By Carol A. Jahn, RDH, MS
An influx of new dental hygiene programs, a tight economy, and baby boomers continuing to work into their 60s have made the job market tighter than at any other time in the last 30 years. Because of this, it is more important than ever to be mindful of basic job search skills and etiquette if you want to stand out from the crowd. Whether you are looking for a clinical, education, public health, or corporate position, here are five tips on how to impress a future employer:
Develop a good network. The best positions are often not advertised. Clinical openings are frequently spread by word-of-mouth at local or state dental hygiene meetings or via the organization's Facebook or LinkedIn page. People in corporations generally look to other industry leaders from colleagues to educators to key opinion leaders for recommendations when posts open up. If someone recommends you for a position, you should refer to him or her in your initial letter of inquiry or phone call.
Networking can also pay big dividends during the interviewing phase, especially in the corporate setting, where who you know can be as important as what you know.
Consider reading these articles by Jahn
- Why won't my patient ... Getting even your toughest patients to better oral health
- Helping your most challenging patients improve their oral hygiene
- Busting dental myths
Don't ignore social media. If you are searching for a job and are not on Facebook or LinkedIn, you may be missing opportunities. In the same vein, if you are in the job search, make sure your social media pages or posts (including Twitter) are professional. Most employers will check out potential candidates' social media pages to screen for any unwanted or potential problems.
Be diligent and thorough in your communication. Your resume and initial correspondence, which are most likely going to be via email, are your first chance to make a good impression.
The first thing an employer will see is your email address. The best course is to use your name in your email. You do not want to be immediately excluded because of an unprofessional email address. It is extremely important to make sure that your resume does not have any typos! This may seem obvious, but most of us are not good at proofreading our own material. Have someone else do this for you.
Second, it's wise to err on the side of being too formal in your initial email correspondence. Texting shorthand in a business email is a major faux pas, as is misspelling the name of the person you are emailing and/or the company name. While this may seem like a "rookie" mistake, if you use the cut and paste function, it too can happen to you. Sign your email with your full name, your dental hygiene credentials, and your preferred contact information – phone and email. Do this even though your email is in the "from" section and even if you are including a separate letter of inquiry. If someone wants to reach you and they pull up your email, having that information at their fingertips is what you want.
Finally, follow directions; if you are asked to send your resume to a specific person in a specific way, do it just like that.
Utilize all the resources at your disposal. Whether it's trying to tweak your resume to match the job or craft your letter of inquiry, finding out as much as you can about a prospective employer is important. It's also simple; many businesses, including dental practices, have websites and Facebook pages.
Use Google and see what you find! If there is a specific person you will send your resume to or if you have an interview scheduled with someone, Google him or her as well. If you know someone who works or perhaps used to work at the enterprise you are interested in, it may be worthwhile to contact him or her. Ask if he or she has any advice or tips to help you get your foot in the door. If he or she is a current employee, their ability to provide you with additional information may be limited, but it is a good bet that they will tell the person hiring that you contacted them. Employers appreciate people who take initiative and are willing to learn. You want to make your prospective employer feel that by hiring you, they would have an employee that they could bring "up-to-speed" quickly.
Display your professionalism. Do not underestimate the power of a professional appearance and demeanor. Leave the scrubs at the office and invest in your "interview uniform." This can be as simple as nice slacks or a skirt and a jacket, blouse, or sweater, or a dress. Suits are not needed for a clinical position, and even are not expected in many corporate positions. Expensive designer wear is also not required. Purchase something within your budget and make sure the clothing fits well, is spot free, and your shoes are polished. It's wise to err on the conservative side. Clothing that is too tight, skirts that are too short, blouses that show too much cleavage, and shoes with heels over three inches can be distracting. You want to be remembered for you, not your clothing. Jewelry-wise, it's also wise to err on the modest side.
None of this matters, however, if you bad-mouth a previous employer. No matter how comfortable you feel with the interviewer, do not be tempted to go down this path. When asked about previous employers, craft out your answer before you leave home and stick to the script! A professionally vague answer like "I needed a new challenge" is preferable to bad-mouthing a former employer.
It is also important to keep in mind that many first interviews are now conducted over the phone or via FaceTime or Skype. Treat this as you would a face-to-face interview; dress appropriately, make sure there are no dirty dishes (or empty wine bottles) behind you, and take steps to prevent a barking dog or children asking, "Mom, I need..." during the interview.
Mind your manners. Once you have submitted your resume, rein in your desire to check on whether it's been received and when you can expect an interview. Other mistakes that are sometimes made include asking about salary or compensation before the interview and/or asking detailed questions about the position. These are two items that would be discussed during an interview, not at the time of resume submission. Doing either of these two things will likely get you crossed off the candidate list.
If you are asked to come in for an interview, be sure that you shake hands, give people your full name, and say thank you. Also, send a follow-up thank-you note within 24 to 36 hours of the interview. Sending the thank-you by email is fine. It does not have to be long; it can be as simple as thanking them for their time, and reaffirming that you are still interested in the position. If you interviewed with more than one person, both people should get a thank-you note.
During the interview, it is appropriate to ask what the next step is, such as if and when there might be a second interview. Following up after an interview (in addition to the thank-you note) requires balance; you want to indicate that you are still very interested, but you don't want to do it too soon or too often, which might give the employer the impression that you are pestering them.
The job market is tight, yet savvy candidates will always find a way to land the right position. Good networking, smart communication, and diligent research are the first steps. Showing up as the consummate professional and demonstrating your good manners can go a long way to helping you get the position you desire.
Carol Jahn, RDH, MS, has a BS in dental hygiene from the University of Iowa and an MS in continuing education from the University of St. Francis. She has been a dental hygienist since 1982; she practiced clinically for 14 years in general and periodontal practices. Currently, she is senior professional relations manager for Water Pik, Inc. She has published more than 75 papers and contributed to seven textbooks including the 10th and 11th editions of Clinical Periodontology. She is a past president of the Illinois Dental Hygienists' Association and past treasurer of the ADHA, and a 2013 recipient of the ADHA/Johnson & Johnson Award of Excellence.