Going for a job interview for a job in public health? Don’t make these mistakes.

You might not get the perfect interview, but at least you won’t bomb it.

René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH

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Be good enough at interviews that your answers are automatic, but not robotic. (Image via DALL-E.)

I remember my first job interview for a public health job. It was 2007, and I had just finished my master of public health (MPH) degree in epidemiology and biostatistics. My capstone project was about doing influenza surveillance in a rural setting, where the data could be more local and immediate than the influenza surveillance data CDC puts out during the flu season. As it turns out, the Maryland Department of Health was searching for an influenza surveillance coordinator, so I happily applied for the job and got an interview.

Since that time, I’ve served on countless job interview panels, hiring public health workers at different levels. I even sat on a panel looking for a director of a public health agency. With those experiences in mind, and seeing how many of my students and mentees are asking for job interview tips, I’d like to offer some suggestions on what to do and what not to do.

Be confident, but not too confident

Displaying confidence can be a double-edged sword. When I walked in for my interview at the Maryland Department of Health, I had spent most of the morning telling myself that they were lucky to have me. In my mind, they were lucky to find me because I had done great in my capstone project. I showed how information from local healthcare providers could be quickly analyzed and detected a flu epidemic at the local level faster than what CDC reports. I had also graduated from the MPH program with a 3.98 GPA from a prestigious university.

Months after I landed the job, I asked colleagues who served on the interview panel about my interview process. Almost all of them pointed out that I came across as overconfident, somewhat “cocky.” One of them pointed out that I got the job because I showed my knowledge of disease surveillance, and I had good ideas on how to do disease surveillance better. Another said I was on the verge of coming off as thinking I was better than the people I was looking to work with… Which is a bad idea.

Yes, you might get the best grades in school, and maybe some of your professors…

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René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH

DrPH in Epidemiology. Associate/JHBSPH. Adjunct/GMU. Epidemiologist. Father. Husband. (He/Him/His/El)