Oct. 18 2016

Career Corner: Q&A with Heather Krasna

Mailman’s Assistant Dean and Director of Career Services shares job search advice and her view of the current public health career landscape.

At the Mailman School’s Fall Career Day, more than 460 students and alumni introduced themselves and aimed to impress representatives from the FBI, International Rescue Committee, Grant Thornton, and the New York City Department of Health. In all, 58 employers attended the October 7 event—all interested in hiring the best and brightest in public health—and that’s due in large part to Heather Krasna and her Career Services team, the group responsible for recruiting the recruiters.

High attendance numbers in October underscore what Krasna reiterates constantly: it’s never too early to start thinking about what comes after graduation. For many second-year students, the job hunt is already on. And even actions taken in the first year in the Core will impact students’ careers: choosing a certificate, a practicum or an internship, and deciding which skills they need to master in order to land their dream job.

Krasna, who has served as Assistant Dean and Director of Career Services since 2013, sat down with Transmission to give advice and perspective on finding a job in public health—and how her team can help.   

Heather Krasna and studentWhat are some of the trends you’re seeing in the public health job market?

I wish I had a crystal ball in my office. People ask me this all the time! There are a few organizations that try to predict growth of occupations, the biggest being the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the last 10 to 15 years, the two fastest growing industries they’ve listed have been anything related to either healthcare or technology.

Quantitative, data-related jobs in public health are growing the fastest. If you also happen to have programming skills in addition to knowing statistics or biostatistics, it’s a very nice job market. Healthcare administration jobs are massively growing, and health promotion and education jobs are expanding, too. From where I sit, all facets of public health are doing well. I think no matter which department you study in, getting an advanced degree in public health is well worth the time and money invested.

The number of graduates going into government has been flat for the last three years. We always have large numbers of students who go into nonprofits, NGOs, academia, hospitals, and research; but we’ve also seen remarkable growth in consulting, pharma, and biotechnology, and in our “other” category, which includes health technology, start-ups, health finance, and communications and marketing.

When it comes to the professional world, Mailman students have a variety of experience levels. Some come straight from getting an undergraduate degree; others return to school after years working. What advice do you have for those just starting their careers?

Some students don’t realize that applying for a job is very different from applying for school. When someone applies to grad school, they apply to four or five schools, and get into a few of them. By contrast, nationally, the average number of applicants per open position in the job market is 59. Just seven people out of those 59 are invited to interview, and 1.2 people get offers. That means you likely have to apply to 50 to 60 jobs to get interviews and eventually an offer. For some people, in tougher job markets, it takes much, much, more than that. That can be discouraging. It takes a lot of patience and hard work.

When an employer looks to hire someone, they don’t just look at your degree. Of course, the fact that you have a degree from Columbia in public health is going to be of great interest. But you do need work experience. You’re in New York City! Look for part-time opportunities, internships, or volunteer work to help build your resume.

The idea of networking can be intimidating. How important is it to the job search?

I try to reframe the idea for public health students: pretend networking is a qualitative interview—you’re gathering research. Or, think of it as an opportunity to talk with someone about what you’re both passionate about. What makes it easier is that we have an extensive, helpful alumni network which students can access through our online alumni directory, LinkedIn, and our new Alumni Coaching program.

Networking matters. It’s very important to learn to establish, build, and maintain relationships with people in your field. There’s something called “the strength of weak ties”: it’s not necessarily your mom or your mentor or your best friend who is going to get you a connection to a job. It’s going to be a person you talked to briefly at a networking event who you swapped business cards with, connected with on LinkedIn—someone you can reach out to for informational interviews, a connection, or information about their company.

What role does Career Services play for job hunting students?

Our team provides more than 1,500 one-on-one appointments with students each year, including individual resume and cover letter reviews, practice interviews, job search strategy, career counseling and salary negotiation tips. Students aren’t the only ones doing outreach to employers—we’re constantly working to get new organizations to campus for events, workshops, our two career fairs, and the annual DC Career Week in the spring. We also collaborate with faculty and staff across the School and University, along with alumni: our alumni database has been completely updated and refreshed, with more than 750 alums who want to talk to students and want to help. 

Beyond the practical advice and events, a large chunk of our job is to alleviate the stress of job seekers. What students discuss in our office is private, and students can tell us anything they want. If they’re feeling desperate, hopeless, or excited, they still have to show a professional face to a potential employer. We’re a space for people to let it out before they go out networking bitter or angry or frustrated. And we love it. We’re the counselor, the cheerleader, the coach, the reality check. We’re all these things to support people so they have a place to be successful in their search. It’s an honor to help our students get jobs that save lives.