Do’s, Don’ts and Red Flags of Contract Negotiations

Spring is in the air, and we are approaching the season of contract negotiations. A pool of fresh-faced graduates means dental positions around the nation will soon be in flux. Beginning in May and continuing through the summer, new dental contracts and the negotiations that come with them will be commonplace. Which means you should be preparing now for the contract that you want later.

  • Let the practice make the offer first. Avoid the mistake of trying to dictate the negotiations. The practice should, deservingly so, feel like it is presenting you this opportunity. Plus, you run the risk of coming in low and losing out on some great opportunities.
  • Don’t start the money conversation. Allow the practice to bring up financials. You will have an opportunity to negotiate.  
  • Know that the practice is able to meet your needs and expectations. There is no reason to begin the negotiation process if you are not truly interested.

How to get what you want without burning that bridge.

  • Be open, direct and honest.
  • Share info on your current contract or what others are offering you.
  • Don’t take it personally, and don’t make it personal.

Expect these items to be included in your contract:

  • One-to-two year minimum commitments to the practice are common. Most are one year, but if you’ve received moving expenses or extensive incentive packages, you should expect a two-year minimum.
  • Given the nature of the dental business, restrictive covenants or non-compete clauses are common. However, review these thoroughly. More on restrictive covenant red flags below.
  • There are typically two compensation types, production versus collections-based, and you should be very clear on which is being offered. You should also clarify whether your compensation is guaranteed or is based on draw.

Red Flags.

  • If a practice is unwilling to be transparent with the basic financials of the organization and allow you to see what associates have made in the past with the same type of procedures and schedule that you’ll inherit, that’s a red flag that should not be ignored.
  • Big signing bonuses in saturated markets usually mean the practice has high turnover.
  • Extreme non-competes or restrictive covenants can be a huge burden down the road. Be sure that all non-compete clauses are specific. Broad language leaves the contract open to interpretation, and that can lead to difficulty in the future.
  • Take note of abnormally long notice periods (more than 90 days).

All contracts are negotiable. Fight for what you want, but be respectful of your potential future employer. Some practices will put forward a contract that broadly states its terms so that it does not have to be revised for every new associate. From an employee perspective, this is not ideal. It’s best to have the specific contract terms to ensure nothing is left to interpretation.

Try to provide all contract feedback at once, rather than addressing a single issue at a time. Pushing for additional concessions after the initial contract agreement can be an ineffective negotiating strategy. The closer you are to making a deal, the less likely a practice owner will be to drawing out the process any further. Be careful, however, as this negotiation tactic can be a slippery slope. You do not want to make the practice owner feel that you are hard to work with or selfish, only to have your offer withdrawn.

Finally, don’t pretend to know the law or consult your other dental colleagues moonlighting as law professionals. Consult with your attorney for any legal advice. Experienced recruiters who are familiar with the industry can also be a trusted resource if you are looking for guidance in terms of market norms.


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