After writing 39 job applications (I swear it was more than this) and undergoing 7 face to face, 3 phone, 1 skype & 1
bloodbath group interview, it would be safe to assume I know one or two things about the dietitian job hunt. There have been some cringeworthy moments – I remember in my first interview – one of the interviewees responded to my answer with ‘interesting’, and some of my old applications are just appalling. There has been a little too much anxiety, one heartbreak & several fist pump moments. But looking back & reflecting as a good little dietitian does, as much as there have been many trials and tribulations, it terms of my applications and interviewing skills, I’ve come a long way. It’s been quite a learning curve.
So, in no particular order (except number 1 – that’s definitely the most important), here are my tips on graduating & scoring your first job.
1. There is no one method to success
Over the past two weeks I have spent time with five of my great friends who I studied either undergrad and/or Masters with. All working as dietitians. All with a very different and challenging path to working life.
When it comes to scoring that first job, there really is no one method to get you there. The reality is that some people will fall into positions because they were in the right place at the right time. Some will interview for every position and not get one. Some will get the first job they apply for. Some will go from one day of work to a whole week. It won’t seem fair, but it’s reality.
Just do what you can, put yourself out there, and please, try not to compare yourself to your friends. It is unnecessary stress for an already stressful situation.
2. Say yes to a six week locum
As much as we want security, each job you take, regardless of the contract, gives you experience. Experience makes getting the next few positions that little bit easier.
Within two months of starting my two day community role, I had obtained two (locum) positions in the same area. One I found out by word of mouth, and another came through on the job notification emails. Because I had post-placement dietitian experience, I was able to be considered for these roles. And after finishing these roles, I had additional community outpatient experience, plus inpatient and residential aged care on the CV. This combined with my community role (outpatients & group education) to give me experience to be shortlisted for my new job.
Also consider other roles within a health service such as nutrition assistant or reception. If you’re on the books, you can apply for internal dietitian vacancies.
3. Get yourself a mentor
It took me a while (5 months-ish) to starting thinking and finally decide on my mentor for the APD program. I wish I had sooner. I wish I had had the support during the stage when all the clinical grad positions were advertised. A mentor brings another perspective to the table & often looks at the situation completely different to how your mother, best friend or colleague would. Plus, they are dietitians too. They talk your talk.
4. Show that you want THAT job, not a job
Honestly, looking back, I’ve been successful in getting jobs that I actually really did want. I know that when you graduate and enter the world as a job seeker, you are focussed on getting a job. But so is every one else applying. So why do you want that job? Why should an employer employ you?
So what attracts you to a rural position?
Why aged care?
Why do you want to be seeing 20 patients a day at a busy Melbourne hospital?
I knew exactly why I wanted my job. As much as I had the answer scripted and dot pointed in my head, when it came to answering the question, I didn’t have to think hard. It came out naturally, I was relaxed and I was sincere.
5. Consider rural opportunities
I know this is one thing we were always told, and with great reasoning too. Working my part time & casual roles rurally actually made me want to pursue a full time rural position. (The fact that it was in my hometown was really just sprinkles on the sundae.)
In community outpatients I have managed clients which, if I were in a metropolitan hospital, it’s very likely a more experienced dietitian would manage the case. Paediatrics, paediatric renal (!!), bariatric surgery. You’re thrown in the deep-end, they make you nervous, but it’s a great learning experience.
But considering a rural job isn’t just about the clinical benefits. Living and working rurally is a completely different way of life. There is a strong sense of community within the health service, and within the town. You have the opportunity to see your client’s health improve, whether it’s seeing them monthly for a long time or just simply seeing them walk down the street. It’s a really nice feeling.
You also can leave work at 5pm and be home by 5.05, leaving so much more time for activities.
6. Know your limitations & be honest about it
I was interviewing for a role that was a mixture of inpatient, outpatient and a potential menu review & was asked: ‘What are your limitations in undertaking this role?’ My answer: ‘Well I have not managed an inpatient since placement, and because I’m a new graduate, I’ve never done a menu review’. Basically, I don’t really have the experience. The reason I got the job: ‘You were aware of your limitations and we know you will seek help if needed’. Not those exact words, but something along those lines.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for clinical supervision. You’re a new grad, you will want to be able to discuss cases & they will know that.
7. You can do all the right things and still not get the job.
A few months back I interviewed for a six month contract. After one week I was called by human resources asking for another referee as they were at the final decision making process & that referee was called three days later. You can imagine my blood pressure and sleep patterns throughout this whole situation. My referees gave a raving review. I also didn’t get the job.
The final decision was based on experience.
It was a six month role and the other applicant had more experience & would likely hit the ground running faster than me. From their perspective, fair enough.
On a number of occasions it just came down to experience & it’s easy to be disheartened by constant rejections. But if that’s the reason you didn’t get the job, take comfort that you can write a successful application and you do interview well.
Not every position is advertised so get your name out there & let people know what your interests are. I know several people, myself included, who have been offered paid opportunities because someone referred our names on.
Enjoy the journey.
The reality is it will suck at times, but before you know it you’ll be working full time and hanging out for weekends and your four weeks holidays. So enjoy it. I’m just going to paste what I said a little earlier this year:
“Get excited about the simple things. Enjoy the break from study and spend the time catching up with your friends and family. Go out for brunch, host a dinner party, volunteer, line up for hours for that restaurant you’ve had wish listed on Urbanspoon for your entire degree, go on a day trip, go out for brunch again. Do anything that makes you remotely happy”.
But I’ll add – even if your driving ridiculous amounts (580 km) for work each week and working one, two or three jobs. Even if you find yourself in tears at least once per week (five weeks in a row). Remember, it’s not forever. Short term pain for long term gain. It’s paid off for me, and it will for you too. Just remember to look after yourself – see your friends, prioritise sleep & eat well.
It’s such an exciting time. Goodluck!