Unmatched? Need a Job? Now What? (Feat. Dr. Andrea Hallberg)

We’re almost 2 weeks past Match Day now and things are settling down. For those of us who didn’t find our match (yet) this year, things are still feeling really uncertain. Some out there just finished undergrad and are now feeling that “now what feeling”.

finding nemo GIF

If you’re a budding genetic counselor who’s looking for an in-the-meantime job right now, you’re not alone. Today I collaborated with recent PhD Grad Dr. Andrea Hallberg to talk about finding a job you can be happy in, even if you can’t quite become a GC yet.

Job Search with Advanced Degree

Andrea:

First, thanks to Laura for allowing me to share a part of my journey to genetic counseling with all of you! For me genetic counseling is a slight detour in my career path. I have spent the last six years of my life at the University of Iowa earning my PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology. I am happy to say that I get to walk across that stage tomorrow to be hooded and receive that piece of paper that I have worked so hard for! I entered my PhD program directly out of undergrad however, about a year and a half ago, I realized that I did not want to spend the rest of my career in the lab and set out to find my place in science. I landed at genetic counseling and that has been my goal ever since. I applied to programs this year but did not match, thus here I am, looking for my first big kid job at age 27!

Looking for a job with an advanced degree is pretty similar to any other job search. There are lots of things to consider. My number one consideration currently is geographic location. My partner is completing his PhD and I have already signed a lease here so it only makes sense for me to stay here in Iowa City. But it does limit the number of jobs that are available. There is ONE major biotech company here and I just continue to stalk their website for openings. Thus, strategy number one keep a constant eye out at companies you are interested.

Another possibility for me is to work remotely. Many genetic testing companies, such as Invitae, Ambry, and Myriad, hire PhDs to curate variants found during genetic screening. This currently is my dream job. I mean who doesn’t want to work from home! I have submitted my application to many positions like this and am just crossing my fingers they find my cover letter and resume compelling. I think it is important to always have a dream job that you are qualified for in. Of course, my dream is to be a genetic counselor, however, I am not currently qualified, thus having a more realistic dream job is important.

working work from home GIF by LooseKeys

The last thing I want to say is that many of us aspire to be genetic counselors and want the perfect job to buff up our applications; unfortunately, it is not likely that everyone will get that perfect pre-GC job. Remember, that in almost any job you will pick up transferable skills. There are always skills that you can identify that are important for a genetic counselor to possess, for example even as a waitress you learn to communicate and deal with people efficiently and effectively. There is something to learn in every opportunity, thus apply broadly and see what happens! Also, remember that you can, and should, supplement your experiences with advocacy and volunteering. In my current job search I have found that it is fairly easy to get discouraged. I literally have not heard back from a single job that I have applied for but I have to just keep applying and hoping that it all works out.  

Job Search with Bachelor’s

Laura:

First of all, there’s a lot of pressure for recent grad future genetic counselors to become genetic counseling assistants. That’s the dream for a lot of us. More on that later, but first I want to say there are other great jobs to prep you for GC school.

Here’s a Google doc I made to prove it!

I began my grown-up job search in October of 2017. I was in a weird situation at the time. I was finishing classes at a weird time of year, right near the holidays. (I don’t like to say “graduating” because to me I will always feel that I graduated at my grad ceremony in April 2018, but that’s beside my point at this time! Haha.) I was also engaged to be married on January 5th. My husband and I needed to sign on an apartment for us to live in after the wedding, and in order to do so, one of us had to be able to show we made three times rent. With Zach about to begin his semester of student teaching, the providing of income fell squarely on me. And the timing of us being able to find housing depended on me being able to find a job with sufficient pay, that would provide me a letter saying “we plan to pay her this much starting this date”. The pressure was on.

Image may contain: Laura Cooper-Hastings, smiling, sitting
In my wedding dress, probably thinking about the stress of life

With Zach’s student teaching, we also found ourselves limited to the Salt Lake City area. Luckily, Salt Lake houses some major biotech companies, as well as the massive U of U Healthcare system. I just basically went wild applying to anything entry level and biology-themed. That’s really all there was to it. I think that ultimately, having such high pressure to find something saved me from getting caught up in trying to find that dream first job. Would I have liked my first job to be pediatric genetic counseling assistant in Orlando, Florida; walking distance to Walt Disney World Resort? Yeah! Did I have the time or ability to find the absolutely perfect job? Nope! So when I found (on LinkedIn) a very generic posting for “U of U Healthcare Lab Tech”, I threw my resume at it as usual. Only about 2 days later, I got an email from Huntsman Cancer Center asking me to come interview. Ironically, I was like “I didn’t even apply to Huntsman” and it actually took me a while to tie it back to that vague posting from LinkedIn.

I came in to interview the next day after I got that email. I remember going into that interview just really concerned to find out the nature of the daily work in this job. I was only a few months past a very mentally draining summer internship full of repetitive computer work and a tense work environment. I wanted my first grown up job to be satisfying, varied, and pleasant– even if it wasn’t my dream job. I made it clear from the start that I didn’t want to be at a computer all day. I’d learned lab skills through my undergrad research, and I was ready to contribute in a hands on way. I believe being candid about my employment goals helped me get this job, as well as be happy in it. Because I openly shared what I wanted from the job, they could see that I was serious about finding and creating a good fit job for me. They could also help those desires become a reality. As a result, I have had a happy year and a half at the Huntsman Biorepository, even though it’s nothing like genetic counseling at all.

AT WORK. NOT A GCA. STILL DOING GOOD.

And that brings me to an important point about the post-bachelor job search. It’s not the work you do, it’s who you work with and the environment you work in. Let’s suppose I was already a genetic counselor. I would love that! But what if I was a genetic counselor working for a genetic testing company that was hyper-focused on turning the highest profit possible, rather than helping patients in any way? What if my boss there treated me coldly, guilted me for using time off, and shut down subordinate employee ideas? What if I had to drive two hours through traffic to get to this job? What I’m saying is I could easily be far more miserable working as a genetic counselor in the wrong position than working here in the biorepository.

That’s a really important principle to keep in mind while searching for jobs. Some jobs look like dream jobs on the surface. Maybe they get you away from the lab bench and into the world of working with patients or they’re high pay or they’re in your dream location. Cool! But there is no way to tell what job will actually be the best fit until you interview for it. So, cheesy advice incoming, keep an open mind! Future genetic counselors can work in all sorts of roles from lab benchwork to tutoring kids in science, and everything in between (and everything that seems unrelated completely). A first job out of college isn’t forever, and it’s completely normal for it to be a stepping stone to grad school or your ultimate career.

In my opinion, feeling valued, somewhat challenged, and supported in your first real job matters a lot more than what you do day to day. I’m lucky that I found a great environment at Huntsman. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from seeking out GCA jobs ever since.

I will definitely one day write a blog all about GCA roles and how to get them. I’m not the best person to write that blog right now because I’ve never gotten one! Haha. Basically though, GCA jobs are as competitive as getting into school. Be kind to yourself and just give it your best shot. Here’s a few tips for those who want to brave the waters of GCA applications and maybe come out with an amazing gap year job!

  • Include shadowing and GC exposure on your CV.
  • In cover letters and interviews, be open and excited about your goal to be a genetic counselor.
  • Practice video interviewing because the jobs are all around the country.

Best wishes to all of you out there who, like me, are trying to figure out what’s next. Job searching can be difficult and also fun. As a recent grad, either from undergrad or an advanced degree, you are now a new level of skilled labor. Enjoy growing up!

This upcoming Monday I am shadowing in a prenatal genetic counseling clinic for the very first time! I know! Prenatal is like the OG genetic counseling type, and I’ve never seen it done! You can bet they’ll be a blog about it. Things are looking up. ❤

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

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