Three lessons learned from almost a year of job searching in global health

I find that most articles on career advice are written by someone who’s at the end of the journey. They have gone through the application process and found a job, potentially their “dream” one. But it’s easy to forget how much of a struggle it can really be to find those jobs.

So, I am sharing my story, as someone still applying for jobs after 8 months of unemployment. Since graduating in November 2020, I’ve been looking for full-time work in global health. It was recommended to me early on in my job search, which I began in earnest the day after my virtual graduation, to keep an Excel spreadsheet to track application deadlines, interview dates, and other career resources. 

Over the last 8 months, I have submitted 121 job applications, all of which required a cover letter, and many requesting additional requirements, such as personal essays, case studies, and long-form question and answers. In total, I’ve reached out to 67 people through LinkedIn or email, some whom I had previous connections with, most whom I did not. 

Those numbers are staggeringly high, compared to the relatively low numbers of responses. I participated in interviews with 7 companies and completed 5 exams, ranging from 2 to 6 hours each. These numbers are even higher than the amount of full-time offers I’ve received: 0. 

Looking for a position in global health has been long, exhausting, and debilitating at times, both physically and mentally. The thrill and surge of getting an interview request is quickly dampened by yet another impersonal rejection. The excitement of connecting with someone and learning about their career trajectory is diminished by the feelings of intense insecurity and inauthenticity. 

Although the journey has not ended for me, I’ve found it useful to receive advice from peers in the throes of unemployment and how they handle the various feelings. So, I am writing this to offer some of the tools and insights that I’ve found helpful, the tips I’ve learned, and some of the mistakes I’ve made, in hopes that  you won’t repeat them. 

Networking is key 

Intentional networking, despite the vulnerability it requires, has been the most rewarding part of the job search. I have had engaging conversations with a wide range of people, working in large global health agencies, government departments, and small nonprofits. Networking can be challenging, and requires a specific skill set that was not totally natural to me. I have personally found that the most rewarding conversations come from joining organizations or networking groups. For instance, I’ve been volunteering for Results Canada since January, which has allowed me to connect with passionate people who are advocating for ways to end poverty worldwide. I’ve also joined the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR), which has offered courses and a semi-regular networking session with global health professionals, including ThriveHire’s team. 

Of course, I have made some connections that didn’t move forward and definitely stumbled along the way. To avoid this, when networking, be sure to prepare by doing some research, having some questions ready to make the initial contact more personal. 

Technical skills are in demand

I’ve tried to build some technical skills by taking advantage of free courses offered on platforms such as Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn. At times, I’ve been a bit ambitious, signing up for three data analysis/coding courses in addition to ones on policy making, quality in global health, and French. Unsurprisingly, I ended up dropping most of the courses. I’d therefore recommend taking just one or two at a time, as this has helped me focus and actually complete the courses. I’ve also signed up for newsletters, including Global Health NOW from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has allowed me to stay updated with key global health trends and events. 

Finally, there is the technical aspect of reviewing applications to make sure they’re getting noticed by recruiters. ThriveHire’s services have been great for me. I have gotten my CV reviewed by several people, ranging from friends and family, to old colleagues, to career advisors at my graduate school. None had the expertise within global health that ThriveHire had. They helped me to target experiences gained outside of global health and make them relevant to  positions within the field. I noticed significant improvement, both in the selection of key words and formatting of my CV. 

Mental health and wellness is important

As anyone who is job searching knows, it takes a serious mental and physical toll. I have been grasping with intense feelings of imposter syndrome, fatigue, and lack of confidence, even with access to resources and having less caring responsibilities that many face on top of this. It’s therefore critical to prioritize mental wellness throughout the job search process. It’s one of the easiest things to overlook but can put a lot of these challenges into perspective. By sharing my experiences, I am not necessarily advocating for changes to deal with these challenges. Rather, I hope that reading this, a piece written by someone currently trying her best, can help someone else in their job search by letting them know that they are not alone.


juillet 21, 2021


Frances Walker


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