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Negotiating your salary as a new graduate

Dec. 16, 2020
Amanda Graham, BSDH, RDH, shares three tips to use during salary negotiations as a new dental hygiene graduate. Advocate in advance for the experienced professional you will soon become.

Upon graduation, everything feels so exciting. The “hard work is finished,” and you are prepared for a new career as a dental hygienist! You are filled with wonder as you explore the hours, location, and practice setting of your interest. You get an interview and maybe are offered a job!

Reality then sets in during discussions about compensation. It can be an intimidating conversation to navigate as a new grad. What should you ask for? Are they going to be offended? What if they say no? I have three tips to help guide you in the negotiation process as you think about these questions.

1. You have graduated—so can your pay.

After training new graduates, I would say it takes about three to six months to consistently keep the pace and flow of the schedule. Also by that time, you should have mastered the likes and dislikes of the doctor/management, while building a strong rapport with the team. With this being said, make sure to discuss what your pay will graduate to once you have more experience under your belt. It is common to be offered a lower salary because you are a new grad, but over time your pay should catch up to where your experience has brought you.

2. Determine if the bonus system is real, or not really?

Bonus and incentive opportunities are becoming more and more popular. What that means is you will have an average to lower base pay, and then earn an additional percentage of your revenue. The first question that you are entitled to ask is what the actual bonuses and incentives have looked like for the last six to 12 months. This is to avoid being sold on the concept of a bonus, but not one that has actually been achievable.

Next, ask if the bonus structure changes, and if so, how frequently. You want to know if management “moves the goal post” regarding bonuses and incentives, making it harder and harder to reach.

Last, ask if the office or company accepts HMO insurance. HMO plans typically include preventive services as a “free service.” (This is a complex topic, but please know that HMOs will make it harder to achieve your revenue goal.)

3. Determine whether the position will stunt your growth or promote it.

A progressive hygienist understands the value of evolving with the times, trends, and evidence-based research. If the office you are interested in is open to incorporating new approaches to patient care in order to better serve their patients, this can provide you the opportunity for increased income. This could mean providing periodontal therapy more efficiently, incorporating therapeutic or preventive products, improving the recall program, etc. Increased revenue that you are responsible for creating should offer compensation to you in one way or another.

On the flip side, some offices are not interested in doing anything other than the status quo. That’s OK; it is their choice, but is it the best choice for you and your career in the long run?

In summary, it can be very intimidating as a new grad to discuss pay. It can feel like offices have all the cards to play, while you have none due to lack of experience. That’s not true, and I hope that I have helped you understand all the potential you do have. While you may accept an initial low offer as a new grad, don’t hesitate to advocate in advance for the experienced professional you will soon become. Best of luck!

Amanda Graham, BSDH, RDH, has been a part of the dental industry for 20 years and enjoys using her experience to bring value to other dental professionals through her “get real” approach. Amanda became a registered dental hygienist in 2007 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in 2012. She has vast leadership skills and a dynamic background in various practice settings including private practice, DSO, educational, and more. Amanda remains a dedicated student of her profession because she believes an individual skill set is never finished. Amanda lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her family and enjoys maintaining a bustling work-life balance.