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Setting yourself apart

28 October 2019

Applying for that first job in clinical practice is usually competitive. Dr Simon Parsons, dentolegal adviser at Dental Protection, looks at how you can stand out from the crowd

You’ve completed your degree and are now able to enter the exciting world of clinical practice. There’s likely to be a lot of stiff competition for the roles you apply for. So what sets you apart? What makes you the best candidate for the job?

Know your strengths, weaknesses and unique value to a practice

While we are all technically qualified to perform in clinical practice, what tends to set us apart are those less common attributes among our peers. Do you have really great people skills? Are you the sort of person with incredible patience, or a passion for treating children or the elderly? Perhaps you thrive on uncertainty and love treating emergencies?

Whatever your unique strengths may be, try to capitalise on these in your application. Seek the feedback of trusted friends or colleagues if you’re unsure what these strengths may be. At the same time, be mindful of the areas where you aren’t particularly strong. So if you hate the idea of working solo in an isolated location because you’re such a people person, try to avoid roles that will require solo practice.

Remember to play to your strengths and seek a good fit with your career goals.

Be honest on your CV

Your CV and covering letter are often the first contact that you will make with a practice, so this is your first opportunity to impress. It is all too tempting to inflate or exaggerate your expertise and experience, but be mindful that no-one expects a new graduate to be an expert. Consider joining study clubs and associations, as they are a great source of contacts and these associations represent who you are and your interests.

Remember, an honest representation of who you are is always best. If you are only employed based on an inaccurate description of your skills, this is not the right job for you. Make sure you emphasise what value you may be able to add to your prospective employer through clear references to your strengths.

Get good references

You may not be a well-respected practitioner yet, but you do know many people who are. Be sensible in your choices of referee: try to choose people you wish to emulate as they will best reflect who you are.

Try to provide references from independent, trusted sources, as prospective employers don’t value the comments of friends or family very highly. The best referees have seen you in your clinical practice and understand your work ethic. 

Don’t forget to seek a referee’s permission to be used in your application, and try to brief each referee about the roles you are applying for as you apply for each position. 

Better still, can you seek employment with a potential mentor?

Present well

We are professionals and should present ourselves accordingly. Turning up late in scruffy clothes won’t help you get that job. A smile, good eye contact and a firm handshake will go a long way to making a good first impression.

Similarly, read through your draft application and CV several times and look for grammatical, spelling and formatting errors before you send them. A lack of attention to these details has seen many an applicant miss out on an interview.

Be honest in your interview

An honest representation of yourself (without being self-depreciating) is far more impressive than an arrogant inflation of your skillset. Good communicators make good dental practitioners.

If asked what your weaknesses are, mention some, rather than saying you don’t think you have any!

Be nice to the staff!

The staff will all give their opinion of you as a prospective co-worker – whether they are asked or not. Do not ignore the front office staff in your eagerness to get to the boss.

Ask questions

One way to impress is to be keen. Asking insightful questions about a role can show a genuine interest and elevate you in the eyes of the interviewer. Being passive in an interview won’t help you to be remembered amongst a sea of other candidates.

Of course, asking good questions will also help you to know if this is the right position for you.

Always be thankful

Thank those who you meet throughout your career journey. Even if you are unsuccessful, a brief thank-you note can set you apart and position you well for other opportunities in the future. Sometimes the first choice for a role doesn’t work out as planned, and if you are the second or even the third choice, you want to maximise your chances of being offered the role.

Stay positive even when feeling rejected

It’s certainly possible that you may not be successful in getting the first job you apply for. Even when you feel you were a perfect fit for a role.

It can be really helpful to contact practices to seek feedback on why you weren’t successful, to help you refine your future interview technique. If you aren’t even offered an interview, recheck the position description and ask yourself whether you truly meet all the essential criteria listed for the role. If you don’t, ty to narrow down the jobs you apply for to those where you genuinely seem to be a good fit, on paper at least.

Don’t let the lack of success translate into feelings of failure

You need to stay positive in the face of short-term challenges. No-one wants to hire a person who comes across as bitter or despondent at an interview. So keep smiling and learning. Stay resilient despite some inevitable setbacks, and grow in confidence through each new experience.

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