Tips from Dietitians on Getting A Job: The Path to Becoming A College Nutrition Instructor

Welcome to ‘You Graduated, Now What?’ – a series of blogs with new-ish Dietitians providing tips to help you secure that dream job. Each installment dives into one Dietitian’s path toward finding a job, the victories and challenges in the application process, and advice on how to shine. 

Post-internship, the possible career options that exist within dietetics are endless- today, a Dietitian working as a college instructor shares her unique career path with guidance for new grads on entering the workforce. 

Which area of dietetics do you work in and how would you describe what you do?

I work as a college Food and Nutrition Management Instructor. My role includes teaching a variety of courses in food service and clinical nutrition. Graduates from the program are trained to become Food/Nutrition Supervisors. In my food services courses, I am responsible for organizing and coordinating food labs, in which students partake in lab procedures that experiment with the properties of food. This requires me to also manage the inventory of food supply for labs. As well, I teach my students how to standardize recipes and write descriptive copy for menus. For my clinical nutrition courses, it is primarily theory focused. Topics range from educating students on texture modification diets, enteral and parenteral nutrition support and how the body utilizes food for energy.

Being an Instructor is not a typical route a Dietitian may pursue, however what I love about this position is that it is quite versatile in food service and clinical nutrition. I feel it keeps the day a bit more interesting, but also encourages you to be relevant and competent in both areas. This would provide a strong foundation for my next job in either sector.

What is a typical day (or two different days) like?

The first thing I would do in the morning is check my email and voicemail, and reply to students and colleagues. On 3 days of the week, I would lecture in the morning for 1-2 hours and then conduct 4 hour food labs in the afternoon. On my 4th day of work, I lecture in the afternoon for 2 hours. I only work 4 out of 5 days a week as my position is part-time. In between lectures and labs, I would take that opportunity to prep for classes (e.g. print handouts, manage food lab inventory, edit PowerPoint slides), mark assignments/quizzes, and meet with students to provide feedback or to those that seek additional assistance.

What’s nice about the position is that is allows for a flexible lifestyle and great work/life balance! Technically, I only need to be on campus during class times. With that being the case, I have the ability to come in and to leave work at hours that are convenient for me. This also provides the opportunity to do some work at home.  

How did you prepare for your interviews? Any tips related to your experiences?

To prepare for interviews, I would research into the company’s culture. I would figure out their vision, values, and long- and short-term goals. I would keep this in mind and try to integrate these into my answers during the interview. I believe it is important to showcase to the interviewer that you have done your research, and that your values align with theirs, or that your previous experiences can help them achieve their goal.

I would contact Human Resources to ask what type of interview it will be – for example, some jobs do group interviews or others may want to you perform a specific task as a segment to the interview. It puts me more at ease to know what to expect, but also to help me to prepare.

Another exercise I like to do for interviews is to practice rehearsing with a partner. Print out the job posting and have your partner ask you sample questions. I found that speaking out my answers helped me to organize my thoughts and remember what I want to say. It is also nice to practice in the same manner that the interview will be conducted.

What were the challenges in your job search or during interviews?

During my job search, I would at times ask the employer for feedback. I would usually find out that I was denied a position due to a strong internal candidate or to someone more experienced. I found this to be a challenge/barrier in landing a job. However, I soon realized that I needed to be more patient and persistent. There are a lot of applicants applying; landing a job takes some time.

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Did you network to find your job? Tips for networking skills?

I did not network to find my current job, however I strongly encourage networking to find employment. Some networking skills I would recommend would be to attend conferences and workshops. Although at times these do come with a cost, some organizations actually offer scholarships or bursaries that you could apply for. At these events – make the effort to talk to people and make a connection. Exchange contact information with the person, and follow up with the individual periodically.

From my experience, the RD community is very friendly and supportive of each other. Don’t be afraid to directly reach out to an individual for guidance and assistance. The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t reply, or if they don’t have an answer hopefully they can direct you to someone else that can.

What are challenges you encounter as an RD in your role?

I have encountered many unexpected challenges in my role. My biggest struggle probably has been confronting students. Some students are disruptive during class, choose not to equally contribute in group work, or participate in plagiarism and academic dishonesty. In each of these situations, I would need to be “bad cop” and speak with the student. These conversations are often difficult to have as the consequences are not favourable for the student. However, over time I have gained more confidence in my conflict management skills and quick decision making ability. I know I will be able to carry these skills forward to my next job. Despite these challenges, I find this teaching experience incredibly rewarding, as I am able to make a direct positive impact and encourage others to do something they never thought they could do.

What did your path to becoming an RD look like?

Growing up, I have always had the pressure to pursue a traditional career (e.g. Doctor, Pharmacist, Lawyer, Engineer). Although these professions in their own way are great, I felt they weren’t the right fit for me. I wanted a career in the healthcare that helped others through preventative measures, that supported a healthy work/life balance and that was versatile. Upon taking nutrition electives during my undergraduate degree, I was introduced to Dietetics and wanted to learn more about the profession. Thus, I reached out to the Dietitian at the long-term care home that I was volunteering with at the time and I requested to interview her about her job. Prior to enrolling in Nutrition School, I got a mentor to guide me through the internship application process. As I move through my career, my passion only grows stronger for the profession, which increases my confidence that I have chosen the right career path for me.

If you could go back 1 year to graduation date, what advice would you give your younger self?

Try your best to maintain contact with the professional network that you have built through the year. During internship, you meet such a variety of bright-minded individuals ranging from nurses, food service supervisors to community coordinators. Again, going back to networking, you never know where maintaining that connection may lead to. Once you start working on your own, you may still need some advice and it is always nice to know that you have a network of experienced individuals to turn to if you need help.

What tip(s) would you give to new dietetics grads?

Be open to whatever opportunities come your way! Perhaps be more lenient on your location preference. For example, if you trained in a rural area, maybe move to the city for your new job. The patient/client population is different in rural versus urban settings – this can be an opportunity for you to enhance the versatility of your resume. Be willing to take on a position/area (clinical, community, industry, food service) that is outside of your comfort zone. Although initially it may be frightening, remember you have the training to do it. Overcoming your weaknesses will only make you a more well-rounded Dietitian.

Keep in mind you won’t be stuck in that position forever. See it as a stepping stone that this will hopefully get you to where you want to go. The job market is competitive, perhaps removing any restrictions will land you that first job a bit quicker.

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Note from the editor (Evita): Thank you to the contributor for their wise words! If you’re struggling to find the right job – stop waiting for postings to pop up, seek out organizations you’re interested in working with, and ask for what you want, or say “yes” to things that you didn’t even know were possible. Make a case for why that company/hospital/work place should hire you, pitch yourself with the value you can provide to the business, and why they would be lucky to have you too. And lastly, believe in yourself – if you don’t believe in yourself, no one can do that for you.

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