The countdown to graduation has reached double-digits, thesis presentation dates are being set, and a variety of field experiences have been completed. One of the things still on the to-do list is to secure your first job as a genetic counselor. For all you second-year genetic counseling students (soon-to-be new grads), it is an incredible time to be entering the growing field of genetic counseling. Genetic counseling is one of the fastest growing fields 1,2 and one of the top-ranked3 jobs to hold. The average starting salary for a 2020 graduate was $76,702 and has consistently increased over several years.4 There are a variety of positions to consider with a classic direct patient care role (e.g., clinical coordination), the developing non-direct patient care roles (e.g., lab report writing and variant interpretation), as well as mixed patient care roles (e.g., research management).4
Find Your Fit
An important thing to note is while you are thinking about how you are going to present yourself to potential employers, the job search and interview process are NOT about trying to make yourself a good fit for an employer. You have worked hard, offer a unique perspective, and will make a difference. Find a job and an employer that are a good fit for YOU – your interests, your goals, your ideal environment, and your values. The following are questions to help you do just that. Talk about them with your mentors, your advisors, your classmates, your friends/family/partners – whoever you confide in regarding professional development.
When you were applying to graduate school, what did you talk about in your personal statement? What did you envision for yourself when you decided to apply to grad school? How has that vision changed over the past few years since starting genetic counseling graduate training? Is there a particular group of conditions or specialty you enjoyed? What rotation was most fascinating to you and what type of role did that supervisor have?
Every genetic counselor has at least one thing that they are passionate about. Pinpoint your passion(s) and look for jobs that will create opportunities to pursue it/them. Perhaps you have a budding interest that you want to dabble in but are not ready to make it consume your entire job. For example, maybe you enjoy teaching but do not want to work solely in an academic setting. You could seek potential employers that are associated with an academic setting that would allow 10-15% of your time to be dedicated to giving lectures/teaching while the rest of the role has a different focus.
What do you want to accomplish in the first year of your career? In the first five years? Over the next 10 years? Look for potential employers that will provide the support and resources for you to work towards your goals. Will the employer pay for the ABGC board examination? Study materials for the board exam? Certification and licensure renewal? Will you have access to funds for professional development? Attending conferences? Online courses and webinars? Hosting educational/support events for family groups? Is there an established career ladder for genetic counselors? Do any of your potential new colleagues have goals that align with yours? Are the individuals in leadership roles supportive of implementing new ideas?
Your Ideal Environment
How would you describe your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work independently or with a team of individuals? As a new GC, are you comfortable reaching out to others for help or is it easier to have established check-ins with an assigned mentor? How does your employer view the role of a genetic counselor? Is the employer making efforts to have genetic counselors work at the top of their scope of practice? How do current genetic counselors describe the environment? How does the manager address mistakes made?
Are you more effective working remotely or going into work? What helps you create work-life balance? Are there set hours or do you have the ability to shift your hours (start your day earlier or later)? Are GCs ever expected to be on-call after hours or on weekends?
How much paid time off is offered and are individuals encouraged to take it? What benefits are provided (e.g., relocation expenses, parental leave, tuition reimbursement, life insurance, computer, and other office supplies, etc.)? How is your position funded? Are there any factors that could change your employer’s ability to fund your position?
What are your personal and professional values? What values do potential employers have listed on their websites? How do your personal/professional values align and differ from those of the potential employer? How do your interviewers describe the culture? What activities and initiatives are in place to promote and support diversity, inclusion, and equity within the workforce and for the populations they are serving? What are the demographics (e.g., age, ethnicity/race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, language) of the current workforce? How does the employer accommodate disabilities? What work groups and task forces are in place for ongoing education and change?
In summary, there are a lot of questions you can ask yourself while completing your job search and ask a potential employer during a job interview. Be proud of who you are, what you have accomplished, and know that many doors are opening for you. Dismiss the opportunities that do not feel right and accept an offer that meets your interests, goals, environment, and values. And, if you start a new job and realize it is not actually a good fit, do not be afraid to find something different. The benefit of a growing field is being able to leave a bad fit behind and walk through a door that feels right to you. Good luck!
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Genetic Counselors, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm
- NSGC Professional Status Survey. 2021.