A New Graduate Dietitian’s Guide to Getting a Job

I heard it as a student, and I hear it now, the opportunities are bleak, the market is overflowing. And I hate to be a downer, but it’s true.

I’m always met with shocked faces by non-dietitians (i.e. the public) expecting the demand to be so high with the nutritional issues we face in today’s society, but the truth is, that demand and funding is simply not there to back it.

Universities are pumping out dietitian grads into almost little to no graduate roles (if we’re talking strictly clinical, most states offer about half a dozen or so), with more than 10x the graduates from any given course (this varies between universities, just talking about my experience), how is there room for everyone?

How do you overcome these odds? You’re passionate, you’re keen and desperate to change the world for the better with your kick-butt nutrition skills.

I’m not going to lie, the journey was ROUGH for me to go from admin worker to pay the bills to employed dietitian. Keep in mind that everybody’s journey is different. But I’m not here to talk about all the things that we can’t change but what you CAN do to give yourself the best chance to stand-out from the crowd (cheese-y but so bloomin’ true).

As a new grad, I feel that I’m no expert on this topic AT ALL, but I’ve had a student dietitian request what I did to give myself the best chance of having a “leg up” on landing a job after throwing my hat in the air with glee.

So here goes, here’s my guide (some things I did and some things I should have done more of) to landing a job in dietetics.

I’m going to start with the things you should start to implement, if possible, before you graduate.

(1) Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer

I read this one over on Ideal Nutrition’s blog (give that a read if you haven’t already!)

But seriously, volunteer, use Seek Volunteer, Go Volunteer, or ask your lecturers (they get asked for volunteers all the time), whether it’s volunteering with OzHarvest and in the food security space, registering for Go4Fun in NSW or the Eat it To Beat It program with the Cancer Council, or even just asking a dietitian you look up to if they need help with something (trust me, there’s usually something!) Whether it’s writing a few blogs for them or helping them come up with social media content (I know it doesn’t look like hard work but it’s time-consuming!).

Even volunteering to assist a company at an event, such as Dietitian Connection’s Dietitian’s Unite or helping out vendors at the annual DAA conference (especially if it’s in your home city!) Or ask research project teams if you can help with some data management in a research assistant capacity (this may take time, as they’ll have to add you to their ethics approval paperwork first).

Register for internships that come up, for example, I did the Dietitians Association of Australia Social Media Internship, working closely with the Media & Marketing Dietitian helps refine your key messages and content that actually reaches your audience.

I recommend doing this whilst you’re doing coursework, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to maintain these commitments during placement (especially if you’re sent rural or interstate), it’s better to be consistent when volunteering.

Still can’t find anything? Approach companies! Approach dietitians! Approach organisations! People are unlikely to turn down someone keen to contribute!

Volunteering gives you all sorts of transferable skills, and hello resume-building! These non-clinical skills in building relationships, organisation & time management skills and clear demonstration of initiative and community engagement is a serious advantage.

Remember, make sure you CAN actually do this before you go signing up your soul to every organisation, #overcommitmentsyndrome

(2) Connect with your classmates

This one sounds silly, but you and your classmates are going to enter the big wide world all at the same time, they may seem like your biggest competition, but you really need to band together.

They can help you refine job applications, give you moral support, share interview experiences that you can learn from and all sorts of support! They also think differently to you and may offer alternatives or ideas that can help lead you to your next job, sometimes it’s as simple as changing up your search strategy!

(3) Get yourself a mentor, ASAP

Even if you’re not sure where you’ll end up, find an experienced dietitian and get them to guide you through the job application process. They will not only keep you accountable and motivated, they can give you some great pointers and they can also utilise their connections to get you on other dietitians’ radars. This industry is small, everyone knows everyone, it is of course, all about who you know not what you know (another cliche, I’m sorry, but they’re true!)

The good news is, you can always change mentors! They’re unlikely to be offended, or just have more than one!

Okay, so what do you do once you’re out and you’re on the hunt?

(1) Apply for EVERYTHING

Yes, even the jobs you think you have no hope in getting (make sure you meet the essential selection criteria before you apply though), yes even that job interstate, just apply. Part-time, casual, full-time, I applied to everything I coul.

Be open! But also know your “no-gos”, maybe clinical isn’t for you. If you KNOW you’re going to not like a particular role, it’ll come across in your application and also your interview. If you end up in the role, you could have poor job satisfaction and leave soon after, and then you’re back on the job hunt, anyway!

However it doesn’t have to be your dream job, either, use these as opportunities to practice with your application writing, interview practice and if you land the job use it as a skill building opportunity. It is much easier to land the next job once you’ve got the first one!

(2) Prepare & Kick Butt in your Interview

Seriously, I winged my first interview, because I didn’t get the opportunity to prep properly and I was way too big for my own boots (ain’t afraid to admit it), I though it would be more “natural” to just think up a few points and jot down a few notes

Trust me, that DOESN’T WORK, I got the rejection email within an hour of getting home from that interview.

After that experience, I started preparing by reading out my responses OUT LOUD, to whoever would listen or the mirror, in the shower, wherever. Practice stringing your words together, because once the nerves kick in, they’re bound to get jumbled!Kick butt in EVERY interview you do, seriously.

Even if you think you’re not the best candidate (sometimes you don’t think you are but you don’t always know what they’re looking for!), they could need someone in 3 months, or someone goes on maternity leave and they call you up for a locum*. Always do your best!

Remember, the interview isn’t about YOU either, it’s about what you can do for THEM. If you have creative ideas about how to innovate their services, based on your research and relevance to the setting, BRING IT UP! This will make you stand out that you’re willing to do more than the job calls for (but still within your scope of practice)Companies and organisations hire innovators

Do you want to do talks, groups, in-services, reduce the incidence of low albumin referrals (all dietitians will love you for that one) and seminars, bring it up. Passionate about a particular clinical area and how you can provide specialist services in that area, bring it up!

*Locum = temporary cover for another team member on long service leave or maternity leave (for example)

(3) Take the Feedback

Ask for feedback on your interview performance or take it when it’s offered, and take it on the chin. There is literally nothing worse than taking feedback poorly, plus, you should be used to it off the back of placements.

Nothing is personal here.

Take notes and apply it to your next interview. Note that, very few places will offer feedback on an application.

(4) Take the Initiative

Still struggling? Start approaching clinics, organisations, companies, schools, whatever! Instead of being passive about the job search and scrolling through online job boards all day, approach places that you’d like to work with an expression of interest in their company and maybe even just let them know that you’d like to be informed if there’s ever an availability. Send them your CV to keep on file.You don’t know if you don’t ask!

Or, start your own business, some people fall in the camp of never ever should a new grad go into business. Sure, it’s a risk, but with good mentoring & support – I don’t think it’s impossible. I’ve seen it work out for people! Make sure you devise a careful business plan and think about the uniqueness of your service or product.

If that’s too much for you right now, try starting your own Instagram or blog (if you haven’t already), this helps refine your nutrition communication skills and connects you with more dietitians in the field, who may be looking to take on a new grad! It’s crazy where social media takes you nowadays, go get ’em!

BONUS: use your blog or Instagram when talking about written communication, design and using visual tools, especially when it comes to resource development. Being great with social media is an advantage of our generation, use it, it’s especially desirable in private practice too!

(5) “I don’t have enough experience”

No new graduate does! You may be up against someone with a year or so of experience (or more) or just someone who’s done a locum position in a similar environment. So, how do you actually use your lack of experience as an advantage?

(A) You’re teachable – you’re so new to the profession, that you’re amenable to mentoring and training (so is everyone else), but you haven’t settled on your “style” just yet. Employers can help you find that and help it match the clientele needs as well

(B) You’ve got the most up-to-date knowledge – SHOW IT OFF! Do you know about the Nutrition Care Process & PES statements, DROP YOUR KNOWLEDGE. This is relatively new, and not everyone is practicing within this framework, show off that you know what you’re doing in this domain.

(C) Highlight areas that you know you need support in – and do your research to know where you can find that, not just “I need more CPD in this area”, show actionable steps – “I would attend this event X run by so-and-so to ensure my knowledge & skills were up to scratch before I reviewed patients with that particular presentation”

(D) Acknowledge your weaknesses, your scope & be honest – if you pretend you know everything, that is far more dangerous, than admitting your weaknesses, that you ARE new and you don’t know everything yet, however knowing what to do when things are outside your scope, referring to a senior or mentor, finding appropriate resources or seeking training, shows a sensible & logical AND safe practitioner mentality.

(6) Keep your chin up

The journey can be rocky, you think you ace an interview and you don’t get the job. Your dream job slips through your fingers. People don’t reply, it can sometimes takes months to get a response, and you’re just so keen to get out there!

Remember, it took you 4-5 years to get this credential, you’ll land in the right place when the time is right. Don’t expect too much too soon and DO NOT compare yourself to your peer/s who seem to land the best jobs straight away.

In the meantime, keep volunteering or working in a relevant area (try doing admin work in a clinic that has a dietitian around or even general allied health so you can say you understand what other health care professionals do!)

Talk to your peers and your mentors, talk to other dietitians in the field about it, we are a community!

But, never settle for less than what you’re worth, it can be tricky in private practice what that means, but weigh it up, what are your expenses, are you reimbursed for notes & letter writing, GP meetings, and marketing activities, if you’re not on a salary. You deserve to be paid fairly for the work you do!

If you need extra support, I recommend some of these resources to help you out:

Bonus tips:

  • Adapt your CV to every job – CRITICAL!
  • Write a damn good cover letter, use the keywords and answer the selection criteria directly as displayed in the job ad, in that order
  • Research, research, research – even better, talk to someone that works there
  • Get creative with your searches, if you’re just stuck on your state health website looking for roles, you’re missing out! Look farther & wider, smaller companies may not be able to afford ads on Seek or other major job boards, try Indeed or Jora.