Public health job application tips from an HR Professional (resumes and interviews), with Kiriga Konalingam

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Show Notes

Today’s episode is not with a public health professional, but rather a “friend of public health” – this is what we are calling the individuals who can support us with the services, advice/tips, and value they are able to share.

Today’s friend of public health is Kiriga Konalingam, an HR recruiter who has worked in public health organizations hiring public health professionals. We wanted to bring someone like Kiriga on the show to talk about a topic we could always use some guidance on: job applications, specifically resumes and interviews.

We wanted to hear first hand from someone in HR about things to keep in mind when applying to jobs, preparing and submitting resumes, and even tips around evaluations or exams, and interviews.

This episode is a lengthy one because Kiriga is extremely passionate about these topics…and you’ll hear towards the end that we didn’t want to finish the conversation because there was so much more to talk about! If by the end of the episode you are still left with additional questions, please let us know through our podcast form (choose “I would like to recommend a topic and/or guest for the podcast” option) other questions/topics you’d like us to discuss with Kiriga (we would love to have her back on for another episode).

You’ll Learn

  • The process that an HR department would take when an organization wants to hire a public health professional
  • What happens once an applicant submits an application, and an HR specialist receives it
  • Tips, advice, things to consider, etc. around:
    • Resumes
    • Interviews
    • Exams/Evaluations
  • Things to consider when looking for a job; looking beyond the pay grade, and thinking about the experience as a whole (culture, benefits, mentorship, etc.)

Today’s Guest

Kiriga Konalingam

Kiriga is a Talent Acquisition Consultant with over 10+ years of experience as an HR professional recruiting for both public and private sector. She started her career working for one of the largest banks supporting multiple portfolios including Finance, Audit, Capital Markets and Risk Management.

She then decided to move to the public sector where she began recruiting for various public health roles. Her passion for talent and wanting to make impact to community life, led her to take a position with York Region, where she helped to build effective and dynamic public health teams.


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Episode Transcript

Kiriga 0:00
And that’s where we bring it back to the culture fit, right? And don’t sort of fit for the team. The managers are looking for that when they’re interviewing you. But at the end of the day, you’re looking for that as well. So if you feel, if you don’t feel comfortable in, when you’re in the interview with them, then you know kind of gives you a sign that maybe this is not the right place for me.

Sujani 0:22
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here to your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health, to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today’s episode is actually not with a public health professional, but rather with an HR Recruiter who has worked in public health organizations hiring public health professionals like us. I thought this would be a great person to bring on board to talk about a topic we’re always thinking about: job applications, specifically resumes and interviews. So I was fortunate to have met Kiriga Konalingam through a friend with whom I did my MPH degree. Kiriga is a talent acquisition consultant with over 10 years of experience as a HR professional recruiting for both public and private sector. She started her career working in the private sector, and then decided to move into the public sector where she began recruiting for various public health roles. Her passion for talent and wanting to make an impact in the community led her to take a position with York Region public health, where she helped to build effective and dynamic public health teams. So the reason I wanted to bring someone like Kiriga on this podcast was to really hear firsthand from someone in HR about the things to keep in mind when we’re applying to jobs, or preparing and submitting our resumes, and even tips around evaluations and exams and interviews. So I know this episode is going to be extremely valuable. It’s a bit of a long one. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Kiriga. I wanted to start off by helping our listeners understand the process that an HR department would take when an organization wants to hire a public health professional. So maybe like from your point of view, what does that process look like? From the moment a manager kind of decides, “Okay, I think I need to fill a position.” What would they do from your experience?

Kiriga 2:49
Yeah. So first of all, I just want to say, thank you so much for speaking with me. In, and I’m actually very excited to share my information and my knowledge about the, the HR community in terms of, specifically towards public health. And so I’m just going to tell you a little bit about the process. So in terms of, so every organization has a different recruitment process, there is specifically that’s designed for their specific needs. It’s all quite similar. But sometimes some of them include an evaluation, some of them don’t, for public health. So I do say that a lot of the interviews, a lot of the, a lot of the positions do require evaluation, especially assessments, because you are dealing with the public health community. And the best thing to do before you actually go into applying for that position, or even going for the interview, is to look online to see exactly what type of process that they have. And this is all available on their website. So the organizations that you go for, if you review their career website, you can always look at the process. And they will tell you step by step of how it works. They most likely don’t really share their timelines, but it’s a good indicator of what it looks like. And so we can start off with the overall process. So the hiring manager reaches out with a position that he needs to fill or she needs to fill. They usually reach out to HR professional like myself, or recruiter and they want to discuss the specific position and the role and we advertise the position internally first, and then we and if there is a need to go externally, we advertise externally as well. Sometimes they could advertise it at the same time simultaneously, just because if they know that this position is really hard to fail, they would advertise it externally as well at the same time.

Sujani 4:49
So would they come to you with a list of things that they’re looking for right off the bat, or is that something an HR professional would help them with kind of pick out based on the need.

Kiriga 5:03
Yeah. So individually before they actually go ahead and advertise the job, they have a route that they take for to create the job description. Some of them are already created already. They’re created by the compensation team, they usually will have a specific job, a job level, and they go through their policies and everything and work out what the job is going to be look like and what the minimum requirements are. Once they do that, and then once they have everything organized, and then they would come to ourselves, usually, this is something that’s done well in advance, especially if they have already hired for the position before, then it’s just basically coming to us and looking for an opportunity. If they haven’t, then it is a longer process, they would have to go and come up with a job description, requirements. And those are the things that they would have to look for. When I, say once they have done all this, we would connect with them. And then we would go to the job and, together, and see what they’re looking for. And we would have that conversation with them in terms of, you know, how do they, how does your team look like? And the minimum requirements, this is the first time that they’re posting the position? Or is this a reoccurring position that comes quite often. So that’s, that’s kind of the conversation that we have. And then afterwards, once the job is posted online, it can go online for about usually the standard is two weeks. And then we, ourselves, have a deadline where we would have to, the applications would have to come in. And then we would, the first point of contact and looking at the application in most organizations is HR professionals. So a recruiter would review it, they will look to see if you meet the minimum requirements for the position, and then have a selection of candidates that they would have the hiring manager review. And once they reviewed it and both of them agree upon, the candidates will move forward. And that’s, and they would proceed with them to the next step, which is usually the evaluation and assessment stage. It’s, it’s different for all organizations, some of them would have the evaluation assessment stage as simultaneously while they’re doing the interview. So maybe they’ll do the interview after this assessment or before. Or sometimes they ask you to do it before and then come in for an interview afterwards. So that’s why it’s great to look at their, their career page, just because it shows you step by step. Okay, we’ll, we’ll be evaluated first before we get an interview. And then yeah,

Sujani 7:48
Okay, so then, I guess, from the applicants point of view, or perspective, I would kind of see this job posting on a public health department’s website or an organization and I go through the requirements. And I’m like, “Okay, I think I’m qualified for this. So I would typically prepare a resume and a cover letter, if that’s what they’re asking for. And then I submit it.”, and then you as the HR Recruiter, or talent acquisition person, you’d receive these and then you were saying you would be that first person that would look through the resumes? Could you kind of like, tell us what happens when you are looking through these resumes? Like what kind of things are you looking for? Are there like, number one reasons that you would reject a resume? Maybe, like, walk us through that process?

Kiriga 8:35
Yeah, so the first thing that we look for, is making sure that you’ve meet the requirements like so usually, if there’s a requirement under that’s mandatory, it would be something that you would have to meet, just because they, just because there’s a number of applications, and we would have to make sure that we there’s a way of filtering the candidates out. So it’s a minimum requirement mandatory, we would look for that as well, then if a positio,n if there’s a skill that’s considered as an asset, you know, the candidate can still be considered, it’s just considered, it’s just nice to have. Some we could have a good pool of applicants, and we could have a pool of applicants that don’t meet the requirements. And if that’s the case, and that we don’t have anybody that meets the minimum requirements, that would be a conversation that we would have the hiring manager to see that. Obviously, we would have to probably repost the position just because if we don’t have anybody that meets those minimum requirements, then we would also look, another thing that we would look at too, is that we will look at the the way that the person is, you know, writing the resume and spelling grammar does have a big huge impact on the actual resume itself. I would say the reason being, is because this is another skill that we’re looking for, it’s attention to detail right? So if the person is has quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes on their resume, then it is a skill that the hiring manager knows that they’re not actually taking the time to review the resume and making sure that everything is accurate before they leave. And this is something that could happen, you know, at the end of the day, when they work in the organization, we just want to make sure that they’re doing the same exact thing. So all the skills that you portray in your resume will definitely, you know, impact, it definitely shows us what kind of person is going to be coming in for an interview or someone that is going to be working when they work in the organization, right. So I would say if you know, we all make our mistakes, if there’s a one off, you know, we’re not going to toss your resume. If there is, you know, quite a few mistakes, and that is something that I would say that it’s always best to have someone review your resume before you send it in, have another set of pair of eyes before you actually go and send and submit those resumes. Yeah, so that’s one thing. Another thing I did want to cover, the cover letter aspect of it as well. People always tend to ask me that question quite often. Do I need to include a cover letter? I would say yes. It’s a, a cover letter is a way of us understanding how you’re truly passionate about and motivated for the actual position. It tells us about your career aspirations, tell us about your work ethic, it gives us a good understanding of what you’ve done in the past, just as you describe it, and especially shows your, it kind of showcases your competitive edge with, against other candidates. And you know, face it, well, most of the time, that’s what we’re doing, right? When we’re going into an interview, we’re being faced, we’re going to, other candidates are being interviewed at the same time as us, we want to make sure we that we showcase that, and that we shine through every aspect of the process, especially through the, the cover letter process. And that’s, that’s actually a great way of understanding the candidate by, and to be honest, hiring managers actually love cover letters. They love it more than the recruiters do. Recruiters, you know, look through the resume, make sure you meet the qualifications. But hiring managers like to see your personality shine through the cover letters, because that’s way they realize they understand that how you’re different from the other ones. A great way of understanding, if you do need a cover letter for the position, is when you’re submitting an application, if they’re asking for a cover letter, make sure that you include it in there. If they’re not asking for the cover letter, I always say still include it in there and make sure that you customize it towards that specific position. But if you, I mean, if you don’t want to include it, you don’t have to. For me, it’s always a win when you’re customizing it towards that position. Because I, I truly feel like you really want the position, right?

Sujani 13:05
I guess like, you know, when I was applying to jobs early on, I would be reading all these articles on how to prepare the best cover letter. And there’s often certain tips that you read online, where it’s like, keep it to one page, highlight certain skills that the job posting is asking for. And it’s kind of like explain your story behind that skill. Are there some like top three tips that you could provide to make sure like your cover letter shines where I think like the cover letter, if you’re trying to connect with the hiring manager, it really depends on their personality as well. But are there some basic things that you should probably include in your cover letter?

Kiriga 13:46
Yeah, so with the cover letter, you kind of had some key points on there, the way to connect with the hiring manager is to connect to the job posting, like you said, some of the skills on there that are actually needed for the position. So if there’s a specific project that you worked on, you know, for example, you know, I’m, “I’m a health promoter in that field, and I’ve been working in healthcare for a few years, and I actually worked on a specific project that’s related to a community. And we went through a change within that, within that community. And now I would have to, you know, I worked on a specific, I guess, a project that was related to, you know, opioids.” So if that was the case, what I would do is explain to them that, you know, “I worked on this big project with a really opioids.” And, and try to keep it short to the point where it’s not getting too much detail, but it’s also intriguing, the manager to want to bring yourself forward. It’s a bit hard skill to do, but it’s also allowing them to understand that you’ve done some worked on these projects. That’s actually related to some of the skills that they’re looking for in the cover letter. So relating it to the job description is great. And the requirements. Another thing is telling them about what your career aspirations are as well, thinking that this position is definitely going to help me to get to A, B, and C, I’m not looking for a desk to have this position, because I just want to get, like a job, I’m looking for to, this position is going to help me build this skill, or help me enhance the skill so that I can get to, one day get into that leadership role that I’m looking to get into. So those are things that they like to see on it. And that’s how you showcase your personality, because they’re really looking for that motivated individual, to, that has done a little bit of work to take those skills and bring it to the next level. So it’s not about clicking with the personality of the hiring manager, because that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to, we’re trying to showcase our best self, and use the skills that we’ve had before. And you know what, it’ll probably make more sense when we go into, when we’re probably, you know, we can go into a little bit more detailed of how we showcase our skills in interview. And that is going to help you actually with your cover letter. If you’ve had some practice with interviews before, you would definitely be able to correlate that to the cover letter.

Sujani 16:24
Okay. Yeah, I think we can delve into that in the interview phase. I have one more question around like resumes. I guess it’s very different based on the organization. But how much does, I guess, I don’t even know what to call it. But digital reviews of resumes play in this whole process? Or is it all done by a human being looking through every single resume?

Kiriga 16:50
So in the organizations that I’ve been in, it’s all done by human being, I don’t think there’s anything that would be digital, just because technology is not that advanced, that they would be able to pick up, you know, things that people are looking for, the only thing is when you going into submitting your application, keeping in mind that the questions that they’re asking you, right, sometimes there could be applications that you’re putting through, and then they have these qualification questions like, “Do you have a degree and..” So “Do you have about a master’s” and so and so. So it’s, those are the questions that would, that would relate. So if you don’t have those minimum requirements, I can’t say that the the resume can be reviewed by the, the recruiter right, most of the times that we do, we review, like, we usually review all the applications that come through, just because especially in public health, we, we look at every application. I know, for all organizations that I’ve worked through, we have to make sure that we’re streamlining it, looking at all the applications. But it’s, it’s those those questions that you’re submitting, if you don’t have the minimum requirements, the, you know, ultimately, at the end of the day, you could be a candidate that’s not looked at any more, because you don’t meet any of the minimum ones, minimum educational requirements that we’re looking for.

Sujani 18:19
Yeah, absolutely.

Kiriga 18:20

Sujani 18:22
I guess when I, from your experience working in a public health department, typically how many applications would you get for a single job that you’d have to review resumes for?

Kiriga 18:34
That’s a tough one.

Sujani 18:36
Maybe think of a range.

Kiriga 18:39
It’s a lot. Especially, it also depends on the organization, if it’s an organization that everybody wants to work for, so, you know, working for WSIB working for York Region, working for like some of the private sectors, they, you know, we get tons of applications just because the organizations are selfless, are so, so great. And we’ve, you know, I’ve been lucky to working with them as well. We don’t get just minimum applications, we get tons. And it’s, it’s usually a lot, a lot of them

Sujani 19:15

Kiriga 19:17
Yeah, it could be in the hundred. But it is a very niche role. Like if it’s a role that’s very, very distinct and it’s hard to find the qualifications for this role. We don’t get, you know, tons of applications or we might get people that don’t even qualify, right?

Sujani 19:35

Kiriga 19:35
They might be just applying just for the sake of applying. And, and they might think that, you know, they don’t have to meet the qualifications. But that’s another thing too. So, or some people don’t know what they’re applying to apply, right?

Sujani 19:51

Kiriga 19:52
But it is quite a lot. That’s why it’s always it’s always good to make sure that you have that great cover letter and then else would be job resume and making it, being aware of the audience of the person that’s looking at it, right? Seeing, you know, there’s going to be an HR professional, that’s going to be looking at it, there’s going to be a hiring manager looking at it, they’re usually aware more of the technology, technical terms. The HR professional, usually there were usually variable, all the technical terms as well. But making sure that you’re keeping in mind that you’re not just writing. Like, you’re, you would be writing when you’re working in your field, right? You’re writing that so that someone else can review it and understand it. So that’s why it’s great to have someone else review it. Because if they can understand it, then someone else that’s reviewing it is they’re just going to be able to understand it as well.

Sujani 20:43
Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned a really good topic, which I don’t want to get into, because I think it will take a whole hour, but it’s about applying to the right job and how to review a job posting to know if it’s a job suited for your skills and your expertise. So I’m thinking we might have to do a second episode on just that. Okay, you mentioned, one of the reasons you wouldn’t look at or take someone’s application and move it further is if they don’t meet the minimum requirements. So something I’ve always struggled with is, if the posting says you need five years of, I don’t know, data analysis experience, and for whatever reason, when I count out my experience, years, I get to four, can I apply? Will I be like automatically rejected? Or is that something that you may consider?

Kiriga 21:39
So that was, that would depend. So some, I would say it depends on the organization. And if they are actually pretty strict on how, how the qualifications would be like, it’s very different between public and private, because I don’t want to get to too much of those details, because it’ll probably take another hour or two. Yeah. But it’s usually if you’re, you know, you’re, you’re going into an environment where it is heavily unionized, we want to make sure that you’re meeting the minimum requirements, because we also have internal candidates that are meeting the minimum requirements as well. So you may have to make sure that they do meet, you know, that five year mark, if you are going into the private areas, it’s you, they always, managers are also looking for at minimum requirements, because we we also look at the employees that we have currently working. And then, then when they you know, they meet the requirements as well for the role. So I would say for yourself, to be on the safe side is always having that, you know, always still submitting the application. Do not, do not be not confident about, you know, putting in your, your resume in but be cognizant of that it might not be looked at, or it could be looked at but not be in the pile of, you know, the applications that we’re going to be moving forward with. That’s a tricky question. It’s only, it’s only the reason why it’s tricky is because it’s, it’s some organizations might have might be flexible in terms of their requirements. But most of all the big large ones, they are usually looking for those, like the 100% of the time, the qualification, because it’s the job posting is also linked to a pay grade. And the pay grade is always based on the minimum requirements that you have. If you’re not meeting those requirements, sometimes a pay grade might not be what you should be earning, right? So and that’s just the more of a little eight charges.

Sujani 23:48
I think it’s helpful for people to understand that context as to why those minimum requirements exist, right? Because you want to be fair to the people currently working in the organization as well as provide fair compensation as well. So that totally makes sense. I guess you won’t ever know whether you will be, like, your resume will be reviewed and moved on to the next phase unless you just put it in and see where that goes.

Kiriga 24:15
And some organizations, also, the minimum requirements could be, you know, if you had that for years, but you have some Co Op positions that you’ve gotten paid for. That can be also an added benefit, too, because they could include that with your, your, your experience as well, right? Because keep in mind Co Op is if you’re getting paid as an employee, you’re, you’re you’re working in that department. So we, it’s, it’s an experience that you have. So always making sure that you include that in your resume and not take them out is always a benefit too. I always get that question too from candidates, especially ones that are starting off in their professional career. They’re just wondering whether you know, “I’ve worked in, you know, for four months in this Co Op position, should I really include that, because I have five years, but not really five years, because it’s Co Op.” But if you’re getting paid for it, it should be included on your resume.

Sujani 25:18
How about, like internships and volunteer experiences if you have been putting in full time hours, but just not getting a salary?

So internships are different, they should be, I hopefully, they should be paid.


Kiriga 25:33
A lot of them, we would want someone to be getting paid for the internship. It’s, it’s all about what you did. Most of the time. If it’s non paid, we, we don’t really include it. But w.ith volunteer, and internships, I would say they’re the added perks to your resume. I’ll give you an example: I did a little bit of volunteering in the HR field before I actually started with my career. It just gave me that experience, so that I would be able to speak to that in context when it comes to my interview, right? So I was able to use that as an you know, as when I’m interviewing, because I’ve had that experience, but it’s not really a position that I got paid for. So it it just gives me that added benefit to it. So if you, because if you’ve, you know, done a mentorship or if you worked in a volunteer position, reviewing resumes, where I actually did in that context, I brought that experience doing that. So then I would use that when I go to interview. So it’s, it’s not, it’s, it doesn’t help in terms of when you’re actually submitting your application. But it does help you when you’re coming up with examples for interview skills, any experience is great, is good experience, because you’re getting that exposure. So always keep in mind, even if it’s a volunteer position you’re not getting paid for, it will definitely help you in, to add towards your, your speaking piece when you’re doing interviews.

Sujani 27:11
And I guess it doesn’t hurt to kind of add those into your cover letter and back it up a little bit, right, like your co op and kind of explain how you got your five years of experience that they’re looking for.

Kiriga 27:20
Yeah, and you’re adding two words, your character to write volunteering is not easy, not everybody does it, just because they don’t have the time to do it. But it always speaks to your character, which I love seeing on their, all their resumes, I’m like, wow, they actually have the time to you know, do volunteering while they’re working at the same time and, and in what they did. And some of these volunteer positions, people are actually in quite a high position, sometimes. They’re you know, they’re working in a specific group, or supporting a specific group. And they’re actually in high positions where they’re just like a manager within that nightclub that they’re working in, which actually gives you great skills. Because you know, you’re actually working with a number of people and you are responsible for that area. And that’s a skill that you don’t, that it’s hard to obtain, especially if you’re a younger professional, but you’re getting that leadership skill within that, working in that club.

Sujani 28:26
Yeah, absolutely.

Kiriga 28:27
-will portray in the interview for sure. Managers will be able to see that.

Sujani 28:32
Absolutely. Yeah. Okay, I think maybe we should shift gears a little bit. Maybe we won’t spend too much time on the exams and evaluation, because I think it’ll be very dependent on the role that you’re applying to in the organization. But you know, I guess right off the bat, I would think if I’m applying for a health promotion job or an epidemiologist, job or a biostatistician, the content of that evaluation or exam will be related to that role. Is that a good assumption?

Kiriga 29:08
Yes, correct. So the reason being, is because at the end of the day, when you’re coming into the organization, and you’re, you’re going to be working in that position. This is the kind of, basically this is what you’re going to be doing. So it’s always going to be related, the test, you know, presentation, maybe the roleplay that you have, it would always be related to what you’re, what you’re going to be doing when you come in to work for the organization. A good tip, I would always tell candidates: If you’re not sure of what they’re going to be asking you to do if you’re going to be tested. A good way to understand it is to look at the job requirements, or the job description, you know, if you’re a health promoter and you’re going to be communicating, you’re going to be presenting and to be delivering prgrams, this is a good indicator that, you know, there’s going to be a presentation or there’s going to be something that, yeah, there’s most likely going to be a presentation or you’re going to be speaking to a group of managers at the end of your interview, or maybe before your interview, you’re going to have to prepare a presentation before this. So if there’s a lot of those key skills, most of the time, they’re going to ask you to do those things, especially if it’s anything that’s data related, keep in mind that there’s probably going to be something that you’re going to be working on, on the computer, or whether it be it before, as a testing component. And that’s something that’s going to be marked by them afterwards. So always keeping, always preparing yourself for that technical content before you come in there.

Sujani 30:49
So then-

Kiriga 30:50
And keeping up with the trends, sorry. Especially with public health, you always have to be keeping up with the trends, what’s going on in the health community. A lot of these managers very, very versed in the health community, they are part of like a lot of organizations, they go to a lot of programs. And they share some, sometimes they share some of this on LinkedIn. So if anybody’s not on LinkedIn, you should get yourself on there. A lot of them are sharing their, these articles, they’re sharing a lot of new things that they’re learning about in the- what’s going on within their community, whether they’re, you know, part of healthy living, or they’re part of, you know, infection control or anything like that. So they are very getting themselves in tune with what’s going on. Now, here now in the in the communities.

Sujani 31:42
And these evaluations, are they, could they differ in terms of how long you get to complete? Whether it’s an exam or a presentation?

Kiriga 31:51
Yeah, it would depend on what what the hiring manager or the recruiter has come across with the testing, it will change sometimes. It’s, if it’s something that’s very brief and short, it would give you less time. So it all depends on what the what they’re asking you to do. And but they do let you know that you, they would always communicate to you, you have this amount of time.

Sujani 32:16

Kiriga 32:17

Sujani 32:18
So I guess it doesn’t hurt to brush up on some of those skills and kind of like study.

Kiriga 32:22

Sujani 32:23

Kiriga 32:24
Yeah. So studying is, I would definitely recommend studying and I will say always put yourself in a position where if they were to give you an hour, you know, making sure that you’re able to finish within that timeframe. Because this is something, that’s another skill that they’re trying to assess you on at that moment, a time management, right? So if you know, if you were to ask, be asked to present something, or asked to give in something within that, you know, two to three hours, they would need something from you, or they need something from you in the next hour, which I wouldn’t say happened all the time. But you know, just in case that does happen, they want to know how much you know, what if you can be working under pressure like that. So those are the kinds of skills that they’re looking for when they’re testing you.

Sujani 33:14
Absolutely. Okay, so I guess you submit your application, you get it reviewed, you move on to the phase of whether the exam comes before the interview or after the interview, but you get an invitation for an interview. Is there something that the candidate should start preparing from day one? Like from the moment they receive that invitation?

Kiriga 33:42
Yes, so when, so the best I would, my best tip that I would get is, sorry, best tip that I would give is, preparation is the key. So before you go to any interview, even if you’ve been to a number of interviews, every t-, every interview is a different interview, don’t treat them all the same, they’re going to be asking you the same questions, the best thing to do is prepare for them in advance. So I’m just gonna give some tips that I think that would help you know, every candidate when they’re coming in for an interview, and these are things that some people do forget, or they’re just used to going to so many interviews that they don’t really, you know, think about these things at the end of the day, but the best thing I would say for yourself is: First, making sure that you have the details of the interview and who you’re going to be meeting with; researching the organization department and the, the members of the panel. That’s one thing that candidates find that they don’t really think about. Members of the panel are very important because you’d like to know exactly what their background is. Finding out most of the organizations will release to you, you know, who will be interviewing, who you’ll be meeting with. It’s always good to go on, you know, see if you can find them on LinkedIn. See if you can look at their background history, what they’ve done in their careers. And it’s, it’s a great way to, you know, have a conversation with them. If you have that few minutes in beforehand, or while the interview giving you an example of, you know, connecting with them building that rapport, which is always always a great thing to do in an interview, not coming in there and not being prepared and not being able to connect with the interviewer is definitely will, you know, not- You want to, you want them to make sure that they remember you, right? You want to make sure that they remember oh, you know, so and so did so great in the interview, they knew so much about my background, bringing your resume references, copies of your certificate, especially being in a public health background. I know that we do ask for those things, is what sometimes those some of those things will be asked afterwards. But if you have them in the beginning, it will speed up the process. Questions for the panel? These, this is very important. I know some people, they don’t ask questions, because they don’t have any questions. But questions also link towards how passionate you are about the role. And this is a position that you’re going to be in every single day in and day out, right? You want to make sure that it’s the right fit for you. So asking the right questions would make you feel that you’re confident that you made a good, that you made the right decision to interview for the role. So they want to see that you are truly thinking about yourself in the sense. And you’re also thinking about your, you know, you want to know what’s going on in their organization. Another big thing, this is the biggest tip I could probably give everybody: Go in there with five skills that you can offer the position, and examples to support it. This is going to help you when it comes to another topic that we’re going to talk about. Maybe we could probably talk about a little bit later. I don’t know if we’ll have time. But it’s more of the answering the questions when it comes to behavioral based or situational questions. This majorities interviews that you have, they could include these type of questions with, this is why coming to paired with key skills, and having you support them with examples can definitely help you and be confident. That’s another thing that I would say, if you’re not confident, it can portray in your body language. And that’s what managers don’t want to see. They want to see that you’re are able to answer the question confidently, even if it’s a skill or something that you don’t have, if it’s a technology that you’ve never worked with, it’s always best to, it’s always best to come there with confidence. And I can give you an example of something that happened in my career. And actually worked, it actually worked out for me as a great, a great, a great way- a great story that I could tell later on especially when it comes to interviews, or even my even my manager would tell me the story all the time, too. So it’s to, when I first originally started in my role when I worked in the past, early in my career, I didn’t- This is when LinkedIn was sort of coming out. And people were just kind of figuring it out. And, you know, not a lot of people were into it or anything. And the position that I had, I didn’t really have to use LinkedIn that much. But my manager asked me when I was in an interview, she said, you know, do you have some skills in LinkedIn? Is do you- have you used it before? Have you done anything with it? I actually, I actually went honestly to her. And I said, I never use LinkedIn, I have a profile. But I’ve never used it to, you know, look for candidates or connect with them, or even use them as a social media, post anything on there. It’s actually very new to me, however, that’s how you usually kind of talk to them about it. However, I have used other technology that helps me. And at the end of the day I was- at the end of the day, it’s- I’m very good at technology, and I’m very good at picking up things very quickly. And then, you know, in this case, the way that I presented that to her the way that I spoke with confidence that I was definitely going to learn it and I was definitely going to prove to her that, that this is something that’s going she’s going to be very proud of. And then probably a year later, I, I was in a meeting and my manager. She didn’t even tell me she just goes “Remember the time that you told me that you didn’t know LinkedIn really well?” And then I was just like, “Yeah, I did.” And then she’s like, “Well, I just, I just wanted to let you know that LinkedIn has told me that you are one of the top rated recruiters that had the most exposure in LinkedIn and the most, most accepted, less, accepted in males from candidates.” So I was shocked, I was like, wow, I was just, you know, trying to, you know, I was trying to do a good job and really try to prove to you that I was just going to learn the technology, and I was going to be the best at what I can do. So that was, that was a great story that, that, that helped me through my early careers, it made me realize that even if I’m not, I’m not familiar with something I am, I’m just gonna, I’m going to work towards that goal. And she thought, that confidence and she said, I’m glad I, you know, decided to go with you because, and because it was, you know, could be other candidates that had that as an asset. But that didn’t work. But

Sujani 40:40

Kiriga 40:40
That was one of those things. Yeah.

Sujani 40:42
That’s a great story. And I think just knowing how to connect your other skills back to the specific question that you’re being asked at the interview will go to show that confidence because it reminds me of a story from experience I had, which didn’t go as great as yours. Actually. I wrote a blog post about it. So I’ll link it in this episode. But I titled the blog post, “My interview fail”, I did exactly the opposite of what you just explained, where when they asked me if I had a certain skill or a certain experience, I was not prepared for it. And I just said, “No.”. And that was the end of my answer. I was just “Nope.”. And I’ll tell you why that was a weird experience, because and maybe you can tell me a bit about it. The way the email was framed, when they got back to me was, we’re interested to chat with you. So for whatever reason, when I read the word chat, I didn’t think of it as an interview. So I didn’t go prepared, I was going in thinking I was just going to chat with somebody. So I didn’t prepare for it. And is that something that’s typical, I don’t know, maybe not in the public sector, maybe the private sector, where recruiting manager might say, “Hey, we’re interested in chatting with you.”, but it’s actually an interview.

Kiriga 42:04
Yeah, it can happen quite a lot in the private sector, especially now. It’s, it’s, a lot of the times, hiring managers sometimes can come and meet you for coffee, or they just want to connect with you. Maybe to see if you know, you would be sort of a, you know, someone that we interested in applying, right. And it could be just a quick chat. And, and then you would obviously go to the proper channels after that if you are interested. But I can see how it kind of come out to be sort of under like thinking that it’s a chat, especially if they say you know, it’s five to 10 minutes. And you’re thinking, Okay, it’s really not that much. But that’s why I always say candidates, like you know, if you are meeting with anybody, it’s always to go in there prepared with anything that you think that they’re going to be asking you. Not saying that you need to, you know, come up with all these answers and examples and everything like that, but it’s just more about how you’re going to speak to them and how professionally and make it sound more of a natural thing, because that’s what they want. When you’re coming in for a chat. It’s more of a natural thing. They’re not asking you to come in there with, you know, all your your notes or everything like that. It’s just, it’s more about “Okay, have you, you know, worked with the technology before?” “Yes, I haven’t done. I haven’t worked with that.” But you kind of given a reason for it, right? Example of why you haven’t worked with that. Or a similar, a similar example of a technology that you worked for before, that’s quite similar or could be helpful, something helpful to their organization, right? Especially being in coding, we worked with a lot of different technology. So it’s, it’s, but they’re all the same. It’s all a recruiting function.

Sujani 43:56
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Kiriga 43:59
Yeah. So I can see why that happened. But you bounce back.

Sujani 44:03
Yeah, absolutely. I did. There was one tip that you mentioned, which was sort of new, but not really, but I wanted to ask you a bit more it was about finding out who your panelists are going to be, and then sort of understanding who they are as a person so that you can connect better in an interview. So I’m just trying to think about the interviews I’ve had. And I don’t know if they’ve always included the names of the people that are going to be on the panel. So is that something that’s appropriate to email, the HR or the hiring manager and ask, “Would you be able to tell me how many people are going to be on the panel or who’s going to be on the panel?”.

Kiriga 44:42
So yeah, so some organizations don’t let you know who will be interviewing you. Just because sometimes at that time, they could have, you know, one designated hiring manager but there could be a couple other people that are supporting them and some of them might not be available that day or they just, you know, unfortunately, something happened that they’re not able to come in for, to interview, or they would have to jump into another meeting. But it’s, it can happen. But there’s always usually a hiring manager. And there’s usually an HR professional in there, too. If, if, if they need or they could be two hiring managers, but most of the time, I would always reach out to the recruiter, the person that’s actually going to setting up the interview with you and ask them, you know, isn’t is, are you able to release the two hiring managers? Or the two people that are going to be interviewing me? Is there an opportunity to get those names? And they’ll let you know, if they, and most of the time, sometimes they do, because they’re asking you to go there and meet with them, you might have to ask for their names. When you’re coming in. So I would always say for yourself, it’s, it’s different for every organization, some of them do, and some of them don’t. But it’s always good to ask because there’s no harm in asking, right? The worst answer that they can give you is “No sorry, unfortunately, can’t give you that.” But you know, there’s going to be, two people are going to be interviewing you. And by the organization I worked on, most of them do let you know, they send you an email and they like, let you know that you’re going to be meeting with these two people.

Sujani 46:15
Okay, that’s helpful, too.

Kiriga 46:16
Yeah. Yeah.

Sujani 46:18
And then when you talked about having good questions that you go into the interview with, that you will be asking the panelists, are there such things as good questions to ask and bad questions to ask?

Kiriga 46:35
I would say there’s no bad question, because at the end of the day, you’re looking to find out more information from the company. It could be very intimidating too, because you’re just wondering, okay, “If I ask this question, does it look like do I don’t, they, then they’re probably going to think that, you know, I don’t know this information, right? Why don’t I know this information?” No, I’m thinking that they’re, it’s a, it’s a good question, because maybe another candidate won’t ask that question. And you’re the one that has your- you have that confidence there to ask them to, okay, you know, “What is your culture like? You know, what, in terms of this role that you have, you know, is it a replacement? Does someone move on? You know, what do they end up doing? Or is it you know, what is this type of projects that you’re going to be working on?” Sometimes, if it’s, if it’s public related, especially in the public sector, they might not release some of those that information, because it is sensitive, but they might be able to let you know that, you know, we’re looking to enhance this type of area within our department. So we do definitely need someone that, you know, that has that type of background. So these are the projects that we’re going to be working on, but it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s not something that it’s something that, it could change based on our funding, which is the habits of the public sector. But it’s, they’ll probably get- give you a little bit of an understanding of what they’re doing so that you have an opportunity to understand that, “Okay, this is what I’m getting myself into. And that- that could, that could be a great fit for me.” And it could give you a chance to answer back to them and be like, you know, “That’s just definitely up my alley. Like, I would definitely love to work on that project. Because I think I could, you know, add, based on our discussion today, I can definitely add this type of value.”

Sujani 48:26
I think some of the examples that you just provided, it makes me think like really digging deeper into your own curiosity about this role and framing those as thoughtful questions, right? Because I think whenever you apply to any job, you’re always wondering, “Are the people going to be nice? Am I going to work on interesting projects?” And then if you can just take that curiosity and turn it into questions to ask at the end of the interview, it goes to show that you’re really thinking about this position, and,

Kiriga 48:51
That you want to grow, right?

Sujani 48:53

Kiriga 48:53
You wanna grow and you don’t want to- That’s another thing that they look forward to is someone that really wants to truly grow in the organization, in the right fit for their team. So if you’re asking those questions definitely portrays that too.

Sujani 49:08
I have so many more questions. But I think just for the sake of kind of making this a episode that’s under an hour, I think I might ask you to kind of wrap up with this one thought or topic that you and I kind of chatted about when we first met and it was around, you know, when you graduate, the kinds of jobs that you’re looking for, and you’re applying to and we both started talking about, you know, not just to look for places that are paying such a high salary, because going to a job that you’re going to be spending about eight years- of your eight hours of your day is more than just the salary and I really liked that- That conversation we both had, so maybe you could start it off and then we can both kind of go back and forth and share our perspective.

Kiriga 49:56
Sure. So when you’re starting off in your career, it’s, it’s, it’s very especially, you know, for myself looking at my myself and going back to how I started off my career, you know, you’re just out of school, you’re just looking, you’re looking for a position, but then you’d obviously want to look at that salary and having a higher salary, I can’t, you know, you can’t deny it, anybody coming into school really wants to make, you know, so and so certain amount of just so that they can, you know, justify that, you know, they got this degree, they got this for a reason, because to get that type of salary. But keeping in mind that, it’s not always about the compensation. Keep in mind that it could be, it’s always about the skill that you build upon, until you get to the level that you’re supposed to be. So it’s, it’s understood, it- looking for those jobs that are going to add to your resume that are going to add to your skills, because eventually, when you do have- build on those skills, you’re gonna get to that salary that you’re looking for that goal. So it’s having those baby steps that will get you to where you want to be. That’s, that’s one thing that a lot of candidates do ask that, you know, they, they sometimes ask about the pay, which is fine, because it’s only fair to ask about the pays, it’s not available in the job description. With the public sector or the public health field, they usually will post it on there, that this is what the hourly rate is. But if they don’t post it on there, it’s something that if you do go in for an interview or anything like that, I, I would probably recommend not asking about the salary at that point. Maybe if you want to have that conversation with the HR professional before you go into the interview. But keeping an open mind that, you know, I’m looking to build upon these skills, because it’s going to get me to that salary that I’m looking for. So that’s just, that’s my input on there. But you might have a different-

Sujani 51:57
No, no, I agree. And I think we also talked about kind of the culture, right? Like you might, you might have an amazingly high salary, but culture isn’t so great, or the people that you’re working with, or you don’t have much mentorship. So I think when you as a, as a new grad or Early professional, when you’re looking for jobs to build your career in public health, it’s more than the pay scale that you should be looking at, I think is what we’re trying to get at, because the job that you’re doing for eight hours a day is more than the salary. And I think like, you’re already kind of bringing in amazing value in the world working in public health. The compensation is a very important part of that. But also thinking about what your mental health is going to be when you’re at work, “Are the people that you’re surrounding yourself empowering you? Are they inspiring you to do better?”, and “Is the work that you’re contributing to also making you happy and content at the end of the day?”

Kiriga 52:55
Yeah, so it’s, it’s for especially now. Now, in these days, a lot of people are looking for that coat, they’re looking, a lot of hiring managers are looking for that fit for the employee. That’s because they want to make sure that they’re happy at the end of the day working there, they want them to grow within the organization. So for, as a candidate, you’re not just looking at the fire, you’re looking like you said, you’re looking for all those aspects of it you’re looking for, when you’re coming in there, the people that you’re working with, if they’re going to inspire you, if they’re going to be working on a specific project that’s really going to help you build your skills. If you’re looking for an organization that has a work life balance, some of them don’t have the work life balance, and you’ll be working a later shift and bringing along your hours, especially in the public health field, I noticed that you know, a lot of you’re working with the community and it could, you know, could- it couldn’t, you might have to be working longer hours than normal. So that’s why it’s very important to work in an organization that you truly feel that it’s going to be- give you that lifestyle, work life balance, so that you’d be able to progress in your career and you’ll be able to get best of both worlds, right? An example I’ll give you is some people like to work closer location to their workplace, because especially it would give them an opportunity to have that work life balance. And some people would like to, you know, travel an hour. Keeping that in mind too within the salary, the compensation so if you, you know, if you’re traveling for an hour, but the compensation is great. Is it really worth, is that really work life balance for yourself? Is that really going to truly make you happy? So that’s another thing to keep in mind too is looking at, you know, the benefits of looking at the total package before you actually, you know, reject that position or reject, that role, maybe, that could be offered to you, or even submit an application to making sure that you, “Okay, I know this is gonna ask me to work more hours. But it’s, I want to build this skill that they’re talking about there, in there, in the application, or I want to, I’m really intrigued with the hiring manager. And I know that they’re going to help me to get to where I am. But I’m gonna have to take that cut on my salary.”

Sujani 55:25
Yeah. And I think like, the more interviews I do are sort of like, as I progressed, in my career, I come to realize that the interviews aren’t only about the employer asking me questions, it’s as important for me to kind of ask them the right questions to see if this is a manager that I would be happy reporting to is as a team that I’m going to feel like I can connect with. So I think, even early on in your career, when you’re doing that first interview, you might be intimidated, that they’re going to be asking you all of the questions, but use it as an opportunity to ask questions to benefit yourself as well, because at the end of it, you might be like, you know, I didn’t really connect with those people. And I don’t see myself working as part of that team.

Kiriga 56:14
Yeah, and that’s where we bring it back to the culture fit, right, and they’ll sort of fit for the team? The managers are looking for that when they’re interviewing you. But at the end of the day, you’re looking for that as well. So if you feel if you don’t feel comfortable in when you’re in the interview with them, then, you know, kind of gives you a sign that maybe this is not the right place for me. When people, can candidates get for- I’ll give you an example of when candidates get declined for a specific position, some of them, you know, they can be upset, right? They really wanted that job. But I always think that getting the client is not the- it’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s not, it’s, it could be a good thing. Because the reason being is, there’s probably something better there out for you, that is a better fit. And when the manager selects that candidate, they’re looking for that fit for their team. So when you think about it, you know, you have to think about in a sense that know what in this case, I’m probably not a fit for their team. And, and then I thought about it, and I think, I think that I might not, I think that, you know, I, there’s certain things that I wasn’t really interested in afterwards. So always take it back, take the feedback, always get the feedback, if you can, from the recruiter, reach out to them, there’s no hurt in reaching out to them afterwards. Once you get that feedback, take constructive feedback back and just think about what they said. And then, and then use it towards your next interview. Because if you don’t get any feedback, you’ll never be able to improve on your- your skills. When you’re coming to interviewing, especially with behavioral beings. It’s a bit tricky. And you definitely need to get that input from the hiring manager, or at least from the recruiter, so that you can make yourself better. And then maybe you know, the feedback will let you know that you know you weren’t a really good fit for that team. And it could help you with better understanding the next goal that you’re going to interview for maybe questions that you can ask them.

Sujani 58:18
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Kiriga. I mean, you shared so much value on this episode, and I’m going to turn it back to you to kind of wrap it up and just share a few words of wisdom to end off this episode.

Kiriga 58:33
Yeah, so I shared a lot.

Sujani 58:37
You did.

Kiriga 58:38
I could probably talk for days, I could probably talk for days. But one thing I did want to, I did want to share is interviewing can very difficult for candidates and, and I know that it’s not easy, especially if you’re getting rejected quite a bit of time. Or if you just can’t find that. If you, you know, it kind of declines your confidence a bit. But I always say that it’s like I mentioned before they, if it’s not a right fit, it might not be a right fit for you now. But keep going practice, practice, practice, that’s always the best thing to do. And one more thing I wanted to add is making sure that you’re making the connections and networking with the people that you should be networking with. That’s another thing that I, I could go on. I could go on forever. But networking is especially in this day and age is very important towards the, getting the job that you’re truly looking for.

Sujani 59:48
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Kiriga and took away some tangible tips to implement in your next job application. And if you feel like you still have questions that you would like answers to, do shoot us a note and if we have enough interest and enough questions, we’re going to bring Kiriga back on to address some of these topics and questions. And if you’re looking for any of the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pH And you’ll find everything you need there. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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