4 Key Strategies for a Successful Dental Hygiene Salary Negotiation

Author Doug Perry                                    gethiredrdh.com

Author Doug Perry                                   gethiredrdh.com

Salary negotiation, whether you are dental hygienist or a school teacher, makes everyone a little squeamish, and yet we use many of the basic principles in the normal course of a day without even realizing it.

So whether you are negotiating a better salary with your current boss or looking to improve an offer from a new employer, it may not be as tough or foreign as you think.

Here are four steps to a successful dental hygiene salary negotiation:

1. Decide It

Studies show women are more reluctant than men to negotiate a salary. So a dental hygienist (more than 95% of all hygienists are women) on the fence should just do it. Obviously, there are instances when you wouldn’t do it that’s why I said “on the fence.” But if you are undecided then go for it.

An annual review of performance and salary may not be something your employer prefers or agrees to. But certainly, if you have not received a raise in more than two or three years you really owe it to yourself to approach the subject with your boss if for no other reason than to remind them of the value you bring to the practice.

2. Plan It

Salary negotiation isn’t something you do without some research and planning. You will increase your odds of success if you take your time to develop a clear and focused plan. There are lots of factors to consider such as, the average wage in your area, what kinds of successes (or failings) you have had recently, how much experience you have, patient load, economic conditions for the employer, and other benefits that might interest you along with or in place of a simple wage increase.

Do some research and have a clear, intentional plan and goals (both short and long-term) that are part of it. At GetHiredRDH.com, I have posted historical dental hygiene salary data for every state in the US – this along with other resources, are valuable in planning your negotiation strategy.

3. Time It

The old mantra “timing is everything” is very true for salary negotiation. Let’s face it, as nice as your boss or new boss may seem, everyone has a bad day and even if you have carefully planned out your moment for negotiating, you may need to be prepared to retreat for a bit to improve your odds.

There are other considerations associated with timing, such as if the office recently gave you a bonus – that’s probably a bad time. Or, if the employer just invested in a bunch in new equipment (hoping to improve or maintain patient retention) – probably not ideal either.

If you are only one of several candidates for the job, don’t even get into salary discussions unless asked. And if asked, you can give them a range, but keep it vague or wide.

Most employers want to know if they are in the ballpark with you on it, so one way is to just simply respond pleasantly with, “I’m aware of what most hygienists make in this area and am comfortable that we can agree on an appropriate figure. But, I’m interested in sharing with you what I can do to become an asset to the practice first.”

4. Negotiate It

You’ve decided to do it, you have a plan, and the timing is right. Now what?

Salary negotiation is all about win-win. If either you or the employer feels like they tipped too far in one direction, one of you won’t be happy and that’s not a good long-term position to be in (and it usually results in parting ways sooner rather than later).

So, yes, you can and should expect to get something more than your offer or what you currently make, but they have to feel good about it, too.

Win-win can mean lots of different things, some of which can be psychological. Maybe an employer is glad they only have to give up a $1/hour more to you to keep you around because you have bonded with the patients.

Or maybe, you have won by drawing attention to the fact that you feel underpaid and there’s now a solid plan in place for regular salary adjustments going forward (even if not right now). Those are victories and even if they seem small will lead to more victories in the future for both of you.

So, let’s get down to a few simple tactics that will help you achieve a win for yourself.

  • Before you make your proposed amount, and from your research, be ready to share with them the “why” – three or four specific things you have done to bring value to practice. Share actual examples of the time a certain patient raved about their experience with you, or how you were able to save the practice money.

Always share these before you give them your request. This is true for a job offer, too. Reiterate the things that make you value and specific examples.

  • Ask for a little more than what you would be happy with. That gives you room to move on it. Employers want to know an employee is flexible – it’s a good omen for them coming to an agreement with you that is acceptable for both.

  • Have several concessions ready to go. These are other things such as some paid holidays or sick days, a bonus program, or maybe it’s paid training or association membership fees. Just know ahead of time some things that may not be quite as good as a salary bump, but that will make life better for you and that might be easier for the employer to accept.

  • Don’t be afraid to counter their offer. You don’t want to go back and forth more than a few times, but it’s generally acceptable to start with the big ask, then work your way down to smaller things (the concessions).

  • Give their final offer space to breath. What I mean by that is once they give you their final offer, pause – make it look like you are thinking. Sometimes that little pause (of even a few awkward seconds) can actually compel them to offer a little more on the spot.

Then, after you have paused, tell them you would like to consider it and come back to them in say 24 hours. Most employers will agree to that. But that space gives you time to properly consider it and it actually causes them to re-think their position as well and sometimes they will come back prepared to offer a little more still.

And if all you do is come back and agree to their final offer – they will feel as though they got a big win (and that will help you in the future).

Final Advice

Always maintain a high level of professionalism and even give them a “thank you” note when it’s settled – even if you didn’t get as much as you wanted. It also doesn’t hurt to request it in writing, particularly for promises that are made in the future (future reviews or increases based on some measurement).

Salary negotiation can seem a little scary and worrisome, but if you have done your homework, have a plan, get the timing right, and engage in a thoughtful conversation over it you should feel confident.


Doug and Tracie Perry run the popular website gethiredrdh.com where the have helped thousands of dental hygienists land a great dental hygiene job.