Written By: Dr. Laura Edwards, DDS
Date: January 24, 2022
You’ve made it through dental school, you passed your board exams – now, it’s time to get a job! Acing a job interview definitely isn’t the hardest part of becoming a dentist, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare.
This guide has info on all the secrets to creating a great impression at your dentist interview. Whether it’s your first job out of school or you’re mid-career, this job interview guide will help you make the most out of every interview, and land you a job you’ll love.
No matter where the job is or what it entails, there are certain rules of thumb to follow for every interview.
Below, you’ll find helpful tips for creating a great first impression and coming across as a memorable, capable candidate for the job.
Remember, if you’ve landed the interview, it means your potential employer already thinks you have the right training and experience. That means the interview is more about you: your personality, unique strengths, and enthusiasm about the job and the field of dentistry. While your credentials are sure to come up, you want to focus on the things that make you you, and why those things make you the best candidate for the job.
According to Glassdoor, researching an employer is one of the best ways to stand out as a potential hire: it shows that you’re serious enough about the job to do some digging to learn more about them, and it demonstrates that you’re professional and thorough.
Go beyond the homepage of the dental office’s website: look around to try and get a sense of their mission, their workplace culture, and their patient experience. Read reviews and any publications or articles they’ve been mentioned in. Find out who founded the practice and learn more about them.
Finding ways to mention some of what you learned will also help you make a personal connection with the hiring staff, and show that you’ve done your homework. This is sure to leave a memorable impression after your interview.
Even though you don’t know exactly what they’ll ask you in the interview, you’ll have an idea from the guide below and from other interviews you’ve had, including your interview for dental school.
According to Dave Ramsey, the financial and professional expert, writing a personal mission statement can help you develop a good sense of who you are, why you do the work you do, and your goals, strengths, and passions. This can help you frame answers to questions about your strengths and what makes you a good fit for the job.
Your appearance matters a lot when it comes to job interviews: Business Insider notes that people make most judgments about your trustworthiness and leadership skills within 12 seconds of meeting you.
Wearing the right outfit sends a big message about your professionalism, as well as your respect for the dental practice where you’re applying. Go for business or business casual attire: neatly pressed slacks or a skirt, and a button-up shirt, paired with a blazer, a sports jacket, or a cardigan. Avoid shorts, but in summery climates, a short-sleeve shirt is generally acceptable. Skip the sneakers and go for dress shoes, loafers, flats, heels, etc.
Cover any tattoos with sleeves, and don’t wear anything political, offensive, noticeably old and worn, or revealing.
This is a basic question to refresh the hiring team on your particular career history, and for you to add in any specific details. Be sure to make note of any accomplishments and awards, any specialist residencies, and which licensing and certification you’ve obtained.
Example answer: “I completed dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, and a residency in pediatric dentistry at Columbia University. I was a co-author of a paper published in the Columbia Journal of Dentistry, and I spent two summers doing free dental clinics in a small town in the Dominican Republic, where my grandmother is from. I’m licensed in the state of New York and board-certified by the American Dental Association.
This question is more open-ended: it’s a chance for you to share the unique stories that drew you to a dental career. Finding personal details will help connect you to your interviewers.
Example answer: “My grandfather is a dentist, and I used to spend a few afternoons a week doing homework in his office. I loved looking at all the instruments and learning the use for each one. I even made my own autoclave as a science project in 8th grade! Clearly, dentistry was in my blood. My grandpa died before I finished dental school, but I know he was so proud of me for following in his footsteps.”
This question is precisely where researching ahead of time will make you a stand-out candidate. Find a personal connection between your skills and interests and those of the dental office where you’re applying, to really make the case that you’re a good fit.
Example answer: I pursued a residency in pediatrics because I think helping kids begin a lifetime of good oral health is one of the best things you can do as a dentist, and I’ve seen firsthand what a difference it can make. I love that your office is dedicated to pediatrics and that you’ve really gone the extra mile in making it a kid-friendly space with approachable staff and doctors. If I was a kid, I’d definitely want to come to this dentist’s office, so that’s why I can tell you’re delivering the highest-quality pediatric care, and I want to be a part of that.”
There is no right answer to this question, but you want to avoid putting yourself down or complaining about former colleagues, mentors, etc. Frame your response in positive terms, by explaining how you’ve overcome a difficult challenge.
Example answer: “I love so much about being a dentist, especially the patient interactions and working with a team. I’ve always had a hard time with the paperwork: I just got buried in it when I first started working. I would put it off because it was overwhelming and then I felt like I could never catch up. Our office manager noticed I was struggling, but rather than criticize me, she helped me develop a strategy for staying on top of it. I made a really clear daily plan for finishing up paperwork, and I stick to it every day. Staying organized has really helped me develop a better strategy for paperwork. It’s still not my favorite part of the job, but I manage! I will always be grateful to the office manager for helping me do that.”
Take this opportunity to sell yourself – without bragging! Reflecting ahead of time will help you offer a strong, coherent, and confident response to show why you’re the best candidate for the job.
Example answer: “I believe my greatest strength is my fierce commitment to my patients. My fellow dental students would tease me because I was still talking about patients that we’d seen months or years ago, that I was still worried about. I really try to take the time to get to know the whole patient, and their family, because it helps strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and improves overall outcomes. I also love working with a team and always participate in team-building activities, because I want us all to trust each other and support each other.”
Mention any publications you subscribe to, conferences you’ve attended lately, any board membership, etc. Staying abreast of the latest changes in the dental field is important to your competency and skill as a dentist, especially the longer you’ve been out of dental school.
Example answer: “I’m a member of the regional chapter of the American Dental Association, and I subscribe to their quarterly magazine. I also subscribe to several pediatric dentistry journals so I’m up to date on my field.”
Volunteering your services as a dentist in a free clinic is a rewarding way to enrich your career – and also a way to stand out in job interviews. Mention any free clinics your dental program offered, any travel you’ve done to do dentistry, team fundraisers you’ve done at work, etc. If you haven’t done any, note that you’d be happy to participate in any group volunteer work.
Example answer: “My dental school did a free weekend dental clinic where I worked once a month, and it was a great way to connect with the community. I also spent a summer working in a mountain clinic in Peru, where we did dental treatments and basic dental care for several communities.”
Since teamwork is an important part of an effective dental team, be sure to highlight your experience working as a team and your personal skills that make you an effective team member.
Example answer: “I believe good communication and mutual support are really important to an effective team. Things break down when people aren’t talking to each other or trying to fix problems on their own without consulting their colleagues. One of the things I love about dentistry is how important each job is: even if dentists have the most training, they could never do all the jobs by themselves. I work hard to make each team member feel valued and important because they are!”
You don’t need to promise that you would stay in this practice for 5 years; offices understand that things change. Use your answer to share some of your larger goals, and be sure to make a note of how this job will help you achieve them.
Example answer: “I’d like to be established in a practice with a roster of patients I’ve known for a long time and can support through their dental growth and development. I’d like to be in a position of confidence with my skills and experience, and mentor new pediatric dentists to share what I’ve learned. I’d like to be on top of my workflow where I can enjoy time with my family, while still doing my best at work.”
Most employers will ask some version of this question: it’s a chance for you to make the case that you of all applicants would be the best fit for their team and that your skills and talents would help them succeed. Be confident and positive, without boasting or putting down others.
Example answer: “I believe my experience and skills could really support your team. I am drawn to the kid-centered approach of this office, and it’s clear you really go the extra mile to make them comfortable and happy! I think my dedicated training in pediatric residency provides me with the expertise to support your team, and my passion for patient-centered care shines through in the work I do. From talking to you today, I believe this would be a great fit for all of us!”