Planning and Managing Your Career Path
PREPARING FOR THE JOB SEARCH
Planning and Organizing
At this juncture in reading this textbook you have mastered a variety of skills. It is now time to begin a job search. You may have completed a formal educational program or course of study as a clinical or administrative assistant, and you may already have passed a certification examination or other credentialing examination. Now you are ready to begin the job search. A successful job search requires organization and effort. You cannot simply walk out the door and wander around asking about jobs. Nor can you look for work only when you feel like it or when it’s convenient. Planning and organizing are critical to job search success. This chapter will aid you in planning and organizing yourself to begin the most important career task of your working life.
When you apply for various jobs, your prospective employers will assume that you have completed your studies and obtained your credentials as a Certified Dental Assistant, a Registered Dental Assistant, a state credential, or have some form of business specialty credentials. This chapter emphasizes the tasks necessary to market your skills as a highly educated dental assistant with special training in business office management.
You sometimes may feel nervous about the prospect of taking a credentialing examination or finding a job. Even after attending formal classes or studying for a specific job, your self-confidence may falter. However, cultivating positive attitudes and taking time to reflect on career goals often help a person get on track in seeking a job. This is the time in your career when you must reflect on all the skills you have acquired. The top eight hard skills listed by dentist employers are:
In addition to hard skills, you have gained soft skills, such as value clarification, self-discipline, ethical behavior, positive attitudes, creativity, and anger and stress management. As you reflect on your skills, both hard and soft, you should analyze what they mean to your career path.
Five Important Questions
Before you venture into the job market as an administrative assistant, you must identify your career goals. Obviously you are interested in the business office, because you have spent considerable time studying in this field. Therefore at this juncture, you should explore ways your career can develop in that field in the future. A career path is based on careful planning and preparation, but it can be altered by unexpected opportunities and luck. To begin preparation, you should ask yourself the series of questions shown in the job preparation ladder (Figure 18-1). Prospective employers will put your résumé on the top of the job application pile if you spend some time reflecting on each of these questions: Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going? How am I going to get there? How will I know when I have arrived?
Before going to any job interviews, you should share your thoughts about these questions with peers or spend some time alone reflecting on them. This sharing and introspection can help you build confidence in your plans and goals for a career.
Where Have I Been?
This question helps you to review your past and identify some of the reasons you arrived where you are. It is your origin and thus forms the foundation of your preparation ladder. Some individuals may find looking at the past depressing, whereas others may yearn for the comfort of the past. Regardless of the impact of your past, reflection is worthwhile. Some personal information is confidential, and certain types of questions may not be asked during a job interview; however, it is wise to be prepared for questions about your past employment. For instance, if you have worked at several jobs in the past, you may be asked about your reasons for having changed jobs frequently. You should explain your job history honestly.
Where Am I Now?
This question seems obvious, yet you need to reassure yourself about where you are in your career path. You have just completed a course of study, you are secure or insecure in a personal or family relationship, and you are looking forward to finding a job soon or sometime in the future. Knowing where you are at the present time enables you to continue on the career path.
Where Am I Going?
This is a goal-oriented question that requires you to identify what you want to do. As you progress up the preparation ladder, you must stop to think about what you want in both the near and the distant future. For some individuals, getting a job and gaining independence are their primary goals. For others, the job may be the means to a future goal. Obtaining a job now, gaining experience, and continuing with one’s education may be several short-range goals that are needed to reach the ultimate goal of teaching, obtaining a business degree, or even going to dental school. Regardless of your goals, you must realize that they may change; remaining flexible in your goals enables you to accept challenges along the way.
How Am I Going to Get There?
This question identifies the route or steps that must be taken to achieve your goals. For some, a job means independence or a sense of security and self-worth. For others, who are pursuing additional education, a short-term job supports a return to school for another degree.
How Will I Know When I Have Arrived?
This is the top rung of the ladder. To answer this question, you must define what success means to you. For some people, the definition of success is always changing. Money, material goods, or a feeling of security and satisfaction can represent success. No one answer is correct for this question. It is an individual response that only you can give.
Taking time to prepare yourself for your future career can influence a job interview. When a dentist or office manager asks you to describe yourself, your background, and your career goals, you will be prepared. Simply saying, “Oh, I don’t know, there isn’t much to tell,” indicates that you have not given your career much thought, and a potential employer might think you feel the same about employment.
As you begin the job search, ask yourself, “What skills and characteristics can I bring to a job and a prospective employer?” Take the time to write down your skills, strengths, and weaknesses with a prospective job in mind.
As you begin this exercise, you may find that you seem to concentrate on your weaknesses. This is not uncommon. Parents, teachers, and associates share criticism willingly, thinking it improves a person, but sincere praise might not be given as freely. Criticism may be so common that when praise is offered, it might be difficult to accept. Learn to accept praise, identify your positive characteristics, and develop your assets.
Identifying Personal Assets and Liabilities
How do you begin? First identify your positive characteristics and your skills. Then identify your liabilities, but analyze how these weaknesses can be overcome. For instance if you are prompt and seldom absent and you pay attention to details, you have characteristics that employers seek in a new employee (Box 18-1). You may find it difficult to use a specific type of software, or you may have a problem remembering all the American Dental Association (ADA) insurance codes; however, these skill deficiencies can be improved with experience. If a prospective employer asks about any weaknesses, you could explain that, although you have had difficulty using a specific type of software, you would like to improve this skill and are willing to spend some extra time on your own to do so. This is a positive attitude that shows an interest in improving yourself, rather than an attitude of not caring.
MARKETING YOUR SKILLS
A well-educated, experienced administrative assistant with the appropriate credentials has valuable bargaining power for obtaining a job that requires these skills and provides adequate compensation. Stating that you are a graduate of a dental assistant or business program is a credible assertion; however, supporting this claim with valid data that demonstrate the positive effect you can have on the practice is likely to win you the job.
If a dentist were to state that he or she couldn’t afford a well-educated administrative assistant, your response might be, “I don’t believe you can afford not to have a well-educated administrative assistant.” Consider the following rebuttals to the dentist’s reluctance:
• Credentialed administrative assistants have proved by some form of study and perhaps by a test given by a valid national dental or business board that they have a basic understanding of dental knowledge and business procedures. Delegating business functions to an inexperienced person with no formal knowledge of business principles or the standards required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is opening the door to potential penalties and litigation.
• Losses caused by errors in records management, claim form management, appointment scheduling, payroll, accounts receivable, banking, accounts payable, or patient communication can be significantly reduced if a qualified, educated administrative assistant is put in charge of those elements of the practice. Although an initial orientation period is necessary in any office, an educated administrative assistant is already aware of the procedures and terminology used in business and dentistry.
• Mature students who return to school from other careers, such as homemaking, teaching, and nursing, can bring with them many life experiences that are valuable assets to an administrative assistant position.
You must develop a caring, positive attitude about your ability to become an asset to the dental office. It is your responsibility, however, to live up to the claims you make. Your skills, knowledge of dentistry, investment in your education, and credentials are all tools that can be used to achieve compensation commensurate with that of other allied health or business professionals with similar backgrounds and responsibilities.
Everyone dreams of the ideal job. Yet many people are so excited to be given an interview that they take the first job offer without considering their goals, needs, and priorities. Before applying for a job or preparing for a job interview, decide what you need and want in a job and what your basic philosophy is about your career.
Determining Your Career Philosophy
As mentioned, before seeking employment, you should determine your needs and clarify your life goals and a philosophy that is consistent with them. Unfortunately, a dental assistant may accept the first job offer with little consideration given to how his or her philosophy coincides with the philosophy of the prospective employer. Carefully evaluate yourself and establish some realistic goals. Then ask yourself the following questions: Are my professional, moral, and social values compatible with those of my prospective employer? With what type of work environment do I want to be associated, a solo practice or a large group practice? Which of my skills in dental assisting or business do I want to use to the greatest extent? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? How can I compensate for my weaknesses? What do I want to be doing in 5 years, in 10 years? How important are salary, hours, and location?
Once you have written down your philosophy of life and enumerated your goals, remind yourself that these goals will be ever changing, and you undoubtedly will reevaluate your philosophy as you gain confidence from your new experiences.
After you have reviewed the various factors involved in job selection, decide your top five priorities for a job and then rate each job offer. A decision-making grid such as the one shown in Table 18-1 may be helpful for this purpose. The job offers are listed in the left vertical column, and the priorities are listed across the top. Starting on the left, the priorities are given a point value based on your personal needs. Each job is evaluated, and the points totaled. If a tie occurs, other characteristics might be added.
|Job Offer #1||√||√||√||√||√||15|
|Job Offer #2||√||√||√||13|
|Job Offer #3||√||√||√||14|
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Remember, you may need to do more than one or two interviews to find the job that satisfies your goals, needs, and priorities, but remain steadfast in your job search.
Determining Your Worth to a Practice
Although many elements may be considered important in deciding whether to accept a job offer, for most people salary and benefits are the primary factors in job selection. The difficulty often arises when a dentist asks you during an interview what salary you expect. You need to prepare yourself for this question and not say simply, “Oh, I don’t know; what have you paid your other assistants?” You need to have a firm understanding of the cost of living in your area, the comparable salaries for similar responsibilities and educational attainment, the local and national salary data available for reference, and what you are really worth in terms of your skills and knowledge. The following discussion provides ideas for formulating a benefits and salary package that could reasonably be suggested to a prospective employer. Box 18-2 lists several benefits that are commonly offered to employees.
Salary is often a difficult subject to bring up, yet it must be discussed openly before you accept a job. You need to know the beginning salary, how salary increases are obtained, and when salary increases are awarded. An employer must expect to pay a fair salary that is based on education, experience, credentials, and merit performance. The salary should be competitive with other allied health professionals who have equal responsibilities, yet it should be cost-effective.
The economics of dental assisting vary widely across the country, depending on the specific position and its responsibilities and the geographical location of the practice. According to the DANB, the average median salary of a dental assistant in 2008 was $18 per hour.1 Data broken down by geographic location and type of practice as well as benefits can be found online at www.danb.org. A survey done by the Dental Assisting Digest e-Newsletter in 2008 indicated only 2.3% of the assistants who responded made more than $30 an hour, but 19% made more than $22 an hour.2 Salary data also may be obtained from the ADA web site (www.ada.org) for various areas of the country. Dental assistants who have a formal education, management skills, and appropriate credentials are likely to receive significantly higher salaries. Realize that this is a median national hourly salary with no benefits included. It is sometimes stated that some dental professionals make higher hourly salaries than others. When salaries are discussed, care must be taken to determine that all factors related to the salaries compared are the same. Some dollar value must be given to each of the benefits to determine the total salary and benefits package. Determine whether the job responsibilities are equitable. Education, experience, credentials, and performance evaluations are factored into the salary. Some value must be placed on job environment. Remember, no skilled administrative or clinical assistant in today’s market should be making a salary that does not reflect an honest respect for the individual’s productivity. It is wise to ask for a contract or an employment agreement that verifies in writing the conditions of employment. These conditions might include the salary scale, an explanation of the merit performance evaluation, the required probationary period, and how the benefits package is to be administered.
POTENTIAL AREAS OF EMPLOYMENT
An administrative assistant can choose from myriad opportunities for potential employment. These can range from a small solo practice to a large clinic. They also can include the public or the private sector, practice management consulting firms, dental manufacturers, job placement, and teaching.
The dental assistant may seek employment in a private practitioner’s office, a group practice, or a clinic with several dentists. The practice may be a general dental practice, which means that all phases of dental treatment are rendered for a patient, or it may be limited to one of the dental specialties recognized by the ADA (i.e., endodontics, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral and maxillofacial pathology, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, prosthodontics, oral and maxillofacial radiology, and dental public health). In private practice, the dental assistant may find a position that is limited specifically to clinical assisting, office management, or laboratory duties or that is a combination of all these responsibilities. Private practice affords many opportunities to work closely with the dentist and patients, as well as diversification of duties, individuality, and considerable personal responsibility. As the value of a highly skilled dental assistant continues to increase, compensation and benefits in this area will continue to rise.
As the federal, state, and local governments demonstrate increased interest in the delivery of dental care, more facilities are being established to provide more dental services for the public. One institution that should be considered as a source of employment is a dental school. Schools offer many areas of potential employment, such as working with undergraduate or graduate dental students at chairside, supervising clinical activities, or managing business functions. Other institutions are a part of the civil service programs and offer employment in prisons, public clinics, and Veterans Administration hospitals. Additionally hospitals, some of which are associated closely with dental schools, offer employment in various departments. The dental assistant working in an institution has the opportunity to work with a larger staff than is possible in private dental practice. Diversification of duties, participation in newly developed techniques, potential advancement to several levels of supervision, and possibly more liberal vacations (in learning institutions, vacations are often coordinated with school calendars) may be available in this setting.
Work in insurance offices is especially appealing to the dental assistant who aspires to perform various business tasks and become involved in management. With the increase in dental insurance coverage, more companies are seeking highly qualified dental assistants to work in management positions, because a broad knowledge of dentistry is an asset to their business. A position in insurance may also involve public speaking activities and travel.
Hospitals and dental schools hire many dental assistants to work in research laboratories. Individuals who enjoy working with data, mathematical computations, and details and who enjoy being independent often seek positions in research.
An area of potential employment that should not be overlooked is the dental manufacturers, which employ dental assistants for sales and teaching. Such employment would limit contact with dentistry to a specific type or line of products, but it also offers a great opportunity to travel throughout the country and meet people.
Management Consulting Firms
Experienced dental assistants with a broad knowledge of clinical and business concepts are turning their interest into profitable businesses. Many highly qualified administrative assistants have joined management consulting firms or created their own companies to assist dental practices in increasing their productivity through more efficient practices and marketing.
Numerous colleges and universities have developed occupational education programs that include dental assisting. A graduate of a dental assistant program who is a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) or Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) may transfer into a baccalaureate degree program. Anyone who has broad experience in dental assisting, is highly motivated to teach, and is patient and objective, should perhaps contact a college or university about entering their program. Another source of information is the American Dental Assistants Association (www.dentalassistant.org).
WHERE DO YOU BEGIN TO FIND EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES?
After surveying some of these potential areas of employment, where do you begin looking for the right job? Many prospects are available, and several different avenues may be used.
The school placement office or faculty members often are notified of job opportunities in the area. Instructors frequently know employers who are interested in hiring new graduates, and they also know their students’ qualifications and abilities. Most schools spend considerable time and effort obtaining information about potential job opportunities, and they take a great deal of pride in placing their graduates.
Both local and out-of-area newspapers have classified sections of jobs available. Advertisements in the classified section state the qualifications required and other details about the job, including whether it is for an administrative or clinical assistant (Figure 18-2). However, in some cases the employer does not give the name of the practice or the telephone number, but instead places a blind ad asking the applicant to submit a résumé (Figure 18-3). This type of ad should not be overlooked, because it becomes the employer’s first means of screening applicants.
In composing a letter of application and a résumé, always remember that although first impressions are not necessarily the most accurate, they often are the most influential. A little more initiative is required of the applicant to construct a résumé than to pick up the telephone and call for an interview. The letter of application and the résumé give the prospective employer an opportunity to evaluate the applicant’s keyboarding skills, communication skills, and />