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Career re-entry

Jan. 1, 2012
Change is always scary, but at least returning to a field you are passionate about will help ease the fear of career reentry.

Stepping back into the profession in a crowded market is a daunting challenge

by Nicole Giesey, RDH, BSDH, MSPTE

Change is always scary, but at least returning to a field you are passionate about will help ease the fear of career reentry. Is scaling calculus just like riding a bike? Can we pick up clinically where we left off? This article will help guide you into your new office, company, or educational path. Do not be overwhelmed with the idea of getting back into the work industry; just take a deep breath and get organized. Where should you start? Let’s begin with what your potential employer will view — a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. (I recommend really good resume paper, ivory, with matching resume envelopes.)

Before you even think about looking for a new position, you must compile a fabulous, wow-factor resume or curriculum vitae. After all, your resume will typically be seen for only about 30 seconds. Making yourself marketable and knowing the newest trends will enable your resume to rise to the top. When potential employers read your cover letter, curriculum vitae, or resume, they want to be wowed. They are looking for the best of the best. If you are in the dark about resume writing or asking what a curriculum vitae is, please read on.

There are hundreds of software programs, websites, and books on writing cover letters, resumes, and curricula vitae. A good place to start is the Purdue University Owl resource website at Under the job search tab you will find a step-by-step guide in writing resumes and curricula vitae. You can also run a search for tips on writing cover letters. If you are a Microsoft Office Word user, there should be a resume template built into your software. Simply go to Microsoft Word, click the office button, new, and scroll down to resumes and CV to select the style you prefer. If you are going to attempt to format your resume from scratch, here are some good tips.

The most important overview of any document you prepare for a potential employer must be easy to read, neat, and free of unnecessary verbiage. To start, you want to maintain 1-inch margins all around. Your paper should be 8.5 x 11 and typed with an easy-to-read font such as the Times Roman or Arial Narrow style in 11- or 12-point size. If your documents are more than one page, a footer with a page number is a nice touch. Something simple and not too bold is professional looking. Now that we have format, let’s build your documents.

The header. The header is the top of the page where your pertinent information goes. It should be centered and easy to read. Having a matching header for the cover letter, resume, or curriculum vitae will present a nice, uniform, and crisp look. The header should include your name, address, phone number, and email (optional). Here are couple of tips. If you submit your resume for a potential job, make sure your answering machine message is easy to understand, pleasant, and professional. I understand that the employer is calling your home, but you are always making an impression prior to your meeting. Also, if you include your email address in the header, make sure to check it at least biweekly and that it has a professional appearance. For example, [email protected] is not an appropriate email address. Even though Josh Turner is today’s best country male singer, your potential employer may not think it is very professional.

So you have your header complete and saved for all documents you are preparing. Your next step should be to compose your cover letter. “A cover letter introduces you and your resume to potential employers or organizations you seek to join (nonprofits, educational institutions, etc.). It is the first document an employer sees, so it is often the first impression you will make.” (Purdue University, 2011). The cover letter should typically not exceed one page; however, if your job description asks you to provide a theory or opinion of your profession within your cover letter, it may exceed one page. You may access samples of cover letters online from various sites by searching “cover letter examples” to get an idea of what a professional looking cover letter looks like. An ideal cover letter is an overview or abstract of your career history, and it also tells the employer what you have to offer. The cover letter also helps the employer determine if you are what they are looking for in a candidate. Now that your introduction is complete, let’s move on to the resume and curriculum vitae.

What is the difference between curriculum vitae and resume? A resume is a brief history of your education, experience, and memberships. It is typically one to three pages. According to Bennett, “the length of your resume depends on the nature and number of positions you have held during your unique work life.” A curriculum vitae is very similar to a resume, only it is very detailed and longer. A curriculum vitae is usually three pages and should not exceed 10 (, 2011). Typically, the position that you are applying for advises candidates on the type of document they prefer. In my recent experience, while searching for a dental hygiene position in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a resume was requested, but while searching for a dental hygiene position in Arizona, a curriculum vitae was requested. All positions were with private practices, so it is a tough call on which document is best. However, if you are applying for an education position, a curriculum vitae is a must!

The curriculum vitae is my favorite only because it is so detailed and all of your duties can be displayed because of the space allowance you have. Since the dental hygienist plays a role in every department, the list of duties is long and mighty. If you have a lot of other dental experience and your background in dentistry is broader than dental hygiene, a curriculum vitae will be very attractive to an employer looking for someone that can work in every part of the office. You would be amazed at how many dentists are looking for hygienists with a dental assisting background, and sometimes there is no room on a resume to properly display your dental assisting or front desk experience. Although, if you are applying to an office where the employer wants the dental hygienist strictly for dental hygiene, a resume is your best bet.

Unfortunately, employers often do not state exactly what they are looking for. If they did, we would all mold to their expectations. Now that you know the difference between the two, perhaps you can compose both the curriculum vitae and a resume in case the employer pulls a fast one and requests a curriculum vitae.

A top-notch resume must be easy to read and organized. Making an outline of your resume is easy, and also provides you with a guide to your writing. Here are some examples of subheaders to outline your resume — Objective, Education, Experience, Honors and Awards, Memberships. Your objective should be short and direct. It is your mission statement pared down to a couple of sentences. An example of an objective is, “A setting in which I can utilize my education and experience to help the practice establish or maintain its dental hygiene departmental goals.” It provides a clear message to the reader as to what your career goals are.

Under the education header you should list your educational experience in chronological order starting with the most current. The institution, location, years, and degree are listed. If your degree is different than your major, also list your major. For example, if your degree is an Associate’s of Applied Science but you majored in dental hygiene, then list both. If you had an impressive GPA, display it, i.e., 3.5/4.0. If a clinical rotation was completed, this information can be provided in a sentence using italicized text. Please note that on your curriculum vitae your clinical rotation could be an entire subcategory.

Under experience, have a chronological listing that starts with your most recent position. Under each employer, provide a bullet-form list of duties performed. Be sure to start each bullet with an action word in the correct tense. For example, if you are presently working, all of your action words should be in the present tense, such as “expose digital radiographs,” not “exposed digital radiographs.” When you have listed all of your duties, double-check the first words and be sure they are all in the same tense. If you have worked at other offices and completed similar duties, list the duties from your most current position and then on the next employment have your first bullet read “Duties same as above.” Your next bullet can read “Additional duties.” List a couple of duties instead of relisting all of the duties. You can use this little trick to save space, yet also help the employer understand you have completed the same duties at your other positions.

Space is precious on a resume, so you really have to be careful how you appropriate it. If you’re stumped on specific wording of duties, search the ADHA website or the dictionary of occupational titles for tasks, skills, and duties dental hygienists perform. If you have experience with certain technology, be sure to name the technology. Instead of simply stating, “Schedule patients for their next recall,” state, “Schedule patients using Dentrix software.” This is nice for the employer who has Dentrix to know you have experience with it. Since there is so much technology used in our profession, listing specifics will aid you on your resume.

Under the honors and awards subheader, simply state which honors and awards you’ve received and when you received them. This subheader is impressive to the employer. If you have not earned any, that is okay too. Under the membership subheader simply write the associations you are affiliated with. Membership in your local, state, and national component is very instrumental on your resume. It shows potential employers that you’re involved in your profession and you keep up with today’s issues.

Now you should be to the end of your resume, and your curriculum vitae is next. The curriculum vitae is easy to write after you have a nicely outlined document. Some subheaders could be Objective, Education, Clinical Rotations, Employment Experience (chronologically list your employers, location, and dates employed, not your duties), Dental Hygiene Experience (list your duties here), Dental Assisting Experience, Front Desk Experience, Dental Hygiene License and Certificates (if you are licensed in other states plus CPR), Privileges (e.g., working without a dentist present, local anesthesia, nitrous oxide administration), Presentations, Research Interests, Awards, Memberships, Computer and Technical Skills, and Interests. Just fill in the blanks of your outline. You can use a bullet look and have your subheaders in bold. Keep in mind you are not going over the top; you are simply marketing yourself. Curricula vitae are a nice way to allow an employer to know the extent of your experience and career path.

Okay, now your documents are current with the trends and information; let’s find you a job! Where to begin your job search? The best place to begin is in your backyard. Register with your local temp agency. The best way to find employment is through networking and getting your name out there. What better way than to actually work with potential employers? Although there are a lot of hygienists temping today, one temp job just might turn into a full-time position. Keeping a log of where you have temped, and rating offices as you work is a nice way to keep track of them in case a position opens up.

Another way to get your name out there is to introduce yourself to offices with resume or curriculum vitae in hand. Getting involved with your local dental hygiene component and networking through other hygienists are great ways to hear about offices that need a hygienist. Often offices don’t advertise because their positions are filled through word of mouth. Social networking with your local component such as Facebook and LinkedIn is a good way to hear about hiring trends. As you introduce yourself and network, you can also search the web. A lot of websites compile local newspaper classifieds, such as This is a free website that you can quickly search for positions in your area and also have an alert emailed to you when a position is posted. Other websites out there include,,, and

You can also network through your local dental hygiene school. They may receive phone calls from area dentists looking for hygienists. The local dental association may have a publication in which you can post an ad to the dentists directly for a small fee. These are all suggestions for a clinical practice position. If you are seeking a position in education, a good website is, where you can search nationally for positions. Also, going directly to a college or university’s website will help your search for employment. There are so many ways to network and search for a job.

Looking for a job is a full-time job, especially in today’s job market. Jobs are few and far between. Just remember that if you are confident and diligent, you will find a position that suits you. It may take a while, but there is a position out there for you. Dental hygiene is a very fulfilling career, and getting back into it is challenging but rewarding. Good luck to you on your career path, wherever it may lead you! You never know. Maybe it will lead you back to school, into research, writing, sales, or something completely different.

Nicole Giesey, RDH, BSDH, MSPTE, practices clinically in Ohio. She is president of her local tri-county dental hygiene association, and has received the Procter & Gamble Community Sercice Award. She has a strong passion for dental hygiene education, writing, and research.


  • Bennett S. (2005). The elements of résumé style: essential rules and eye-opening advice for writing résumés and cover letters that work. New York City, NY: AMACON.
  • The Academic Curriculum Vitae (2011). Retrieved October10, 2011, from
  • Purdue University. What is a cover letter? (2011). Retrieved October 15, 2011, from
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