5 tips for landing a public health practicum

If you’re a first year MPH student, we know that you are more than terrified with summer approaching. Don’t worry, we get it! It’s that time of year where your friend’s sister’s boyfriend and the barista who serves your coffee every morning become your resume critiques. To add to the stress, everyone wants to know whether you’ve landed a practicum!

It’s a stressful time, and we get it.

That’s why, we’re hoping to help you with these 5 straight-forward and foolproof tips that Carl, a Regional Manager of Communicable Disease Programs, provided to first year Master of Public Health (MPH) students to help land that practicum!

And, guess what? We think these are great tips even if you are nearing the end of your program and applying to a full time job!

Tip #1: Personality beats checkmarks on a list – required qualifications aren’t always “required”.

Many jobs will post the preferred job requirements, but don’t let that dissuade you if you feel the position is right for you. Apply for positions that seem beyond your grasp, but be sure to draft cover letters to show why your other skills, life experiences, etc., make you a suitable candidate. Employers, if they see a candidate they think they can really work with, are much more willing to put in the time to make sure you’re set to tackle the job. Effective teams are based on more than education and listed skills on a resume; it’s about how well you can apply your skills in an environment with many different personalities. All the best minds in the world won’t get much done if they don’t communicate and work together well.

Tip #2: Get into the employer’s inbox, before you submit your resume.

The job descriptions that you see are often quite generic and don’t really reflect the great projects on the go or general day to day activities that are touched by this role. If you’re interested in a position, don’t hesitate to try and ask for more of these details. Employers will remember your name and the fact that you put more effort into it. Ask about what projects are currently underway or the scope of the work, for example. It will reward you!

Tip #3: Do you REALLY know what your employer does? Study the position as much as those interview tips!

Google will be your best friend. Take the time to explore program websites and the structure of the department, to name a few. It shows that you’ve actually taken the time to learn about the position and not just applying to a position because you just need a job (of course that’s a big driver but that extra attention to detail will set you apart). Take it a step further, maybe contact someone at the office and see what you can learn from them.

Tip #4: Quality over quantity – bite your tongue and get comfortable with silence

Interviewers write a lot – don’t worry about how much or what they’re trying to say; they’re really just trying to record your answers for their own reference later. Likewise, don’t feel like you have to fill empty airspace when there is a gap in the conversation. Take your time after the question is posed to prepare your answer. Interview panels appreciate well thought out answers. Too many interviewees rush to just fill the silence with answers and tend to ramble.

P.S. You don’t get marks off for long winded answers. However, you will get marks off if you say something incorrect, so take your time. They want to see you at your best, just as much as you want to be your best.

Tip #5: Don’t ask the same questions everyone else did.

This is an advice you see on every career advice blog, but that’s because it’s important. Don’t hesitate to ask additional questions during an interview. Don’t go for generic questions at the end of the interview just because you feel obliged to ask something; try for questions that reflect how you will integrate into the team. Think about the team, the projects they work on, and your own interest. Go prepared with the research you’ve done, and a list of well thought out questions.

Always remember to put your best foot forward. These employers are getting hundreds of applications from other Public Health students each term, so it’s absolutely necessary that YOU stand out. This means going the nine-yards and researching EACH position as if it’s the only one you’re applying to. It means contacting the employer in some shape or form beforehand. It means preparing yourself to be a great interviewee AND interviewer. It means – following these tips!

Good luck on your practicum search!


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