Through my fellowship experience, I have participated in many stages of the hiring process for a variety of public health positions. Experiencing the “other side” as the interviewer has given me a new perspective on approaching the hiring process as a prospective employee. Using this new perspective, I have come up with a few observations that may help you as you apply and interview for your next gig.
1. Applicants have screened themselves out of an interview process by not answering questions fully. Some applications require you to respond to questions in an essay format. Essays I review are scored based on a rubric related to the job description, so a blank or one-sentence response results in a low score. The applicant who offers very little in their responses will not likely make it to the next round of the process. The same goes for other parts of the application. It may seem like questions on different sections of the application ask for the same information, but be sure to answer each question completely despite any potential redundancy.
2. The same concept is true for responding to interview questions. One frequent occurrence is that candidates do not say enough in their responses to interview questions. One or two sentence responses are not sufficient. The interview is a candidate’s chance to really explain their experiences and abilities. The interviewers should have a clear picture of who they are and the skills they bring to the position.
3. Everyone is (at least a little) nervous during an interview. What I have found is that nearly every candidate I have interviewed shows signs nervousness. Interviewing can be stressful, but I think that interviewers understand that you may be nervous and it shouldn’t count against you. Although a candidate may be nervous, it’s not a big deal. The hardest thing to witness is a candidate who stumbles through the interview because they are distracted by their nerves.
4. Candidates often ask too few questions about the position or about the work environment. Asking questions helps determine if the job is a good fit and shows curiosity about the opportunity. In every interview that I have been a part of, we always ask the candidate if they have any questions, and some people don’t ask anything. I’m left wondering if the person is actually interested in the position.
5. Unfortunately, applicants don’t always present themselves professionally (in attire, actions, and the application materials submitted). Spelling errors and formatting issues in a résumé or cover letter can be a serious setback. I have seen a number of different quirks in résumés and cover letters that have impacted an applicant’s chance of being invited for an interview. Attention to detail and professional appearance of application documents can demonstrate interest in the position.
6. An applicant’s interactions outside of the interview are important too. We ask our reception staff, who greet and provide tours for candidates, to give their input on their interactions with interviewees. This can be crucial to evaluating how a candidate would fit in our organization. This also presents the applicant an opportunity to connect with other staff and determine their fit in the work environment.
7. I think that prior to the interview applicants could do more research about the organization they apply to, the community it serves, and the types of programs it offers. This not only helps them figure out if the job is a good fit, it also demonstrates their interest in the position. It would be impressive to have a candidate reference our Community Health Improvement Plan, organizational structure, or information presented on our website.
8. The old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” definitely applies to searching and applying for jobs in public health. By working on a regional or statewide committee (e.g. WPHA Annual Conference Committee) or reaching out to others at conferences/meetings, an applicant can establish connections to people in organizations that they’d like to work for. These networks can help identify opportunities, facilitate connections to those in hiring positions, and evaluate fit with an agency.
9. When an employer makes a job offer, it is appropriate to negotiate benefits. Many times people accept the first offer that is made, but they always have the opportunity to negotiate (not only salary, but vacation, and other benefits). The employer may not have flexibility in negotiations, but it can’t hurt to ask.
I hope that you find these observations helpful! This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a strict set of rules. It is simply some advice that I want to share based on my own experiences.
Nick Zupan, MPH
Population Health Service Fellow - 2nd Year
Wisconsin Division of Public Health Western Region Office
Eau Claire City-County Health Department
Eau Claire, WI