Current Job Title - Disaster Behavioral Health and Communications Professional and transition current role into the Vulnerable Populations Coordinator
Name of Organization - The Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Undergraduate Degree - B.A. in Psychology and Communication Arts
Graduate Degree - M.A. in International Disaster Psychology
What does your current position entail?
I do a lot of system development, training responsibilities, community outreach, public relations, and contract monitoring. My job also has an emergency response component, so there are some incidents I take action during that I can't anticipate, but that supersede other work. I like that there might be something new that will crop up for me to do. I like variety.
For instance, during my first full day of work the state was activated for response to the High Park Fire. My office helps coordinate local partners and resources when an incident gets to that size. We make handouts and provide information in response to what our partners on the ground tell us that communities need.
How did you get your current position?
My story is the one you always hope for. One of my internships during my MA program at DU was with the same office and same disaster behavioral health team. My supervisor from that internship let me know that a position was opening up to be filled right around the time that I would be graduating. So I applied, got through the testing stage, and was thrilled to be the selected candidate.
In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?
I started job hunting at the beginning of winter quarter before I graduated. I had been pulling my resume together a little before that. The job I have now was actually one of the first that I applied for, but it was a long hiring process with several stages. The final interview happened in April, and about a week after that, I got the call asking if I wanted the position. I accepted right away, and started working part-time in May while I finished my degree.
In regards to the job search process, did anything surprise you?
I was startled by an experience that happened in the midst of an interview for a job I didn't take. All of a sudden, while holding a conversation with the person across from me, I realized I did not want this job. And I thought, sheesh, why are you having this realization now? Could there have been a more inopportune time? That taught me, first, that it's good to do research about the position and the company ahead of time, and, second, you may get blindsided by a position that sounds good on paper but in discussions or interviews you discover isn't right for you. So think about how to back out of those situations gracefully.
What recommendations do you have for current students?
Related to my previous answer, I think a great thing you can do is have personal triggers for when a job will not work for you. Consider what you need from an environment, from a supervisor, an office to really be satisfied and excited to work there. Not only will productivity and morale be low if your expectations don't match the reality of the workspace, but it's one of the most frequent questions you get in interviews if it's a good place to work (i.e. "What do you need from us to be a good employee?").
Other recommendations: Express what makes you interested in working in a particular position. Ask questions – but not questions that you could have answered by going to the landing page of the company's website. If you did your homework about your position/employer and have a question or comment that shows where you learned that information, share it.
What's the strangest interview question you were ever asked? How did you respond?
I was asked the question "What animal best exemplifies your personality and why?" and I said something to the effect of "A worker ant because I like working on teams for a goal that benefits many. Also, my time management skills help me take a bigger chunk of work than my experience may suggest I can handle." Hokey but it worked.
Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?
I have been lucky to get a position where the knowledge content of my specialized MA degree directly applies to my work. That said, the skills that never fail are the ones that came up in every class: cogent writing, project proposal development, research and presentation skills, critical thinking and evidence-based problem solving. In particular, I thought I had experienced group project overkill in school but there are few projects I do at my job where I don't have the input of other people to consider. I am now grateful for the practice I got in managing group assignments and relationship dynamics. "Soft skills" can be a derisive phrase for skills that people consider unspecialized but really their softness refers to their ability to mold to any situation.
If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?
I would have reached out to the broader DU campus a lot sooner. It's harder in a graduate program when all of your classes happen in one place, with one cohort, and you're off-campus as often as you are on-campus, but there were so many resources at DU that I just barely started tapping into my second year. In particular, I loved taking classes from different schools on campus, and the Center for Multicultural Excellence is a wildly valuable and underutilized network. A university is such a giving place in terms of free events, training, resources, and let's be honest – food. Take advantage of it. If you have to think of it strategically, participation looks good on a resume.
Any additional comments for current students?
Diversify. Even a specific area of study or scope of work will benefit from a person who can think from many perspectives and apply seemingly disconnected knowledge to the problem or task at hand.