. Include some personal traits as well, things that dental school faculty or patients have said of you, and other relevant credits. This might be the easy part, but don’t take it for granted.   

For weaknesses, it’s easy to think you’re winning them over with an answer like, “I’m a perfectionist,” but employers have heard that before. Be honest in your reply. The important part is describing ways in which you’re trying to improve your weaknesses, or planning to overcome them. If you lack experience in root canal preparation, for example, explain that you are taking the necessary steps pursuing additional training or exposure to similar procedures.   

Why Do You Want to Work Here? 

This question asks to see if you’ve done your research on the practice, the position, and the necessary qualifications. How quickly and easily will you be able to fit in their atmosphere? The name of the game is both the context in which you present the answer, and the tone in which you deliver it. 

Hopefully you are eager enough about the position that you have not only researched the qualifications involved with the position and how you accomplish them, but also talk as if you really want to begin working at the position. Employer dentists will be able to tell if you’re just telling them what they want to hear, or if you are being genuine.

Your excitement should show in your answer. If this is a position that you would like to start right away, you should have no problem answering.  

Where Do You See Yourself in 5/10/15 Years? 

This question is a test to see what you’re working on now that you hope to expand upon in the future, what clinical skills or interpersonal traits you’re looking to improve upon, and other things that show your work ethic. It shares with your potential employer dentist your vision of practice ownership and potential impact on his or her own plans regarding the future of the practice.  

It’s important to also focus this question on the employer. Where do you see yourself advancing in the position that’s being offered? Being modest and without getting too ahead of yourself, how are you going to make an impact on the practice in the long term? This is what they’re after.  

Why Should We Hire You?  

What a better time to shine during the interview! This might be posed during the tail-end of the interview. This is a good opportunity to do two things: initiate discussion of your clinical and/or diagnostic experience and qualifications, and pair that alongside what the employer dentist is seeking. Confidently assert the experience you have, relevant to the practice for which you are interviewing. Combine your experience with the requisites you’ve researched through the job listing or description. Emphasize how that experience will meet any and all requirements they need. 

Do You Have Any Questions for Me? 

This question is the dagger at the end. Sometimes, when you’ve done all the research beforehand, you find yourself at a loss for questions that might be useful to pose at the end of an interview. Always write down a list of possible questions that you could ask. If you’ve read the job description or outline, that will be a good place to start to find questions relating to the job or practice. Asking about the timing and notifications process associated with the hiring decision is always pertinent.  

Note more questions than you’ll need, as some may be answered during the interview itself. It’s good to have at least one or two to pose at the end. Sometimes as you’re working through an interview, a question may arise from something the employer said, even if it’s a clarification about a point that they’ve made. Make sure you’re paying close attention during the interview. If your potential employer dentist has not already shared his or her philosophy of patient care, be sure to solicit during the interview as understanding this outlook will be important to your compatibility. 


There’s no doubt that employment interviews are stressful, and no matter how hard you prepare, it all comes down to how well you perform under pressure. There’s no guarantee as to what your potential employer might throw your way. One thing is for sure, however: you will come in contact with these questions at some point as you look for employment. The more interviews you go on, and the more you become comfortable and confident answering each question, the better chance you’ll have at securing a position with a practice.  

Crush Your Interview 
Show Your Stuff! 
Express your experience for strengths, and show how you’re working on your weaknesses. Show what you’re working on to continue to grow as a dentist.  

Do Your Research 
Research the practice beforehand and explain how you’re the perfect fit for them.  

Don’t Forget! 
Ask questions after the interview to better understand the practice philosophies.

Learn About the Practice 
What are their goals and objectives? 
Revisit conversations and strike up new ones to help you clarify what the owner's motives are.  

What are priorities for the practice?
How does your skill set help the team achieve its strategic and financial goals?  

What are the “quick fixes” and what requires more time? 
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.  
How will I measure my progress?  It may be setting up weekly or biweekly meetings with your supervisor or utilizing performance metrics to track your progress along the way. 

“Take a step back and understand what exactly the interviewer is trying to learn from you when posing their questions.”

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