Major Key Alert: How to Secure a Job in Global Health

Friday, March 17, 2017 - 9:00am
Gary West drew a crowd of MSc-GH students eager to get some practical advice on pursuing their next chapter in life after graduate school.

By Chisom Nwaneri, 1st-year MSc-GH student

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Gary West, a retired senior vice president at FHI 360 who has interviewed hundreds of applicants for global health program and research positions. The focus of the talk, hosted by DGHI, was how to secure a job in global health. 

Although I’m still at the beginning of my graduate school journey, life has taught me to begin with the end in mind. It’s never too early to start thinking about your next steps, and Mr. West definitely got me thinking about my next steps after graduate school. Here are a few major keys (takeaways) from his talk.  

KEY #1: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Being prepared is valuable for just about everything in life, but in terms of securing a job, these are the main areas to focus on:

Build a Competitive Resume

Tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for. You should have a slightly different resume for each job application, and it should highlight the specific skills and experiences that the job requires on the first page (employers typically spend only 20-30 seconds looking at a resume!). 

For many global health positions, Gary said, the key skills and experiences include international experience, language skills, strong written communication skills (including publications) and business development experience.

Your resume should follow the “show me, don’t tell me” format. For example, instead of simply stating that you have teamwork skills, show me by briefly describing an experience in which you successfully worked on a team. 

Assess the Skills in Your Toolbox

Take inventory of the skills you’ve attained from your academic and professional experiences. Determine what transferable skills you have and what skills you have not acquired that would serve you well in global health jobs. Make a plan to acquire these skills. 

Prepare for the Interview

In addition to reading about the organization's vision, mission and current projects, research the organization’s leaders and read some of their publications. This shows you are proactive and provides relevant talking points for the interview.

In addition to reviewing commonly asked interview questions, consider this non-conventional question one global health organization shared at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference I attended last year:

“If you were to win the Nobel Peace prize 25-30 years from now, what would it be for?”

I love this question because it prompts you to reflect on your career goals and how the job you’re interviewing for will play a role in achieving these goals. 

KEY #2:  Don’t (Down)Play Yourself 

Decide what you want in terms of the type of organization, location and role. Reflect on your previous experiences and what you took away from each one, whether it was learning what you like or don’t like. This information will help you recognize your strengths, which you can leverage to land the job.

The Duke Career Center has workshops on how to leverage your strengths—if you’re a Duke student, check them out! This is all a part of marketing yourself to employers and demonstrating why you will be a valuable asset to their organization. At the end of the day, Dr. Seuss said it best: “There is no one alive that is youer than you.” 

KEY #3: It’s Not Always What You Know, But Who You Know

Networking is definitely easier said than done, but it is a major key in securing any job. All my previous jobs came as a result of someone I knew. My most recent job was the result of a connection I made at pop-up shop event. Networking can happen anywhere and anytime, so always have your elevator pitch ready!

You should also look for unconventional opportunities to engage with organizations you want to work for, such as interviewing an employee at the organization for a class assignment. In other words, pick the brains of those in positions you want to be in someday. People usually enjoy talking about their experiences, so this can be a relatively easy way to make new contacts and expand your professional network. I also encourage Duke students to check out the networking workshops at the Duke Career Center. 

And lastly, Gary suggested, “If you don’t get the job you want, take the job you can get.” This is most applicable to those of us freshly entering the field of global health. We all have to start somewhere, but once you get your foot in the door, you can continue working toward your end goals.
All of this sounds like a lot of work … and actually, it is. But I truly believe that nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it takes effort.

Follow me on this journey to success!