Hi! First, I hope you all enjoyed the first post in my new Nutrition School blog series: Macronutrient Basics. Keep an eye out for the 2nd installment in the Nutrition School series over the next few weeks.
Today, however, we’re changing gears, and I want to share some advice with all the nutrition students who are feverishly applying to Dietetic Internships as we speak. In fact, I think the DICAS deadline for application is almost upon us (February 15th I think?), so hopefully most of you “RD’s to be” out there are just putting the finishing touches on your applications and getting ready to submit. Now, for those of you reading this who are not in the dietetics field, let me just explain real quick – this is the most nerve wracking and anxiety producing application/interview/matching process in the universe – ever. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but for real, this is a very stressful time. The application process is intense and incredibly time consuming. And then you have to wait and see if you get interviews with the programs you’ve applied for, and then you prepare like crazy for the interview (or at least you should), and then you interview – all sweaty and nervous and barely able to form a coherent sentence (yet you can somehow still spit out the indications for starting someone on TPN). And then, you wait. You wait a long time. Okay, it’s not that long but it seriously feels like eternity. And then, Match Day happens. Which for my year, was April 1st (seems like a cruel joke, right?). Then, at 7pm the whole country (or really just all the senior nutrition students) tries to log on to the same website. And it crashes. And crashes. And crashes. It took me literally a half an hour to successfully log on to the site and see that I was matched with my #1 choice – Penn State University Dietetic Internship. If you’re interested in my DI experience, jump on over to this page to read all about. I was so happy and relived when I finally saw this screen that I just burst into tears.
Anxious, scared, frustrated, relieved, overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted Happy tears.
Today I want to share my advice and experience to everyone out there who is getting ready to embark upon their internship interviews. Now I may be biased, but I have to say that I think I did a really bang up job of preparing for my interviews, so I think I have a lot of good advice to share. I also sat in on interviews for the internship class after mine, so I was able to get a good look at the other side, and really get a feeling for what the directors and preceptors were looking for in a candidate. So without further ado, here are my tips and tricks for nailing the interview, and getting the internship you want.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
The majority of the time you’re going to invest in interviewing, should be done before you even walk into the building. I cannot stress this enough – practice, practice, practice. It won’t make you perfect – when you’re super nervous you’re not going to give a perfect interview and that’s fine. They expect you to be nervous. It shows you care. When I was in Marching Band in high school (band geek and proud of it!), our director told us that your best performance is only going to be 75% as a good as your best practice. I think the same philosophy applies here. So the more you practice, the better shot you’re going to have of giving a great interview when it’s time. I did probably a dozen mock interviews (a huge thank you to my boyfriend at the time who practiced endlessly with me over Skype), and thought out answers to probably 100 different possible interview questions. And by thought out, I mean I had downloaded 100 possible interview questions and typed up answers to each of them. Maybe that was extreme, but I know that I get nervous when the stakes are high, and I have a tendency to ramble on and potentially even say something I probably shouldn’t. So I wanted to have an idea in my head of what I would say for the different questions I was likely to be asked. I feel that this really paid off. Most of the questions for typical job interviews are similar to dietetic internship questions (tell me about a time when you demonstrated…..x, y, or z). So if you have in your head a bunch of examples of times when you worked with a difficult customer, demonstrated creativity in problem solving, worked well with a team, etc – then you’ll be able to answer just about anything they can throw at you. And be aware, they will probably ask you 1 or 2 nutrition questions (such as, what are the indications for starting someone on TPN?). It’s not a big deal if you don’t know the answer. What they really want to see is how you deal with it. So just walk them through your thought process as to how you arrive at whatever answer you choose. They want to see how your brain works, and that you will be able to find the answers to questions that you’re going to come across in your internship.
2. Do Your Research
This sort of goes along with practicing. Once you find out what interviews you are going to do, start googling. Learn all that you can about the different internship programs. You want to appear very well informed. It looks really bad when you ask a question in your interview that everyone present knows is on the front page of their website – it shows you didn’t do your research. So learn as much as you can. And if you have the names of the people who will be interviewing you, do a google search on them and find out what you can about their backgrounds and careers. This will give you the opportunity to ask thoughtful questions during your interview. Also, know the “philosophies” of the program. I scoured the PSU DI webpage for key phrases that I saw repeated again and again – core values that they really stressed. Then, I worked these same words and phrases into my interview so that they would know that our values aligned, which shows that I’m a good match 🙂
3. Dress for Success
How you dress is soooooo important. I wish I could say we lived in a perfect world where no one was judged on their appearance, but we don’t. And how you look/dress is the first thing they’re going to notice about you – so make sure it makes a good impression! Wear a nice suit, but don’t be boring. If you don’t have a suit, I would suggest buying one. Nothing looks as sharp as a clean, crisp suit (make sure it fits you well). Really, you should wear a suit to any job interview, and that’s basically what this is. You want to be stylish but not showy. A nice suit in a traditional color (navy, brown, black, tan, etc) and then a colorful shirt works well. Or maybe your suit is black and you wear a plain white shirt underneath but then you wear a nice, colorful scarf (or tie, if you’re a gentleman). That might make you stand out in a good way. And please, no crazy high heels or suggestive tops – these send the wrong message. You want them to know that you’re responsible, down to earth, and hardworking, and the right outfit can go a long way towards giving them that impression right off the bat.
4. Show Off and Stand Out
Brag! This one is hard for a lot of people – especially women, because we’re usually taught to be modest and quiet and humble. But please, throw all of this out the window for your interview
(and quite possibly for the rest of your life). If you’ve got impressive accomplishments, make sure everyone there knows about them. I’m not saying you have to be obnoxious about it, but it does take a little effort to get into that mindset of showing off. You need to show off and stand out. The year I was interviewing, PSU had 80 or 90 applicants, and they chose 10. So that shows you how much you need to make a great impression and stand out, or else you’ll get lost in the sea of applicants.
5. Bring a Portfolio – and USE IT!
This kind of goes along with #4, but I put it as a separate point because it’s super important. When I was helping with the interviews for the class after mine, I can’t tell you how many students brought a portfolio with them, and then never referenced it or asked if we wanted to see it. And we didn’t ask on purpose – because we wanted them to show off their work. Sure, a lot of interviewers will probably ask you to see it, but even if they don’t ask outright to see it, they’ll probably say something at the end like, “is there anything else you want us to know?” and that’s your opportunity to get out your portfolio and shine. You can organize your portfolio however makes sense to you. I had mine in different sections such as “clinical, community, foodservice, writing, etc.” You can put in there whatever you feel makes you look like a great candidate. I had some of my MNT tests and papers, a giant foodservice project that I spent an entire semester on, photos of a trifold display I had made for a community nutrition project, and several issues of the Nutrition Newsletter I started and wrote weekly for my university. Really it’s up to you based off of what you are most proud of and what you want to show them. Don’t be afraid to brag. They want you to sell yourself.
6. Leave them with something to remember you by
This isn’t necessary, but I think it helps if it makes sense for you. For my Honors Capstone project in college, I wrote and self published a cookbook for college students called “Maintaining Nutrition While Paying Tuition” – catchy, right? I spent over 300 hours creating this cookbook, and frankly I’m pretty proud of it. I took all the photos and did all the editing, so basically that book was a lot of my own blood, sweat, and tears. I took a copy to each interview to show off my creativity/graphic design/technology/entrepreneurial skills, and I left the book with them. Each group of interviewers was not only impressed with the work, but grateful for the book as well (as we all know, dietitians can never have enough cookbooks 🙂 ). Also, then they had a physical reminder of myself as a candidate, long after my interview was over. Now, of course, every nutrition student doesn’t have a cookbook that they made, but I’m sure plenty of you have something awesome that you created that shows off some super special quality that sets you apart from the other candidates. So if you have something like that that you can leave with the interviewers, why not? It will help them remember you and remember your interview. It helps to set you apart and makes you stand out in their minds.
So there you have it. Six simple tips for nailing your dietetic interview and getting an internship match. To all of you nutrition students out there who are getting ready for your interviews, I wish you the best of luck. I know how freaking stressful this whole process is. But if you prepare as best you can and go into your interview with confidence (because you’re clearly awesome if you’re reading my blog 😉 ) you will give yourself the best shot at getting the internship program you want – the thing you’ve been working so hard for over the last several years. If anyone reading this has any more questions that they would like me to answer, please, just leave a comment and I promise I’ll get back to you (it might take a few days but I promise I will write back).
Does anyone else have any great advice for nailing an interview? If so, please leave your tips and tricks in the comments section for all to read 🙂