By Regina Desantis (MPH Class of 2015)
(AKA how to get into “the room where it happens”)
You were accepted into a highly respected program in the only school for public health in an area where sweeping decisions and innovations in healthcare happen daily, and, if you are reading this, you are being proactive in your job hunt.
However, there are no guarantees in life besides death and taxes.
The job market is prohibitive at best, and in DC, it’s particularly saturated; a Master’s, resume, and network alone cannot secure a job. The final hurdle is developing a strategy for the recruitment process. While there is no formula to guarantee being hired, here are some suggestions, based on my own and several friends’ experiences, to assist you during recruitment.
Some of the best advice I ever received was to look at my goals from a 10,000 foot level. Instead of thinking, “I want to be a consultant or a policy analyst,” I was told to reflect on what work I find interesting; for me, it’s problem-solving, but for you, it may be different. If you have not, I encourage you to go back to basics with your interests. Applying for the work instead of the title opens a wider range of opportunities, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find – and where you go.
Set realistic expectations without selling yourself short
Your starting title could range from entry-level to “senior __.” Get out of the mindset that you are not qualified and think of yourself as an asset. However, never assume that a Master’s will guarantee a job; many applicants are frighteningly qualified, so DC is a buyer’s market (favors the company). Research organizations that interest you because the titles “analyst” or “associate” have different meanings in similar companies. Also, you should still apply, even if you don’t have every qualification in the posting; the “perfect job” is a myth, but so is the “perfect candidate.” Remember, you are an asset!
Play to your strengths
The first people who will read your resume and cover letter receive stacks of paperwork every day, so being concise but eye-catching is key. Many people have a “framework” cover letter that they adjust for each application. Even if you do not satisfy every qualification (see above), use your resume and cover letter to explain the specific experiences in your education and employment history that are relevant to the job (“leverage” is not a verb; get over it). What makes you an ideal candidate for this role?
Do not be afraid to ask for help
General housekeeping: people are not commodities. Now that we have settled this…
I dislike the word “networking” because it feels smarmy; your friends, colleagues, professors, and mentors are your network, and they want you to succeed just as much as you do. If you are interested in a certain field, do not be afraid to ask someone in that sector for advice on applying, company culture, and typical projects. Have you signed up for HPSA’s Mentorship Program yet?
Do not get discouraged; it is truly a game
The average process for applying is six to eight weeks. You might get rejected during this process. There are complicated factors that go into every job interview, and sometimes, it’s beyond your control. Some organizations are required to interview a certain amount of candidates, other companies are looking for someone very specific…the list is endless. But right now, you are allowed to be disappointed. Open the boilerplate email, smirk at the typo, roll your eyes, delete, and repeat. I promise you, as someone who has “been there,” once you have a job that you love – and you will – the past headaches are worth it.
Interview like you own the place
If I want to remember something, I have to write it down on paper. Before each interview, I would briefly research and write a few bullet points on the organization, and during interviews, I took notes on what my interviewer said – or questions that I had! I also suggest arriving early, dressing for the job you want (the people on the other side of the table may wear jeans; unless Ralph Lauren opens a hospital, you should not), bringing snacks, and sending a thank-you email to everyone who spoke with you.
Right place, right time
Many people, myself included, have a story of being in the right place at the right time for the right job/internship/Practicum. It may be a class with that *one* professor who you still email regularly, a lecture you attended with a fascinating speaker who took you to lunch, an email you sent to a contact on the Practicum database who just happened to have an opening, a conversation with a friend who forwarded your resume, or all of the above. Sometimes, the situation unfolds without you trying, while other times, you have to take the initiative. When it’s your turn, don’t throw away your shot.
Pay it forward
I think this is self-explanatory. Good luck!