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4 job hunting documents every dental hygienist should have

July 8, 2015
It'll take more than the standard résumé to land a dental hygiene job these days. Doug and Tracie Perry, authors of Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job, break down the four documents you need to stand out: Some of them might surprise you!

Ask any corporation that engages in a successful marketing campaign: It isn’t usually any one thing that makes a company stand out, it’s an integration or collection of efforts that is truly the difference between a consumer buying or not buying.

This is also true for dental hygienists looking to land a job. Employers don’t hire you because you have an awesome résumé only, or because you answered one interview question especially well. Those are important factors, but it’s the entire picture (or even the lack of an entire picture) that leads to the result.

The best format for a dental hygiene résumé is called the functional format.

One of the strategies I teach dental hygienists is the concept of creating an entire job-marketing package or suite of materials and information about you that make you impossible to ignore . . . even irresistible.

The standard approach of Googling the words “dental hygiene résumé,” copying what someone else did, then submitting it to an employer just doesn’t cut it anymore. There are far too many unemployed and underemployed hygienists out there who embrace this strategy and it just doesn’t work well. And I believe the primary reason is because it’s not original and it says very little of who you are and what they can expect when hiring you.

I would propose—and it works really well for the dental hygienists I work closely with—that you go a little further than just a standard-looking cover letter and résumé. Take it to the next level by creating a couple more things that help give an employer more depth and breadth of insight into your personal brand.

Then, coordinate those materials so they all appear to be from the same family (in terms of look and feel). Use the same font, color, and design scheme, so that you not only stand out but also look organized and professional.

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There are lots of marketing materials you can create and use as part of your job-hunting strategy. Don’t feel limited by my summary here. But I believe these are a great core and will likely distinguish you from all the other candidates for any given dental hygiene job opening.

This one is obvious. But what isn’t obvious is how it should be formatted. The best format for a dental hygiene résumé is called the functional format. This is different than most résumés you see on the Internet, which follow the more traditional reverse chronological format.

Both functional and reverse chronological résumés start out very similarly, with your heading (name) and contact information at the top, then some type of brief summary section. I like to title it “About me” and artfully create a blend of your personal brand with the two most important things employers want to know about you: that you will (1) represent them well to their patients, and (2) blend in well with the existing staff.

After that, the two types of résumés are different.

With a functional format, you include your experience and skills in a section of their own, above your work history. And rather than provide duplicate information for each dental hygiene job you have had, you simply list the employer you worked for, their location, your job title, and the years you worked there. Below that you would list your education history, and if you still have room you could include other dental hygiene-related activities (association participation, community service, licensure, etc.).

All of this needs to be kept to one page if you are seeking a clinical dental hygiene position. If you want an academic dental hygiene position, or possibly another type of job, then showcasing more detail about research you have conducted, articles you have written, or presentations you have delivered can be very important. At that point you may even want to consider getting your own website.

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Cover letter
I’m amazed how many dental hygienists don’t send out cover letters with their résumé. It’s true that many job announcements don’t ask for one, and so some believe they don’t need to send one (one less thing to worry about, right?).

But you are really missing an opportunity to summarize your understanding of the qualifications for the job and how you meet them. Don’t take a chance on an employer matching up what they want with what you list on your résumé. Be specific and address each qualification listed in the announcement in your cover letter.

It’s also an opportunity for you to share your personal brand, and extend to the employer a call-to-action. You should always include a call-to-action at the end of your cover letter, requesting an opportunity for an interview and including methods for reaching you.

Testimonial sheet
It’s helpful when YOU talk about how great you are, but more influential when OTHERS talk about how great you are.

For that reason, I highly recommend that you create and keep on file a document that provides third-party validation of the claims you make about yourself. I call it a testimonial sheet; you would submit this document along with your cover letter and résumé to every hygiene position you apply for.

They are fairly simple to create and consist of a series of three to five short (two to three sentence) quotes from employers, coworkers, and even patients you have worked with over the years. Always get permission from those you are quoting; it’s ideal if you can simply pull the quote from an actual letter of reference.

A testimonial sheet gives you a clean and simple way to share what others have to say about you, and provides it in a format that is easy for a potential employer to quickly review.

CAR sheet
There’s a fourth document I recommend that you include with your résumé, cover letter, and testimonial sheet. I call it a CAR sheet. CAR stands for Challenge–Action–Resolution. It’s basically a series of mini case studies.

Employers engage best with you when they can relate to you through examples and stories. When they can see that you face problems just like them, and work to find solutions just like them, you make a really convincing argument that you are the type of employee they want.

Think of writing a CAR sheet the same way you would approach thinking about examples and stories you can share at your job interview. Everyone gets job interview questions about how they would handle certain situations, and the best way to respond to those is with real-life examples of how you have handled those situations. The CAR sheet is simply a condensed, written form of that.

I suggest that each case study or situation you write about be kept to about five sentences. And just as the acronym CAR indicates, break that up into three sections. Here’s an example:

[Challenge]At All Smiles Dental, I serviced a patient that had an intense fear of dental offices. She had been to several different practices in the last five years and kept changing because she didn’t feel comfortable.

[Action]I could sense her apprehension and decided to give her a little extra attention – more empathy and compassion – and tried to connect on things we had in common to help distract her.

[Resolution]It worked! She became one of my best, most consistent patients (and a great friend). She thanked me profusely when we were done and would only reschedule on days when I was working.

Your CAR sheet needs to be kept to one page and should include at least three mini case studies, although you may be able to fit as many as five or six on a page.

Sounds like extra work, right? Well, it is a little bit more—but that’s also the point of why it works so well. Very few dental hygienists go to this level, which means those who do really gain the advantage in their job search. 20 years ago, none of this was necessary, but things have changed.

Fortunately, none of this is all that difficult, especially if you stay on top of it throughout your career. You made a huge investment in your education and the development of your career. It’s really important to protect that and be ready should the time come you need to land a new dental hygiene job.

Doug and Tracie Perry are authors of the book Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job and provide dental hygiene job coaching tips and services to thousands of dental hygienists. You can get a free copy of their book and free weekly tips at their website at