Pearls of wisdom to staying connected to peers
by Stacy McCauley, RDH, MS
I am often asked how I ended up having such a diverse dental hygiene career. I have worked in full-time private practice, academics, corporate dentistry, CE speaking, and now in my new professional home in the world of dental consulting. Do I possess something extraordinary that none of you reading this article have? Absolutely not! I’m probably just like you. The key to my career expansion has hinged on one thing: strong professional relationships.
My philosophy on career growth is that without a strong foundation of what you know, you can’t seize the opportunities that may come with whom you know. Making a career transition is based on first having a certain essential skill set, such as dental hygiene, and then knowing how to get connected with the right people. Before you cringe at that last statement and think, “Yuck, it sounds like I have to kiss up to people to get what I want!” I want you to understand that professional relationship building and networking are not the same as insincerely schmoozing up to someone with an agenda of using them for your own personal gain. Reaching out to others through professional networking is an excellent way to learn about professional opportunities firsthand from peers currently working in that profession.
Dental hygiene certainly opens up many opportunities to learn from our peers. By networking and learning from other hygienists, we can gain invaluable firsthand knowledge to help us define and grow our own professional path. For example, if you have ever thought you would like to get started as a professional CE speaker, professional relationships and networking are your first steps. I think we can all agree that dentistry is a small world. If you don’t personally know a hygienist who is active on the dental hygiene speaking circuit, chances are a professional colleague of yours does. Or, consider approaching the speaker at the next CE course you attend. Introduce yourself and explain your interest in getting started as a CE speaker. Be sure to exchange contact information and ask if it would be okay to contact them to discuss career planning. It’s a good idea to find out what means of communication they prefer (for example, email, Facebook, cell phone, etc.) and then be sure to follow up within 48 hours.
Networking pearls of wisdom
Here are some professional networking pearls of wisdom:
Online networks — Using a social network, such as Facebook, is an excellent way to find out who the movers and shakers are within a certain discipline you would like to pursue. For example, if you feel like your calling is in dental consulting, enter “dental consulting” in your Facebook search and study the pages of the consultants you see. You will not only learn a great deal about dental consulting, but you will also gain access to all of their valuable consulting contacts. Reaching out to “message” a potential resource on Facebook is becoming a widely accepted form of networking. LinkedIn is another excellent resource. LinkedIn is highly focused on forming professional connections. Be sure to keep both your Facebook page and your LinkedIn profile up-to-date with all of the necessary professional biographical information, and always keep your postings professional. I personally follow several dental resources on Facebook; Tonya Lanthier’s company, Dentalpost.net, is one of them. Tonya is an RDH and the founder of Dentalpost.net, a dental staffing agency based in Atlanta. I met Tonya several years ago at a dental meeting. We were both solo at a cocktail reception. After taking the initiative to introduce myself, we quickly found that we had a lot in common. Recently, I logged on to Dentalpost.net’s Facebook page and ran across one of Tonya’s posts. “A study found that more than 90% of recruiters and hiring managers have visited a potential candidate’s profile on a social network as part of the screening process. And a whopping 69% of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on content found on his or her social networking profiles ... an almost equal proportion of recruiters (68%), though, have hired a candidate based on his or her presence on those networks.” Need I say more about keeping the wild party pictures off your Facebook page? Remember, for better or for worse, the networking community is now massive, thanks to social media.
Professional association membership and association meetings — It goes without saying, if you want to pursue career expansion within dental hygiene, you have to immerse yourself in the dental hygiene environment. Being a member of ADHA and attending ADHA’s Annual Session can be a great professional networking opportunity. RDH Under One Roof is another fantastic networking opportunity. The RDH UOR meeting is on the cutting edge of all things current in dental hygiene. Make a point to attend the meeting this year if you haven’t done so in the past. Dental hygiene meetings are a gold mine of career experts. I recently expanded my professional network massively when I joined the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). I felt like I needed to learn more about practice management, so I joined the association. I have gained so many wonderful practice management resources and mentors in just the five short months since I joined. I actively participate in their online message board forums to learn as much as I can about this vital component of the dental practice. I also attended their annual meeting in the fall. It was another jackpot of networking. I have since added so many new practice administrator Facebook friends from AADOM. I continually learn new things simply by reading my new office manager contacts’ Facebook posts.
Volunteer opportunities — Volunteering at a dental event is a way to give back to your community, build your resume, and network with other dental professionals. I recently volunteered at a Mission of Mercy event in eastern North Carolina. Even though I have been relatively active in my local and state dental organizations, the mission event was located in a town two hours from my home, so I knew only two other dental volunteers. After introducing myself to a dozen or so other volunteers, I expanded my professional network significantly.
Shake hands and kiss babies! — All political joking aside, the only way you can successfully build your professional network is to make the first move and meet new people. I learned this masterfully from a long-time professional hygiene mentor of mine, Noel Paschke. Noel is a master networker. I carefully learned how to be unabashedly assertive but always sincere. Although sometimes incredibly scary, if you don’t get out of your seat, walk up to someone new and introduce yourself, you might be missing THE professional connection that would have led you to that next great new job lead.
Be persistent, not pesky — The ideal professional opportunity sometimes takes time to manifest. Even if you can’t find the perfect position with that dental company that you’d love to work for, stay connected to them through the various strategies I have laid out in this article. Once you’ve gained access to a contact within that organization, make a point to stay in contact with them on a consistent basis. It’s a good idea to ask your contact how often and by what means they prefer you to stay in touch. Maybe the professional contact does a lot of travel in different time zones. So, for her, using email to keep in touch is probably best. For other contacts, hearing from you once a quarter might make them assume you’re not that interested in pursuing any job openings within the company. For others, once a quarter might be just enough contact to let them know you are still interested.
Never burn bridges — I know you’ve heard it before, but in the small world of dentistry, it’s critical. Unless your job is a danger to you, try to adhere to the industry standards of giving notice. In clinical practice, this typically means two weeks’ notice. If you’re working in another facet of dental hygiene such as corporate or consulting, your industry standard for giving notice is likely slightly more. Leaving your current position on good terms and with letters of recommendation in hand will help you tremendously when it’s time to apply for a new position.
Whether your goal is to land a hygiene job at that great new perio practice in town, or you’re looking to pursue a career in dental hygiene education, it all boils down to making those important professional connections. I recently read a great quote while I was surfing my latest addiction, www.pinterest.com. Someone had posted a quote from salmon.com that said, “The good news is: only you are in charge of your destiny. The bad news is: only you are in charge of your destiny.” So, hygiene colleagues, what action steps are you going to commit to in order to move forward and create these vital professional connections? Happy networking! RDH
Stacy McCauley, RDH, MS, began her journey in the world of dentistry in 1993 as a full-time dental hygienist. She earned a master of science degree in dental hygiene education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After a career in both university-based dental school teaching and in the corporate dental industry, she is currently a lead coach with Inspired Hygiene, an hygiene productivity coaching company. Stacy is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also well known as a communications facilitator, international speaker, practice coach and writer. If you are interested in subscribing to Inspired Hygiene’s free weekly e-zine, please visit www.inspiredhygiene.com.
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