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Things they didn't teach me in school, part 5: How to prepare for the first job interview

Sept. 28, 2015
Your palms are sweating and your heart is racing. You're walking into an office for your first interview for your first hygiene job.

BY Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD

Your palms are sweating and your heart is racing. You're walking into an office for your first interview for your first hygiene job. You hope they like you. You hope you like them. All the preparation does help some people, but it's still nerve wracking to be interviewed. A first impression can mean a lot and it's hard to overcome if it's a bad one.

This month I want to focus on helping you make this situation a little easier and less stressful. Now that you're out of school, you're finally on your own to find that job and get working. You've waited so long to call yourself a registered dental hygienist. You want to get moving along with this new life you set for yourself, but it's not always an easy start.


Other articles by Whisenhunt


Sending out those great resumes that we discussed in last month's column is where you have to start. You have to mail, email, fax, or take your resumes to offices in the area where you want to work. It's a good start to ask your local hygiene society or your school's faculty if they know of a dentist who is looking to fill a position.

Once you get that call or email to come in for an interview, that's when it gets stressful. You need to plan ahead so you'll be ready when that phone call comes. They may want to see you that afternoon or the next day. You need to be ready to go! Have a couple of interview outfits ironed and ready. It's always best to be cautious on the side of conservative, even if you normally do not dress that way. Dentistry is still a conservative field and you need to dress professionally. Navy, black, or gray are good neutral colors for pants or skirts, with a fresh looking top or shirt. I tell my students to wear something they would wear to church or a nice place to eat.

Once you nail down your attire, be sure your nails are trimmed short and your hands are neat and well manicured. You don't want hangnails or poor cuticles to show. While we're talking about hands, your jewelry should be simple. You don't want a prospective employer to be distracted by too much "bling." You need your hair out of your face, and most people prefer you have it pulled back.

Interviewing does not have to be nerve wracking, and most of the time there are a set of basic questions that you can prepare yourself for. You can sit with a friend or peer from your class and practice your answers with each other. It's good to have thought about your answers. Doing this can make such a difference! I've included a table at the end of this article with several of the common questions asked of hygienists during interviews. Go through them and practice out loud what you'll say. Pay attention to your tone of voice and how confident you sound. Of course, practicing in front of a mirror can help you watch your facial expressions and make sure you're smiling.

Basic interview questions to practice for that first job

1. What is your work experience

2. What is your philosophy of dentistry

3. What are some of your strengths and weaknesses

4. Tell me about a time when you were faced with a hard situation and how you resolved it.
5. Tell me why you want to be a dental hygienist.

6. Are you looking for full-time or part-time hours

7. What dental software and equipment are you familiar with using

8. Tell me a little about yourself. (Keep this work related not personal.)

Some people like to write down their answers to help them remember them. However, you do not want to take those notes into an interview. You can do this on your own; you just need to practice. The dentist wants to see you put your best self forward. He or she wants someone who is confident in their skills and will work well with the team and patients.

Most of the time they're not really worried about your skill level because they know that if you passed boards, you should be able to do what is expected of a hygienist. What they want to find out is how you'll fit with their team and if you're willing to learn. Having the willingness to learn is an important factor. They know you're new and that you'll be slow at first, but if they're willing to take their chances with you, you need to give them your best.

Colgate-Palmolive announces 2015

Colgate Oral Health advisory board members

Dental hygienists are critical partners that share Colgate-Palmolive's commitment to help patients achieve optimal oral health. As part of its continued commitment to improving oral health in the community, Colgate-Palmolive has named 12 hygienists from a wide range of communities across the United States to its 2015 Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board.

The board meeting hosted on June 8-9 allowed the new board members the opportunity to share their ideas with Colgate and each other. They met at Colgate's Global Research and Technology Center in Piscataway, N.J., and the board members also met with key opinion leaders, as well as Colgate research and development experts. They were given an inside look at Colgate's product research and innovation process.

The practicing hygienists named to Colgate's Oral Health Advisory Board were selected based on self-nominations and the recognition submitted by colleagues, commitment to dental hygiene, and leadership within the profession. Two practicing dental hygiene authors/lecturers completed the board composition.

The 2015 members of the Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board include:

• Tracy L. Clay, RDH, Dallas, Ga.

• Jo Cleasby, RDH, Plainfield, Ill.

• Mandy M. Dennis, RDH, San Antonio, Texas

• Karla J. Gooden, RDH, Los Angeles, Calif.

• Jennifer Kloskey, RDH, Madison, Wis.

• Danielle Rauch, RDH, BA, Petoskey, Mich.

• Jessica L. Raymond, CRDH, BASDH, Clearwater, Fla.

• Linda Romatowski, RDH, West Windsor, N.J.

• Amber Sanchez, RDH, BA, Fort Wayne, Ind.

• Susanna Scherer, RDH, Wyckoff, N.J.

• Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, RDH, PhD, Cave Creek, Ariz.

• JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD, Haddonfield, N.J.

Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board members include (front row, left to right): Karla Gooden, RDH, Mandy Dennis, RDH, Susanna Scherer, RDH, Tess Black, RDH (COHA host), (second row, left to right) Jessica Raymond, RDH, Linda Romatowski, RDH, Amber Sanchez RDH, JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, (third row, left to right): Jo Cleasby, RDH, Parul Bharadwaj (Colgate), Danielle Rauch, RDH, Ann Spolarich, RDH, (fourth row, left to right) Tracy Clay, RDH, Jennifer Kloskey, RDH, Kim Curtis (Colgate), Matilde Hernandez (Colgate), Delphine Birckel (Colgate) (fifth row, left to right) Burhard Selent (Colgate), Marisela Hernandez (Colgate), Michelle Morgan (Colgate), and Barbara Shearer (Colgate).

The Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board, which was established in 2009, is a critical element in Colgate's well-established Colgate Oral Health Advisor program (COHA). This complementary, innovative program offers educational benefits exclusively for the dental hygienist. Its most recent enhancement, the COHA Facebook Community, provides COHA members a unique forum for networking with fellow dental hygienists as well as an opportunity to have direct access to Colgate.

For more information, please visit colgateoralhealthadvisor.com.

Have the confidence that you need and show them how great you are (without being cocky of course). Let them know that you care and that you want to work hard. Be yourself in the interview, and it's good to have some questions of your own ready. You will want to ask the dentist about his or her philosophy of dentistry, when he or she refers perio patients, and what a normal schedule is like. You want to stay away from asking about vacations, the pay rate, and sick pay.

Those types of questions can come once you've been offered the job or when appropriate. Some dentists may also ask if you want to do a "working interview," and those can be very insightful. You can see how the team gets along and what the patients are like. You can also see how the infection control practices are in the office.

You might not want to do this, but going on interviews for the experience is not a bad thing. When the interview concludes, you can say very professionally that you're not interested, and thank them for speaking with you. Also, it's always nice etiquette to send a thank you note to tell someone that you appreciated their time.

It goes without saying that you should always tell the truth in an interview and not embellish. There are "illegal" questions that you should not answer, including personal questions. You're not required to tell them if you're single or married, have children, or whether you want children in the future. If you're asked these questions, then it's best to say it was your understanding that a question is not necessary to do the job. Most dentists know what they can and cannot ask. You are there to be interviewed about your skills. The stories you share should be work related. If you go in with your wedding ring on and your children's pictures on your keyring, then you've given the office some answers without them having to ask anything illegal.

I wish you the best of luck with your first interview and finding that first job. You will do great. Happy scaling! RDH


Kimbough VJ, Lautar CJ. (2012) Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Practice Management in Dental Hygiene. 3rd ed. Peason.

Finkbeiner BL, Finkbeiner CA. (2011) Practice Management for the Dental Team 7th Ed. Mosby.

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].