The Shift from Grad School to a Public Health Job

career development college education mph public health jobs Aug 22, 2023

Wondering how to get a job in public health after graduating... the best advice I could give on how to shift from grad school into the working world is to literally get like Nike and “just do it”. That might sound super simple and underplayed but to be honest, many roadblocks and hinderances to stepping over the threshold from grad school to the working world come from yourself. You’ve gotta hustle! As you work through this transition, remember you’re still gaining experience and the perfect position may not come to you immediately after graduation but instead take time to secure.

Naturally, I’m a huge planner and adhere to a saying that I learned from my dad, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. If you haven’t graduated yet, then you’re in luck and can still prepare! I’ll talk to you all first, and if you’ve graduated already then, all hope isn’t lost! You can still take steps to make the transition into the working world a bit less stressful.

 If you have yet to graduate with a public health degree or related field, consider:

Preparation is key to set yourself up for success. Like any retirement fund, you’ll need to continually stack little bricks here and there to ensure that you’re financially where you’d like to be once you retire. Prepping to leave graduate school and enter the working world is similar. There are several things you could do but try some of these tips below.

  1.  Do extracurricular focused activities that align with your concentration or focus area.
    1. Getting involved with a think tank can broaden your scope and understanding in a particular area. Participating in open conversations, reading forums, or joining opportunities where you can share your knowledge, make you a more desirable candidate when transitioning from graduate school. There are several non-profit and even student-led think tanks in the healthcare and public health space with a variety of focuses. Since I work in the health policy, here are a couple that you could research: Alliance for Health Policy, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Urban Institute, and the Health Policy Center. Many universities have their own student-led public health think tanks with specific goals too. Some popular schools getting attention right now are New York University, University of North Carolina at Chapel hill, and the University of Michigan. Check them out!

This is a simple piece of advice, but I always suggest that for every project or research opportunity to deepen your knowledge and experience in your specific concentration area. Increasing the number of research and project opportunities where you can lead will help liven your resume! These small but important experiences can ultimately lead to job opportunities.

  1.  Take a fellowship or graduate research position.
    1. If you intend to work on campus, then a graduate research assistant (GRA) position would be an amazing opportunity. I wish I’d taken one during my master’s studies because many schools will supplement some, or even all, of your tuition while being a GRA! Talk about an awesome opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. GRA positions are incredibly competitive so be sure to connect with professors in your school doing research that you might be interested in so you can get on their radars early.

If you have already graduated with a public health degree or related field, here’re some things to consider:

Like I said, all hope isn’t lost, and you can still make major moves to ensure that the gap between your graduation and real-world experience doesn't accidentally become 3,4, or even 5 years! What’s key here is to stay determined and stay vigilant when seeking opportunities. Job hunting and applying for jobs is a full-time job; pat yourself on the back for keeping at it!

  1.  Apply to at least 2-3 jobs a week. I used to ask myself “why am I not getting these jobs”, but in reality one reason was because I wasn't applying enough. I had to get a grip and say, nobody’s looking for ME, I’m looking for the job, so I need to put myself out there to be seen. I said it before, and I’ll say it again that applying for jobs is a full-time job in itself! Stay focused and continue to strategically search for the positions that are the best fit. Zoila at Public Health Hired has several tips for improving your resume with key terms and using those same terms in your job search. Start with the free key terms guide at .
  2. Building your LinkedIn profile can help increase your visibility when job searching and connecting. Professionals at LinkedIn suggest these strategies to achieve desired objectives:
    • Search engine optimization – to help your profile show up in Google and Bing searches which makes it easier to find people. Use keywords in your profile’s description and status updates that are relevant to your interest and business to bring in the right attention!
    • Make your profile easy to find – ­your profile should be as professional as possible, avoiding informal language. Keep a business-like tone and avoid topics that don't help you look professional to recruiters.
    • Display your best business face – be sure to have a professional headshot which makes it easier for recruiters to remember you and gives your profile more credibility. It’s like being a panelist at a conference, and not having a photo – super unprofessional!
    • Upload industry-related posts – although LinkedIn is a social media platform, it is not comparable to those like Instagram or Facebook. Please do not post pictures of your new baby or funny work-related videos. If you do not want a recruiter to see it, especially if you’re actively seeking employment, do not post it.
    • Remain active and update resume regularly – the more you invest in your profile, the more attention you’ll receive in return. Regularly posting and remaining active on LinkedIn will increase your visibility. LinkedIn professionals say that the time to polish your resume is not after you’ve lost your job but while you still have one. This will make job searching much easier since recruiters analyze active accounts to identify individuals they can reach out to for clients.
    • Join relevant LinkedIn groups and Subscribe to Newsletters  – carefully choose groups that help build your reputation as an expert in a certain field. Begin to participate in the topic and demonstrate your expertise by adding to online conversations. Try to be active and post as least once a week.

3. Don’t be afraid to apply for entry-level positions! At this point, anything helps! It takes a strong person to put aside pride and apply for a position that they feel may be below their degree or expertise. However, when you pull back the curtain and ask yourself the hard question of “do I have the work experience necessary for this position”, we begin to realize that there’s some value in taking down our expectations a notch or two. While that’s important, we should also be reminded that “experience” doesn't always only translate to on-the-job experience. Recently some companies have been explaining in their job postings on what constitutes as experience. Zoila here at Public Health Hired shared a powerful IG post highlighting an excerpt from CDC Foundation and another nonprofit as follows:

Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religious; spiritual; community, student, social). Volunteer work helps build critical competencies, knowledge, and skills and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly to paid employment. You will receive credit for all qualifying experience relevant to the position’s duties to be filled, including volunteer experience.”

This is comforting to know that hope isn’t lost and to review your overall experience for areas where you can capitalize. Adding those unique experiences and skills could even land you a higher entry level, or mid-level position.

4. Use free time to volunteer at an organization that has similar values or goals to where you’d like to work. Some people think that volunteer work doesn't have much merit but check out #2 above; volunteer work counts as experience! With this key tip in mind, do some research to find the perfect organization that you can volunteer at and when making your new connection, try to offer the skills you’ve learned in graduate school. Not only does this help you utilize your skills but could also transform into a job opportunity where the org brings you onboard.

In the case that you are hired, at a volunteer organization or otherwise, ask if you could gain supervisory experience. Unfortunately, some managers might not be too keen on this because of the costs associated to build a team. Even worse, many mid to upper-level positions ask for supervisory experience to advance. My colleague and Founder/CEO of Young Black Professional, Dr. Desiree Strickland, has an amazing social media presence, podcasts, classes, and even “career tip Tuesdays” (which are my favorite) that talk about this. She says, “the dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately” …. Which is SO true. I don't want to spoil all the fun so check out her Instagram post from June 13, 2023 @youngblackandprofessional for some keys to success in that area.

In closing: Above all, it's important to remember that no two journeys are identical, and it may take you several attempts at any of these strategies to fully transition into the working world and land a job. What’s key is to “just do it” and keep on hustling until you’re in the position that’s perfect for you. Don't stay there too long though because something better is just around the corner. If elevating your resume to sound like a public health resume is difficult and challenging, check out some of our HIRED Masterclass at Public Health Hired. Be part of the next 200 HIRED using the HIRED methods!

Public Health Hired Contributor: Adam is an alumnus of the Georgia State University with a background in health policy and work experience in global health. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with Ministries of Health, National Institutes of Health, and other public health agencies in over 20 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, sub saharan Africa, and insular areas in the Pacific on public health program delivery and capacity building. He is currently working as a contract Public Health Analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focused on policy analysis and partnerships to improve our nation's heart health and increase health equity. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn! 

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