While it can be a challenging time to plan for the future, there are many steps you can take to find the right career opportunity. An associate position can be a fantastic means to start your dental career. This is your chance to build your clinical skills, gain on-the-job training, and potentially find a terrific mentor in a real-world practice setting.
Establishing Your Goals
Consider your motivations. Are you looking for an associateship to gain additional training, to learn the business of dentistry, or potentially to own your practice in the future?
Select the type of practice. Think about what type of practice you’d like to join. This could be a:
- Small group with one to three locations
- Small group network with three to 20 practices
- Large corporate owned practice with 30-500+ locations
Choose your desired location. Carefully consider where you want to live. Most employment agreements contain a non-compete clause, so this may affect the opportunity that you can accept in the area if you decide to move on in a few years. The distance covered in a non-compete agreement is usually based on the drawing area of the practice, and they generally last for one to two years after you leave the practice. Typically, you are released from liability if you leave the area for a year or two before returning.
Consider your compensation. To understand your income needs, prepare a personal projected budget, including monthly living expenses (considering the cost of living in the area you’re interested in), as well as your monthly debt payments. Be sure to account for federal taxes as well as state and local income taxes. Doing these calculations can help you realize whether your associate’s compensation is going to sustain you.
Preparing for an Associateship
Careful planning and an early start will result in the best outcome. It’s best to embark on your search early, allowing 6-12 months to find the right match. However, if your desired intention is future ownership in the practice, consider starting your search one to two years before you begin your associateship.
Preparing a Curriculum Vitae (CV)
It’s never too early to start preparing your CV. This should include:
- Contact information
- Your experience, including current and previous employers
- Education (School or program, degree, year of graduation, major, honors, awards, activities, and associations)
- Post-dental school training
- Licenses, boards, and certifications, including license numbers and states in which you’re licensed (If you don’t have your license yet due to COVID-19 delays, list the anticipated date of licensing).
- Publications and presentations
- Technical skills
- Community service
When drafting your CV, be sure to:
- Articulate your objective in terms of their For example:
- I’m seeking an associate position leading to a partnership where I can apply my five years of general dentistry experience to support a growing practice.
- Highlight your biggest accomplishments. Quantify them if you can with numbers, as practices will value results-based accomplishments.
- Tailor it to each position you’re applying for, highlighting your specific qualifications that most closely relate to the position.
- Limit it to three pages or less.
- Ask a friend or mentor to proofread it for you.
Draft a cover letter to accompany your CV. This allows you to tell the employer a bit about you and your interests and explain the benefits you could bring to their practice. Tailor your cover letter, including the specific job title, name of the practice, where you heard about the position, and why you are a good fit for the role. For example, perhaps your volunteer work prepared you to work with children, or your communication skills will help to grow the practice.
Keep notes of which cover letter and CV you sent for each opportunity. Then if you’re contacted for an interview, you can refer to what you sent to that practice.
Also, ask your references permission to share their contact information with your potential employer, and be sure to tell them about the skills you would like them to highlight if they receive a call about you.
Beginning Your Search
There are many good sources, including your dental school career office, state dental association, dental job boards, trade publications, word of mouth, and dental recruiters, for finding associate opportunities. If you’d like to uncover exclusive opportunities or have assistance with negotiating your contract, you may want to consider engaging a dental recruiter.
Preparing for Your Interview
Before your interview, it’s essential to research the prospective employer. Visit their website and social media pages to understand their mission, philosophy, management style, community activities, and more. You can also google the practice owners to learn more. Armed with this knowledge, you can prepare questions to ask during your interview.
Often interviews can feel a bit overwhelming but be sure to take time to listen to the answers your prospective employer gives to your questions, as this can provide great insight into their intentions for your employment. In addition, you’ll want to ask:
- Where you’ll be practicing
- Whether you will need to travel between multiple locations
- What opportunity is being offered
- What experience level is required
- What the compensation structure is
- Whether this will lead to ownership or a partnership
- What hard and soft skills they are seeking
- What the current owner’s plans are (i.e., will they be transitioning the practice)
- Whether they will sponsor a candidate from outside the country (if relevant)
Also, inquire why the practice is adding an associate. Though there are many good reasons, it is best if they are adding staff because the practice is growing. Find out if there is a patient base to bring in an associate. Find out what type of dentistry the practice is focused on. For example, if they are currently referring out pediatric work and that is an area you have experience in, this could benefit the practice.
Be prepared to answer questions about your strengths, weaknesses, career goals, and priorities. This is a chance to explain how you can enhance their practice.
When it comes to hiring, things have changed a lot during the era of COVID, and it’s important to be flexible and understanding in dealing with potential employers. Previously, candidates could expect to have a position within a few weeks of completing their license, but this may likely take a few extra months. Dental practices are busy with reopening their practices and ensuring patient and employee safety. It may be August or September before some practices bring in new associates.
For safety reasons, many employers are conducting interviews via Skype or Zoom. Whether the interview is in person or online depends a lot on the location where you’re seeking employment and the changing situation on the ground with the pandemic.
Employees and employers are both navigating a difficult time. The best approach is to keep the lines of communication open and to remain flexible.