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The interview: What can you do better?

Aug. 1, 2019
What can you do to convince the potential employer that you are the candidate the practice or company has been waiting for?

Now that you have a stunning résumé thanks to Doug Perry (who wrote “Résumés: What can you do better?” in the July issue of RDH), you will probably be called for an interview. The bad news is that you are not the only one invited to this round. You will have some serious competition. So, what can you do to convince the potential employer that you are the candidate the practice or company has been waiting for? 

Interview = audition

An interview is similar to an audition for a role in a play or movie. When she was a child, Emma Stone auditioned for the Nickelodeon show All That. But Stone wasn’t a child actor, and she didn’t come from a show business family. She didn’t know that she was supposed to prepare for an audition beforehand, so she was shocked when she went into the casting director’s office and was asked to make up a character on the spot. What did she come up with? A babysitter who was possessed. As she was reading books to the kids, she said, “Goldilocks and the [in a sudden deep voice] three bears.”

This anecdote is an analogy to demonstrate that we should prepare (unlike Stone) and the genius stunt we can perform to win the interview (the “audition”).

While creating the course “How to land your dream job, interview skills” at DentalToaster.com, I interviewed numerous professionals, dentists, and office managers. Here are the most important points that I would like to share with you. 

There are three ingredients to a successful interview: (1) research the employer, (2) prepare answers for the most commonly asked questions, and (3) use the power of storytelling.

Research the employer

Thoroughly research the employer. It is critical that you know the names, positions, hobbies, education histories, and more of those who might interview you. Also, be sure you understand the history of the office, its mission, services provided, and more. It is best if you make a cheat sheet for each potential position you are interviewing for. You can review the information until the moment of the interview.

This research step seems simple and should feel like common sense. But the key is to do an in-depth investigation and memorize information that you can repeat to the employer. If you think about it, every employer likes to know that you can conduct research, be proactive, and be persuasive. Your investigation results can be turned into questions and statements: “I read on your website that you provide laser treatment. I’m just finishing a CE course on laser therapy and I would be happy to help,” or “I really identify with the office’s mission to create smiles because that’s what makes me happiest—a satisfied patient.”

The key here is to memorize a few important points about the position and employer. Then naturally slide those nuggets into the discussion. This will give the employer something familiar to talk to you about, which in turn can ease the entire process.

Prepare answers for the most commonly asked questions 

On the day of the interview, put on your best performance. If you were auditioning for a movie, you would need to remember the lines by heart and appear most suited for the role. The same thing is true for an interview. Most of us are not born with a natural talent to speak and charm others. We have to prepare and take time to hone our answers. 

Interview questions can be divided into four categories: experience, character, fit, and knowledge. In other words, an employer wants to know if you have the depth of experience for the position, if your personality matches the office, if you can contribute to the office, and if you know what you are doing and why.

Some of the most commonly asked questions include:

• What duties did you perform at your last job?
• Are you more comfortable leading or following?
• Why should I hire you?
• How would you handle a situation with a difficult patient?
• How long have you been practicing?

Some questions will be vague and tough to answer, such as “Why did you choose dental hygiene?” The best way to be ready for this critical day is to practice the answers to as many questions as possible. Then when you’re asked those questions, you’ll be ready with the right answer. 

What if you get a question that you did not rehearse? The good news is you’ll be armed with lots of answers that you prepared for other questions, so you will quickly be able to put some parts of the other answers together. Just like making a quilt, you’ll have many pieces available to you to use as you see fit.

To download a list of the most commonly asked questions for free and start preparing for the interview, visit blog.dentaltoaster.com/interview/.

Use the power of storytelling

According to marketing specialists and psychologists, people are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures who relate to other people. A story brings life to the content, helps the listener live the moment, and touches the listener’s heart. 

If you use the power of storytelling, you will stand out among the competition. In interviews, you will probably be competing against others who may have experiences and backgrounds that are similar to yours. You need to create an aha moment for the employer that will put you at the top of the short list. Again, stories have the power to touch hearts, which will make your interview stand out. 

To create a story, describe the scenario (who, when, what), the challenge, how you overcame the hurdle, the results, and what you learned. Make the situation real, and add details such as seasons, time of day, the clothes you were wearing, and more.

Let’s try an example. The employer may state, “Tell us a time when you had to be creative.” If you don’t use the power of storytelling, you can say, “I have pediatric patients who are not compliant. I bring out my puppet and use it to demonstrate oral home care.” This is not bad, but you have not captured the employer’s imagination and heart. 

A better answer is, “When I was working at the community oral health center in Dorchester, I was asked to speak to a group of 100 students about oral care. [Scenario.] I had two days to prepare the event without a budget. [Challenge.] I decided to focus on brushing techniques since I’ve seen many young children brushing only the occlusal surfaces. For a successful event, I knew I needed toothbrushes for everyone. So, I called every office and supplier I could to ask for help. After 100 toothbrushes were donated, I prepared fun music to accompany the proper brushing sequence. [Overcoming the hurdle.] The one-hour session was extremely playful, and all the children got to dance and practice the sequence at the same time. The teachers were so impressed that they requested that I present to students in surrounding areas. [Results.] This experience seemed challenging in the beginning, but I learned that anything can be done, even with a short timeline, if I ask for the proper resources and use my creativity.” [What you learned.]

As you can see, storytelling is not something new or secret. You probably already use the power of storytelling in your daily life. Employers are humans, and if you think about it, everyone loves a good story. When you are interviewing, try to wrap your answers into mini-stories and aim for the employer’s heart.

Dentistry is about people, not just skills. Accomplishments are important. But most of all, what is important is that you are perceived as a fantastic team member. I wish you the best with your résumé and interviews!  

Claire Jeong, MS, RDH, is an entrepreneur, author, educator, researcher, and speaker. She is the founder of StudentRDH/SmarterDA exam prep solutions. She created DentalToaster, an online CE platform for dental professionals. She is the 2019 Ontario Memory Champion. She authored the e-book WakeUp Memory, which teaches how to use the brain and remember anything. Jeong is regularly invited to podcasts and conferences as a key opinion leader. Jeong provides guidance to companies to reach the young generation of dental professionals. Contact her at [email protected]