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Building successful relationships with dental industry professionals

Nov. 13, 2021
Industry pros enjoy mentoring dental hygienists. Carol Jahn, MS, RDH, says make the most of your networking time, and explains how it can lead to lasting relationships and future work opportunities.

Have you ever attended a trade show and considered what it might be like to be on the other side of the counter selling products? Perhaps you have read a professional advertisement and wondered, “Did anyone run this by a dental hygienist first?” Or maybe an RDH came to your office and presented a lunch-and-learn, and you thought, “I could do that.”

The corporate world is an often-sought-after career path for dental hygienists. The good news is that regardless of whether you have an associate’s degree or a PhD, there is an opportunity for you. What you should be aware of is that many of these positions are never advertised. Instead, industry professionals often tap into their own networks and recruit from those with whom they have existing relationships.

Building successful relationships with dental industry professionals takes work, but it can also be fun! Here are some “insider secrets” to make your networking successful.

Focus on building the relationship first

At a convention or with reps who come into your office, your first inclination might be to say, “I’m looking to get out of the op. Let me know if you hear of anything.” Sadly, industry leaders hear this all the time. To differentiate yourself, start by engaging in a conversation about why you like the company and its products, and tell them that you would be interested in working with them.

Many years ago, at RDH Under One Roof, a hygienist came to our booth and started to talk about the great benefits she had seen from the Waterpik Water Flosser. She told us she came to UOR on her own because she had heard it was a great meeting, and she wanted to grow professionally. She mentioned that she had just started to work toward her bachelor’s degree. We enjoyed talking with her, and upon leaving she said, “Yours is a company I could see myself working for someday.” So, as she walked away, I said, “Wait; come back.” I had very little to offer her; we had not yet started our lunch-and-learn program, but I told her I thought I could use her at trade shows if she was interested. She was, so my coworker and I invited her to dinner that night. She began working trade shows for us and later became one of our first lunch-and-learn educators. Today, she is a successful pharmaceutical sales rep.

Related career content by Carol Jahn:

Finding your path to career development
Learning to let go of perfectionism

Learn to ask good questions

When you have the ear of an industry rep, you want to make the most of that time. It’s natural to want to promote yourself by talking about all the great things you can do for them and their company. The problem with this approach is that what you might be selling may not be what the business needs. Different companies look for and want different things. A start-up may need a dental hygienist to guide them on marketing ideas or advertising. On the other hand, larger, more established companies may have dental professional advisory boards, focus groups, or survey data that they use for guidance. In these situations, they may be looking for someone to help them on established projects. A better approach would be to ask what problems they have and how you can help. This allows you to tailor your answer to align with their needs.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who was interested in our lunch-and-learn program. She asked me two terrific questions. One, “Can you tell me the attributes that make a person successful in this role?” and two, “What are the most common challenges people find with this position?” This led to a great mutual exchange, and I walked away extremely impressed with this person. 

Build a diverse portfolio

When you start building your network, it’s natural, logical, and smart to cast a wide net and talk to everyone. However, once you start to establish yourself and build deeper relationships, it’s time to focus on diversity. Align yourself with the products you most believe in—for example, your favorite self-care device, your top go-to power and/or manual scalers, your most trusted infection control products, or your preferred caries prevention agents. Avoid courting competitors. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than if one company feels they are working with you only to see you on social media gushing over a competitive product.

Companies want your passion for their product to feel authentic and credible. That gets complicated when competitive products are involved. The good news is that there are plenty of products, companies, and opportunities to go around. Many people successfully work with more than one dental company. Several dental hygienists who give lunch-and-learns for us are also aligned with companies that make dental instruments, caries prevention agents, and prophy products, to name a few. It can be a win-win for all.

Industry professionals enjoy working with and mentoring dental hygienists. Making the most of your networking time is essential, because it can lead to lasting relationships and future work -opportunities. 

Editor's note: This article appeared in the November 2021 print edition of RDH.

Carol Jahn, MS, RDH, is the director of professional relations and education for Water Pik, Inc. She may be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Carol Jahn, MS, RDH

Carol Jahn, MS, RDH, is the director of professional relations and education for Water Pik, Inc. She may be reached at [email protected].