Land your next job

June 21, 2011
The Dental Assisting National Board speaks with several hiring managers to find out what employers look for in a dental assistant and how you can put your best foot forward.

DANB speaks with several hiring managers to find out what employers look for in a dental assistant and how you can put your best foot forward.

Dental assisting is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S., according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which means new dental assistants are entering the work force every day. Additionally, currently employed dental assistants may be looking to switch positions and pursue new career opportunities. Although job hunting is challenging and stressful, there are many steps you can take to be sure you stand out in the field.

1. Earn and Maintain Credentials
Meeting your states’ requirements to take dental radiographs and perform additional duties is one way you can strengthen your resume. Dentists know that dental assistants who can take on additional tasks help increase office productivity and efficiency. DANB Certification and exams are recognized or required in 38 states, plus the District of Columbia. Earning and maintaining the DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Certification mark is often a way to meet state requirements, and allows for flexibility should you take a job in another state.

Marena Gell, CDA, CDPMA, is the founder and owner of Diversified Dental Staffing Inc., a dental staffing agency in North Carolina. Gell encourages the dental assistants at her agency to earn DANB Certification, which meets requirements in North Carolina to perform expanded functions. “Some dental assistants are scared to take DANB exams, but I tell them they can take the exams one component at a time,” she says, noting that dental assistants who can perform expanded functions often receive a higher pay rate.

“Earning dental assisting credentials or fellowship shows that you’re committed to the profession and adds value to the practice,” Rosiland Palmer Blaney, MS, FAADOM, explains.

Blaney is the office manager at Chatham Dental, a general dental practice in Chicago, where she has worked for 22 years. “Many people apply to the dental office for a job and just learn the skills,” she says. “But earning credentials and other professional achievements helps you stand out. It’s the difference between ‘I’m here’ and ‘I have arrived.’”

Deanna Alexander, FAADOM, is the office manager for Dr. Daniel Sadler in East Lansing, Mich. Alexander says the practice employs one part-time dental assistant and one full-time dental assistant who is an RDA and CDA. “Those credentials are important to the doctor,” Alexander notes, “because Registered Dental Assistants can perform expanded functions in Michigan.”

As a hiring manager, Alexander says credentials can help a dental assistant stand out. “Our doctor is very supportive of continuing education and professional growth,” she says. “He was very proud of me when I earned fellowship, and I believe he would support our dental assisting staff in pursuing their goals.”

[“RDA” is a state-specific credential; “FAADOM” is Fellowship in the American Association of Dental Office Managers; the American Dental Assistants Association also provides a Fellowship and Mastership program for its members (FADAA and MADAA). For more information on state-specific dental assisting credentials, go to; for more information on FAADOM, visit, and for more information on FADAA and MADAA, go to]

2. Demonstrate Your Professionalism
Professionalism is about more than your clinical knowledge. Blaney says attitude, communication skills and punctuality are important. “Even dental assistants who are new to the field need to carry themselves properly in a clinical environment and speak clearly to the patients,” she says. “Dental assistants should also only use their cell phones on scheduled breaks. That’s a newer problem that we’re facing.”

For more experienced dental assistants, Blaney looks for good time-management skills, computer skills, the ability to work four-handed dentistry, knowledge of different dental materials, and the willingness to learn and ask questions.

Terri Lenihan, CDPMA, RDA, FAADOM, is the Practice Administrator at Omni Dental in Iowa. The dental practice is growing and looking to hire additional dental team members. “We go through resumes and look at education, credentials and experience to select who would be a good candidate to come in for an interview,” she notes. “Taking DANB exams is one thing we notice. We like to hire dental assistants who are looking to grow and take on new responsibilities because it benefits the practice and the patients.”

Lenihan stresses that chairside assisting skills are important, but so is having a patient-oriented attitude. “We are a larger practice, but we like to maintain a personal, small-practice feel,” she says. “It’s important to have a caring attitude and to enjoy helping people. We want them to be happy working with us.”

3. Have a Winning Resume
“Your resume should list your professional experience, career objective and skills,” Alexander explains. “List other jobs you’ve held, even if they don’t appear to directly relate to dentistry. Customer service jobs, such as waitressing or housekeeping, demonstrate that you are able to work in a fast-paced environment and are good with people.”

Your resume is often the first impression you are making. Be sure careless errors don’t detract from your skills and strengths. “Use spell check. I always notice misspelled words right away,” Lenihan says.

Specify the month and year you received your education, experience, and credentials, Blaney notes, especially if you completed many activities in the same year. Try to explain gaps in your resume, such as taking time off work to care for family. In addition to any dental education, be sure to list that you earned your high school diploma or GED. Include community activities or hobbies to show that you are well-rounded. Provide a specific list of the clinical skills you have and the tasks you performed at previous jobs or externships. Make sure your resume is formatted clearly and uses black ink and simple font.

Gell says it’s OK to follow a template or sample, if you need to. There are many free resume samples online. Gell also recommends the Dental Letters Made Easy book and CD-ROM, published by the American Dental Association, which includes sample correspondence letters for dental practices, along with resume samples for hygienists and dental assistants.

4. Ace the Interview
All of the hiring managers agreed that presenting a polished, professional appearance was critical. Dress professionally and simply, such as in slacks and a nice top. Keep your hair neat and groomed. If you wear makeup or perfume, don’t wear too much.

Blaney also pointed out that it is important to come alone to the interview. Don’t bring friends, family members or children with you because it can be distracting during the interview and may seem unprofessional. Set aside enough time for the interview so you are not in a rush.

During the interview, be prepared to talk about what you are looking for in a career. Also, refresh yourself on your past experiences, so that you are confident when discussing your skills, education and work history. Always bring extra copies of your resume in case you are interviewed by more than one person, Blaney adds.

And last, but equally important, make eye contact and smile. “Be friendly and show that you are happy to be there,” Alexander says. “Motivation and enthusiasm go a long way.”