Tag Archives: applications

The Interview Process: What to Expect and How to Make Your Mark ((Camille))

Interview season is upon us. For those of you booking flights and frantically scheduling visits to graduate programs here are a few pointers to boost your confidence and send you off to your interviews feeling prepared and ready to make an impression.

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First off, what does the interview process for genetic counseling programs really look like?

The night before:

Most graduate programs offer an informal dinner with the current students the night before the interview. This is generally optional but is a great way to learn more about the student experience and get a chance to ask more directly about the relationship with program staff. This is also the time to start keying into the vibe of the program – How do the students interact with one another? Do you see yourself fitting into a similar group? Do the opinions expressed about the program line up with what you hope to gain from your graduate education? Taking advantage of this opportunity to ask questions of the students can also give you some insight into topics you may want to address with your interviewers the following day. While this type of interaction is not meant to be a formal part of your program interview, it is always a good idea to be respectful, engaging and involved in the conversation.

The interview:

Interviews are a blur – long days, meeting a lot of people, being fully engaged in conversation and needing to think on your feet. Generally, programs schedule short 15-30 minute interviews with all available program staff. You should expect to speak directly with the program director as well as the medical director, rotation supervisors, research advisors or other program personnel. Most likely, you will be emailed or given a copy of your interview schedule beforehand. This gives you the opportunity to research the individuals you will be meeting. You might consider looking into their research interests, their role within the program or their professional and teaching experiences. Remember, you may only have 15 minutes with some individuals so prioritize your message and your questions. Some programs vary the structure of their interviews and may have short group discussions where they ask the interviewees to review a case or an ethical problem. This gives the program a chance to evaluate your group interactions and your ability to advocate for your own viewpoints while respectfully acknowledging and responding to the viewpoints of others. In my own experience, one of my interviews even included a timed, handwritten response to a given prompt. Keep an open mind – the program wants to get to know you and any seemingly odd experience or question may really be an effort to do just that!

What do you wear to a graduate program interview?

As many interviews include a tour of nearby clinics or hospitals, comfortable shoes are a must. If you choose to go with a higher heel, carrying flats in your bag can be a great compromise. While keeping professionalism in mind, try to show your personality. You should be considering a blazer, tailored dress or a blouse and pants but don’t feel restricted to the color black. Keep jewelry to a minimum or to pieces you know will not be bothersome or need adjusting during an interview. You want to feel confident, not uncomfortable. Carrying a bag is perfectly acceptable and programs will generally make arrangements to store your luggage or other belongings throughout the day. Finally, a portfolio is a great place to store extra copies of your resume and take notes about the program.

What types of questions will I be asked during graduate program interviews?

This is generally more difficult to pin down as different programs may focus on different things. However, most programs will be looking to assess 1) your understanding of the field 2) if you are the same accomplished and hard-working candidate they saw on paper 3) how your experience and interpersonal skills have prepared you for graduate training 4) if you fit with the current program staff and students.

So, what can you do to prepare?

As standard advice: take advantage of mock interview or other preparatory services offered through your current institution. You should also become familiar with what is unique about the programs where you are interviewing. Familiarity with the program website, rotations and program staff shows your level of interest and can allow you to have more meaningful exchanges with interviewers.

Prepare to talk about the experiences listed on your resume. More than a general overview, consider what was most valuable about each experience and think of examples which highlight your skills or ways in which you have grown. In doing this, think how you could use these examples to answer common interview questions (e.g. When is a time you have worked with a team? Tell me about a time you handled a difficult person or situation. When have you managed multiple time commitments at once?). You may want to make a list of these “highlight” experiences and add to it as you prepare for your interviews. Having a strong stockpile of examples to pull from can help you respond to similar interview questions with fresh insights.

Back up your weaknesses with examples of growth. It is safe to assume that during your interviews you may encounter a question about your weaknesses. It is okay to be honest and upfront when answering this question but make sure you can provide examples of how you have addressed your shortcomings and how you continue to grow and learn from your past experience.

Prioritize your message. In genetic counseling, we often talk about “take-home messages.” I think this concept applies quite nicely to interviews. Consider what it is you want most to communicate about yourself as a program candidate. Are you driven? Curious? Ambitious? Preparing your “take-home message” will make it easier to build upon these themes in your responses to interview questions and give you a quick go-to when offering your final thoughts.

Questions! Don’t forget this is your opportunity to evaluate the program. Think about what is most important to you in a graduate school experience and prepare some standard questions to help you evaluate programs in these areas. Open-ended questions generally get you better responses. These are questions that start with “Tell me about…” or “What do you think about…” or “What is important for…”, etc. As an additional point, don’t run out of questions! The more you ask, the more interested you appear. You can guarantee each interview will end with the question, “What questions do you have for me?”, so come prepared! And finally, don’t be afraid to get to know the person sitting across from you – questions do not have to be restricted to information about the program.

Be genuine. I’m sure you have read this advice elsewhere but it is worth the emphasis. You do not want to come across as anything other than yourself. This might mean feeling free to joke a bit with your interviewer or really answering questions honestly without a rehearsed feeling. Of course, be cognizant of the tone the interviewer sets, but don’t be so afraid of saying “the wrong thing” that you censor yourself. The people who get involved with training programs are generally very nice people. So, try your best not to let nerves get in the way of your authentic self.

You may find lists of interview questions specifically for genetic counseling posted online. I would say that some of these lists have useful information but I would not use an online list as your sole means of interview preparation. You are likely going to get more questions directed at you and your experiences. The interview is about getting to know who you are and that means questions about things you should have complete confidence in answering. Some programs choose to ask questions that might take an interviewee off-guard or might get at their opinion regarding an ethical or contemporary issue in the field. Again, this is likely meant to gauge your response and how you handle a little bit of pressure or unease as opposed to if you can give the exact “right answer.” In this situation, it is okay to feel a little bit flustered or to ask for a second to think through things. Take a breath and remember to be honest and diplomatic in your response.

Is there interview etiquette for genetic counseling programs that I should follow?

Yes. First off, do not try and gather information about questions from students or other interviewees. Beyond being inappropriate, this really defeats the purpose of the interview which is to evaluate your honest responses to questions. Second, play nice with everyone. Programs are small and one bad interaction with the front desk staff might get back to the admissions committee. I assume any person applying to a genetic counseling program is both mature and kind-hearted but it doesn’t hurt to remember that any interaction (big or small) can be a part of your evaluation. This also applies to email. Third, stay off of your cell phone. Obvious – just don’t do it; you have only a day or two to get to know the people and the program, so spend that time engaged and being respectful of others by giving your full attention. Finally, send “Thank you” notes to the programs who invited you to interview. Scheduling interviews can be a difficult process from the program’s perspective so showing your appreciation is a very nice touch. Additionally, it provides you one last opportunity to include a thoughtful detail or remind your interviewers of an enjoyable interaction you shared.

Best of luck on interviews from all of us at Maps & Genes! Have other questions? Just ask!

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Before You Say “Yes” to Your First Job ((by Sarah))

Dear second year GC students, this one is for you!

You get your first job offer.  Or with the way the genetic counseling profession is going, you get multiple job offers.  You are ecstatic.  You landed the dream job and are using your degrees.   Success.  A stressful week or more of deliberations and debates. [take your time, ball is in your court!]  You accept.  This time is much like a new relationship.  Rose colored glasses are on and you are are being wooed.

Several months into the relationship, much of the excitement wears off.  And you are left with what you negotiated.  For many it all works out well, which it did for me and my GC friends.  But there are a few things I wish I would have known.

  • ALWAYS negotiate.  It does not hurt to ask.  Have a plan, or very specific things you want to ask for.  Have concrete reasons why your employer should include the things you ask for in your offer.  (i.e. Asking for a higher starting salary because you already have experience working with cancer patients before and during graduate school, and have developed a unique skill set)   If you have not read it yet, try the book Lean InKeep in mind that the ball is in your court.  You have the job offer.  They are not (likely) going to suddenly take that away, they already have decided they want you.

My biggest job negotiation surprise:  I had a plan (like most of my fellow OCD… or should I say “detail oriented” GCs).  I knew the salary range I wanted.  I knew the benefits I wanted.  But when it came down to it, I didn’t know what to say.  I had done a lot of reading and I knew it was key to always ask for a bit more, just to see.  I knew that it was also key to start at a salary that was a good level, because all future raises, etc would be based off this starting amount.  I have had two jobs since graduation.  For each, I asked for a bit more above base salary offer.  I was told “This is the level we start all newly hired genetic counselors at.  We are unable to negotiate this.”  Each time, it was a surprise.  This is not something they seem to warn you about in job hunting books or blogs. For job two, I even sent my sweet HR lady to double check- just to be sure this was their final answer-  I did have additional career experience now.  In the end, the answer was still a no.  But hey… still never hurt to ask!   

  • Get it in WRITING.  This is what I (almost) learned that hard way.  And what one of my dear friends did learn the hard way.  This is where the rose-colored glasses came in for me.  You think you did a great job.  You love the salary.  You were able to negotiate a signing bonus.  Benefits look good.  Your new employer will cover the cost of the boards review course, board certification exams (pending you pass), per-approved CEU’s, and one conference per year with travel costs.  But do you have the proof?

Fast forward about one year into job number two.  I find a conference I am dying to attend.  ((For cancer GC’s or students with a love of cancer genetic counseling, the buzz in GC world is that this is an amazing, one of a kind opportunity.))  Well, several exciting leadership changes and one boss change later, I hear the dreaded words, “well, we will see if it is approved.  I am not sure, budgets are really tight.”  In my head, I nearly implode.  No.  I negotiated this.  This is my one conference.  I really need to attend and learn.  Hello, I mostly see breast cancer patients and its all about BRCA!  Outwardly, I calmly inform my delightful new boss that I had negotiated one conference of my choice per year.  Doing her job, she let me know: “Well, we will see if I can find that in your contract, but I do not recall it being there.”  Turns out, many contracts are very generic.  I had my salary, insurance, retirement, and the other common job benefits clearly documented.  But all the other, more genetic counselor specific things were not.  Myself and my former boss had talked though all the special GC benefits in person and via phone.  I did not even have one single email about conferences, boards, or CEU’s.  In the end, my old boss came through.  I am fortunate to have/have had wonderful bosses.  Canada here I come, but lesson learned!

  • Taxes Suck.  While this is not a surprise, for some reason I did not think about this when negotiating my signing/relocation bonus.   Myself and my now-husband had a big move and we were still going to be paying rent on our apartment that we left before our lease was over.  So, I (clearly not thinking), asked for a specific amount that would help ease the transition.  When the check arrived, it was much less than anticipated.   Taxes took away a good chunk.  I quickly realized I would have asked for just a bit more if I had to do it all over again.
  • The PSS is the Negotiating Bible.  If you are not even sure where to start, the PSS is for you.  The PSS or professional satisfaction survey is amazing, and genetic counseling specific.  It is put out for NSGC members.  Before you go to your job interviews, get familiar with this.  Know average benefits people have.  Know what kinds of salary to expect from your geographic region and for your experience level.  Keep in mind that salary varies greatly state to state, or even city to city.  If you are not tied to a specific geographic region, you may want to keep this in mind if student loans are large.

Happy job hunting!

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2 Things to Improve on Before Interview Season. ((by Sarah))

There are two MAJOR interview don’ts you can start working on NOW.  This way, but the time interview season rolls around they start feeling “old hat” to you.  ((aka you are comfortable!))  ((I wish I would have known more about #2 pre-interview!))

1. Stop with the LIKE.  This one is huge and can be hard to improve on.  However, for experienced professionals (such as your interviewers) this can be a huge distraction.  Were they listening to the wonderful response you gave to a question or counting the number of times you said “like” in one sentence?

Overcoming this:  Get your friends, relatives, significant others, etc involved with helping you end the “likes.”  I had my friends and mother point out when I would overuse like.  At first for me, this involved slowing down my speech.  The main thing is to practice, practice, practice.  Find a career center and do some mock interviews as well.

2. Do not play with jewelry, watches, hair, etc.  Beware of these common interview faux pas.  This applies to you men out there as well.  Playing with class rings, watches, or ties– bangles, rings or even shirt sleeves can distract an interviewer from the one and only thing they should be focusing on– YOU!  Hair twirlers and nail/cuticle biters this one is for you.

Overcoming this:  Often times– you may not know you do this.  Or it may only emerge in high stress situations.  Asks friends/family to kindly point out your nervous tics or habits.  It is best to recognize these now so that they can be minimized come interview season.  For example, I opted to eliminate jewelry and spurge for a gel/shellac manicure pre-interview.  I knew I would be all too tempted to pick at my nail polish under stress.   For some this can even be nervous yawns or clearing of the throat.  (I am guilty of both!)

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Guest Post: How to Get Into (and Thrive in) Genetic Counseling Graduate Programs ((By Sarah))

{Repost} Sharing our “most read” post again! Readers– Please look out for fresh blog posts coming your way soon! And some exciting new contributing writers!

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The following is a guest post by a First-Year in my (Jade) program.  We’re glad to hear from you, Sarah —  take it away:

Graduate School.  Sounded intimidating.  Sounded like something that would be impossible to get into and that would then consume my life.

Well, that is what I thought when I was going through the application process anyway.  After numerous applications (I applied to 8 schools) and interviews (I chose to interview at 4), I remember feeling like I would never get accepted.  And, after reading the student biographies some schools posted (including my own) I was CONVINCED I would not get in.   However, I made it, and I am so glad that I did.

So, how do you get in?  That is the question I am sure every student applying would love to have answered.  Here are 3 tips you might find helpful:

  1. Be Genuine.

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Getting into a GC Program: 10 things TO DO! ((by Sarah))

Prospective GC students, this one is for you! It is getting to be that time of year again… application season.  We hope this may help! Also note—this is just from the prospective of a current GC student!

1. If you have not shadowed a genetic counselor yet… DO IT soon.  The more shadowing the better.  Also, shadowing in several different specialty areas is always a great idea if you can find counselors that have time to spare!  If you do not know where to start to gain this experience… you can use the find a genetic counselor tool on the NSGC website.  You can search by your zip code, and each counselor should have indicated on his or her listing if they welcome student contact or not.  When I went through this process, I cold-emailed about 10-15 genetic counselors.

2. IF YOU CANNOT SHADOW… do an informational interview.  I had two informational interviews that were really helpful on my road to becoming a GC.  Programs need to see that you tried to get familiar with the field and that you understand as best as possible what it is that a GC does.  That way, when asked, “so how did you know a career as a genetic counselor was a good fit for you?” you will have specific reasons why you are passionate about this field.

Truth be told… prior to graduate school I had never seen a genetic counseling session (gasp).  This is rather unusual though, as I looked around at all other applicants and my current fellow classmates.   While I did get asked about this in every interview, just having informational interviews does not make it impossible to get in.  However, you should have strengths in a lot of other areas to make up for this!  

3. STUDY for and take your GRE… soon!  Likely many of you reading this have already taken the GRE.  Make sure you actually studied and are happy with your scores.  If you are wondering how you measure up… average GRE scores of people admitted to GC programs can be found on the NSGC website.  My scores we somewhat below average ((Math is not my strong suit)), but my GPA was strong.  If you have a weak GPA, getting good to excellent GRE scores will be important.  You need to demonstrate that you are ready and able to do rigorous academic work!

4.  Advocacy experience.  This is something very important to add to your resume if you have not already done so.  Work on a crisis hotline, volunteer you time in a shelter for battered or at risk women, or spend time with people who have special needs.  Variety can be good, so try spending time assisting with a few different advocacy groups.  I spent time working with children living in a home for women at risk or who were previously the victim of domestic abuse.  Then, I spent several days a week working at a free health care clinic filing medical records and scheduling patients.

5.  LABWORK…. yes, I understand many of us try were trying to get away from the traditional “lab” but the experience is still a great one.  Particularly if you can work on anything related to genetics or with people who have special needs.  Try biology, psychology, and neuroscience labs.  This also can show that you have additional strengths academically.

6.  Prioritize you resume.  The coolest or most genetic counseling relevant things should be the first topics a reader comes to.   Shadowing first, then informational interviews, advocacy work or research experience, etc.  Showcase any skills you feel will make you a great genetic counselor.  Also, be sure to highlight any academic achievements.  Show off your smarts, so to say.  I listed “relevant coursework” at the bottom of my resume to highlight my excellent performance in key classes like genetics, developmental biology, and organic chemistry.  This may be something to consider.  DO NOT list all classes you got an A in, but focus on the key courses.  Not sure what courses are “relevant?”  You may want to look on each of the GC programs’ websites or on the NSGC website at the coursework that is required or recommended for prospective students.

Try thinking, “what would a program like to see?” when prioritizing that resume or CV of yours.  This is a time to be both formal and professional.  For example, even though being in a sorority was a great experience, it does not prove that you can perform and excel academically, so putting it first may not be in your best interest.  I had a great sorority experience myself, but I needed to highlight “Sarah: smart, academic, and professional,” so I listed it on the second page of my résumé under leadership experience.  Also—keep it to two pages in length!  I recommend meeting with career services on your campus to review your resume or CV.  (Many also do mock interview sessions!) While you are doing this, gather up transcripts from all colleges that you have attended as well, even if it was just for one class.

7.  That excel spreadsheet is your new BFF.  Make an excel spreadsheet of the programs you are applying to, the deadlines for each, the requirements, contact information, etc.  Over time, this sheet will evolve into more of a pros and cons list.  They have a template excel spreadsheet you can use on the NSGC website.  This will be vital.  Keep it up to date as well… because you may think you will remember each program but it is hard to remember everything.  For me, I remember ranking my schools by which ones I thought I would want to go to most.  After my interviews, it was fascinating how much my list changed.

8.  A word document is your other BFF.  Make a document listing the programs you are applying to and key information on each.  I complied my list from the website of each program.  That way, you are ready when interview time comes around to ask some excellent questions.

9.  Write that personal statement already.  It may seem odd to write about yourself, but this can play a critical role in getting you an interview slot.  Be creative and unique.  Space is limited for interviews (and the number interviewed depends on the school), so make your statement!

10. Packets.  This was something I did that my professors loved.  I went to Wal-Mart and got 3 snap-closure plastic envelopes.  I made one for each professor I asked to write letters of recommendation.  In this packet, I wrote them a personal letter explaining why I chose them, what I learned from them, and why I was passionate about genetic counseling.  Then, I added my résumé’ as well as a list of schools I was applying to with the details on where to send the letter for each.  If it was to be sent by mail, I included an addressed and stamped envelope.

BONUS:  That question everyone asks…. How many schools should I apply to?  Well, it depends on where you want to go.  I would say around 6?  I applied to 8 and interviewed at 4, other people I know have applied anywhere from 2-4 to 10 schools! So it really depends on where you want to be and how much money you want to spend on applications, interviews, etc.  Don’t overwhelm yourself but at the same time some schools may surprise you!  I never expected to be living where I am today but I am loving every minute of it!  (Well, until test time rolls around again anyway…)

Best of luck! & Please feel free to comment or email us with any questions!

& The video version from Canada!

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