Graduated and Job Hunting: How to Stand Out as a New Hygienist

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It’s here: the time is approaching to move that tassel from right to left. Dental hygiene school has been filled with long days of clinic and long nights of studying, but now it is time to start looking for that first job. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites a shortage of dental health care professionals, it can still be difficult to get yourself noticed. Sometimes, all it takes is getting your name to the right people, but other times it takes presenting a stellar paper or digital version of yourself in order to get the job you want.

Networking

School’s done, and the job hunt is on. So, where is that first step to breaking into a new professional job market? Making professional friends (aside from those who just turned their tassels along with you). Attending local trade shows/conferences is a great way to meet new people and stay on top of new happenings within the profession. You also get to meet many of the local product representatives – who are great resources for who is hiring in an area as well as what the culture of a hiring practice is like.

Joining your professional organization is a great way to meet others in the field. Local components often host continuing education seminars, and even if you do not need the CE credits right away, attending events gives you an opportunity to meet others in the field. Professional organizations such as the ADHA also provide information on volunteering opportunities. Nothing says “give me a job!” like donating one’s time to help others. It shows your skills, your work ethic, and your dedication to promoting good oral health.

Oftentimes, jobs are not advertised but filled solely through networking circles. Building a place for yourself within your professional community makes finding that right-fit job so much easier.

Resumes

While pink resume paper may work for Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, it is primarily the content on the document itself that makes a potential employer call you in for an interview rather than the color of the paper on which it is printed. That said, make every line count. Avoiding typos and grammatical errors are the most basic step to a good paper presentation of oneself. Beyond that, the quality and quantity of your content make a big difference. Too little information and you miss the opportunity for your own voice to shine through. Too much, and you risk boring the reader. Overly-modern, styled resumes can appear sparse and give an impression of a lack of effort by the applicant. Instead of sticking to bullet points for everything, short, full sentences can help the reviewer get a better sense of who you are. The more of yourself you can get the reader to identify with, the more comfortable they will feel calling you in for an interview.

Cover Letters

Building on a resume through a cover letter is a great way to pique the interest of a future employer. It should contain the basics of your background in the field and qualifications for the job, but in a more conversational form than the resume itself. Mixed into the story of your work and educational history, there should be some of your personal voice as well. Of course, you want the overall tone to be professional, but make sure it is not dry. Allow some of who you are to shine through in the discussion of your volunteer hours and latest CE courses attended. Speak about your passions and reasons for being in the field – this gives the reviewer something to latch onto when going through multiple applications for a single position.

Having a basic cover letter at the ready is very handy when sending out multiple resumes. For most jobs, you should not have to edit it much before sending it out. In order to make sure you are sending out the most appropriate cover letter, it is always a good idea to do a little research on the dental practice to which you are applying; the internet era makes this so simple. A quick Google search and review of the office’s website can give you a lot of insight as to what type of applicant they are seeking. This information can help you tailor what you focus on in your cover letter. If you are seeking a job in a public health facility, a cover letter detailing your ability to meet production goals probably is not the right fit and sending it out that way will not make you seem more hirable to a potential employer (in fact, you will appear less in-tune with their priorities).

Internet Presence

It is important to be aware that this is the digital age; just about everyone has an online presence now. We would like to believe that what we do off the clock has little to no bearing on our professional selves, but that is no longer the case. Employers look up applicants on their social media pages. They scroll through profile pictures and look for anything that could help decide whether or not to hire someone. It is not possible to retract every unflattering photo or cultivate a social media page to be perfectly professional in every way (because personal pages are not supposed to be professional pages, theoretically). However, it is possible to be aware of what is visible to the outside world when applying for jobs.

If maintaining a separation between work and play is necessary, make sure your privacy settings are effective. If you prefer a more open approach to social media, check your page for anything you would see as a red flag if you were an employer looking to hire you. For instance, posts which make you appear irresponsible or unprofessional and may be seen by a potential employer.

Dental hygiene group pages are a great social media source for hearing about jobs and getting to know about the offices in an area. Most people spend a lot of time online scrolling through posts these days, so make a few of those moments work towards your career by keeping you up to date on what those around you are talking about in dental hygiene.

Temping

Spending a day or two in several different offices as a temp employee can flush out your own ideas about what you are looking for in a practice. This will help you be prepared when interviewing if questions come up about what you want. Temping can also help you build up a sense of what you can and can’t live without in practice. Is an operatory with a window a must-have? Do you have a preferred type/brand of instruments? Can you work in an office that only provides two curettes and a single scaler in each cassette? In addition to equipment familiarity, temping can also help familiarize you with staff. It can serve as a type of working interview where you aren’t formally interviewing and help keep your clinical skills sharp while you search for that perfect job.

Once you’ve cultivated a sensible presence on social media, joined your professional organization, attended some local events, temped in a few offices around town, done some volunteer work, and uploaded or mailed out your flawless resume, then you can sit back and wait for the calls to come in. Whew!

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Aurora Graves DeMarco, BA, RDH, CDA
Aurora Graves DeMarco, BA, RDH, CDA, has been in the dental field since 2000 when she started as an on-the-job trained dental assistant. In 2006, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Florida State University, and the following year received her certificate in dental assisting. Two years later, Aurora completed an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Throughout her career, she has taken every opportunity to engage in the field of dentistry through clinical practice, volunteering, and education. For two years she served as President for the Greater Orlando Dental Hygienists’ Association (now the Central Florida Dental Hygienists’ Association) and enjoys being an active part in the promotion and progression of the field of dental hygiene. In addition to writing articles, Aurora has worked on updating two dental hygiene textbooks to new editions and looks forward to more projects that combine her love of writing with her love of teeth. She spends her free time chasing her dog, two cats, two kids, and her husband around their Florida home.