By now, interview season for genetic counseling programs is in full swing. Many of you likely have one interview under your belt (if not, then it’s coming up shortly; as if you needed reminding!). This time of year can give a new meaning to “March Madness,” so here are some tips from myself and the other M&G bloggers to help you stay sane and on your game:
GC program interview questions can cover a wide range of topics, including general genetics, the genetic counseling profession, legal and ethical dilemmas in genetics/genetic counseling, current events in genetics, as well as some of the more typical questions that help interviewers learn about you and your personality. Each program puts their own unique twist on the interview process, so anticipate that there may be surprises both in type of questions as well as the way interviews are conducted. Thinking on your feet is good practice for being a real genetic counselor!
So how do you prepare?
1. Practice, practice, practice. As Jade C. puts it “professionals practice for interviews.” And she is SO right. In no way is it nerdy, lame, or overkill to work through your answers to interview questions, even if that means writing out word-for-word responses. Have a friend ask you random questions or talk to yourself in the mirror; this type of “out loud” practice can help ensure clarity when you respond, with less distracting “um’s” and “likes.” Having solid responses to common questions will also help calm your nerves when the big day arrives, because you’ll feel ready and confident.
2. Know how to share your story – concisely. The “elevator speech” is a 1 minute spiel that everyone should have up their sleeve as a way to introduce themselves and break the ice on interview day. Carla suggests working in your hometown, educational background, relevant experience, accomplishments, and finish with hobbies or personal interests. Think about what drew you into the genetic counseling career and find a unique way to answer this question that will almost certainly be asked. Side note: I still use the 1 liner I developed for my GC interviews to answer patients who ask me how I got interested in genetic counseling.
3. Own your strengths & your weaknesses. While it’s important to play up your strongest assets and proudest moments on your resume, programs will also be on the look out for areas of past difficulty. Everyone has a few skeletons in the transcript closet, and I think it’s reasonable to anticipate questions about why those areas were challenging and how you have worked to improve. Keep your answer short and end on a high note: explain how the experience has helped you succeed in a future endeavor. This will show that you understand failure happens, you are mature enough to reflect on the situation, and brave enough to try again!
4. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to your favorite things during this time of stress and vulnerability. As the week of/night before your interview approaches, make sure you are doing lots of things that allows your mind to clear and makes your soul smile. A few suggestions: get good sleep, buy some great music, Jade T. suggests deep breathing or yoga- whatever works for you! On the day of the interview, strike up a conversation with the other interviewees; they are probably just as nervous as you are. Who knows, you might even make friends (that’s how Jade C. and I met all those years ago)!
Post-Interview Wrap Up
The hard part of the interview process may end once you answer your last question and head back home, but assessing each program is equally important as them assessing you! It’s best to do this soon after your visit, while the details are still fresh in your memory. How this program mesh with you as an individual and as a student? Sometimes developing a visual aid to compare and contrast is useful. You could also develop your own ranking system and make a spreadsheet to keep track. NSGC has a spreadsheet here to get you started (scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page). Carla recommends creating a short list of questions that would influence your decision and pose them to each program during your interview day.
Points to consider:
- What’s most important to you in a program? Emotional support, innovation, reputation, sense of closeness between faculty and students?
- Do you have any long-term career goals (work in a university, start a company? specialize?) How does this program fit into that goal?
- What financial pros/cons are there about this program? What financial aid exists for GC grad students (like scholarships)?
- Which program did you like best overall and why?
- Still have final questions? Most programs have a current students or alumni that you can ask about day-to-day campus life and area living. Send the program an email to ask; it will show your interest and give you a chance to thank them after your interview.
- Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut instinct!
Take home Message: it’s important to make the effort to prepare before your interview, organize your thoughts and emotions after, and to take time for yourself in between so you can continue to be your most confident, happy self during the interview mania. Good luck!