Windows of opportunities

Jan. 1, 2000
Once you`ve completed advanced education, job interviews allow you to peer out into some exciting possibilities.

Once you`ve completed advanced education, job interviews allow you to peer out into some exciting possibilities.

Julia Jevack, RDH, MS

Graduation was an amazing day. My whole family came from Ohio to watch me proudly walk across the stage to accept my master`s diploma from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It truly was a day to remember. In the previous months, it was difficult to even imagine graduation. Many hours and late nights of hard work preceded those final steps across the stage. But nonetheless, I did it.

Going back to graduate school was the best decision I could have made for my career, both professionally and personally. UNC allowed me to meet and interact with many professionals that I otherwise would have never met.

Throughout graduate school, the professional meetings, and the internship I was required to complete, I was introduced to numerous opportunities in academic settings, as well as in private practice. However, because I was interested in pursuing academics, I developed a sense of what are important and practical guidelines to follow when making a decision about future employment in education. I hope this article is a useful tool to both prospective interviewers and those who may have contemplated a career change.

The hunt begins

Upon entering the graduate program, my goal from the beginning was to be employed in academics. I grew up in a house where academics was a part of daily life. It seemed only fitting that I would journey down the same path both of my parents had taken ... a career in education. As an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, I had always admired my professors and instructors. What an amazing accomplishment and honor it would be to one day work side by side as their colleague.

To my surprise, as I began to explore my options, doors began to open. Before undertaking my graduate degree, I honestly thought I would have to take whatever position was available after graduation, whether it happened to be in education or not. Instead, though, I had been introduced to more opportunities than I could handle. My first interview came three months before graduation.

Yet months before, I had already begun to contemplate my future professionally and personally. Where did I see myself living and working? What type of setting could I see myself working in and with whom? These were the types of questions I was fortunate enough to be considering.

Many hours of research and reading went into my preparation before I went on that first interview. I consulted with experienced educators and professionals. I consulted the most current sources about successful interviewing strategies. I thought I was ready for anything. It was not until all of my interviews, four in total, were complete that I realized all of the mistakes I had made and what questions I should have asked. So it seems ironic I accepted the position for which I interviewed first, felt the least confident about, and made the most mistakes. However, because I made notes at every interview regarding what I needed to do for the next, I was more prepared each time allowing me to make a better decision in the end.

Considerations in career planning

For individuals contemplating a career change, this information is for you too ... to inform and inspire. Most of you have been on some type of interview, ranging from formal to informal. Basic interview skills still apply, regardless of the career pursued.

A good starting point is with a basic list of potential questions potential employers might ask. Even if an interviewer does not ask about "your strengths and weaknesses" or about "your five- and 10-year goals" these type of questions are particularly helpful in self-evaluation. They prod you to begin thinking about your future direction, your desires, and your needs.

I had the opportunity to go on several interviews in different geographic locations, as well as interview for different positions. The experience allowed me to compile a very comprehensive list of questions for future graduates faced with similar circumstances. As I briefly mentioned, reading about interviewing techniques was one method I used to prepare.

An exemplary resource I found particularly helpful was The Unofficial Guide to Acing the Interview by Michelle Tullier. Another reference providing guidance for me was an article I received in a graduate course called, "Questions to ask at an academic job interview." This article gave me a starting point, a foundation and direction, until I was able to more clearly define my own goals and develop my own detailed list.

The art of preparation

The first set of statements and questions listed are to help you clearly define your goals. Answering the following questions may also serve to guide you in making a decision about what type of position you are most suited for - in or outside of higher education.

m Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses. Think of at least three of each. Prepare statements to defend each, giving an example about how you were able to use the strength or weakness to an advantage in each scenario.

An example of a personal "strength" is that I am open to change. Change is the one thing that we can rely on to be constant. Although change in any situation can be difficult, it is imperative for growth and improvement - whether speaking of an individual or an institution. One reason I pursued my graduate degree out of state was to gain the knowledge and experience of others who would help me broaden my perspective. I moved to North Carolina without knowing a soul. It was quite a change and an adjustment, but it proved to be an immeasurable experience, ranging from the people I had the opportunity to meet and work with to the experience of living in a different city and state.

An example of a personal "weakness" is that I do have difficulty accepting things that are done in a less than perfect manner. I am not a true perfectionist, because I do realize there are other pleasures in life besides work. However, I do not understand it when someone is given a task and then it is not completed like I know I could have done by putting the dedication into the project that is required. I guess this is the "hygienist" part of my personality coming out. However, as a professional, I believe that it is my job and responsibility - to patients, students, colleagues, and myself - to always do my best.

- What is your work style? Are you an independent worker or do you like to work with groups?

- What is your teaching style? Give some examples of methods and materials you foresee using.

- How do you like to be directed or managed? How much direction do you need? How do you handle and give feedback as well?

- What will you bring to the job? In other words, why should they hire you?

- Why do you want to work here? Do your homework. Know everything possible about the position and employers. Does the institution, program, practice, or company have a mission statement or goals? Find out how well those are being carried out. Request documentation such as the mission statement and goals in advance for review.

- How do you handle and resolve conflicts? State a problem you have encountered in a previous job and describe how you resolved it.

- What are your five- and 10-year goals? It is also helpful to state which goals of yours have been accomplished thus far in your professional and personal life.

- What is your overall philosophy about dental hygiene? You want to be working with individuals who have similar long-range goals professionally. Asking this type of question will help you better assess someone`s position.

- What do you believe about the future of the dental hygiene profession? Or where would you like to see it headed? This is an important question to answer for yourself and for you to ask.

- What are your research interests? You should be prepared with this answer, especially if you are aiming for an academic position at a university. Also, you might turn the question around on your interviewer and ask what type of support will be provided for research endeavors.

- With what types of projects would you like to be involved? This may include outreach programs, foreign outreach trips, committee involvement, and/or team teaching courses with other faculty.

- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? The interviewer wants to get to know you outside of work by asking this question. This question may also be posed in the form of, "What is the last good book you have read or movie you have seen?" By answering tactfully, you can demonstrate what a well-rounded individual you are!

Going through the interviewing process was an experience that will not be forgotten. If you are planning for an interview, I hope this article will help you better prepare for your next meeting. Although no two situations are identical, by utilizing the suggestions and questions I have outlined from my experiences, I trust you will be fully prepared for whatever you may encounter. If you are not getting ready for a job interview, but have contemplated a career move, hopefully this article will serve to spark your interest and inspire you to make the first move!

Julia Jevack, RDH, MS, has a bachelor`s degree from The Ohio State University in dental hygiene and a master`s degree in dental hygiene education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently an assistant professor, primary care, at the Ohio State`s College of Dentistry. In addition to teaching responsibilities, Ms. Jevack continues to practice part-time and is currently involved with graduate dental hygiene education research.

Just nine things... remember about interviews

1) Honesty is still the best policy. Be honest when answering and contemplating the anticipated questions. They are for you. They are not graded. The more open and honest you are with yourself, the more satisfied you and the interviewing party will be in the end. Also, be honest when answering questions asked on an interview. You will only lose if you are not honest and forthright about your position. (Remember diplomatic, but honest!) It is also acceptable to let the interviewer know you do not know an answer to a question. However, be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm can make up for experience. Letting someone know you are ready for a challenge, as long as you are sincere about your desire to learn a new skill, is definitely welcomed.

2) Stay in control. Although you may be very nervous during your interview, remember this is your time to interview your potential employer as well. The more prepared you are, the less rattled you will become when confronted with a potentially loaded question. Speak slowly, keeping your eyes on the interviewer. Pause a few seconds after a question to collect your thoughts and then answer.

3) Always be professional and polite. Remember that even if you are "wined and dined" in a less formal setting than where the actual interview took place, you are still on the interview. Everything you do and say is being watched with more scrutiny than usual. Likewise, you never want to speak poorly of past employment situations or people. Focus on positive subjects and steer conversations away from uncomfortable topics.

4) Ask questions. This is your chance to gather all the information you can to make an informed and very important decision about your future. Asking good questions can also show an interviewer where your interests and concerns lie. This will allow you to see how well "they" are prepared for you as well. Also, be mindful when speaking about policies and procedures. Something you don`t necessarily agree with may offend another.

5) Have questions in writing. Since you may be nervous, it is acceptable to take a professional notebook and pen, so you can ask questions intelligently and be prepared to write down answers.

6) Say thank you. No matter how well or disappointing you thought an interview went, always send a thank-you letter immediately following your interview time. Thank interviewers for their time and even the opportunity to interview with their establishment.

7) Stay in touch. The interviewers are not the enemy. Although you may feel intimidated, do not be afraid to telephone if you have unanswered questions, or if you feel neglected if you fail to hear anything after you were told to expect a call.

8) Never burn the bridge. You never know who you may be working with in the future. Always be respectful and let companies or institutions know your decisions were made with your best interests in mind. If you are honest and sincere, you cannot go wrong.

9) You can never be overprepared. It is better to have thought and answered potential questions, than to think, "They won`t ask that."