What Employers Look for in a New Dental Hygienist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.” There’s plenty of work out there, but dental practices set high standards for team members. You still need to make yourself competitive in the job market.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time, part-time, or temporary position as a dental hygienist, it helps to know what dental practices are looking for in a new employee. By understanding what they want, you’ll be able to mold yourself into a strong candidate.

You can mold yourself into a strong candidate by understanding what potential dental employers are looking for.

In this article, we run through the main qualities of successful (and highly sought after) hygienists. Do you exhibit these qualities?

A Willingness to Work as a Team

Caring for patients is an “all hands on deck” scenario. The best employees are willing to work outside the bounds of their job description to keep patients happy and keep the work flowing smoothly. Potential employers will want to know about your willingness to get the job done, no matter what it takes.

For instance, imagine you’re waiting on your next patient, but the receptionist hasn’t had time to verify the new patient’s insurance. Are you willing to quickly call the insurance company before you bring the patient back? It’s technically not your job, but it keeps things moving.

During an interview, a practice owner or manager may ask, “How are you a team player?” or “Tell me about a team experience you found rewarding.” Make sure you have an answer to this kind of question.

Strong Communication Skills

A dental hygienist spends more time with patients than anyone else in a dental practice. They also work closely with other members of the dental team. So it’s critical that you possess strong communication skills.

Employers look for your ability to…

  • Bring up problems in an open, honest, let’s-find-a-solution manner
  • Resist the urge to gossip or talk poorly about patients and colleagues
  • Deescalate tense situations (especially with patients)
  • Know when to stop talking and listen
  • Show concern, warmth, and empathy to patients
  • Quickly relay information to assistants and dentists without seeming terse or rude
  • Know when to be succinct and when to explain in detail

Most importantly, employers want to see that you understand how to protect sensitive medical information. They want to see evidence that you understand HIPAA’s privacy rule. A practice owner or manager may test on the rule’s specifics.

A Positive Attitude and Winning Mindset

Potential employers want team members who are positive and upbeat. They want optimists who look for the brighter side of things; who come in with energy each day ready to help patients maintain their oral health. They absolutely do not want negative attitudes representing their practice to the world.

While it’s true that being a good employee requires a good attitude in any profession, it’s critical as a hygienist who interacts directly with patients every day. Patients are often anxious and scared at the dentist’s office, so they need the reassurance of a confident personality. A negative attitude will exacerbate their fears and probably send them looking for a new office.

How do you exude positivity? Smile a lot. Give firm handshakes to anyone you meet. Make lots of eye contact. Jump into new activities and tasks with dedication and eagerness. When you hear bad news, spin it into something positive.

Furthermore, use that positive attitude to show potential employers that you’re focused on “wins.” A win could be anything: a difficult cleaning, a full schedule, an unhappy patient, etc. Employers want to see that you’re willing to conquer challenges with gusto.

References and Recommendations

Hiring a new team member is a nerve-wracking decision. It doesn’t work out, the employer could waste a lot of time and money. You can put your mind at ease by offering evidence that other employers enjoyed your contribution.

Try to submit a variety of different kinds of references when you apply to a new job. Obviously you should include references from past employers, but some employers won’t be forthcoming for liability reasons. So it helps you include references who won’t mind answering the new employers questions.

Here are a few people in your life who might provide good references and recommendations:

  • A college professor
  • Your clinic partner from college
  • Volunteer coordinators
  • PTA co-members
  • Coworkers
  • Neighbors

An Interest in the Success of the Practice

Dental practices are businesses. They expect to make money by providing dental services. Employers want to hire team members who seek to help them meet their financial needs and goals.

This means looking beyond the nature of your job. For instance, during a cleaning, you may notice a cavity that requires filling. You should bring it to the dentist’s attention in case he misses it during his exam. This ensures the patient receives proper care and gives the practice an opportunity to provide another service.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should bilk your patients as much as possible and push them to purchase unnecessary services, but it’s important to keep an eye out for ways you can support the practice.

This kind of quality is hard to prove if you’re looking for your first dental hygiene job. But if you had a job in the past, try to quantify all the ways you helped that practice meet its goals.

Undeniable Competence and Skill

Naturally, any dental practice you interview with will want assurances of your dental hygiene skills and competency. They’ll want to know how you performed in school and at past jobs. They may even test you with some hygiene-related questions during the interview to test your abilities.

Many practices will pay you for working interviews where you work for a day or two on a select group of patients. These patients are usually people who know the practice well and won’t switch providers if you give them a bad experience. If you refuse a working interview, there’s little chance the practice will hire you.

During a working interview, the practice will watch how you…

  • Perform regular duties (cleanings, X-rays, sterilizations, etc.).
  • Interact with patients and other team members.
  • Handle problems and solve challenges.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes or confusions.
  • Perform quality work without direct oversight.

A great way to demonstrate competency to a new practice is to work as a temp. By temping, you will have the opportunity to work with lots of different dental practices. This gives you the chance to showcase your abilities and make the case for part-time or full-time employment.

That said, employers don’t expect you to know everything, especially if this is your first position. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and admit ignorance. If you don’t know something, be honest about it and express your willingness to learn.

A Willingness to be Flexible

Every dental practice is different. A practice may expect you to schedule your patient’s next appointment, while others will have the receptionist do it. Another practice might task you with sterilizing your own equipment, while others have assistants for that.

Furthermore, each day could be different. You might be asked to assist a dentist in an emergency procedure. In a small practice, you may be asked to answer the phone while the receptionist runs an errand. Employers want team members who are willing to work outside the bounds of their job every once in a while to make sure the practice runs smoothly.

Are you preparing to interview for a dental hygiene job? Use this checklist to get ready!

Going Forward

Now that you understand what dental employers are looking for, ask yourself: Do these qualities describe you? If so, consider how you might exhibit them to a dental practice during an interview. If not, ask yourself how you can change to make yourself desirable to practices.