By Doug Perry
That void of stress some dental hygiene graduates experience immediately after passing clinical and written exams has likely been replaced with a new one: Finding a job.
It’s a sad irony that hygienists spend two years and tens of thousands of dollars learning to practice a passion and interest that began years earlier, only to find few if any willing to pay them to do it.
Such is the current dental hygiene job market. There’s an abundance of hygienists and a shortage of jobs.
It wasn’t always that way. Veterans of 20 years and longer will tell you when they started in dentistry, it was the opposite. Hygienists were a hot commodity, could dictate hours, wage, and benefits. They were even fought over among competing practices. Ah, the good ol’ days!
Penetrating the new job market
Yes, the job market is saturated and has been for more than a decade. The good news is that very few hygienists really know how to market themselves for a job search. So, for the take-action-types (yes, that’s you I am writing about), you have an edge.
But what’s an edge without an action plan, right? So today, I am going to give you some insider secrets. Don’t worry, most dental hygiene graduates won’t read this article, and, if they do, there’s still that take-action thing many won’t bother with.
So that takes us back to you. If you will trust me on this, you will find a job way faster than you would otherwise. It’s not just a theory. I have been consulting with dental hygiene job seekers since 2012, when I got my second client.
Actually, if you count my wife as the first client (which I do), that would be since 2010. You see, in November of that year, she was in your situation—several months out of dental hygiene school and only a few temp jobs to show for it and nothing permanent. To make matters worse, the economy hadn’t fully recovered, she was in her late 30s starting a new career, and had little to no prior contacts.
That’s where I came in. At that point, I had spent my entire 15-year career helping companies and nonprofits stand out in their industries, using all kinds of persuasive strategies and tactics to move the needle—sell more products and services.
The fact is that you, too, are a product, a brand, a service, etc. You have distinguishing qualities that make you marketable to employers. I have never met you, and yet I know that about you because it’s true of everyone.
And, of course, it was true of my wife. So, we took action—marketing action. We deployed a plethora of strategies all designed to get her noticed, interviewed, and employed. The results? Well, it almost worked too well, if that’s possible, because we didn’t have time to roll all of the ideas out. She was employed within 30 days of our “campaign” launch, and it was as a direct result of the strategies.
That’s not to say she didn’t close the deal. I couldn’t sit with her in the interviews she got, but my job at that point was to simply get her in the door. And that’s what I do for dental hygiene clients today, get them in the door.
Let’s Talk Strategies
- Know your target market—Define the area you want to work in. Pinpoint a specific radius and create a spreadsheet with the name and address of every dental office within those boundaries. This is who you will concentrate your marketing on—your “target market.”
- Define your brand—Decide how you want to “brand” or position yourself. What unique qualities or characteristics do you have to offer? For example, are you “dental-experienced,” easygoing, friendly, hard worker, tenacious, a great salesperson, exceptionally skilled at hygiene, flexible in terms of days or hours? Choose two or three things and hone in on them in the messaging in your resume, cover letter, and other printed materials. But it also needs to be part of your interview messaging, woven into your responses to questions.
- Get printed materials ready—Create what I call a “resume kit.” That’s a professional folder that contains a stunning resume and cover letter, business card, and testimonial sheet. You need “wow” factor and nothing wows employers more than a collection of professional-looking marketing materials that are focused on you. Don’t google resume ideas because there are far too many out there that are boring and won’t help you stand out. Click here if you want to learn how to make a stunning dental hygiene resume (and I also provide it as a service if you don’t have the time).
- Create a postcard—Going door-to-door and handing out resumes is very time-consuming and can be discouraging. Should you do it? Yes, but get your name out there first by sending a postcard to every office in your target market on the same day (or within a one-week span). Then do follow-up visits as you have time. Postcards are better than resumes to drop off because they are easier to keep out in the open for longer, pinned to bulletin boards and other visible places. Resumes tend to get put into a file folder out of view. Many of my clients are reporting that they get lots of temp work and interviews over a span of several years after sending out one round of postcards. If you need more help with a postcard campaign, click here.
- Clean up and align your online presence—Create and prep your online presence, making sure your key branding messages that I mentioned earlier are showing up prominently. This might include Facebook, Twitter, a resume website, a resume video, a blog you may have or want to start, and online profile websites like LinkedIn. Get all these resources lined up and consistent to your brand. Make sure you have removed any posts (pictures and messages) that might create a false or negative impression of you; this is a huge problem for new graduates especially who forget the entire world can often see everything about you.
- More online marketing strategies—If you are on Facebook or Twitter, start liking or following the pages of potential employers, this will give you some very valuable information about them. And, who knows, maybe they will learn a little more about this new person who started liking them too. If you ever find yourself in an interview with that office, you’ll have a leg up in that you will know what kinds of customer appreciation contests they run or some of the quirks that are interesting (such as what hobbies the dentist may have). Those are great conversation-starters and give you a way to begin making positive connections. Employers love it when job seekers take time to learn more about their office. As I was telling a client the other day, this is a lot like dating; your objective is to blend and unify your thinking with theirs so that you are on the same page and can move forward together.
- Practice interviewing—Have you ever wondered how public figures get good at answering questions from the media? Anticipation and repetition are the key factors. They think through all the questions they might get asked, then they answer them on paper, then they practice their responses, over and over, and over again, until they get it exactly how they want it without sounding canned or rehearsed (even though it is). You don’t have to be a pro at it. Most employers are very sympathetic to job seekers. But the great thing about practicing so much is you will appear more poised. Confidence is an attribute that is hard to overlook because it’s also what patients expect and that reflects well on an office. Again, I have written lots about interviews so click here to read more.
- Wardrobe check—Make sure you have thought through how you will dress in your interviews and even have one or two go-to outfits that make you look and feel professional. Clothes don’t make the person, but there’s no doubt you can feel much more confident when you love what you are wearing. If you are not good in this or even areas of cosmetics and accessories, consult with a friend or professional who is.
- Network—Start attending conferences and monthly association meetings, not just for the CEs but also to make connections with other dental professionals in your area. And, there’s one important thing to remember about successful networking. It’s not about you until it’s about them. In other words, look to serve and help others first, then the law of reciprocity with kick in and they will seek to help you. Never begin your introduction to someone in person or over the Internet with, “So, do you know of any job openings?” Learn more about them, help them solve a problem they have (even a really small problem), then they will be ready and even eager to help you solve yours. Networking is an important long-game career strategy so take it seriously.
- But wait, there’s more!—I could go on and on… and on! In fact, I have only scratched the surface here. So, if you want to get more ideas and tips from me, and even a free copy of my book, “Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job,” both in PDF and audio download, go to my website at www.GetHiredRDH.com. If you subscribe, you will get my free weekly tips and we can walk this job-search journey together. If you need resume, cover letter or other services pronto, I offer those too at the same site and there are lots of testimonials of very happy customers you can read there.
The Final Word
The bottom line is this: You can get a job in saturated dental hygiene job market. In fact, you can get a great job. But it does require some action steps on your part. The days of just showing up are over. You must let employers know what’s special about you. Then, and only then, will you begin to build trust with them that eventually helps you land a great dental hygiene job.
Doug and Tracie Perry are coauthors of the e-book “Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job.” Together they own GetHiredRDH.com, a career website for dental hygienists. Doug writes new tips each week and offers his dental job marketing expertise. The website includes one-on-one coaching, resume writing, and other related services.