The 2021 dental salary survey conducted by DentalPost in partnership with RDH magazine found that many dental hygienists are unhappy with their compensation. Notably, even though a majority (59%) reported receiving a pay raise in the last two years, many were dissatisfied with those raises. Others (32%) expressed disappointment in not getting a bonus. So it’s no surprise that 35% indicated they’ll be looking for a job.1 With the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that there are more than 200,000 dental hygienists in the US, this means there could be more than 70,000 hygienists looking for a job this year.2
If you’re one of those 70,000, how will you stand out? Whether you have given conscious thought to this or not, you’re a brand, and your brand never sleeps—every action you take from the moment you start your search, even putting out those first initial “feelers,” communicates something about you as a brand. This is true regardless of the size of your area or the type of position you’re looking for.
Over the last several years, I’ve received thousands of emails and resumesrésumés about positions and conducted hundreds of interviews. The missteps that people made tended to fall into five general categories. The good news? All are easily corrected and can help you have better interviewing success.
- Social media. When I say the brand never sleeps, it’s because what you do and say on social media can have lasting, unintended consequences. Be mindful about what you say in posts and how you respond to colleagues. Being rude or snarky does not paint you as the ideal coworker. Other red flags include complaining about patients, doctors, and colleagues. If you’ve gotten into this habit, it’s not too late to change course and delete such content (and refrain from those kinds of posts in the future). Most employers won’t do a deep dive, but many will look up your accounts and most recent history.
- The résumé. Most of the résumés I receive have a laundry list of dental hygiene clinical skills and work history. What this does for me is confirm that you really are an RDH, but it does nothing to tell me why you’re the one for the job. What’s compelling is action—for example, what did you improve or change at work? Did you implement the new AAP classification system or improve aerosol capturing methods? What do you do outside the office that makes you a better employee? Are you a leader in the local dental hygiene community or other organizations? Your résumé should highlight you and point out what’s interesting.
- The cover letter. Writing a cover letter can seem like a daunting task, and many people don’t do it—but it’s a step you shouldn’t overlook. These days, you don’t have to write a formal letter. A well-crafted email summarizing who you are and why you feel you’re a good fit for the position is all you need to do. Use the job listing as your guide. Did they mention certain skills or experience? Perhaps a periodontal practice wants someone with that particular experience. Don’t wait for them to look at your résumé and figure it out—highlight it in your email. One of the best emails I ever received was from a candidate who cleverly and succinctly mentioned every aspect I was looking for in my job post. Did they get an interview? Absolutely.
- The interview. There are two things that get my attention during an interview. One is learning that the candidate visited our webpage. Surprisingly, only about 50% of the people I interview have done this easy task. When a candidate researches our webpage and company, it indicates that they have initiative and genuine interest in our business. The second is when a candidate asks good questions. It’s impressive when someone asks questions like “what does success in the position looks like?” You might not think you need to ask this in a clinical setting, but I think you should. The answer will most likely tell you a lot about the office. Another great question is “what do you need the most help with?” It’s easy to talk about what we can do for an employer, but knowing what they need most gives you the opportunity to craft your answer to align with their needs.
- The follow-up thank-you. Would you be surprised to learn that only about 25% of people I interview send a follow-up thank-you? When I do get a thank-you, it stands out. It doesn’t have to be handwritten on personalized stationery. An email is just fine. What’s most important is that you do take the time to do it. You should also include a sentence or two that confirms your interest in the position and the reason you feel you’re a good fit for the position.
Whether you want a clinical job with the best dentist in town or a transition to teaching, public health, or corporate, you want to stand out. Awareness of your social media activities and crafting a great résumé and cover letter can help you score the interview—and then researching the company, asking great questions, and sending a follow-up thank-you note give you the best chances of securing a new position.
1. 2021 Dental Salary Survey: How do you compare? DentalPost. Accessed February 15, 2021. https://www.dentalpost.net/salary-survey/#dental-hygienist
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, dental hygienists. Accessed February 15, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
Carol Jahn, MS, RDH, is the director of professional relations and education for Waterpik, where she designs multimedia educational programs for dental professionals. She provides continuing education programs in the areas of periodontics and patient compliance. She may be reached at [email protected].