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Does your résumé need a makeover?

July 1, 2004
Remember that the purpose of that sheet of paper is to get you an interview. Here's what sounds enticing.

by Regina Dreyer Thomas, RDH, MPA

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If you're changing jobs or considering different practice choices and challenges as a dental hygienist, you need a résumé that reflects with great clarity how you see yourself as an oral health-care provider. When you're clear about your job objective, are sure of your practice philosophy, and can demonstrate what specific accomplishments and skills in your background make you the best candidate for the position you're seeking, you'll have a far better chance of getting an interview for the job you want.

Many dental hygienists think they don't need a résumé. "After all," they reason, "an employer knows what I am licensed to do. Why do I have to put it in writing? Why can't I just tell him or her face-to-face about my experience?" And for those new graduates who may be on the short end of experience, what good will a résumé do them?

In a word, plenty. A résumé is more than a listing of jobs with dates and places worked. It is a written demonstration of your organizational skills, your market savvy, and the accomplishments you've achieved to date. It is a professional statement that positions you clearly in prospective employers' minds so they know what makes you special before you appear. Sending a résumé and cover letter in advance of the interview ensures the image being visualized is the one you want that person to have. Remember ... the primary purpose of a résumé is to get an interview — not a job. Jobs come from people, not pieces of paper. In today's tight job market, hygienists are in the unique position of being in demand and commanding respectable salaries. To be on the cutting edge of this enviable footing, you have to market yourself in a professional yet businesslike manner. This means a well- crafted résumé.

Identify your objective

Start with identifying your "Job Objective" as your first heading. If you want to work in a specialty practice, say so, as in "Dental hygienist in a high-quality periodontics practice," or "Dental hygienist in a pediatric dentistry practice." A hygienist who's interested in public health might specify his or her job objective as "Dental health educator in a community-based medical/dental clinic." This way everybody — including you — knows what your goal is. It helps you stay focused and confident as you think through the qualifications that support your goal.

Here are some job objectives submitted by RDHs. Which do you think would influence a prospective employer to interview the person?

A. To apply the knowledge of my education and experience toward the growth and improvement of oral health.

B. Periodontal therapist in a general dental practice. I am an enthusiastic communicator, sincere and friendly in relating to people.

C. To obtain a position that will enable me to use my creative, analytic and written skills to foster personal and professional growth.

D. I am presently attending a health services management program. I am seeking a position as a dental administrator.

Do you see how much stronger and purposeful items B and D are? Office managers, department heads, administrators, and other people in decision-making positions are not career counselors. They don't have the time or skill to figure out where your talents could best be used in their organization. Their job is to decide if you fit, not where.

A new graduate could consider these job objectives:

"After receiving licensure, my desire is to work as a dental hygienist in a prevention-oriented general practice" (substitute with "pediatric dentistry practice" or some other specialty that employs hygienists), or "Dental hygienist in a general practice. I am especially skilled with geriatric patients."

Do you see the significance of specifying your job objective right up front on your résumé? It will serve to target the opportunities that interest you, and establish the way you see yourself professionally in the interviewer's mind.

Which format ... chronological or functional?

The chronological format flows backward, job-by-job, year-by-year, with the most recent position listed first. It is a familiar type to employers as it outlines your work history.

The functional résumé relays accomplishments in skill areas by highlighting what you have done as opposed to where, when, and for whom you have done it. If your employment history is limited, if you've been out of the job market for a while, or if you're thinking of shifting to another arena of oral health care, the functional style may be a better approach for you to take.

Whichever style you use, show a continuing progression of marketable skills and experience that leads to your present job objective. Do this under the next category, Experience.

What constitutes experience?

Dental hygienists often ask if their volunteer work or non-hygiene work counts as experience. Absolutely. Did you organize a church or school fair? Make crafts for it? Did you head up your condo board? Supervise clerks in an office or a store? Manage a sports team? Create a Web site for some organization? Shape your experiences, both paid and voluntary, to fit your job objective. For example, if you're going for a position that involves administrative tasks, such as an office manager or clinic coordinator, zero in on your organizational and management skills as well as your computer knowledge.

Wrong: "Purchased (clinical, office, sports) supplies."
Right: "Changed ordering and inventory control system to achieve a 20 percent cost reduction."
Wrong: "Volunteer for physically and mentally challenged children."
Right: "Planned and supervised an oral health program for 30 physically and mentally challenged children, their parents/caregivers, and two nurses over a six-month period. Follow-up showed an 80 percent increase in improved home care."
Wrong: "Made crafts for our church/club/school fair."
Right: "Made crafts which netted the organization $700 in a two-day sale."

In the clinical context, did you "Plan treatments and provide complete prophylaxes" (responsibility only), or did you "Initiate a patient education program that reduced the rate of gingival inflammation by two-thirds in the majority of the adult patients" (identifies achievement and problem-solving skills)? Did you "change the recall system," or did you "revamp the recall system so that patient visits were increased by 27 percent from the previous year?"

Whenever possible, quantify the successful results you've achieved. Talk about the amount of money raised or saved, the number of people who used the service or product, the satisfaction expressed by those for whom the activity was undertaken, or the action that evolved as a result of your efforts. This could range from an increase in patient compliance, or an increase in cosmetic or restorative dentistry appointments in the doctor's book, to a decrease in the caries rate as the result of being a volunteer in a community-based sealant program.

Computer savvy? List those programs with which you have a working knowledge and how you used them to promote the practice or organization, create databases, reorganize schedules, develop presentations, institute better billing systems, and others.

Now your prospective employer knows what you can do (did!), and what value you will be to him or her. The information you're giving is results oriented. It shows that you know how to solve problems.

Education, honors, and awards

Now is the time to list all your academic achievements (especially top of the class), honors, awards, publications, and research contributions under the Education heading. If you've received specific recognition, presented table clinics, were a co-author, co-researcher, or participated in or led accredited continuing education courses, name them. State where the programs or courses were given, how many people attended, and the role you played (participant? panelist? speaker?).

Some new graduates list their extramural training and professional activities right after their entry on formal education. It's a good idea as it positions the writer in the receiver's eyes as an involved person, even if experience is on the short side.

Personal data

Here is the place to say, "excellent health," "available for relocation/travel" (if it relates to your job objective and is true), "references on request," "salary negotiable." You can also mention your hobbies and other interests.

You are not required to indicate your marital status, number of children, or age. Some people use this section to make a values statement such as, "I am a concerned health care professional, dedicated, involved and eager to accept new challenges."

Try to come across as a well-rounded individual with a personality as well as abilities.

The right look

People tend to think there is a single way in which to lay out the information on their résumés. Not so. Your job objective and statements backing it up are your priority items and should be paramount. If that means highlighting your work experience ahead of your education, that's fine. If you are a new graduate with limited experience, lead with your academic accomplishments. It's the focus that's important. Whatever your structure, try to keep the entries short and tight — no more than one and a half pages in length.

Your name, address (including email) and phone number should hit the eye first, centered on the top of the page. Use quality white or off-white paper on a computer or use offset printing. Do not use cheap duplicating paper even if you're faxing or sending the résumé online. When you go face-to-face for the interview, you'll still need hard copies in your briefcase.

Single spacing with wide margins on both sides and bottom, indents, bullets, and a 12-point font make your résumé easy to read. Stay away from script, photos, clip art or anything else that "stops the eye." You have less than two minutes to state your case and establish yourself in a businesslike manner. Double-check your résumé for grammatical errors and misspellings. Get someone else to review it. And don't forget the cover letter — even if you fax or email your résumé in.

Jobs do not go to people with the longest résumés written in the most eloquent language based on inflated experiences. The best test is that you can talk about anything on your résumé with ease. Remember, its purpose is to get you an interview.

Don't forget the person reading your résumé. Make it easy for him or her to say, "This applicant knows what she wants and what she can deliver. Maybe she can do the same for me."

Good luck, and ace that interview!

Regina Dreyer Thomas, RDH, MPA, author of the book, Career Directions for Dental Hygienists, is a highly organized, goal-oriented manager of information, committed to professional growth for dental hygienists. For a free critique of your résumé and a free guide to cover letters, send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope with your résumé (not more than two pages, please) to Regina Dreyer Thomas, RDH, MPA, P.O. Box 2338, Red Bank, NJ 07701.

The right words

Use action words, ones that connote authority, such as initiated, handled, supervised, coordinated, designed, planned, organized, and researched. These verbs always take an object and imply a result. Initiated what? Organized what? Supervised whom?

Stay away from the passive voice. "Fourteen new dental hygienists were recruited for our local component under my leadership" is less effective than "Initiated a recruitment program for our local hygiene component that resulted in 14 new members, bringing our membership to one of the highest in the state. I am now chairperson of the state membership committee."

If you worked with others on a particular project, use terms such as "co-authored," "co-led," rather than the weaker sounding, "helped write" or "helped lead."

Good work that produces results doesn't need embellishments through overstuffed language to get its message across. And don't be afraid to use the pronoun "I." Who else did these things?

A note of caution: While suggesting you describe your experience as impressively as possible, in no way should you lie about what you have done. The distinction is important and should not be forgotten. Your job is to develop an honest and effective "sales pitch" about your experiences to sell yourself for jobs you are authentically qualified to perform.

Even if you're a new graduate, you probably have had some experience during your training that led you to enjoy one aspect of hygiene over another. If that was not the case, draw from your work experiences in life — both paid and unpaid — and shape them to fit your job objective. If nothing in your background seems relevant, highlight your education instead of bringing your lack of experience into the limelight.

Checklist for reviewing résumé


• Include a short, concise job objective.
• Include only information that is relevant, to the point, and which supports your objective.
• Use brief phrases rather than sentences to describe what you have done. Start with strong, effective action verbs such as supervised, developed, controlled, directed, generated, organized.
• Quantify accomplishments whenever possible. Show the amount of dollars saved or earned, the number of people involved, or how you streamlined operations for greater efficiency and productivity.
• Keep personal information to a minimum.
• List educational achievements from college forward.

Do not:

• Mention why you left your last job.
• Include previous employers' names and addresses. Say, "References furnished on request" at the end of the résumé.
• Include salary history, unless specifically requested.
• Identify marital status, number of children, age (they'll be able to "guesstimate" from the information in your résumé), weight, husband's or wife's position, or Social Security number.