Besides beefing up your resume with three new letters after your name—RDH—you want to be prepared with answers to standard questions leading up to your first interview. Most interviewers will begin by asking you to tell them about yourself. This is a great opportunity to tie your background or interests into a quality that translates to the job. For example, if you participated in a sport, discuss your experience functioning on a team much like the dental office functions. As dental hygienists, we work one on one with our patients, but our role contributes to the goals of the dental team at large. Think about your life experiences and how they’ve led to a skill that is valuable to the practice.
After getting to know you, your interviewer will want to know you’re prepared to talk to patients about the condition dental hygienists address the most: periodontal disease! Do not be surprised if your interviewer asks you to explain periodontal disease as if you’re educating a patient on the matter for the first time. Practice a precise way to summarize disease progression while using laymen’s language and concepts.
Create an example patient and provide an answer based on the fictitious patient’s oral health. If your patient presents with bleeding upon probing, discuss the immune response deploying white blood cells to fight off the bacterial infection between the teeth. Make the connection of deep red gingival tissues to increased blood flow. Go on to explain how an overreactive immune response results in tissue destruction, tying that destruction to deeper readings found during periodontal charting. Differentiate gingivitis from the irreversible periodontitis to emphasize the seriousness of the disease.
After wowing your interviewer with individualized patient care, it’s time for you to ask questions. Remember that you are interviewing the office as much as they are interviewing you. Think of two question categories when interviewing – clinical and administrative.
Clinical questions encompass anything related to patient care. The first question to clarify is working hours. What days of the week is the office looking for a hygienist? What are working hours for each specific day? Is there a lunch break? If you’re not a morning person, you may struggle to treat patients at 6 am. If you have children, you may not prefer to work until 8 pm. Consider the working hours and how they fit into your lifestyle.
Inquire about appointment lengths for different types of patients including child patient, prophy, periodontal maintenance, and SRP. Depending on the answer, you may want to ask if there is any flexibility in appointment lengths as you are getting comfortable with patient care. Discuss new patient protocol, such as being seen on the hygiene schedule first versus the doctor schedule. What is the office protocol for dental radiographs? How does the office handle patients who refuse treatment? Clarify what type of dental software the office uses. If you are unfamiliar with the software, ask if the office provides training on the technology. Consider what instruments are available such as a Cavitron, Piezo, or air powder polisher. Be sure the office has protocol in place for requesting new instruments or is open to implementing systems if not. If your state allows dental hygienists to be licensed in local anesthesia, ask if the office will allow you to use it.
Administrative questions dive into the benefits of being an employee at the practice. Clarify what benefits the office offers such as retirement, health insurance, dental coverage, paid time off, holiday pay, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, and disability insurance. If you love the practice but they don’t offer the full range of benefits you require, consider negotiating pay to compensate for the lack of benefits.
Another benefit offering may be continuing education (CE). Does the practice offer any CE opportunities, such as group CPR training or a stipend to attend a professional conference? Inquire about vertical growth opportunities within the practice. Large dental groups may offer advanced positions to established employees, such as a lead dental hygienist role or a regional hygiene manager. If expanding your dental hygiene role is of interest to you in the future, this is a great question to ask.
Finally, be sure to discuss pay. Are hygienists paid hourly, salary, or commission based? Is there a bonus system? Does the practice conduct performance reviews with the opportunity for a raise? If employees do not ask, raises are typically not offered leaving hygienists feeling undervalued. Establishing an annual review guarantees the opportunity to discuss strengths, weaknesses, and the potential for financial growth.
As the interview ends, a working interview may be requested. This is a great way for the office to evaluate how you fit into the practice and for you to decipher if you like the work environment. Observe employee dynamics during a working interview. Does the staff function as a team? Do coworkers make you feel comfortable when asking questions? Examine the instrument packs. Are the hygiene tools in good condition? While treating patients, observe how the dentist completes an exam and what the expectations are for you as the hygienist. Could you see yourself working with that dentist daily? Working interviews allow you to experience the true culture of practice while showing off your skills.
Reflect on your experiences, practice, have your list of questions, and go into your interview with the confidence of RDH behind your name.
Dara McConnell, MBA, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist and digital media marketer. Active in the fitness community from obstacle course racing to American Ninja Warrior, Dara loves relating oral health to overall health and wellness. She uses her digital media platform to connect with current dental hygiene students and recent graduates, providing quick tips to ensure clinical success. She also likes to apply the financial principles from her master’s degree to personal money management, especially for other dental professionals.