I was recently pondering how my podcast, A Tale of Two Hygienists, which I cohost with Andrew Johnston, became so popular. We didn’t even have a website in the first few years and neither of us have any background in marketing. I concluded that our success is due to our time spent networking and our genuine love for the profession. We truly want to shine a light on dental hygiene, help clinicians fight burnout, and disseminate information to everyone who is willing to listen and learn. Our network of people we’ve met at meetings helps us spread the word and we are so grateful to them!
As recent research shows, 85% of jobs are filled through networking.1 Even in building this dental hygiene podcast audience and my hygiene career, networking at events has accomplished more than any résumé I’ve ever sent. Because it is absolutely crucial for today’s hygienists, I want to share how you can also use networking to your advantage.
What is networking?
Before diving into the details, let’s clarify what networking is. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just small talk with strangers, collecting business cards, or increasing social media following. It’s about quality, not quantity. It’s connecting human to human, understanding what matters to your conversation partners, and supporting one another. Basically, networking is building your own tribe.
The importance of networking
Why is networking in dentistry important? Here are three benefits that highlight its value:
Sharing valuable information—Through networking, you get to exchange ideas, address questions, and hear about industry updates. You gain firsthand insights into diverse professional opportunities, such as dental practice, academia, continuing education speaking, and helping you chart your career path.
It also opens up possible solutions to problems you may face. Dental hygienists can unintentionally box up themselves in the dental hygiene field and may feel like all they are is a hand holding a scaler. But we are oral health experts who have great ideas that can help people truly prevent oral diseases. Even networking with people in other industries and our communities can demonstrate our great potential.
Building partnerships and support—Putting yourself out there creates visibility and opens the door to partnerships and support. Your connections can turn into mentors who provide professional advice and connect you with their networks. For nervous recent graduates, learning patient care and practice management from experienced practitioners is invaluable.
Strengthening self-confidence—Getting the hang of networking is great for boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. In our small dental hygiene circle, where anyone can be a key partner, presenting confidently is very beneficial. Also, networking conversations are good practice for job interviews.
How to network well
I have tested and found the following tips to be highly effective when networking. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still learning and getting better at understanding body language and when to stop talking! Each opportunity is a learning moment for me.
Be helpful—Those who are new to networking sometimes go into a conversation trying to get the other person to help them. I have had people ask me to give them my slides so they could do a similar presentation. This approach often puts people off. Instead, find out how you can help people reach their objectives. When attending exhibitions, I’ll chat with the reps of companies whose products I enjoy, and I share my views on these products with friends who I think will also love them. Companies tend to remember this and will often happily reach out to me for sponsorship arrangements when they want to spread their message.
Extending a helping hand makes future partnerships much more comfortable and natural.
Be open—At many networking events, it’s common to see people clustered around the “it people” because they think only the Elon Musks or Mark Zuckerbergs of their industries can help them. However, in reality you never know who knows who. Be open to asking your existing connections for introductions and be willing to explore new opportunities. Who knows? A lead might pop up. In fact, many companies with whom we have great relationships readily tell their industry friends about our podcast, which expands our network tremendously.
Be genuine—Many people think that networking is a one-off transaction. However, like Rome, relationships are not built in a day. Coming on too forcefully tends to repel people or make someone look untrustworthy. Instead, connect first as fellow humans by chatting about relatable topics. My intention is always to befriend fellow professionals and create a positive atmosphere and share a little joke here and there. Being genuine in nurturing relationships is the foundation for forging long-lasting bonds.
Show up—To first-timers or introverts, networking can be frightening and exhausting, perhaps someone’s worst nightmare after public speaking. I feel like the extrovert and introvert categories have been discussed often in the last few years and I felt like many of the introvert descriptions fit me. But I learned that I am really an extrovert! I felt shy and awkward and thought I was an introvert because I was never taught how to start conversations or “work a room” in a natural way. My best advice to you is to show up. Show up and watch the people who are doing it well. If you aren’t there nothing can happen, and nothing can be learned. As a start, these two baby steps can make networking a bit more painless.
- Set a limit each time to prevent getting overwhelmed.
- Go with a friend and initiate conversations together; then take turns engaging the other party. When you progress to solo conversations, it’s still reassuring to know there’s a friend nearby.
In our dental hygiene podcast, we speak in great detail to today’s RDHs about networking in dentistry. Without a doubt, networking is one of the keys to our success in the dental industry. I want you to have this valuable tool in your professional toolkit. Remember, networking isn’t something that happens just at events. Networking happens everywhere! It can help your practice grow, your career grow, and because we are oral health experts, it can make someone healthier. Good luck, and don’t forget, some are great at networking the moment they start, but most of us have to develop the skill.
How many jobs are found through networking, really? Payscale. April 6, 2017. https://www.payscale.com/career-news/2017/04/many-jobs-found-networking
Michelle Strange, MSDH, RDH, brings 19 years of experience in dentistry to her roles as adjunct clinical faculty member at Trident Technical College, clinical educator for TePe Oral Health Care, director of education for O2 Nose Filters, and host of the podcast, “A Tale of Two Hygienists.” In 2019, she started a company with Dr. Tony Stefanou called TriviaDent to test your dental knowledge, network, and win prizes. You can reach out to Strange via her podcast ataleoftwohygienists.com.