Stepping up

How do you make sure you get the job that’s right for you? MDDUS dental adviser Claire Renton offers some advice.

  • Date: 11 June 2010

YOU’VE studied hard and graduated or perhaps you have just finished your VT year – so professionally where do you go from here? How do you take the next step?

Of course, no one wants to get just any old job and you deserve to get the best one possible. You’ve got lots to offer as a highly trained professional and as a newly qualified dentist you have up-to-date skills and ideas. Your next step is applying for and landing that dream job.

The first thing you have to consider is what area of dentistry you want to work in: general practice or one of the specialties such as oral surgery, orthodontics or restorative dentistry?

With general practice, dentists can choose where and when they work with the added opportunity of becoming their own boss by owning their own practice. And while general practice may be regarded by some as the “easy” or “safe” option compared to the specialties, GDPs have wide ranging opportunities that many specialists do not.

GDPs can undergo extra training to provide special interest services in addition to having a generalist role. Dentists with Special Interests (DwSIs) can provide treatment in areas such as minor oral surgery, orthodontics, prison dentistry or conscious sedation.

Dentists who choose one of the specialties can expect to work in a hospital setting, dealing with acute or complicated cases. Candidates who want to enter specialist training must complete two years of GPT. Entry is competitive, training can take three to five years and you will generally have less autonomy than you would have as a GDP, but posts are challenging and rewarding.

When it comes to looking for jobs, the British Dental Journal and your deanery’s website are good places to start. Remember to look beyond the geographical area you studied in to broaden your options.

The BDA has also published a very useful information book for members called Final Year Guide 2009-2010: The essential guide to securing your first job. Visit for more information.


In some deanery areas, you will apply for posts direct to your chosen practice and your application will consist of a CV and covering letter. But many deaneries now use a matching process where your CV and documentation are sent to the deanery and you will be expected to attend job shops or make practice visits. Check your deanery website for more information.

But before putting together a CV or application form it is advisable to call the practice and find out about the role and the type of applicant they are looking for.

Useful questions to ask include:

• How many dentists and other dental professionals work in the practice?

• How many patients are registered there?

• How much NHS and private work is carried out?

• What kind of patient does the practice service? How flexible are working hours and responsibilities?

You could also visit the practice in person to find out more about it and speak to staff.

Selling yourself

For most dentists, submitting a CV will be the first, important opportunity you have of selling yourself – but resist the urge to exaggerate. It’s best to limit it to two sides of A4 paper, in a reasonably-sized font, with a covering letter that includes why you are applying for the job and why you think you are the best candidate. Set out your CV in clear sections, starting with your personal details, education and qualifications, work/gap year experience, skills, interests and references. It’s a nice touch if you can add a photograph of yourself on the front page but this is not essential.

Your CV should be clear, professional and relevant to the practice you are applying to. Your main qualification is obviously your dental degree, so put details of where and when you got yours at the top of this section and include details such as distinctions if applicable. If your elective was relevant to your application then give details here.

Hobbies and non-work achievements are important too, but again make sure they are relevant. Include achievements that show you can work well in a team and have developed leadership skills as well as evidence of good social skills. Choose your referees carefully and give them plenty of time to prepare the reference.

Once you have submitted your application, it’s fine to phone to make sure it has been received. This also gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself to the practice manager or receptionist – if you have not already done so – as they can be a remarkably powerful person in a dental practice.

The interview

Hopefully you will make the shortlist and the next test will be the interview. The main advice here is: be prepared.

It is vital to do some homework beforehand. Even the most accomplished speakers have rehearsed their presentations until they can do it in their sleep. Don’t assume you will think up great answers on the spot as you run the risk of being reduced to a mumbling fool. Think up questions that will be certain to come up: Why do you want this job? Can you give me an example of when you used your initiative to resolve a difficult situation? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Imagine yourself answering these types of questions as it will give you the opportunity to formulate succinct answers that can be adapted to the actual questions on the day. Carefully read the person specification for the post and assess how your skills match the requirements. Also, prepare some specific examples to illustrate the skills you have developed.

First impressions

It’s crucial to get off to a good start at interviews, so make sure you arrive in the right place, on time. Dress smartly and use a firm handshake, look people in the eye when you say hello and smile. These three little things show you are confident, open and friendly.

Make sure that you ask about things that matter to you. For example, if you are quite inexperienced it might be important for you to have an experienced nurse to work with. Ask how long she has been at the practice, will she work with you all the time or do the nurses rotate amongst the other dentists and the reception? Find out if she is familiar with the NHS regulations and forms and ask what the staff turnover is like as this is usually a good indicator of how happy the team is.

You might want to find out what support you will have from colleagues over patient treatment and administration. Will you have the freedom to use your own choice of laboratories? Will you be able to use materials and equipment that you like? What happens to chair-side support over holiday time? Choose a few questions that are most important to you and consider the answers carefully as you want to be sure the job is right for you.

Finally, if you have crossed all of these hurdles, and are offered a post, make sure you know when you are expected to start, what the hours are, how and when you will get paid and what documentation is required. This might include your GDC certificate, hepatitis status and evidence of your membership of your defence organisation, MDDUS.

Good luck!

Claire Renton is a dental adviser at MDDUS

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Read more from this issue of Insight Primary

SoundBite is published twice a year and distributed to MDDUS members in their final year of dental school and to those undertaking one or two years of postgraduate training throughout the UK. It provides a mix of articles on risk, dento-legal and regulatory matters as well as general features and profiles of interest to trainee dentists.
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