As a new group of dental hygiene graduates hit the streets in
search of work, it’s fair to say many will find it much more difficult
than anticipated. After all, the number of hygiene schools has
increased by nearly 70 percent since 1995, to a total of 338.
Contrast that with the relatively flat growth in dental schools
(now 68), high unemployment and a rough economy and it’s a
sure formula for disappointment.
My wife, Tracie Perry, a 2010 graduate of the Salt Lake Community
College Dental Hygiene Program, was full of optimism as
she entered the program two years before. She had heard tales of
hygienists picking their own hours, being courted by desperate
practices and receiving multiple offers, even before graduation.
Maybe back in 1995… but not in 2010. And very little has
changed since. Sure the economy appears to be rebounding a bit,
but the market is still flooded with hygienists. Whether real or
imaginary, the promise of hygienists being able to write their own
ticket no longer exists.
It’s not all doom and gloom. In 2011, CNBC included dental hygiene in its “Top 10 Jobs in America” list, and the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 38 percent growth through
2018. But, today’s dental hygienists will have to be more creative
and persistent to land the job of their dreams.
As reality was setting in for Tracie, she found few job openings
and had no interviews after a few months. Eventually she
did find a temporary position filling in for a hygienist on
maternity leave. But it would end soon as the regular hygienist
had plans to return to work. With very few job prospects,
she became discouraged.
My marketing brain kept reviewing the problem over and
over. What more could she possibly do? One night, unable to
sleep, it came to me: “You’ve got to market Tracie the same way
you would a new product or service.” With that, a whole flood
of tools I had used over the years in my marketing and communications
background flashed in front of me. Direct mail,
Internet, video and advertising were things I had used for years
to sell products or services, but never for people seeking jobs.
But why not?
The next day, I quickly designed a postcard advertising
Tracie as available for temporary or permanent openings. She
loved it! So, we began assembling a distribution list with contact
information for all the dentists within 10 miles of our
home. To our surprise, we found over 100 practices.
By this point the wheels were really turning. I created a
simple, free Web site for Tracie with all her basic information,
including resumé details and a few pictures of her. Our 16-
year-old son is a budding Steven Spielberg and I had a little bit
of experience producing videos so we created a resumé video
with an interview of Tracie. We uploaded it to YouTube and
then embedded it on her Web site.
I made some last minute tweaks to the postcard, found a
really inexpensive online printer and placed the order.
Within a couple weeks the cards had arrived and we set a
launch date. We addressed and stamped each one (using
labels and a mail merge of the distribution list), then dropped
them into the mail the next day. The total cost was just under
$50, so we figured even just one temporary job would more
than cover it.
A few days passed as we held our breath. By this point, I
was certain they had all received the card but no calls were
coming in. Then came a call from a dentist who was planning
to advertise an opening. He said he was impressed with
her and wanted to schedule an interview. The next day, we
got another call and another interview with a different dentist
who wanted her to fill in a few days and then he would
consider her for a potential opening he was expecting in a
As the weeks continued, more calls to temp and interview
came. The interviews were tough. Our marketing efforts were
impressive enough to get Tracie to that point, but with only a
few months of temping experience, she was at a disadvantage.
Then one day a call came in from Millcreek Family
Dental. The doctor had just finished watching Tracie’s video
resumé and, like all the others before, was impressed. He too
had a new job opening for just Tuesdays and he wanted to
know if she would come in, work a day and consider staying
if she liked it.
Finally, six months after graduation (but less than 60 days
into our marketing campaign) she had a permanent job. And,
not only a job, but a place where she is well-paid and loves
working. The added bonus is that it is just a few minutes from
Tracie always wanted to work two or three days a week, so
the campaign continued until she found an additional day at
another office just up the road from her other job. With the
continued effort came more interviews and more temporary
work. In fact, so much temporary work was offered, she had
to decline many of them.
In total, we spent approximately $150 for printing and
mailing three postcards to just over 100 dentists. From that,
Tracie received three job offers, a couple dozen temping position
offers and went on a dozen interviews. We also took
advantage of free advertising opportunities we found on
Facebook and Google. Interestingly, even though the marketing
campaign is over, Tracie is still getting calls for temping
positions from the original postcard mailing.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to share success, to
help others who might be struggling as Tracie was. To do that
I wrote a book, Landing a Great Dental Hygiene Job, that goes
into all the strategies and tools we used to help Tracie find her
dream job. The basic theme of advice we offer from the book
to all hygienists is simple: be creative, be persistent, and most
importantly, be different. We only ask that if you like it, share
it with someone else.
Sure, the economy stinks, the market is flooded with
hygienists and you can’t exactly write your own ticket in the
current job market, but I am a firm believer that despite all
that, anyone can land a great dental hygiene job.