Brushing Up for Your Interview

April 1, 2005
It takes time, patience, preparation, and an enthusiastic attitude to find the right position.

by Linda Blackiston, RDH, BS

It takes time, patience, preparation, and an enthusiastic attitude to find the right position. Consider the interview process an opportunity to learn and grow.

Finding the perfect employment takes time and patience; the opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination, motivation, and preparedness. No matter the setting, the interview is a critical step toward your goal. Your experience, your GPA, or the school you attended matters little if the interview process is not successful. Preparation, professionalism, and attitude are the keys to an interview that will result in the sought-after position.

The hiring process has several phases. The first may begin with a phone interview to screen candidates. More and more companies screen candidates this way. To be prepared, create a positive first impression. Notice how the caller identifies him- or herself and use his or her name during the conversation. Avoid being too casual; it is better to err on the side of formality. Also, check the message on your answering machine or voice mail. This is not the time for cutesy messages - a professional greeting leaves a better impression. If the first call you receive is to set up an interview in person, be sure to verify the interview time, date, and location before you hang up. Confirm the name, job title, and phone number of your contact person. The best time to schedule an interview is between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. People are usually more productive in the mornings, so avoid late afternoons when energy levels fall or schedules run late.


The key to a successful interview is preparation. Arriving for an interview unprepared is the equivalent to treating a dental patient prior to setting up the operatory.

Here are some tips:

• For a nonclinical position, learn about the company or institution. Look at the Web site and be knowledgeable about the place where you are interviewing.

• For a corporate position, prepare a portfolio.

• For a clinical position, ask if the office has a Web site or publishes a periodic newsletter and ask for a copy.

• For a position in academia, prepare a curriculum vitae.

• Know the mission statement of the company, practice, or institution.

• Anticipate typical questions asked in an interview. Rehearse answering these questions with another person and have tangible examples.

• Look for strengths in your work history that display your talents, skills, or personality traits.

Research prior to the interview demonstrates self-motivation and initiative.

Create a portfolio in a three-ring binder. Include your resume, writing samples, awards or recognitions received, examples of leadership, and ideas you have implemented. Place the examples in clear sheet protectors. Highlight any volunteer activities in the community or within dental hygiene associations. Expect to leave this portfolio with the interviewer to review.

Certain opportunities may require a curriculum vitae, also referred to as a CV. When applying for academic, educational, scientific, or research positions, have a CV available. Both a resume and CV provide information about your skills, experiences, and education. A resume is brief and concise, usually one page long. In contrast, a CV is more detailed; it includes a summary of educational and academic backgrounds, as well as teaching and research experience, publications, awards, presentations, and affiliations.

Write out answers to typical interview questions and practice answering them. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions and comments:

• How would your last employer describe you?
• What is your ideal work environment?
• Tell me about yourself.
• What motivates you?
• Where do you see yourself in five years?
• Do you work better in a group or alone?
• Are you comfortable leading or following?
• How do you handle criticism?
• Tell me about some of your recent goals and what you did to achieve them.
• Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or co-worker? How did you resolve it?
• Why do you want this position?
• What was your worst failure? How did you handle it?
• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
• Why should I hire you?

If you are interested in expanding your dental hygiene career beyond clinical practice, refrain from using phrases like “I want to try something new” when asked about your interest in the position. The word try suggests you are experimenting or searching for something new. Outlining specific career goals gives clarity to the direction you want to take. Corporations and teaching institutions are looking for individuals with concrete goals who are ready to grow in their profession.

Write out your success stories prior to the interview. Have concrete examples of your successes; consider how the organization or practice benefited as a result of your actions. Think of your stories as “tales” with a beginning (the situation), a middle (the action - steps taken and the challenges or obstacles), and the end (how it turned out). If you have trouble thinking of success stories, ask people who know you well for help.

Adequate preparation tremendously increases your chance for a successful interview.

Professional attire

Your appearance imparts a great deal of information to the interviewer. Good grooming indicates attention to detail and a respect for others. Many employers have relaxed the dress code, but interview attire should still follow the conservative standard. It is better to show up dressed too formally. For most interviews, a conservative suit is best. Wear clean, polished, conservative shoes; they are an example of attention to detail. Hair should be conservative; resist the temptation to try the latest trend in style or color prior to the interview. Limit the amount of jewelry you wear, since the interviewer’s attention should be focused on you. Chandelier earrings are perfect for a dinner date, but not for an interview. Body piercing and tattoos may be the rage, but remember not all interviewers are as hip as you and may be turned off by them. Subtlety is the rule for makeup and perfume. Get rid of chewing gum or candy prior to the interview, and of course, check your teeth!

The interview itself

Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Running in at the last minute may cause you not to perform as well as an on-time arrival. Arriving late for an appointment is a sure way to sabotage your chances of getting hired. Upon arrival, politely introduce yourself to the receptionist. Use your time wisely while waiting: Look over your resume and review your notes. Survey your surroundings and make mental notes about the office environment.

When it is time to meet the interviewer, introduce yourself using your first and last name. Be ready to shake his or her hand. Extend yours and grasp the person’s entire hand - not just the fingers - to give a firm handshake. Good eye contact is equally important. Reinforce your verbal message with your body language. Your body language can influence the interview process by either reinforcing or distracting from your verbal message. Turn off your cell phone or, better yet, leave it in the car. Avoid looking at your watch during the interview; it could send the wrong message.

Communicate your skills, knowledge, and accomplishments to showcase yourself. Build rapport with the interviewer. Have a positive attitude - the right attitude can determine a successful outcome. During the interview, jot down key points and other information that you may want to reference later. Try to relax by remembering this is a two-way process. You are there to ask questions as well. The position needs to be a good fit for you too. Keep the interview in perspective. What is the worst that can happen? If you do not get the job, learn from this experience and use it to prepare for the next interview.

Your questions

Typically near the conclusion of the interview, you will have a chance to ask questions. It is imperative that you be ready when this opportunity arises. These questions will help you gather information about the position and show the interviewer that you are interested in the job. Your questions demonstrate that you are a person who gathers information before making a decision and that you were paying attention during the interview. Here are a few examples of questions to ask following an interview:

• Tell me about an employee in your organization who is considered outstanding. What makes that person special?

• What improvements do you want to make here, and how can I help to make them?

• Can you tell me more about the position and the type of person you are seeking?

• What are the measurements for success within your organization?

• What will be the measurements of my success in this position?

• How often are performance evaluations conducted, and how are the evaluations made?

• How and when will you decide who to hire?

Prepare a few questions before the interview. Ask questions that will help you decide whether you want to work for this employer.

Post interview

A personalized thank you note can make an excellent impression. After the interview, send the interviewer anything he or she requested along with a thank you note. Use email for the note if pressed for time. Ensure proper grammar is used in the email, including capitalization of appropriate words. Use the notes you took during the interview to write your letter. Make your letter clear and concise. Express gratitude for the time the interviewer spent with you. Re-emphasize a strength that shows you are the best qualified candidate for the position. Finally, express your interest in the job and let the interviewer know how you can be reached.

The objective during an interview is to generate a job offer. It takes time, patience, preparation, and an enthusiastic attitude to find the right position. Carefully evaluate all aspects of an offer before making a decision. Try to relax. This is ultimately a process and a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.


• Ingoles C, Shapiro M. Your job interview. Copyright 2003 Silver Lining Books, 122 Fifth Ave, N.Y., N.Y.
• Enelow W, Goldman S. Insider’s guide to finding a job. JIST Publishing, Inc., 8902 Otis Ave., Indianapolis, Ind.
• Martin C. Boost your interview IQ. McGraw Books, 2 Penn Plaza, N.Y., N.Y.
• Rosenberg McKay D. The everything practice interview book. Copyright 2004 Adams Media, 57 Littlefield Street, Avon, Mass.

Linda Blackiston, RDH, BS, received her bachelor of science in dental hygiene from the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, University of Maryland, after she had been a business owner/operator for nine years. She is currently a professional educator for Philips Oral Healthcare, the makers of Sonicare. Linda presents continuing education courses nationally to dental professionals as well as dental and dental hygiene students. Her professional background includes corporate pharmaceuticals, where she presented courses on the etiology and management of periodontal diseases specifically related to the host response mechanism. Linda’s clinical dental hygiene experience includes general practice, periodontics, and a staff position in pediatric dentistry at the University of Maryland. She provides volunteer oral health care to underprivileged children in Mexico annually. Linda lectures nationally as she continues to work in a general dentistry practice.