Are you job worthy?

Oct. 22, 2009
A negative mindset may focus on the glut of dental hygienists and scarce jobs. To the optimist, this lopsided graduation rate means a dental hygienist can finally focus on his or her own passion in the field and potentially start a specialty practice within a dental practice.

By Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, FACE

Gather up your thoughts and put a deadline on your Pity Party. Finding a job in today’s market is difficult for the Chat ‘n’ Polish (CNP) dental hygienist. Are you that hygienist? I doubt it. A CNP hygienist hasn’t read a magazine article other than People or Car And Driver for years. She or he hasn’t paid attention during continuing education and makes sure they don’t have one single extra credit. A CNP hygienist is the one who talks to all her patients as if they’re best friends, and cannot or will not discuss oral findings because she or he never looked. OK, so now we’ve established, dear reader, that isn’t you.

A couple of things make job searching easier, or at least more productive. Being fully aware is the first thing. In the United States, there are over 10 dental hygiene schools to every one dental school. A negative mindset may focus on the glut of dental hygienists and scarce jobs.

To the optimist, this lopsided graduation rate means a dental hygienist can finally focus on his or her own passion in the field and potentially start a specialty practice within a dental practice. This is the economic environment the optimistic dental hygienist has been waiting for! To focus on the things they love about their profession and exploit the livin’ daylights out of if you need a break in a hectic schedule. There are enough hygienists who can fill the CNP position in any office. To set yourself apart from this group and a resume is the ticket.

If a resume reads like any other hygiene resume you're sunk. For too many, this separation from the CNP hygienist isn’t clear in their resume. Too often, a quality applicant’s resume looks exactly like the other 20 resumes on the stack. When you come right down to it the process of dental hygiene is the same all over. The person doing the hiring is looking for content over format.

For useful resources, check out the Career Development Center at Friends of Hu-Friedy by clicking here.

The Objective Statement

Aside from paying the mortgage, what is your objective? How would it change if you pretended to be the business owner? Sure, every oral health care provider wants to bring oral health to the masses. The real mission or objective should include how to accomplish this with patients provided by the practice owner and incorporate the goals of the practice.

The objective of the resume should be one sentence and that one sentence has to count. The cover letter can be three short paragraphs to elaborate slightly on the objective. The interview should take an hour. What happens too often is a resume will start like this:

Objective: To utilize my dental hygiene background and experience to provide exceptional dental hygiene care to patients.

Any similarity to this on your resume is the kiss of death. Why would that be on the top of a pile of 25 resumes? Sit and ponder that question for 15 minutes, I’ll wait ...

The hygienist who wants just to clean teeth may write their objective: To bring bright smiles to the practice clientele in a way that supports the daily production goals. The reality is that a good employee produces more than the overhead. Overhead is how much it costs the practice to have a clinician there — wage and benefits, lights, prophy paste, the works.

For a resume from an oral health-care provider who is talented in co-diagnostics and shifting the patient from the contemplative stage to the payment stage, the objective may read something more like this:

Objective: To support the dentist in revealing dental disease and finding ways for the patient to maintain or regain oral health.


Objective: To bring oral health to the practice clientele by keeping up with science and products to make that job easy for the patient and lucrative for the practice.

Each should be customized to fit the job. A hygienist setting his or her sites on a job opening with a dentist who travels across the county or country, lecturing on some topic, has to rearrange their resume. What could the objective read for that job?

Objective: Using leading edge products and techniques with current philosophical shifts, support patients in their quest to maintain or regain oral health and contribute to office productivity.

The objective above, for a regular hygiene job, would scare many dentists off. More accurately, filter out dentists with whom you may not want to work. A resume opening like that may never even make it to the pile for some offices. For the dentist looking for support on his or her speaking or writing articles, it’s like striking gold. If you’re not prepared to work this way, don't put this on your resume. Smart practice owners hire on attitude, and train their people on the mechanics of what they want.

For a job with a clinical dental hygiene specialty in mind, like caries management or cancer patients, make sure to incorporate that into the objective, expand on the idea in your cover letter. Expand further during the interview you’re sure to get.

Objective: Provide advanced dental hygiene care to people with difficult caries cases.


Objective: Provide advanced dental hygiene care to people with difficult cases of periodontal or caries infections, establishing a new level of productive care.

One way for a resume to stand out is to use fancy paper to print on; another is to write a compelling objective.

The Five-Year Hygienist

Under the heading "Experience," "Talents," or "Responsibilities," it's not uncommon to see a list of responsibilities that every other dental hygienist in the world puts on her/his resume:

  • X-rays
  • polishing teeth
  • evaluate health history
  • use rheostat
  • wore lab jacket

Very often the list includes things that a new graduate can do on his or her first day out of school or, sadly, say the first day of their final semester.

A practice owner will want to know that a new graduate can maintain tissue integrity while removing hard or soft deposits. A practice owner will not want to see this on a resume of a clinician who has practiced for more than five years. An applicant should have more to offer after practicing that length of time.

Think about all the things deserving of a raise, and put that down in the "Experience" section of the resume. If you’ve been a dental hygienist for longer than five years it is expected to know something about managing a recall system, reactivating patients, or doing something with practice management.

The Ten-Year Hygienist

Being a dental hygienist with over ten years of experience should offer plenty additional things to put on your resume. It’s appropriate for someone with 10 years practice behind them to include nonclinical items on their resume.

  • The average number of CE credits accumulated over a year
  • How many courses delivered at the diabetes center, HIV center or the Baby and Me classes?
  • Write an article for the newspaper
  • Marketing for practices
  • Started new protocols
  • Introduction letters to cardiologists, pediatricians
  • Classes for Children’s Dental health month

Too often, the resume focuses on treatment without numbers attached. Business owners need to know what those numbers are. Without giving away too much, it’s perfectly fine to include statements like: increased production on periodontal cases by 14% between then and now, including the actual time span.

Did you find a better more efficient way to do four-handed sealants? One sentence on the resume would let the potential employer know the level of practice and understanding of the difficulty in doing sealants.

How about a list like this?

  • Experience
  • Retained 40 patients from previous practice
  • Re-activated 20% of inactive patients
  • Increased periodontal production from 8% to 15% between 2000 and 2001
  • Developed and maintained a periodontal therapy protocol over 18 months
  • Yearly in-service training at Happy Hollow Nursing Home
  • Worked with dentist to establish sleep apnea protocols
  • Incorporated Florida Probe into perio protocol
  • Started protocol for xylitol
  • Increased hygiene production 15%
  • Increased hygiene appointment time by 15 minutes

The Over 15-Year Hygienist

There are very good reasons to de-emphasize your age. You may be old or, just as detrimental, you may be young. It’s hard either way. Try to avoid putting dates on the resume, even if you’re listing your job experiences. If you’ve been in practice for a while and moved around a little, just list the last three or so offices. Then put down what you did there. Something like this:

Dr. Dougnut
123 West East Street
South Prophy, IN
3 years
Developed protocol for caries management, decreased plaque index from this to that.

Dr. Cruller
125 East West Street
South Prophy, IN
1 year
Polished enamel, sterilized instruments, made appointments

At the interview, someone will ask why you only stayed with Dr. Cruller for a year; you can confidently say you weren’t challenged. If he or she was difficult to work with, you can confidently say that it was too far to drive. Dentists with a reputation for being difficult are well known in the little dental circles as are dental hygienists with a reputation for being difficult.

The resume is a sales tool that allows the practice owner, or person hiring on their behalf, filter applicants. Don’t make things up; the deception will come to light during the interview. Be creative and honest in your attempts to separate yourself from the CNP hygienists.

Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, FACE is an International speaker and writer. Look for her new book The Purple Guide: Developing Your Paper Persona co-authored with Heidi Emmerling, RDH, PhD, coming in the fall. Look for news at