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Dental job hunting: When an experience matters as much as experience

Jan. 10, 2017
Doug and Tracie Perry discuss how dental employers are searching for an experience with job hunting candidates as much as they are examining the amount of work experience.  

By Doug and Tracie Perry

Your main objective in landing a dental hygiene job, I try to emphasize with my clients, is to create an “experience” for employers that helps them come to know, like, and trust you.

The fact is that most employers are craving an experience with job seekers. Skill levels, years of service, and other ancillary information while interesting, speak very little to what it’s like to work with you—to see you in action interacting with people, educating, and addressing concerns.

For any hiring business owner or manager, it’s very important to at least get a glimpse of this so that the best decision can be made for that office and position. This is even more important in the dental hygiene profession, because most clinical jobs are very similar in terms of duties and responsibilities; there’s just not a lot of variation. A dental hygienist candidate will likely have a similar technical skill set as other candidates. The thing that differentiates one from another is how well the winning candidate can create a measured experience with employers that gives the employer a reasonable expectation of what it would be like to work with the candidate.

Setting up an experience

So, what’s an experience? Are there different levels of experiences? And how does a dental hygienist create a great and memorable experience? I will share with you several ways in which you can create an experience that is both memorable and successful in helping you land a job.

But first, let me explain the framework for this, because it’s not limited to my suggestions. My examples, ideas, and tips are subject to what I have seen work having worked directly with hundreds of dental hygienists over the last few years.


Previous articles written by Doug and Tracie Perry


What we are really talking about is communication. Successful job-seeking comes down to how well you communicate who you are to the employer. I am not just talking about the words you use because, truthfully, those are just window dressing. Anyone can use flowery language on a resume, cover letter, or in an interview to sell themselves.

The key to successful communication comes down to actions, and do your actions match your words? Do you have evidence that all the great things you are saying about yourself are true? When those two things are lined up (your actions and words), you have created a very compelling experience of who you are and what an employer can expect to get when they hire you.

Let me explain one particularly powerful one I have seen work time and again.


The cat is a little bit out of the bag on this idea that I introduced back in 2010, when my wife was looking for her first dental hygiene job. However, I am still hearing from clients that sending out postcards advertising themselves to a select number of offices generates not only temp work, but also interviews and permanent jobs.

Here’s why they work. Employers see them as not only a creative way for a job seeker to get his or her name out there, but they also demonstrate that the job seeker is proactive in their search. So, what does the employer now know about the postcard sender? That they are creative and proactive—both skills that are transferrable and highly desired among hygienists.

Other descriptors may come to their mind, too, including: “professional,” “serious,” or perhaps “extra-mile.” All of them are positives that every employer is desperate for in a new hire, and clearly demonstrated through the very act of sending the postcard (not just talked about).

The bottom line is that employers place a premium value on the actions of job seekers to create an experience for them. Employers receiving a postcard cognitively conclude this is a solid potential employee, or someone worth keeping an eye on or inviting in for an interview (if the timing is right).

Your words on your resume and cover letter, and in your interview, do have a place in further validating what the employer has already learned through the experience they gained with you from the postcard. So you do want to spend time carefully crafting statements that further back up your actions, communicating a consistent message.

If postcards aren’t your thing, or you are wanting to keep your job search anonymous, rest assured there are plenty of other actions you can take to create an experience for employers. Below are more ideas for you to consider.


Most job seekers simply don’t put enough time into the look and feel of their documents. This mostly includes resumes and cover letters, but could extend into the others I will mention in the next section. These are the most important documents of your career. All resume writers will tell you how important it is that they are well-written and grammatically perfect so I won’t go on and on about that.

But how does it look? Is there a flow to it? Is it easy to navigate? Is it simple to find everything an employer is looking for? Does it pop off the page, or does it look like every other resume out there? If you got your resume online from some generic template you found, take a good look at it and ask yourself is this document interesting to look at?

Sadly, most resumes look very similar and just don’t jump off the page like they could with some graphics, a nice flow, adequate white space, and succinct writing.

But employers are begging for this kind thing. They want something that looks like someone went the extra mile on it. They want to have a different experience with a job seeker that is impossible to ignore. When you deliver that kind of resume and cover letter, again, you are letting your actions create an experience for the employer. You are communicating that you are different, special, and unique.

Extra Stuff

Okay, that subheadline above is a bit vague, I know. But it can include lots of different things.

Over the years, I have encouraged and created for some of my clients a testimonial sheet that accompanies their resume and cover letter. That’s a one-sheet document that displays quotes of how awesome you are from employers, co-workers, and even patients (with permission of course).

I’ve also talked about a fourth document called a CAR sheet. CAR stands for Challenge, Action and Resolution. Basically, it’s a series of mini-case studies (three to five) of how you have handled specific situations of your choosing. Here’s the breakdown or example of a CAR. I have broken them out so you can see the three different sections, but this is simply a one-paragraph statement:


At All Smiles Dental, I had a patient who 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.


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.


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.

Along with testimonial sheets and CAR sheets, you should do other extra things such as traditional “thank you” notes following an interview or a post-interview summary document that keys in on the things you observed that they need, a reminder of your qualifications, and how you are the best candidate to meet their needs.

You can go digital, too. I have created personal websites for several of my clients. For my wife, we created a video resume that is just a short interview with her about what she loves about dentistry. We also created for her a Facebook page, outside of her personal page, that was a resume of sorts and a place where she could build followers (presumably area colleagues) and post interesting dental-related articles.

Yes, these ideas are all extra work. But I promise you they deliver an action that creates an experience for employers that will all but guarantee that you get more interviews and thus more job opportunities—in fact, better or even the best opportunities.


Oh my! There are so many ways you can create a great experience in an interview without saying a word or in just the type of conversation you instigate and lead. Everywhere from the way you dress and are groomed, to the questions you ask them, to the body language and non-verbal cues you give off and pick up on.

I could offer up some tips on these, but each deserves more treatment than I have space for here. If you go to the FAQ page of my website ( you will see a couple dozen articles addressing those topics and more on just interviews alone. There are also some cool tips and advice I give on the job search itself that will help you stand out among the sea of applicants.


Again, an experience that is driven by actions you take, backed up by consistent language in your documents is what you are shooting for in a dental hygiene job search. If you can take that model and apply it to not just the examples I have given here, but others unique to your situation you will have no trouble landing a great dental hygiene job.

Doug and Tracie Perry are co-authors of the 2012 e-book Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job. Together, they own, a career website for dental hygienists, where Doug writes new tips each week and offers his dental job marketing expertise as well as one-on-one coaching, resume writing, and several other related services.

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