When you’re looking for your very first public health job, this can be kind of intimidating. Maybe you just got your MPH, maybe you’re looking to switch from clinical to public health nursing and your work experience is at a hospital, not a health department. Maybe you’ve never formally studied public health but your heart is tugging you in that direction. So what do you do? How do you get your foot in the door? Here are some key suggestions, pulled from interviews with public health professionals who remember when they were just starting out …
- For those who are still in school, make sure your professors know your name. If you’re studying for a public health degree, your teachers can be your best allies. But it’s not enough just to ace your assignments. Speak up. Participate in class. Stop by during a favorite professor’s office hours, ask for some advice, and let him or her know you’re interested in working in their field. Many public health students get their first jobs through a professor’s recommendation.
- Find the people who do what you want to do. Jobs often come from personal connections, not from the want ads. Does your city or state have a local public health association? Go to a meeting and say hello, and don’t be shy about telling people you’re just starting out. Public health professionals tend to be enthusiastic about their work and eager to help others find their way. Don’t expect that anyone’s going to offer you a job immediately. But if you become a member of the community, you’re more likely to hear about opportunities. You’ll also start to learn the landscape and find out which agencies and companies might hire someone like you.
- Use your connections. If your mom, uncle, or best friend knows someone in a public health job, you’re a shoo-in for an informational interview. Not sure what that means? It’s a meeting with someone in the company or field you’re interested in, not to interview for a job but to learn about the possibilities. It’s a good time to ask, “What can I do to be a better candidate, if an entry-level job should open up?”
- Do an internship or become a volunteer. When people know you, they’re more likely to overlook your lack of formal experience. Find an organization you’d like to work for and check out the volunteer opportunities. If you’re a student, ask if they take on interns. Once you’re in, you can show off how responsible and capable you are. Make sure everyone knows you’d like to work for the company or agency someday. If they’re not hiring, you’ll still have a good line to add to your resume, along with some highly relevant references.
- Look beyond your dream job. Let’s face it: when you’re just starting out, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to land your perfect job. The good news is, it’s common for people to make “lateral” moves in public health, from one type of job or topic area to another. Be open to an entry-level job that will build skills you can use in the work you really want to do.
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