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Seeking a unicorn

March 25, 2020
Finding your perfect dental office—your unicorn office—requires the right preparation. Julie Whiteley helps you in the hunt for your magical unicorn.

You might have heard of the expression “unicorn office.” Although you won’t find it in any conventional dictionary, it implies a dream job. Some basics that define a unicorn office might include competitive pay/benefits, a cohesive team, a strong leader, shared philosophy, respect, and appreciation. If you ask five people to describe their unicorn office, however, it’s likely they will tell you different things. See, unicorns are funny like that. What they look like is often in the eye of the beholder. Be that as it may, who doesn’t want to find their unicorn? Here are some thoughts to consider when unicorn seeking.

1. Not all unicorns look alike.

Each person’s ideal is unique, and individual motivators are often different. It is important to focus on what is most important to you.

For example, is your dream office consistent and predictable, or are you more interested in forward thinking, new technology, or treatment modalities? Do you prefer structure and consistent protocols, or do you tend to work better with less structure? Do you bristle at the thought of doing things outside of typical hygiene work, or are you the type of person who is always looking for the next thing to learn and a place to channel some of your creative energy? Even the preferences for practice size, type of patients seen, and schedule vary from person to person and should be considered before you make your next move.

Also consider that your unicorn may change as your life changes. For example, when my son was a baby, I loved to work Saturdays because I had more family members available to provide care for him. When he entered school full-time, however, my unicorn meant no Saturdays. The weekends became our opportunity for quality time together.

It is important for you to identify items that are negotiable and those that are must-haves in order for you to feel you’ve met your unicorn. It’s equally important to figure out what you are willing to trade. For example, maybe you found your unicorn, except the commute is long. Are you willing to trade that one variable for the bigger picture?

2. Prepare yourself for the quest.

Do you currently have the skills and experience to catch your unicorn? If not, what is your plan to get there? Unicorns often seek out unicorn employees, which means there are often several people being considered for the position.

Does your résumé set your experience apart from others? What specific things have you done in your career that a unicorn might be interested in? Perhaps you developed a perio protocol, had great success with helping patients past barriers, were the OSHA officer, or used your interests in marketing to revamp the office’s Facebook page. What can you learn or do in your current situation that can make you more marketable for what you want? What, if anything, are you willing to sacrifice?

For example, when I was first licensed in my state, dental hygienists were not allowed to give local anesthesia. Within a few years of its passing into law, it seemed many of the potential unicorns in my area were looking for someone with a local anesthesia license. With that, I invested the time and money to take the course and do the work to obtain that certification.

3. Don’t wait until you see one. Go looking for your unicorn.

Sometimes your unicorn will come by way of an advertisement, but this is a passive approach to unicorn catching. If you are serious about it, you will go looking. Oftentimes, these types of positions don’t even need advertising. Some tactics that prove to be helpful include the following:

  • Research offices in your area and target those that might be your unicorn. I have sent unsolicited résumés and cover letters. Sometimes an office might be interested in doing informational interviews and might keep you in mind for future openings. Other times, offices might be growing and can sustain extra help despite not having advertised. I have seen others find success by dropping off postcards to express interest in temping, which can be a great way to see if the office is really your unicorn. This can potentially set you up for a future permanent position.
  • Make sure your résumé shows that you are also a unicorn. Highlight your strengths and contributions. You may want to consider a professional résumé writer so that you have a top-notch résumé that is designed to keep it from landing on the bottom of a pile.
  • Network, network, network! I cannot stress this one enough. One hundred percent of the best opportunities that have been presented to me have come from having a good network. Be active on social media and connect with likeminded colleagues, particularly those in your geographical area. Join a study club, become involved in the local component of the ADHA, meet people at continuing education classes, and stay connected with your alma mater. All of these things afford you more of an opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.

4. Remain positive.

A unicorn exudes positivity. They are downright magical. Now, I live in the real world, just like you. I know that a career in hygiene doesn’t come without some challenges, and some days are anything but magical, to say the least. This is normal, no matter the career. But the majority of the time, you have to like what you are doing. If you are tired, burned-out, or feel like you may want to pursue another career option, you will likely not find your unicorn in hygiene.

Unicorns are attracted to positive energy, strong skills, continued development, teamwork, and shared philosophies. At the times in my career when I was faced with more challenges and less positivity, I would remind myself that where I was at that moment (practicing clinically) was once a place I dreamed of and worked so hard to get to. I chose to focus on what I enjoyed the most, tried to change what I didn’t like, and let go of the things I couldn’t change.

There is a relationship between our thoughts, bodies, and the external environment. Positivity is necessary for any new undertaking. Your thoughts and feelings project on and impact others.1 Positivity attracts more positivity.

5. Look before you leap on what you think is your unicorn.

Something can be great and not be for you at the same time. When plaid shirts were all the rage and I thought they were adorable on others, I looked like the Brawny paper towel man.

A while back I had a friend tell me she thought she finally met her unicorn on an interview. The hygiene department met her list of must-haves, had fantastic people who seemed really happy there, and offered competitive wages. It was a fine-looking unicorn, and for the folks who worked there, it likely was. I was sensing as she talked to me about it, however, that she was holding something back. When I dug a little deeper with her, she expressed reservations about the schedule being offered. It was more hours per week than she felt comfortable with, as she was also going to school for an advanced degree and had small children. The office was not able to accommodate her part-time, so she decided to pass. She was glad she waited, as a few months later she found her unicorn.

This is where getting very clear on what is most important to you at a particular time in your life is critical. It is also important not to make decisions in haste. When people are dissatisfied in their current position, sometimes anything can look better and disguise itself as a unicorn. To use an analogy, think of a rebound relationship. Those rarely end well.

Make decisions with clarity, purpose, and passion. Do your homework to be sure it’s your unicorn before jumping ship. Review the position against your list, research the office, get details of an offer in writing, and the like.

6. In the meantime, make the best of the horses (and even the mules).

As you are looking for your unicorn, make the best of where you are right now. Horses and mules might not be unicorns, but they still can be pretty amazing. They can help take you where you want to go. There is always something to learn and opportunity for personal development, even if you have to seek it and invest in it yourself.

When I think of some of my less-than-magical positions, I have always walked away with something. Whether it was the connections made, the strength to stand up for myself and part ways from environments that no longer suited me, learning new skills or philosophies, or even something as simple as seeing what I knew I did not want, all helped me get ready for my unicorns. Yes, if you play your cards right, you may land more than one unicorn in your career.

Sure, unicorns are magical, but the great thing about magic is that it’s something you have the power to make.


1.     Dillard-Wright DB. The law of attraction. Psychology Today. June 7, 2017. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/boundless/201706/the-law-attraction

Julie Whiteley, BS, RDH, is certified in human resources. She holds degrees in business administration and dental hygiene and has worked extensively in both fields. She is on the faculty of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston. Julie bridges her knowledge and experience from business, clinical hygiene, and teaching to deliver information and programs that enhance dental practices. Contact her at [email protected].