Landing that all-important first job!

Aug. 22, 2011
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, gives you tips on how to make that search for a first job in the dental assisting profession a success. Don't make these mistakes!

By Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

You studied hard in school, and you did great. You got good grades, excellent extern/internship marks, and you couldn’t wait to graduate and use all your new skills. But now you can’t find a job! Weeks and months have gone by and here you are, still looking, getting more and more frustrated as time goes on. You begin to second-guess your career choice. You think you’ll forget everything you learned in school if you don’t get a job soon. I agree the economy is in a slump and some offices are laying people off or not hiring. But there are jobs out there, and here are some things to keep in mind while you’re looking.

As a dental office manager and dental assistant for 30 years (and 30 years ago I had trouble finding a job when I got out of school), I tell new DAs to take any job offered to them. It may not be the one closest to your home, or it may not have the hours you want. The employees might wear pink scrubs and you may hate pink scrubs, but it’s a job. It's easier to find a job when you have a job, no matter what field you're in. It gives you that much-needed experience to catch that perfect job! Even in my worst jobs I learned a lot.

Now as the person who does the hiring in my office, I’ll tell you this: I can teach anyone to be a dental assistant ... yes, anyone. What I can't teach is attitude. Give me an assistant with a positive attitude who’s ready to work hard, and I’ll take her any day over an experienced assistant with no ambition and a bad attitude. This can be a stressful atmosphere, so we want to hire people who are enthusiastic and eager to work.

You don’t want to fax or email your resume if you can help it. I get 10 resumes a week through fax or email, and they mean nothing to me. The applicant I'm going to remember is the one who walks into our office like she owns the place, with a huge smile, who carries on a conversation with my front office team.

The front office staff will either trash a resume (in many offices if the girls up front don’t like what they see, the resume goes no further), or bring it to me saying, “Ohhhh, we really like this one.” Those front desk people can make or break you, so make a good impression!

I understand it's not always possible to deliver a resume in person, so when faxing, mailing, or emailing your resume, make sure you always attach a cover letter. That cover letter has to grab readers’ attention and let them know you are the perfect person for the job. Make it positive, powerful, and a little fun. Let that potential employer know why you are the right one for the position.

Don’t make these mistakes

I recently had a girl walk into our office and ask (while smacking her gum), “Yous doin’ any hirin’?” Our answer was NO! We all come from different parts of this great country and our accents are different, but when speaking to professional people about a professional job, use a professional voice and proper grammar.

Another young girl walked into our office with her resume in hand, her hair sticking up all over, with clothes that looked like she had just pulled them out of a laundry hamper. She practically threw her resume at our front office coordinator and said, “Hi, I just wanted to drop this off,” then turned around and left.

Unlike this young woman, be sure you make eye contact, smile, and tell the office folks what you’re dropping off. Strike up a conversation and be pleasant. Also, if you have nothing to wear, put on a nice pair of scrubs to let them see what you would look like at work. Pull your hair back as if you’re ready to go. You never know when you might be at the right place at the right time!

Once when getting ready to interview a hygienist, the doctor and I were standing at the front picture window watching the rain pour down. We saw a woman race across the parking lot, running as fast as she could, and her flip flop fell off and shot about 10 feet away. It was raining so hard she didn’t even try to find it. She made it to the canopy in front of the building, and noticing that her cigarette was drenched and she was unable to take a puff from it, she flicked it in the landscaping, opened our door and proclaimed, “Hi, I’m Casey. I’m here for my interview!” Flip flops and a cigarette toss? Seriously?

Once you have a job, do everything you can to make yourself valuable so you can keep it. Get educated! There are seminars, workshops, lunch ‘n’ learns, online courses, and periodicals. There are online tools such Dental Assisting Digest,, and other sources of information and education. Don’t wait for your boss to bring you information about classes; find information yourself and your boss will realize he or she has a valuable employee who desires continuing education. Remember, the one who benefits is you! Learn all you can so that you are worth keeping around. You’ll have a better life because you’ll have a better career.

Stay in touch. If you’re not a member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), then you should be! Get in touch with your state affiliation and find out if you have a local chapter near you. If not, consider starting one. Together we can meet, network, connect with old friends, and make new ones. Take valuable continuing education and support each other. That’s the very foundation of the ADAA itself. There is strength in numbers, so join or create a chapter, get involved, and make a difference!

This is a great profession, and there are jobs out there. Right now employers can be a little picky when it comes to hiring, and why not? They want the best. So show them you are the best. Attitude IS everything, so use it to your advantage. Make yourself stand out from all the other applicants and you’ll get the job. Don't give up — you picked a wonderful profession, and you can do this. Get out there and make it happen!

Author bio
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is a 1981 graduate of the Missouri School for Doctors’ Assistants and has 30 years chairside experience. She is currently the office manager/assistant to Eric Hurtte, DMD. She is a member of the ADAA and the founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis. She is an independent consultant specializing in assistant training, team building, and office organization. She can be reached at [email protected] or find her on Facebook.