November 19, 2019
by Irene Iancu, BSc, RDH, CDTP
Ivividly remember my interview, first job and very first day. I thought outside of the box to secure my first job. Writing my resume was a challenge being a new graduate without any dental experience. Unlike some of my 2007 graduates, I wasn’t a dental assistant first, and aside from having a dentist of my own, I hadn’t set foot in a dental office as a staff member.
Prior to dental hygiene school, my main areas of experience were working retail sales at shopping malls, catering for a Kosher catering company, and teaching tennis. At the time, these skills didn’t seem very transferable to a position as a dental hygienist. So, when I went into my first interview with a Periodontist, I wasn’t very confident I would get the job as a temp hygienist for an extended maternity leave. As the Periodontist walked out of the consult room, gesturing to the reception area where three other candidates were sitting, the last thing I could think of was, “I’ll work for free!”
This was immediately followed by, “I’ll work for free for three months and if you don’t believe that I’m a good fit by then, I’ll call this a work placement experience and you hire someone else.”
I didn’t realize how appealing this was to a highly profitable Periodontist, who at the time was looking to replace someone that had been with him for nearly a decade. “See you on Monday” were the sweetest five words I could have ever heard. A close second to, “You passed your board exam.”
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying to work for free, or even to consider it. I now realize how gutsy that move actually was and not to mention, extremely naïve. However, it was the best thing I could do at a time when dental hygiene positions were a sacristy. I absolutely wish that mentorship and articles like this were available to a young and inexperienced Irene.
Here are a few things that I wish I had known before trying to negotiate for myself as a new graduate, navigating new terrain in the very scary world of employment.
Interviewing For Your Dream Job
The interview phase is exciting though it can definitely be stressful. With the many online resources available to dental hygienists, it is often difficult to know where to go for high-paying opportunities. In my experience, I’ve seen job listings on sources like Indeed.com, Simplyhired.ca, Workopolis.com, Wowjobs.ca, Kijiji and even Facebook. All very different resources; some paid and some free. It’s essential to read each posting before applying, as some positions are more detailed than others. My suggestion would be to use those job postings a guide. They can be extremely helpful in identifying skills that you already have and those you may not. For example, if a job posting is asking for a laser certification, knowledge of a specific product, or experience with various whitening procedures, don’t be discouraged. Write them down and figure out a way to get trained with those items. A potential candidate can’t fault a new graduate for not having these credentials, however, going into an interview saying you’re aware of these items and are working to gain experience can be a beautiful thing to an employer. It shows you’ve done your homework and are working towards being able to provide the services their office offers to patients and clients.
Recruitment agencies are also highly recommended as they take out all of the maintenance and support required for the employer and directly connect employers with candidates.
When using such resources for a potential job, make sure to do a little research before you go into your interview. Do some online digging about the office, employer and with the beauty of social media, you can take in a glimpse of the office from their Facebook and Instagram accounts. This might help you find some common goals and hobbies between you, the doctor, or hygienist.
This is what I did prior to my interviews and I ended up having meaningful conversations with multiple office managers about tennis, their staff outings, promotions the office offered, and even the doctor’s pet, which ultimately led to a second working interview.
Preparing for your interview should take you at least an hour. Here are some things to consider when preparing:
a. Online research about the office
b. Print off a hardcopy of your resume
c. Find the location on a map, plan your route, locate the closest parking lot or subway station
d. Always be a few minutes early and never late
e. Dress for the interview, not the job. Often, we wear scrubs to work but never to an interview, unless you’re asked to work on a patient or client
Remember – You’re Interviewing Them, Too!
When heading into an interview, it’s key to remember that you’re interviewing the office just as much as they are interviewing you. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. This could be a long-term professional home for you. We can spend anywhere between six to 22 hours a week at work, and for some people, we spend more time at work than we do with family and friends. It’s important to make sure that the office is a good and comfortable fit for you.
Be sure to ask questions that can help you figure out the office culture and the daily operation:
a. “How long have the staff been working here?”- long-term staff is a good thing! It means that people love working there and that there’s a good office culture.
b. “How much vacation time does a new employee get?” – This is also something to negotiate as part of your contract.
c. “Does the office participate in any team building activities and if, so how often?”
d. “Are we provided with any continuing education?”
e. “When are individual reviews and raises conducted?”
By asking these types of questions, you may also get a sense of the management and organization of a practice. Having these processes in place is very important and can help alleviate some stress throughout the year.
Know Your Worth
The average dental hygienist bills anywhere between $145 to $700 per hour depending on the procedure he/she provides. Patient/client specific care and dental hygiene treatment plans vary based on the patient/clients’ needs. With that said, knowing your provincial standards is important so that you can go in asking for the right amount. Historically, inexperienced dental hygienists (myself included) often go into new jobs asking for less than they are worth. This might put you in a tough spot down the road. Fighting to ask for raises will simply get you to the national standards.
Utilizing numbers provided by our associations might help you go into an interview with a figure in mind. In the province of Ontario where I practice, the ODHA provides researched metrics broken down by city, practice specialty, and years of experience. Putting a new graduate in the city of Toronto pays anywhere between $31 to $45. Our goal as dental hygienists is to work together to raise these industry standards – not lower them.
The CDHA also has a job market and employment survey that is released every two years. They conduct survey analyses and collect data to depict industry averages, employment rates, and provide projections into the future of dental hygiene across Canada.
By entering the workforce at a significantly lower rate ultimately this brings the provincial and national standards down. Try your best to appreciate the time, effort and sacrifices you have made achieving your dental hygiene registration and know how valuable you are to an employer.
On the practice management side, dentists and practice owners are expecting that about 25 to 30 per cent of hygiene gross billings is allocated to salary. Meaning, if a dental hygienist is producing on average $150 per hour, he/she should be making roughly $37.50 per hour. With the increase in skillset and procedures, a dental hygienist could expect to increase that hourly amount as the gross billings increase.
Try Temping To Find Your Groove
Using an agency to secure a temp job is also a good way to find your groove. Caution – it can be challenging as a new graduate to navigate a new office but it also can be extremely exciting to see how multiple offices work. It offers the opportunity to build and enhance strong skills on various procedures, demographics, specialty practices, using different instruments, and practice management software, just to name a few.
When I graduated, I worked for a temp agency on weekends as the Perio practice was closed Friday to Sunday. I learned some valuable skills by visiting multiple offices on what generally is the busiest time of the week. Weekend appointments are highly sought after and having a temp hygienist in to help alleviate some stress can be a valuable asset. Over the course of a year, I worked with seven different practice management software systems, learned unique instrumentation techniques for a variety of new instruments, and built great relationships with other dental hygienists and office staff. It was like speed dating for dental offices; some fantastic experiences, and others I’ll chalk up to just a learning experience.
Another advantage of temping is the opportunity to have a little more control over your hours. By outlining your availability with the temp agency, you can stick as closely to those hours as possible and there could be a lot of offices that might be aligned with those operating hours.
Always Remember That You’re Not Alone Out There
Looking for your dream job might be instantaneous. My two dental hygiene besties, Jessica and Emilija, have been working for the same practices since we graduated in 2007. And for me, well, it has taken over 50 per cent of my career to finally realize that I need to be my own boss and open my own practice.
No two roads are the same. Some have higher climbs and deeper drops but, in the end, it’s the journey that builds us to be the clinicians we are today. Explore dental hygiene and the profession in all of its forms. Remember every day, every interview, and every office will serve as an experience to guide you to where you’re going. The final destination isn’t always clear and that’s okay.
Welcome to the dental hygiene tribe.
About the Author
Irene Iancu has worked in various specialties including Paedo, Perio, General Practice and Orthodontics. Her goal in her current holistic practice is preventing and maintaining an optimal mind, mouth and body. Irene connects the systemic effects of oral conditions to her clients, while making a change for overall health and wellness. As a Peer and Quality Assurance Mentor contacted by the CDHO, a Clinical and Theoretical Dental Hygiene instructor at Oxford College, and a practicing dental hygienist in Toronto, Irene shares her passion for education with us today in the hopes we can change the lives of our clients and their loved ones. Irene can be contacted at Irene@toothlifestudios.ca, www.toothlifestudio.ca, IG: @ToothLife.Irene, @Toothlife, @Toothordare.podcast.