Career Development: Interview and Resume Strategies

I AM GPH EP54 Interview Strategies for Public Health Careers with Miriam Miller

In this episode we talk to Miriam Miller, Senior Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Development at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development. Miriam provides specialized career programs, resources and coaching to NYU’s graduate student population. If you are a current graduate student or a recent graduate, this episode will be especially helpful, since you will receive advice regarding interview strategies, resume building tips and useful information to help you get the job you want.


person editing something on a laptop
Q&A discussing interview strategies with Miriam Miller, Senior Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Development

1 - Question 

What are some tips for landing an interview?

Target. One is to identify your targets and understand whether or not you are an appropriate fit for the position. This takes self evaluation and understanding of your skills, expertise, and knowledge, and if they are correct for this role and job description.

Materials. Another important factor are your materials. Once you have looked over the job description and assessed the role you would play in the organization, you need to put together materials that speak to what that employer is looking for. You want to be mindful of whether or not you have the skills and expertise and experiences that the employer is looking for.

Tracking Software. Be aware that there is a lot happening on the backend of many companies, and that specifically some use something called an applicant tracking system (ATS). ATS is an online software system that companies use to weed out applicants that are not appropriate for the position by scanning for certain keywords and phrases to identify whether or not you are a good match. Before a human may actually look those materials, it's important to know that whether you're choosing to incorporate some of those keywords and phrases in the job description may actually be that indicator of whether or not it's looked at by a human.

Connections. Also consider any connections you may have going into the job process that can help you land the interview.  If you know that there's certain organization that you're targeting, think about do you know anyone who's already working there? If you don't, do you perhaps know some people who may know people who work there. I think being very mindful of the fact that there are certain faculty members, that there maybe former colleagues, or friends, or family, or other people who may know at an organization who can be really helpful in giving you some more insight about the organization. Including types of opportunities that may not even be posted online yet.

2 - Question

Should you alter your resume before you send it to each company you apply to?

Ideally, yes, but you do not need to make new materials from scratch each time but you should be thinking about how to make your resume and materials speak to your target audience. There are small tweaks you can make to ensure that you are adapting your resume appropriately for that audience. For example, if a position talks a lot about research skills or analytical skills, or experience with data, or anything else. Are you incorporating those words specifically into your materials, so that it feels certainly organic? You should make sure that your resume speaks directly to the interest of that employer.

3 - Question

What are some common resume mistakes and how can we correct them?

Tailor. Making sure to tailor your resume to the position you are applying to. For the ATS, you want to make sure that you are using keywords and phrases from the job description and that you are doing this not only for the software but also for the reader, who may not spend very long actually looking at materials. Typically, most people who are in some HR hiring function are not going to be reading a resume word for word. They are not going to be reading between the lines. You have to be fairly explicit in terms of how is it you are going to describe your experiences. You really want to make sure that you're being very clear and really highlighting those relevant skills and experiences that you have.

Organization. Organize your materials in a way that is appropriate for the position. For example, is your relevant experience higher up on the page? Are you including relevant coursework and projects? Are you thinking about how you might be dividing up your experience section? Is there a relevant experience or additional experience section? There are lots of different kinds of ways in which you can think about optimizing your resume for your reader.

Resume Master Version. Think about having a master version of your resume which can have every experience, job, paper, project, volunteer work, etc. you have worked on. This is not a resume you would actually submit so it can be as long as you want it to be. It is more of a record for yourself with everything you have done. As you go through making your resume for the job application you can refer back to your master version and think about “Of all of these things that I’ve done, what actually makes sense to include to make sure that I’m being concise and succinct in terms of how I want to portray my experience and make sure that I am highlighting what is more relevant for an employer.”

Downplaying Your Accomplishments. A common mistake that students make is that they downplay their accomplishments. You want to take credit for things that you have legitimately done; a resume is not the time to be modest. For example, describing your experience and saying assisted or helped or worked on things that say to a reader that you may not have really been a major player in doing this work but may have just been on the sidelines. What happens in doing that is the skill of the individual is lost. Oftentimes, by just reframing an experience like that and thinking about, "Well, how did I assist?” or “How did I work on something?" or “What was the impact of what I worked on?” can help in devising a stronger way to talk about your experience. For example, rather than saying assisted a team with a research project, saying that you evaluated interviews or you drafted summary reports, or you analyze data. Then, mentioning later on contextually that you are working alongside of a team of fellow researchers. It can shift the focus from saying there were a bunch of people doing this work and I was part of it in some way to saying, I was doing this work actively along with other people who are also doing this actively.

4 - Question

What are the first steps we should take to set ourselves up for a successful interview?

Nerves. It is normal to be nervous in an interview. The important thing is to manage your nerves in a way that is going to be productive. Even people who have interviews a lot and consider themselves to be very comfortable interviewees still experience some nerves - and that is okay.

Background Research on the Organization. Something people forget to do is to research the organization. It is a great way to demonstrate that you have enthusiasm about the work that they do. Understand the organization, look at their website, look at their social media pages, look at what they have as recent publications, and then use these in the interview. For example, you can bring things up and say “I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. I love that you have this specific approach and that you are doing it a little bit different for other organizations in the field.” Being able to draw on that and be able to actually demonstrate that you've done your homework and that you do have an understanding and appreciation for even more so for what it is that they actually do.

Background Research on the Interviewer(s). If you know who your interviewer is, it is helpful to research them as well. Do they have a LinkedIn page? A company profile? Do you have some way of understanding a bit more about what their perspective may be? This can be helpful in figuring out how you want to frame some of your experiences in ways that will feel more meaningful to your audience.

Professional Narrative. This is something that comes out in a lot of different ways and can be seen first in your materials. What impression are you giving off in a resume or a CV? What about in your cover letter? Who are you and what are your skills and what is your expertise? And then think about how this transitions into the interview. How can you describe your academic background? How can you talk about the experiences that you have had? How can you explain your interest in this position or organization? How can you talk about ways, in which you will contribute professionally and how this fits into your larger career trajectory? Ultimately think about “What is it that I want to present the world about who I am and what it is I have to offer in an organization can be very helpful in managing your nerves?" Leave them with a good impression of you.

Common Questions. It is always good to prepare for different types of common interview questions and this may help to ease some of those nerves. Think about what kinds of questions they may ask you and prepare for it. In reality, you do not know what they are going to ask you and there are so many different things they can ask you. But by just practicing some common questions will help manage nerves and help to make sure you are describing your experiences in a professional context for your audience. Think about questions like “what are my strengths?” or behavior questions like “tell me a about a time when you worked on a project that required a lot of detail and how you managed it?” or questions like “what do you want to know about us?” Just being able to prepare and be ready for questions like that can go a long way.

5 - Question

How should you respond to question about your character?

The Why. It is important to understand why they are asking the question about your character. Oftentimes when someone asks you, as you mentioned behavioral questions, so something like tell me about a time when you did X. What they are trying to see is how you understand a challenge. How do you approach challenge and then, how do you move forward with that as way to indicate how you'd potentially approach them in the future. Just to give you a very basic example. If you have a friend who is consistently 15 minutes late, you're going to anticipate that person if you're meeting with him might be late again. They're doing this in a way to see, "Well, if someone has acted in a particular way before this is potentially, how they act in a similar situation in this setting."

STAR Method. The STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. When answering a STAR response, what you are doing is you are contextualizing a situation for your listener. And you are elaborating on what the specific challenge or task was and how you addressed it. Here is the conflict and here is the action I took. Then the result is what happened through the course of the situation. Your listener wants to be able to visualize you in that situation and use that to understand how you may act and react in other situations.

6 - Question

When we're interviewing for public health job opportunities, what are some ways that we can tailor our experience and education to stand out in each of these fields?

Government. One thing to keep in mind with government positions that they are a little bit different from a lot of other industries. When they are mapping out a job description, they have very clear and specific expectations in terms of what type of experience or education someone will have. Unlike a lot of other fields where you may say, "Okay, I have a number of these types of experiences. I have a significant portion of the experience you're asking for." A lot of government positions tend to be far less flexible when it comes to what they're asking for that you really do often need to meet all of the qualifications and to address those very specifically. That's just one thing you can keep in mind about a lot of government positions in general.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). These organizations want to make sure that you are committed to the work that they are doing. NGOs are often rooted in some sort of social or political cause and they want to make sure that they are hiring people who are genuinely dedicated and interest in that line of work and in their mission. Something to consider for these types of positions is what knowledge can you bring in on that specific issue area or experience you have with working with a certain population. Anything you can do to explain your interest in the work they are doing is helpful.

Startups. Startups are very broad in terms of what you could be doing and what qualifies as a startup. Since they are so broad, it can be helpful going into the interview setting having had experience with their services or products beforehand, but this is not always possible or necessary. Try to do research into understanding what they do and their market. Who’s their client? Who is their customer? What is their product? What do they do? Another thing to focus on with startups is that there may not be clear delineations between different roles and the way there are at other types of organizations. It is common for people at startups to wear many hats and do a lot of work across teams and jump in where needed and adapt. If being a skillful collaborate or if you have an adaptive personality, it is something that you should talk about in the interview.

Research and Academia. Academia has some certainly some differences in terms of how they hire and interview compared to other fields. One thing to think about is that there can be on-campus interviews and professional conference interviews. As in all other settings, you want to make sure you understand the audience. With academia, they are primarily going to be looking at a couple different things. One being your capacity for teaching, another being the strength of your research, and the how you fit into the context of your field or subfield. They are trying to understand you as both a teacher and as a researcher, and how you would fit in with the rest of the departments. They are also assessing how you would be as a colleague. Your focus should be institution dependent, meaning that if you are looking at a smaller liberal arts college, you may want to focus on your qualifications for teaching and framing your experiences for that setting.

8 - QuestionWhat advice would you give for someone who is going through a career shift and pivoting to something new? Maybe this is someone that has years of experience in one field and is looking to switch fields, or maybe they have some level of expertise in another country that does not translate the same here in the US.

Career Changes. It can feel daunting to “start over.” When considering this, you should think about the transition and know that your past experience and professional life may still be very relevant to the new venture. Many skill sets from one field are similar and applicable to different fields. Maybe you are considering working in a different capacity or type of role in a field you have some experience in - you can still draw on this as a strength. You want to focus on how to make the translation from your experiences to the new target audience. Understand your audience and put yourself in their shoes in terms of who they are looking to hire and what priorities they may have. Thinking about things this way is another way to reframe your experience and be truthful and can help you to contextualize your skills in their organization.

Professional Narrative. You should going through and thinking about how can I look at this broader body of work that I've done and pull out the things that might be most relevant for this new audience. This  requires the ability to reimagine a different kind of professional narrative for yourself. If you are struggling with that a little bit, you can reach out to the Wasserman Center, maybe talk to trusted friends, or colleagues or faculty members, and make sure that as you are trying out a new narrative about the work that you have done and what it is that you are hoping to transition into, that it still really rings true for you. You want to make sure that it feels like you, but the new kind of version of yourself that you can present to the new field or career you are looking to transition to.

9 - QuestionBeing the College of Global Public Health, we are proud to have a very diverse student population with people from all around the world. We actually have 40 countries who speak over 30 languages. Can you talk about some of the most common mistakes or misunderstandings international students have with a job interviewing process here in the US.

This is a strength of the larger NYU community, there is so much diversity in all its forms. This is something to think about not only for international students but also for domestic students. This is something to consider going into the interview process because you need to understand what the norms and expectations are that exist for the specific role, organization, and industry you are looking at. There are even regional differences across the USA to take note of, a government job in Washington D.C. will have different expectations than a startup in Los Angeles, CA. You should be aware of the vast differences and make sure that you know your audience and that you understand how you may need to adapt to the environment. Whether you are interviewing in the USA or abroad, it is important to be aware of what norms exist. Some examples of norms in the USA is showing up to an interview 10 to 15 minutes early, asking questions about the role if given the opportunity, sending a thank you note to follow up with anyone you have interviewed with. Wherever you are applying, you want to make sure that you are mindful of the differences in expectations. Another thing, especially in the USA, is that employers want to see that you have enthusiasm for the work. Showing enthusiasm for the work can go a long way.

10 - Question

What are some things that students should consider when getting a paid or unpaid internship?

When evaluating internships it is important to consider how these opportunities and experiences will align with your goals, both long-term and short-term goals. If you are entering an organization, think about if you want to work there full time, if you are looking to make extra money, and what skillsets are you hoping to develop. If you are assessing multiple offers, pay can definitely be something that plays a big part in considering which place to work. Some industries typically do not pay their interns but still provide meaningful work experiences. When considering any type of paid or unpaid internship, make sure to familiarize yourself with the guidelines set out by the Department of Labor. If you are an international student, make sure to speak with the Office of Global Services to make sure that you are working within the parameters of your visa.

NYU and the Wasserman Career Center believes that all students should receive compensation for their work. If you decide to pursue an unpaid internship, consider applying for the Wasserman Internship Grant. The grant takes place every semester and provides a stipend to award winners to be able to pursue that kind of work.

11 - Question

How do you use part-time work, internships, and fellowships to fill some job requirements of having X years of experience?

If you are looking at a job that asks for two years of experience, for example, but you have not worked a full time position, you can leverage your experiences more generally. Think about what types of projects, papers, or research you have done in school and how the purpose of these experiences could apply. You can draw upon experiences in group projects and research that you have done to help fill in the experience requirement. School experience is valuable and can be framed in a way to demonstrate that you have certain skills and that you have done different types of work. You can also think of any other trainings or certifications you may have, as well as any technical skills that you have developed.

12 - Question

What is the best way to handle salary negotiation?

What do you think about salary negotiation? Let's say that they offer you the job. You interviewed and they're like, "Great, we love you. Here's the job offer." Maybe because you don't have experience, you feel like you should go with a initial offer but deep down, you feel that maybe you could be getting more. Is that something you would recommend or is it seen as ungrateful to ask for more?

You want to be mindful of a lot of different things in the process of salary negotiation and determination. First, any time that you get an offer of any sort you do not have to accept it on the spot, you have every right to say “Thank you so much for the offer, I really appreciate this and I would love some time to think about it. When can I get back to you?” This will give you a bit of time to evaluate that offer. Ideally, you should start doing research around positions that are similar to this one and what the pay might be by checking the market value for a role like this and this type of organization, and for someone with your background living in this area. You should have a range in mind of what you feel is an appropriate number for the type of work you would be doing, taking into consideration what you would be willing and would find appropriate to accept. Depending on the offer that you get, you can think about if the number falls within your range. If you feel like it is within the range or below the range, you may think about asking for a little bit more.

Salary Negotiation. When you think about asking for more, you want to be very clear about why. You don't want it to be for example rooted in, "Well, it's really expensive to live in New York and I'm going to need a little bit more. I have student loans." Those things might be true but when you go into a negotiation, you want to think about what is your value going to add to them and what is going to make them want to hire you. If you can root in both the research that you have done about what similar types of positions might be paying for people with your background, as well as what are some of the things that you bring to the table. Maybe you have significant experience working with a computer program or expertise in a very particular topic that is hard to find. Or maybe you speak another language. These are some examples of things you can use to show what your potential value adds and how you would contribute as an employee. Also consider what typical growth for this role would be and what that pay would look like.

Set Rates. Some places will be open to negotiation but sometimes there are situations in which salary is non-negotiable. There are some positions, organizations, and industries where it is a very set standard rate. In these situations, think more about the entire compensation package.

Other Negotiations. Consider looking at other things that may be negotiable. If you cannot negotiate salary, maybe you could find out if a signing bonus is possible. Or would there be perhaps an opportunity to reevaluate after certain period of time with a certain level of work? Might there be flexible hours? Might there be opportunities to take part in professional development? There are a lot of different possibilities so you want to look through the entire compensation package.

In general, it is not unreasonable to look at an offer. Make sure to be very gracious and appreciative of the fact that you received that offer and take some time to think about it. If you choose to negotiate, come back saying something to the effect of “having evaluated this, here's something that I would like given both my background and also, my research."

13 - QuestionWhat kind of services are available to NYU students through the Wasserman Center?

If you are unfamiliar with the Wasserman Center or are not sure how to begin engaging with the Wasserman Center, begin by setting up an account. They offer a free portal to careers and have thousands of part-time and full-time jobs listed, as well as on-campus jobs, internships, and fellowships. There is a library of virtual resources available - handouts, videos, external links for research about a field, etc.

There are also one-on-one coaching appointments and students will sign up for those through their online portal. There are also shorter appointments called drop-in appointments. Drop-ins are great if you have something quicker or if you just need some feedback on something. All hours for one-on-one and drop-ins are listed on the website.

The Wasserman Center hosts panels, guest speakers, information sessions, and workshops. There are many ways that the office works to help make connections between students and employers.

☛ Contact the Wasserman Career Center

You can meet with them in person for a one-on-one coaching appointment by using the online appointment system or calling them. You can also send them an email to make sure you are making your appointment and getting connected with the right person, or for any other general questions, by emailing or (for graduate student career development).