Written by: Andriy Gaydaychuk, RDA
Date: November 13, 2020
Landed an interview for your dream dental assistant job? Congrats! Now the question is – how do you ace the interview? Luckily, we’ve got answers. This article will teach you everything to expect at an interview for a dental assistant job, and how to answer every question like a pro.
The type of dental assistant job you look for will depend on your specific training and certification, as well as the licensing requirements in your state. But all dental offices look for similar qualities in their dental assistants: commitment, enthusiasm and hard work are some of the key attributes of an excellent assistant.
Read on for more tips on impressing potential employers.
Like any job interview, preparing ahead is the most important thing you can do. If you’ve sent in your resume and landed a phone or in-person interview, it means the company thinks your training and experience is right for the position. The interview process, therefore, is about connecting with your interviewer, sharing your personality and more of your professional history, and demonstrating those qualities that will make you a capable employee.
Be sure to prepare beforehand by researching the dental office where you’re interviewing. Research means more than visiting the homepage of the website! Take time to visit different parts of the site, especially the About Us or History pages.
Finding a moment to refer to a detail you learned about the company is a great way to demonstrate that you did your research. An example: “I saw that your practice does a Relay for Life team every year – I did Relay for Life with my last office, and it was one of my favorite team bonding activities!”
Researching the dental office ahead of time will also strengthen your answer about why you want to work there. Rather than something generic like “I just want a job as a dental assistant,” adding personal details about what draws you to that office will create a personal connection that’s sure to appeal to your interviewers. After all, they’re likely proud of their team, and they want you to be excited about it as well.
In addition to researching the job, prepare answers to likely questions so you’re not left fumbling for an answer. According to Dave Ramsey, the professional and financial expert, writing down your personal statement ahead of time can help you clarify your answers during an interview, especially when it comes to your own best qualities and why you’re interested in the job.
Dressing well is a critical way to signify your professionalism, responsibility, and respect for the dental practice where you’re applying. Strike a professional but approachable down with business casual attire, free of wrinkles or stains. Neatly pressed slacks and a blouse, button-up, or polo are neutral and professional attire. Dark jeans without rips or holes are a safe bet when paired with a nice top. Skip the sneakers and go for a dressier shoe. Avoid loud prints or over-the-top colors, and be sure not to wear anything political or offensive.
As noted in DentistryIQ, you should find out ahead of time if the interview is a working interview, where you’ll be demonstrating your skills on the clinical floor. If that’s the case, then scrubs are likely a good bet. If you’re not sure, you can ask ahead of time, or leave them in your bag in case you need to change. If it’s an informational interview, then skip the scrubs.
Give a clear, honest answer about your training and experience. Note any certification or licensing you’ve earned, as well as where you did a clinical externship and/or on-the-job training.
Example answer: “I completed the dental assistant diploma at Greenfield Community College, where I had both coursework and clinical experience working with patients. I completed a 3-month externship at Greenfield Dentistry, where I was able to learn the basics of office assisting and dental procedures.
Computer work is a regular responsibility of dental assisting. Keep your answer focused on dental billing, coding, and electronic health records – you may be a skilled Halo player, but that’s not relevant to your work as a dental assistant!
Example answer: “I’ve been trained in electronic health records software – my school used ___ software. We covered dental billing and coding, and how to process Medicaid and Medicare claims. I’m also familiar with data entry programs like Excel.”
Because HIPAA law is so important in dental healthcare, it’s a good idea to review some of the basic protocols before the interview. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your proactive, responsible approach to your work.
Example answer: “My training program had a course devoted to HIPAA so I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know the different protocols. Patient safety and privacy is very important to me and I’m always very careful to abide by HIPAA guidelines.”
Assisting with taking and processing x-rays is an important responsibility of dental assistants. Be sure to find out the radiology licensing requirements in your state and note if you’re licensed or not. If you’re not, the office may help you become licensed, so be sure to note that you’d be eager to learn.
Example answer: “My program covered radiology and I shadowed a dental assistant on the x-ray machine at my externship. I’m not licensed yet but I definitely intend to get my license as soon as possible.”
This is an open-ended question with no right answer: it’s a great opportunity to share more of your personal story and connect with the interviewer. Offering a personal anecdote can make all the difference in a stand-out, memorable interview!
Example answer: “I was really scared of the dentist as a kid, and the assistant at the office always made me feel so much better, making me laugh and helping me feel more comfortable. That inspired my own dream to become a dental assistant, because I love helping people and making them feel at home.”
As noted above, this is a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research looking into the company. Note your values and how they align with this particular dental practice.
Example answer: “I was drawn to your practice because of your emphasis on teamwork and shared responsibility for patient outcomes. My externship taught me how important it is for the whole dental team to work together to provide the best possible care, and I’m hoping to join a practice that focuses on that value.”
Use this question to share your best side – don’t boast or compare (eg, “I had the best grades in my dental assistant program”), but focus on the attributes that make you a great asset to a team. This is a good one to write down ahead of time so you have your “buzzwords” handy.
Example answer: “I believe I’m a committed teamwork oriented person who’s always looking for opportunities to support my coworkers. I never want to burden someone else because I haven’t done my best, and I make sure I’m making other people’s jobs easier, not harder. I also love connecting with patients and really enjoy helping them get comfortable and enjoy the visit!”
This is a tricky question – you don’t want to offer negative information about yourself, but you also want to offer a more substantial answer than “I work too hard!” The best way to answer this question is to highlight how you’ve worked to overcome a weakness – this shows you are aware of your limitations, but also highlights how you’ve adapted to be a better dental assistant and employee.
Example answer: “When I first started as a dental assistant, I really struggled with time management – I would get really absorbed in a task and forget that I had a lot of other things to get done before the end of the day. I asked a more experienced dental assistant for tips on better time management, and she offered a lot of great advice on how to stay on task – for instance, I set a timer on my phone when I’m sterilizing instruments now so I stay on task and don’t get distracted!”
Like question 8, this is not an invitation to trash talk yourself or your former colleagues. According to topinterview.com, using the STAR method can help with this question: explain the Situation, briefly describe the Task you needed to handle, explain the Action you took to solve the problem, and the Result of your action.
Example answer: “At my last job, we once had a billing problem with a patient and his mother became very upset and angry with me at the front desk, with lots of other patients and families watching. I quickly and politely escorted her into a conference room so she could share her concerns in private, and listened empathetically as she explained what was wrong. We were able to compromise on a payment agreement and we were both laughing by the time it was over. It was a stressful moment but once we were able to listen to each other, things calmed down a lot. I learned how important it is to make patients or parents feel heard and cared for when there is an issue.”
Take this question to reiterate your strengths and experience, as well as your respect and admiration for their dental practice. Enthusiasm and warmth are a must!
Example answer: “I completed my dental assistant program last month, and I feel really prepared to be an excellent, capable dental assistant. I’m looking to grow with a company who values teamwork and patient care as much as I do, and I’d love the chance to learn from your experienced staff, and support them with enthusiasm and professionalism! I think I could really help your office deliver amazing patient care.”