Earning the credentials you need to become a dental assistant is a relatively quick process (9 to 11 months, according to the American Dental Association) and the current employment outlook for this role is bright. The latest US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook states that employment of dental assistants is expected to grow 25% between 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average of other occupations. However, this doesn’t mean you can rest easy after graduation and wait for dental offices to call you. To get your foot in the door with a great practice, you must invest time and energy in order to compete successfully with other new graduates for entry-level dental assistant jobs.
Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to gain hands-on dental assisting experience – whether it is paid or not. This will help you stand out against other new graduates because you’ll already have the necessary skills and can jump in on day one with minimal training. And by pursuing these roles purely for the sake of strengthening your dental assisting abilities, you are showing potential employers that you have a genuine passion for the field. Furthermore, you will have the chance to build relationships with dental professionals who may help you land a job in the future.
Don’t know where to look? Ask your instructors, research organization websites, and visit niche and big job boards – some companies post paid and un-paid internships online. Another strategy is to apply “blindly” to dental offices in your area. They may not be actively seeking an intern at the moment, but if you present yourself effectively, you may convince them of the value of bringing you on board. Check out the following internship, volunteer, and entry-level job boards for current opportunities:
Networking is essential in a competitive job market – who you know is just as important (some argue more so) as what you know. Contacts in your network are great resources for “hidden” jobs or upcoming opportunities that the masses may not be aware of yet. As covered above, completing internships and volunteering are excellent ways to build your network. Internships commonly turn into permanent positions – especially if you excelled in the role and built strong rapport with patients and staff. Additionally, join professional dental associations and attend local meetings. Go to health fairs and read industry publications in your spare time to keep current with the latest advances in the dental field. These topics are easy conversation starters and demonstrate your interest.
The required qualifications and duties of a dental assistant vary by state as well as by office, so be sure not to sell yourself short. It is common for dental assistant duties to cross with dental hygienist as well as receptionist responsibilities. Even if the job posting doesn’t call for all of the skills you have, make sure they are on your resume and mention them in the interview as well. Versatility and an enthusiasm for going above and beyond your required duties will help you stand out from the crowd.
As a general rule, entry-level candidates should do their best to keep their resume to one page. Career changers may need a second page to cover their previous work history, but always keep this in mind: your resume is a marketing tool that must sell you to your next employer, so only include information that will be interesting to them. In other words, if a piece of information on your resume won’t help you start a career in dental assisting, consider removing it.
Create brief summary and core competencies sections that include both soft skills (multitasking, problem solving, time management) and hard skills (digital X-ray, equipment sterilization, impressions). Career changers should mention the transferrable skills they bring to the dental field in their summary as well. For example, a job seeker with prior experience in customer service might mention data entry, recordkeeping, relationship building, and staff support.
Be sure to include the name of the dental assisting program you completed, school name and location, graduation date (month and year is fine), and any honors, awards, or applicable extracurricular activities. Include certifications as well as extra training. If you are working toward any relevant credentials, list those as well – just be sure to indicate that they are “in progress.”
Experience-wise, include details for all dental-related roles – paid or unpaid. Treat internships or volunteer work as real experience – because it is! List the duties performed, skills gained, and most importantly, notable achievements: Did you receive personal letters of praise from patients? Did you help with a special project? Did you go above and beyond for patients or coworkers? Did you learn new processes and procedures so quickly that you were asked to train other interns/students? Don’t forget these essential details that showcase your unique value.
The Catch-22 of starting a new career is you need experience to land a position, but you need to land a position in order to gain experience. With this in mind, be open to internships or other unpaid opportunities to get your foot in the door, hone your skills, develop a strong resume, and build your network. Knowing how to find a job without experience turns a seemingly impossible task into an attainable goal. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll increase your chances of beginning a rewarding career as a dental assistant.
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