Figuring out what salary you deserve is hard enough; trying to communicate your salary needs at the negotiating table can feel near-impossible. We get it. It’s awkward and complicated to negotiate your salary sometimes. But you should. Before we start getting into the tips and tricks (or the “how-to’s”) let’s cut to the chase:

Dental hygienists and assistants are in extremely high demand. Without getting too deep into the nitty-gritty details of this, around 8 percent of all dental hygienists left during COVID-19, and most did not return. Every single province and state we work with across the United States and Canada is dealing with a shortage of dental professionals.

You have power. And we don’t just mean this in our typical way. We always advocate for dental workers. Heck, the vast majority of our time (+80 percent) is entirely dedicated to making sure our dental employees are happy, comfortable, and free to choose their own life paths. But this isn’t us buttering you up; you really have significant negotiating power right now.

Unfortunately, negotiating isn’t always fun. But it is always complicated.

The Complexity of Negotiations

We hate catch-all negotiating strategies. They’re ridiculous, overly simplified, and created to get clicks. In truth, negotiating is an extremely complicated process, partially dictated by personalities, situations, and environments. But, behind the scenes, delicate job markets, unique hiring conditions in areas, and office finances create complex webs of data that make every job negotiation truly unique.

As an example, let’s look through three of the most common negotiating situations hygienists face.

  • Your dream office offers you a job, but the salary is lower than expected. When you bring it up, the office says it’s a fair salary for the job market, and that this place is about more than the money… what now?
  • Another office is trying to poach you. You get a better offer, but you secretly don’t want to leave your friends at this office. How do you leverage the better office without risking alienating yourself?
  • You’re fresh out of school, and an office offers you a job. You aren’t sure if the salary is good enough. And you want to bring it up without risking losing the offer. Is it possible?

Each of these situations requires a different strategy, and each will involve conversations that probably aren’t relevant in the other circumstances. So, instead of trying to give you some run-of-the-mill strategies, let’s analyze each of these situations.

Situation #1: Negotiating With Your Dream Job

Trying to negotiate a better salary at a job you desperately want is challenging. You don’t want to burn any bridges. Explaining your worth in a rational, likeable way is critical. Throughout the negotiating process, it’s important that you remain likable and hireable — while simultaneously making them reconsider their initial proposal.

During this process, you will have to dodge some extremely tricky questions.

These include questions like:

  • Have you done any interviews with other offices?
  • Why is money so important to you?
  • Are we your top choice either way?
  • If we say yes will you accept today?
  • If we say no, will you be able to accept or decline today?

Ideally, you want to come prepared with market statistics. Read our last post to learn more about figuring out if your salary is fair.

Once you know what you’re worth, it’s pretty easy to navigate the conversation. Just watch out for challenging questions and backlash on statistics. Always remember, you’re worth what you’re worth. Be prepared to walk away if they aren’t reasonable. Dream job or not, you should get what you’re worth.

Harvard Business Review has some great tips for this specific situation.

Situation #2: The Employer Negotiation

This common — but extremely tricky — situation involves a lot of layers.

For starters, you already know the person you’re negotiating with. Probably pretty well. So, you can tailor any strategy to the personality of the other party. That said, they also know you…

Personal relationships can make things tricky. You and your “boss” may not get along. Or, if the opposite is true, they may feel betrayed by you asking.

Always try to remain rational against the emotional component of any talks.

To start, you want to request a one-on-one with the person who makes salary decisions (usually the dentist or office manager). Do not do this over email, Slack, or text messages. Just… don’t.

Next, tell them that you have been approached by another office. That conversation should flow like this:

  • “Hey (name), I’ve been approached by another dental office nearby, and they offered me “$x.”
  • “I think you’re a fantastic boss, and if you can meet that, I would love to stay here with all of you.”

Sounds easy, right?

Yeah, but what if they say… no?

If they say they cannot meet that particular offer, ask them to extrapolate. Why? Is there a financial constraint? Do they feel like you would be overpaid? Ask them to explain. Often, you’ll force them into a corner.

If they say they don’t feel you’re worth that much, then ask yourself if this is really somewhere you want to stay in the first place?

Because, obviously… you are worth that much. You were offered it!

Also, always remember that you’re negotiating with the person — not the office. People can feel “slighted” for absolutely no reason. Do your best to maintain emotional neutrality. If you feel the person you’re negotiating with is getting too personal, do your best to steer the conversation in another direction.

Situation #3: Fresh Face

In this final situation, you probably feel like you have a power disadvantage.

If they return with something like, “we are looking at other candidates, please make up your mind immediately,” trying to discuss salary may feel impossible. You feel trapped. 

Here’s our recommendation: don’t believe the hype. New grads are also in high demand. Currently, one hygienist is graduating for every dentist. Most offices want at least two per dentist.

Don’t be afraid! We know it’s difficult, but you’re worth more than you think — experienced or not.

By far, the most common pitfall in negotiating as a new graduate is underestimating your worth. ALL hygienists and assistants are in high demand; all of them. Be brave.

Another Option

If you feel like you’re not appreciated where you work, or you’re looking for a higher salary, consider temping. At WORKFORCE, we help our hygienists create amazing experiences, unlock schedule flexibility, and navigate the dental office landscape with confidence. We’ll help you work on your own schedule or find the perfect office. Sign up to take WORKFORCE for a test drive as a hygienist, assistant, or receptionist and experience the difference for yourself.