Working as a dental assistant can be incredibly rewarding. While a trip to the dentist can be intimidating, it can also leave customers feeling more confident in their oral health and wellbeing. Being a part of that vital work can give you a real sense of professional satisfaction – your work makes a serious difference to people’s lives.
But trying to find work as a dental assistant can be more of a challenge. These roles can be competitive, which means employers can afford to be more selective about who they hire. If you’re struggling to get past the interview stage, you’re not alone!
Fortunately, we’re here to help. With a little guidance, this article will have you responding to common dental assistant interview questions like a pro. You’ll stand a much higher chance of landing your dream job as a dental assistant!
In this article, we’ll cover the following points:
Dental assistants form an important part of the dental care process. They work under the direct supervision of dentists, supporting the completion of routine dental care tasks and performing administrative duties to support the practice. If you want to work as a dental assistant, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you can carry out all of these tasks to the highest standards.
Before you apply for dental assistant jobs, make sure you have all the qualifications you need – this will usually involve a dental assistant certification, or proof that you have completed an accredited dental assistant training program. You should also read up on the particular practice you’re applying to work for, as well as on any relevant regulations governing dentistry in your country or state. Remember, it’s always better to know what you’re getting into; it will make you look well-prepared and responsible, both of which are great qualities in the eyes of any potential employer.
Interviews for dental assistants are fairly straightforward, as a rule. You may be asked to perform a test or an example task. This could involve anything from scheduling some appointments to prioritizing a to-do list of regular daily tasks.
But whether or not you have to complete a test, you will definitely be asked some questions assessing your suitability for the role. These questions will be designed to appraise your skills, personality and experience against the criteria set out in the job description. You may be asked behavioral questions, designed to explore how you would react in a hypothetical scenario, along with questions about your past experience or your educational background.
While there are some interview questions which are perennially popular regardless of the role you’re applying for, some questions can be very role-specific. It’s important to prepare for these questions if you can – they may be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful interview.
Here are some common interview questions for dental assistant roles. We’ve also provided a guide to what hiring managers are really asking you when they ask these questions, and some advice on how to answer them effectively.
This is a fairly standard question. However, it’s also a great opportunity to prove that you’ve read the job description – talking about your strengths is an easy way to prove that you know what your interviewer is looking for in a candidate. If the job description calls for a responsible, customer-focused individual with strong attention to detail, then make sure to cite those qualities when talking about your strengths.
But what about your weaknesses? When answering the second part of this question, don’t put yourself down or point to any serious faults in your application (or your personality!). Instead, consider pointing to skills you know you can improve – and talking about how you hope this role will give you the opportunity to improve them.
Example answer: “I’m proud of my ability to put the customer first, even in stressful or fast-moving situations. I’ve also been praised by previous managers for my attention to detail and my responsible attitude to every aspect of my duties. On the other hand, I haven’t had many opportunities to develop my administrative skills, compared to the amount of clinical experience I have. I’m hoping that this role will enable me to learn more about the clerical side of dentistry and improve the skills I need to thrive in admin.”
This question is a straightforward opportunity to talk in more depth about your past experience! Draw on all the work history you included in your resume, and tell the hiring manager the story of your career as a dental assistant.
If you don’t have as much experience as you’d like – whether you’ve only just graduated or you’ve just switched from another career – don’t let this question panic you. You can talk about hands-on training experiences, volunteering work, internships, and any other relevant experience with dentistry.
And remember that the story of your career is still in progress! Mentioning that you’re still hoping to advance your career further – whether by developing new skills, experiencing a different kind of work environment, or moving into full- rather than part-time work – can be a nice way to wrap up your answer this question.
Example answer: “I’m currently employed at a local dentist’s office, where I’ve had the opportunity to experience full-time dental assistant work for the first time. Before that, I completed an internship at a dentist’s office affiliated with my college as part of my studies. I’ve loved the two years I’ve spent in my current position, but I’d be delighted to have the chance to develop new skills and progress my career in this new role.”
Following HIPAA protocol is an important part of a dental assistant’s job. In fact, failing to do so could leave your workplace liable. As a result, your hiring manager will want to be sure that you’re aware of your obligations under HIPAA, and that you’re able to understand how HIPAA applies to your job from day to day.
All that means that this is a question with some fairly specific answers. Take this opportunity to prove that you’ve done some reading about HIPAA protocol, and point to specific instances in which you would take HIPAA into consideration as a dental assistant. If you have past experience of applying HIPAA from day to day, consider mentioning it – it’s one thing to be able to apply it in theory, but proof that you’ve kept it in mind in the past will be invaluable here.
Example answer: “My Dental Assistant Training Program put a lot of emphasis on the importance of HIPAA protocol. I learned how to apply it on the job as an intern, where I was taught to be extremely aware of patient privacy. I always made sure to keep patient information out of sight of other people, and to keep the exam room door closed wherever possible so that patients could discuss their needs in privacy.”
Administrative work can be an important part of life for a dental assistant. Hiring managers will be looking for candidates who understand how to carry out clerical tasks – particularly those specific to a dentist’s office. If you have past experience with electronic health records or billing, this is the time to bring it up!
If you don’t have any direct experience of administrative work, talk about what was covered in your dental assistant training program or certification. It’s highly likely that you have theoretical knowledge, at least, of the skills you will need for clerical work. Don’t be daunted – just focus on what you know, and remember to be enthusiastic about the possibility of further growth and learning!
Example answer: “I have had the opportunity to do some administrative work in my current role, and my manager has always commended me on my attention to detail and my professionalism. I’ve been trained in EHR software and billing software, and I’ve been able to develop my telephone manner in my previous roles. I know the nature of admin work is always changing, so I’m always open to learning new skills and software packages according to the needs of my workplace.”
This is a common question regardless of your specific role, and it’s also a surprisingly common pitfall. Interviewers who ask this question don’t want to hear that you want access to great benefits or a high salary! They’re asking about the places where your values align with their values as an employer, so they can be sure of hiring someone who will be a good cultural fit.
Think about the research you’ve done on your prospective employer, and the things they say that they value – do those things appeal to you, too? You can also think about the specific type of work this role would be involved in – maybe it’s the kind of work you’ve always wanted to do. Talk about what you can offer, and how you hope this role can help you to grow.
Example answer: “I love that your practice works primarily with children – I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, and I think I could make some real contributions to the practice when it comes to supporting your younger client base. I’m also deeply committed to accessible and affordable dentistry, and I know that’s a value you share at this practice. I think these points of commonality would enable us to build a great, long-lasting working relationship.”
If you’re worried that your application isn’t strong enough, or that you don’t have the right experience to answer the interview questions, don’t give up! You can take steps to strengthen your application now, so that your next interview will go more smoothly. Here are just a few things you can do to improve your chances of landing the job you want.
If you’re struggling to get hired, consider building some volunteer or internship experience in a clinical setting. If you’re still affiliated with a college or university, consider asking your careers center for some advice! They may be able to put you in contact with dental practices looking for interns or volunteers.
For applicants who no longer have contacts in school, consider leveraging your professional contacts instead! If you know someone who works for a dentist’s office, get in touch and ask about work experience opportunities. Even if you don’t have a direct contact, consider calling and asking – you may be surprised by the answer.
You’ll need to complete a certification or training program to work as a dental assistant, and that program should give you a basic grounding in the skills you will need for this career. But if you’re finding that your skills still aren’t up to scratch, consider a more specialized certification!
You can find online training programs for almost every skill, with options available depending on your budget and your schedule. If you’re looking for dental assistant work, you might benefit from extra training in areas like billing, coding, and electronic health record management. You might also find it useful to acquire a certification in more general admin skills – these are just as important as your clinical skills, but are often overlooked.
Remember, a certification is proof that you’re a self-starter who cares about boosting your career prospects. In its own right, a certification will show any hiring manager that you’re the kind of person they ought to be looking for.
If you’re struggling to reach the interview stage at all, consider giving your resume a quick once-over! It’s the first thing you will show to any hiring manager, so you should always make sure that it will make a great first impression.
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