One of the most frequent questions I receive from newly graduated dietitians, or those in their final year of study is for advice on how to get ahead and get that first job. As a Dietitians Week special, here are some of my top tips and pieces of career advice for new dietitians.
Volunteer with a nutrition society or organisation
Volunteering is a really important way to get experience, but also useful to get references to add to your CV. Don’t see it as a chore, it can be great fun and also a really useful way to put the skills you learn at Uni into action. While most volunteer work is free, this can at times lead on to paid opportunities. While I was a student I volunteered for Nutrition Australia at food fairs and local sporting events. After graduating I was asked to become a freelance consultant which meant I got paid when opportunities for things like cooking lessons and food hygiene and safety training sessions for day care centres came around in my area.
Say yes to opportunity
Whether it’s a research project, scholarship or opportunity to write a published journal article, don’t question whether you are good enough or not, just go for it! You never know where it might lead. In my first year working an opportunity came up to write a journal article. When I put my name forward I initially thought I would be turned down because I was a new grad. As it turned out, no one else applied so I got to write it myself rather than as a team. A big challenge yes, but great experience and learning opportunity. For the record, I wouldn’t really recommend trying to write an article on your own in three weeks while working fulltime, unless you thrive on stress!!!
Get a mentor
A crucial component for the Australian APD program, finding a mentor is really important for both support and guidance to help you become a better and more confident dietitian. This may also develop into a friendship over time. I’m still in contact occasionally with my mentor and it’s great to see how people I have mentored in the past have found work and progressed within their careers. It can be worth asking lecturers or supervisors who you get along well with and feel comfortable speaking to whether they would be able to mentor you. Don’t be disheartened if they say no. It takes a lot of time to mentor and they may already by supporting one or more other dietitians. My biggest tip for when you do have a mentor, is to be proactive about your mentoring sessions. Bring clinical questions or case studies ready to discuss at each session and be proactive at arranging the next time you will meet, speak or email. Life is busy for everyone so it can be easy to forget or let weeks slip by.
CVs, resumes and job applications
While on placement, ask your supervisors if they are willing to share examples of their current or previous CV/resume and successful job applications they have submitted. I found this extremely helpful on my placement as this wasn’t really ever covered at Uni. My supervisors gave me copies which helped me to see what sort of language was used and expected.
On the same note, when writing out applications make sure you address every single point and criteria- even if it seems glaringly obvious. If it says you need a Nutrition and dietetics degree say so. I’ve seen applications automatically rejected for tiny little omissions like this. It seems petty, but when jobs have hundreds of applications coming in, the line has to be drawn somewhere to make a short list. Call the department to learn more about the job role, how the team works and to get a feel for the department – they may just remember your name later down the line when they read through your application.
Be prepared! Learn as much as you can about the hospital team, company or organisation where you are interviewing at. Call ahead if possible as that can help keep your name closer to the top of the pile. Prepare sample questions and your answers for the job, thinking carefully about the role and the types of questions you might be asked – eg clinical case studies, communication problems with staff/patients, strongest/weakest characteristic etc. The more you’re prepared the less likely you’ll be caught out and the more confident on the day you’ll be.
As a student dietitian you have a great opportunity to both learn from other dietitians on social media as well as contribute to the learning of those already graduated. You may be aware of new key nutrition research that is hot off the press – sharing it on social media is really appreciated! Also, don’t hesitate to get involved in twitter chats held by dietitians such as #eatkit #rduk #rdjc or #rdchat. Your input is just as valued- just make sure you can back up any statements or nutrition claims you put out there to help protect the integrity of the dietetic profession. Social media is also really useful for networking and meeting other dietitians. I was so skeptical about twitter, but now love what I have learnt through and the opportunities that have come about because of my dietetic networks on twitter!
Flexibility is really important for getting that first job and experience to put on your resume. Yes you may want to stay living in the capital city but so may another 100 newly graduated dietitians. Being willing to take a job in perhaps a less than ideal location can put you just that one step ahead of your peers when applying for a job. To put this in perspective, after I graduated I took a temporary position in the country 10 hours drive from where I was from. Three months later when I applied for a new grad job in Sydney, I was one of the lucky 5 who got positions from the 14 interviewed and 85 who had applied. I believe that being willing to move and get that first bit of experience on my CV really helped me to achieve that.
Networking is so important. You never know, the person you chatted with at a conference or met at an event might just be your next boss or give you a reference which helps you get an interview. They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and on some occasions it certainly can give you that extra edge. I can personally vouch for this working!
Good luck to any dietitians about to graduate!