Your résumé is the most important document of your career. You simply can’t put a price tag on its value because of the doors it can open for you. The income you draw each pay period is partly due to that 8½ × 11-inch piece of paper you used to attract your employer.
Think about it. That little document that we all hate because we don’t know what to say or how to say it is partially responsible for what kind of job we get and how fast we climb in our careers.
Sure, you are ultimately what matters most. Your résumé isn’t going to help you achieve your education, and it’s certainly not going to do your work for you. You’re also the one who must perform well in an interview to convince people that you’re the best choice for the position.
But without a résumé—and a good one—you may not even get an interview.
How did we get to this point? Where did résumés come from? What can you do to ensure your résumé is great?
A brief history of résumés
It’s unclear who “invented” the résumé. The practice of one person describing his or her skills and accomplishments to sway another has been around for centuries. The first record we have of a written résumé comes from Leonardo da Vinci’s 1842 letter to the duke of Milan. In it, da Vinci promoted his skills in making “war machines” and in painting. The duke was impressed and offered him a job that da Vinci stayed with for 17 years.1
However, résumés really didn’t become popular until about the 1930s. By the 1950s most people were using them, partly because employers were increasingly requesting them. They had evolved from handwritten to typed documents, which at the time was revolutionary.2
As we entered the digital age, so too did résumés. Computers made them much easier to create, and fax machines increased the speed of distribution. Next came more advanced computers and printers that could create more attractive résumés. Email has since become a key method of distribution, but uploading to job websites has certainly played a role as well.2
Today, we’re seeing résumés take on different formats, such as video, PowerPoint slideshows, websites, and more. It seems the evolution of résumés will continue well into the future as job seekers continue to invent new ways of marketing themselves.
The secret sauce to getting interviews
The truth is that employers don’t like résumés any more than applicants do. But in a competitive job opening, they’re the most efficient way to whittle down candidates to a manageable interview list.
What employers really want is a résumé that comes as close to an interview as possible. The secret sauce is to grab employers’ attention and give them some serious wow factors. Then serve them up a blend of your interpersonal relationship skills accompanied by evidence of your technical expertise and achievements.
This combination draws employers in and holds their attention. If your résumé gets prolonged attention, you’re more likely to get an interview. The interest it creates fosters a heightened impression of trust in you, and that’s what convinces employers that you’re different from your peers.
Once you’ve created a personal brand or persona, you’ve primed employers with an expectation of what’s to come. They now see you as especially relevant to their business and believe you will fit in and excel. It sets the stage for your live performance and gives you a shot at landing the job against the other competitors who landed interviews.
Let’s start with some techniques used to grab attention. I think this is obvious, but the more attractive your résumé, the more likely it is to grab attention. That means you need to incorporate elements of design, style, and beauty. This can be done with use of color, graphics, fonts, spacing, balance, and flow.
Each of these areas comes together like a symphony orchestra. If the color is not tuned with modern sensibilities or industry expectations, it creates a sour note. If the spacing and balance of the document are not in sync, the résumé can be hard to read or distracting.
The design is critical because it pings the reader’s first set of senses; it forms the employer’s first impression of you. If it comes across as disorganized, with typos or nothing interesting, what does that communicate about you?
Give them your EARS
Let’s talk about another important factor in résumé writing—your EARS. No, not what’s attached to your head. I’m talking about whether your résumé includes any experiences, accomplishments, results, and solutions (EARS).
Too many people focus their résumé content on a cousin of EARS, called duties. Don’t get me wrong; duties and responsibilities are necessary parts of a résumé. Including some duties shows you’re on the same page as the employer, especially if you do one or two things that are unique to other clinicians.
The problem with only listing routine clinical dental hygiene duties is that most will be the same as other hygienists’ duties. They don’t provide the employer with information that distinguishes you. So, include résumé content that is unique, results-oriented, and speaks to the level of your expertise.
Creating EARS résumé content
It’s easy to wrap yourself up in the day-to-day duties of your job and not even think about how well you’re doing it. But you really owe it to your career to track your EARS. They are the lifeblood of great résumé content and a bridge to your next job.
I coach my clients and others about the importance of an accomplishments journal, in which your EARS can be documented. Make it a goal to record things on a regular basis so that you don’t lose it. EARS not only make great résumé content; they also prep you for job interviews where you’re asked to share examples of how you make a difference. Your accomplishment journal should help you answer confidently.
Breaking down EARS
Watch for experiences that are unique. Maybe it’s an overly anxious patient, an angry patient, or a mother who insists on holding her baby during an exam. How did you handle the situation? How did you save or nurture the relationship to create or maintain loyalty? When patients have a bad experience, that’s money walking out the door. The dentist and practice manager understand that and will know what you’ve done to help with that.
Another example is your ability to mentor new employees. Did you find yourself in the position of training a new hygienist or assistant or even a doctor or front office staff member? If so, document it. What did you do? How did you do it? What was the result?
Many of my clients have great résumé content that falls under the category of acknowledgments or accomplishments while in college. This includes scholarships; academic success, such as earning a spot on the dean’s list; or awards, such as Hu-Friedy’s Golden Scaler Award. These are great and deserve a spot on your résumé. But hopefully, your desire for achievement extends beyond college. Once you enter the professional world, those accolades don’t come as often, so you must look for other ways to show you’re accomplished.
Many of you receive training beyond the required CE. Extended training is a noteworthy accomplishment and shows that you constantly strive to improve, a skill that employers want. I have clients who write articles, produce or appear on podcasts, curate dental content, speak at conferences, or provide professional coaching and consulting. Others are involved in association leadership or perform public health and community service. Some are entrepreneurial, engaged in developing products and new techniques. Still others take on special projects or initiatives within their practice to generate new business. A couple of examples are negotiating deals with large companies or securing land for an office.
I know some of you detest the thought of numbers such as production figures. However, we all know revenue is what keeps the doors open (and you employed). I believe strongly that taking care of patients first will naturally result in great revenues and production. We don’t have to succumb to unethical practices for dental offices to grow.
With that in mind, production goals and numbers still serve a useful purpose in helping patients achieve the best oral health. You aren’t selling snake oil; you’re selling people habits and products that can literally save their lives. The results you get are impactful résumé content. Doctors and practice managers naturally gravitate to numeric results. Since most practices set goals and many hygienists track their production numbers, patients seen, etc., you should include this information on your résumé.
Did you reach your personal goals or team goals? Was it your idea to save a few thousand dollars on supply management? Did you introduce a recall program that improved retention rates? This is all great information to share. Some results are more patient specific but just as powerful, so share those stories. A couple of examples might be the detection of cancerous growth or helping a patient with tobacco cessation.
We’ve discussed the elements of an effective résumé to get your foot in the door. But you still must deliver an interview that aligns with the greatness of your résumé. In an upcoming article, my friend Claire Jeong, RDH, will walk you through the critical steps of preparing for and delivering an amazing job interview.
Doug Perry, a nationally recognized job hunting and personal branding coach for dental hygienists seeking employment, is the owner of . His passion for personal branding and job hunting for dental professionals started while helping his dental hygienist wife, Tracie Perry, land her first clinical job in 2010. Since then, Mr. Perry has written a book called Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job. He has worked with thousands of dental hygienists to develop résumés, cover letters, and more. Contact him at .