Tag Archives: interviews

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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It is NEVER too late to become a GC.

Hello dear readers.  All of us here at Maps & Genes are very excited to bring you this fantastic post– I hope you enjoy the inspiration from our esteemded colleague panel as much as we did!

1. How did you decide to make a career move?

Genetic counseling was my career choice when I was an undergrad student over 30 years ago, however my life went in a different direction.  Instead, I worked in research and academia.  Additionally, for 10 years I was a “stay at home mom”.  As my children got older, I began reconsidering my career.

I have always considered myself a lifelong learner. The first step in my decision to change careers was realizing that although I had many years before retirement, there were no further growth or leadership opportunities on my current path. The second step involved a long reflective period in which I inventoried my dreams, skill set, strengths, challenges and barriers.  The dream of becoming a genetic counselor resurfaced during this period.  I researched the career and decided it was a perfect fit.  The third step was addressing the challenges and barriers, namely cost and being decades removed from a higher education environment (not to mention the field changed dramatically in that time period).  I established a plan to pay for tuition and enrolled in classes to update my knowledge. The final step was the hardest:  taking a deep breath and jumping away from the comfort zone.

I had always had an interest in human anatomy, biology and medicine and intended for a career in this area when I first went to college. But, I lost my way and stumbled out of my major in biology into other majors. I also fell into a different career, which was exciting in my younger years, but I knew it wouldn’t remain a stable career so I began to think about going back to school for my original interest.

My story is a bit complicated. I completed a B.S. in Biology and M.A. in Biology, after which I taught middle/high school and community college biology courses for several years. I then made my first career switch and worked as a financial planner for almost five years. I found that to be unfulfilling and decided to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in Genetics, with the intention of pursuing an academic career. When I learned more about genetic counseling, I felt that it would be a better fit for me, since it would allow me to spend more time working directly with patients. Rather than spending most of my time behind the scenes doing basic research and teaching undergraduates, I decided I wanted to apply my research and teaching skills in a different way. The fact that genetic counselors have the opportunity to pursue a variety of different types of positions is also very intriguing to me.

2. How did it feel being a GC student?

  It was exciting, terrifying and exhausting! I literally got goosebumps while sitting in lectures and hearing about the advancements in this field. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to doubting myself occasionally. In those moments, I remembered the mantra of a famous, blue fish, “Just keep swimming”.

There are days where it feels weird sometimes because I am one of the oldest students amongst several young women. But then there are also days where I do not feel the age difference at all, but instead just see fellow classmates that I am on this journey together. There is also a humbling effect of being in school again after having a previous career.

I am really enjoying being a GC student because there is so much interesting information to learn!  I am especially enjoying my rotations, particularly my interactions with established genetic counselors, who have all been wonderful teachers.

3. What are your tips for the GC program interview process?

I sincerely believe your age and life experiences are assets, don’t downplay them.  However, you will also have your own unique challenges.  Know what they are.  Determine how you will or have addressed them. Finally, GC training programs are very competitive. If you are not accepted the first time you apply, don’t give up.  Apply again.

Be presentable, dress appropriately, maintain professional composure, take notes, and do not ask the current students questions about other schools’ interview process.

I would say that you should emphasize what draws you to the field of genetic counseling and why you believe you would be a good GC. Everyone who is being interviewed has already shown that they have the qualifications on paper, so you don’t need to prove that you have those. Show the programs that are interviewing you that you are passionate, professional, and willing to put in the work.

4. Do you have any Grad school survival recommendations?

Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Take one day at a time. Decide to learn from your younger classmates, they have a lot to teach you. Take care of yourself.  Embrace the experience and remember you are living a dream.

Be proactive and do not wait until the last minute. Be detail oriented, responsible and mature.

Lean on your classmates for support. They will be an invaluable resources in helping you get through your program. Even if you are at different stages in your life, you will find that you have more in common than you think. Make sure you stay organized and try to keep up with the work.

5. Would you do it all over again?

Absolutely!

Yes! Completing the GC training program was the biggest metaphorical mountain I’ve climbed.  I had a great group of classmates who helped me reach the top. It is a challenge worth taking

Definitely — deciding to apply to a genetic counseling program has been a wonderful decision so far.

6. What advice would you give a person who is just thinking about a second career as a GC?

Making this change is undoubtedly one of the bigger decisions in your life.  It will affect you and your family. You may consider waiting until the timing is better, until you are more prepared, etc. However, there likely will not be a time when all the circumstances are perfect.  I think the final analysis boils down to your willingness and ability to be move away from what is known and comfortable. Growth lies outside the comfort zone.

Conduct an informational interview with a practicing GC. Do the research, get as much exposure as you can before you make the decision. You have to make sure you are fully informed of what you are getting yourself into.

I think it is very important to think about your motivations and why you are changing careers. What are you looking to get out of the career? Do the requirements of the job match your personality? Will genetic counseling provide you with what your old career did not? For me, this was a great decision, but for you, things might be different. A graduate program is an investment, and a career change is a major decision, so I would recommend putting a lot of thought into it and speaking with at least one working genetic counselor to see if you think the job might be right for you.

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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))

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.  It is important for you to be who you are.   And, you will be happier in your program if you are.  Every program has its differences and similarities.  You want a program that fits who you are.  I knew I wanted to be able to relate to people well, so a strong psychosocial aspect was key for me.  But it’s not for everyone and you will “feel that out” through the interview process.  And of course, make sure who you are is reflected in your application.

 

  1.  Dress the Part.  This may sound less-important, but allow me to explain.  Graduate schools want someone who is serious about being a Genetic Counselor, which is why it is crucial to demonstrate your professionalism through appearance.  First impressions are crucial, and your attire is part of that first impression.  So, dress professionally [blazer/jacket + skirt/dress pants].  Dressing the part makes you look like you really want a place in a program.  Also, I would recommend a portfolio, so you can take notes, or write down questions to review for yourself pre-interview.  This will also help your feel more prepared and organized.

 

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Sarah’s Interview Picks: Long skirt at least to the knee, shoes with low heels, simple bag and minimal jewelry, shirt with a non-revealing neckline, and a professional blazer.  Remember, if you wear a watch, do not keep peering down at it during your interview – you do not want to appear bored or uninterested!

 

3. Prepare a LOT OF QUESTIONS.  Nothing was more difficult than running out of questions to the question: What questions do you have for us?  Particularly since you’re trying not to ask every interviewer the same questions.  You need to get as much information as you can, so prepare a variety of questions that also reflect the specific program.

 

My favorite question:

How did you get into this profession?

 

Another helpful tip:

If you meet anyone you love, or really “hit it off” with while at an interview, GET HIS OR HER CONTACT INFO!  I am currently roommates with one of the girls I met, only once, at our interview.  She was able to remember my name and find me online.  And, of course, it is GREAT to know someone when you move 14 hours away from home to a strange place and find yourself having to make friends all over again!

 

Recommended Undergraduate Experiences: 

  1. Anything in a healthcare setting (including volunteer work!)
  2. Any laboratory experiences ( biology or psychology are very helpful)
  3. If available, consider taking these courses: developmental biology, embryology, any classes related to cancer, cell biology, and an array of psychology courses [in addition to your prerequisites… of course]

 

Best of luck in your application journey!

-Sarah

 

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