Good morning! This week was rough. Assumed rejections coming at me from a couple of schools. 😢 But you know what, now it’s Thursday and it’s time to turn my attention to the first interview I do have. In just a few hours, I’m leaving for Oklahoma!
This week, in preparation for my interview, I wanted to gather up a few interview tips. This topic is frequently covered by grad school prep blogs, so I wanted to make sure I contribute something different. We all know “be yourself” and “ask questions”, let’s see if we can cover some fresh ideas here.
1. The interview as a patient appointment
Last cycle, I struggled with finding the right demeanor for an interview. We’re all excited to be there, and unfortunately excitement and nervousness look a lot a like (not to mention, we’re all probably nervous too).
This go-round I’m going to think of the interview as a demonstration my future “bedside manner” (is their an equivalent phrase for those of us who will work with mostly outpatients?). Of course, the interviewers aren’t patients; they’re GCs generally. But they have never met the interviewees before and will take whatever personality they see as that person’s general character. So, it seems important to show how I’d act in a patient setting, so they don’t have to imagine, or worse extrapolate from my nervous interviewee self.
If you were seeing a new healthcare provider, and you maybe weren’t even sure what their role is or how they can help you, what would you want that person to be like? I’d want someone who is cheerful, can clearly explain their role, is a good listener, and is calm and professional. That’s a great way to appear in interviews too. And there’s many great personalities to show in an interview, not just that one! Think about how you would want to appear in a patient setting, and practice being that in the interview.
2. Speaking of practice…
Practice is a key to success, though sometimes it seems it’s never enough or can never really simulate the real, high stress situation of an interview. Don’t I wish I had a perfect solution to this!
I think my most helpful practice this year has been through mock interviewing, with video recording and all of that. For one thing, I find I can get into my own head in an interview, and think I’m failing, and strengthen that feeling when I don’t always get accepted to the thing I was interviewing for. Mock interviewing gave me a chance to get positive and constructive feedback, totally removed from being accepted into or rejected from something. I was also surprised how much of the interviewer’s feedback was positive, since I’m someone who feeds myself the line of “u r the worst interviewee, u worthless blob”. (HELPFUL, right?!?)
So, whether you have the chance to officially mock interview or not, I’d recommend practicing occasionally on family and friends, and then asking them what they thought, both positive and negative about what you said. Constructive feedback gives you new ideas, and positive feedback may do something even more powerful by boosting confidence.
3. Favorite Cases
Shadowing and crisis counseling are essential requirements for admission to GC programs, but even more important is your ability to show that those activities had an impact on you. Before going on interviews, think about a few cases that impacted you, in crisis counseling, shadowing, genetic counseling assistant work, etc.
Like for me, on Thursday night I chatted on Crisis Text Line with a young person who felt crushing stress from school, so straining they had started to contemplate suicide. At the end of the convo, they felt better. That’s awesome! Sharing that in an interview would be alright, and show I am actively doing crisis counseling and I’m good enough at being a counselor, which is fine. If we look at this case more in depth though, there could be opportunities to show how crisis counseling has impacted me.
Like… this texter at one point shared that they felt they had no coping skills. How did I deal with that without shelling out recommendations? At another point, they told me I wasn’t responding fast enough. How did I validate how tense it feels to wait on a response?
If you’ve done tons of genetic counseling work and/or advocacy work, it could be easy to draw a blank when asked to speak to a particular situation. So, as you prepare to interview, take a few cases you’ve dealt with or seen, and analyze them. Think about what went well, what you would do again (or what you’d mimic, if we’re talking about shadowing), what you’d improve on. You could bring notes about it, though I don’t think it’s totally necessary. Just consciously remind yourself what you’ve seen, and maybe even talk through your cases with friends (with respect to HIPPA of course!). These cases can be excellent talking points whether you’re asked point-blank “talk about a memorable case you’ve seen” or you’re asked a more general interview question about your behavior in a past situation or exposure to genetic counseling.
4. Using Proper Nouns (in response to why do you want to go here)
This tip comes from my pre-professional adviser. When we did our mock interview, she told me she was going to pretend it was an interview with Utah. Then, of course, one of the questions was “why do you want to go here” and, of course, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “I live here”. Lol.
Sure, programs love having a few students who are from the area– who they can expect to settle in the area and build up the workforce there. But you never want to suggest to a program that you picked them “by default”. Sure, I live in Utah and work on U of U campus. What do I like about that? My adviser suggests to be able to explain what you like about a program, focusing on proper nouns.
Proper nouns could include names of people, institutions, and resources you’re excited to work with. For example, Huntsman Cancer Center, where I now work, employs a hearty team of genetic counselors, including a few highly experienced GCs who see complex cases. U Health, the hospital system associated with U of U, states that a future of personalized medicine is one of their main goals. They highly value studying and implementing genomics. Utah program faculty (who I won’t creepily shout out by name at this time, lol) have been inspiring to me, and encouraged me when I felt like I couldn’t make it in this field. And if they’re helping me that much as a former rejected applicant, how much support are they offering actual students? 😊
Now, I’ve mentioned people and entities that have impressed me. That shows that my choice to apply wasn’t just a default choice because of in-state tuition or the fact that I’m literally already here on campus right now.
Try finding a few proper nouns to speak about for each program you interview with. Those kinds of statements are much more memorable than generic statements like “near home”, “research focused”, or “well-established”.
5. Don’t Let the Stone Face Get You Down
Let’s talk about the face here in this stock photo.
Is he intrigued, angry, tired, smiling slightly, not even paying attention??
If this guy was interviewing me, I think I’d be worried. And honestly, a few of my interviewers last year also made me worried. They were unsmiling, or not seeming to respond to what I said. Again, it’s easy to get into your own head and think you’re failing, and that only makes things harder.
So, per my preprofessional adviser, shrug this face off. Interviewers like to try to hide their reactions. Sometimes that seems like they aren’t impressed with you. It’s ok. Press on and keep being you. A stone face doesn’t mean you’re not doing well, and you shouldn’t let it get inside your head.
I can’t wait to update you guys on my trip to Oklahoma. Who’s ready to live out of a backpack for three days?! See you guys on the flip side, and stay sane this season.