Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

A Recipe for Success: Career Insights for Dietitians from Kelan Sarnoff, MS, RDN

Kelan Sarnoff

Kelan Sarnoff

Dietitian Career Coach

Key Takeaways

  • Highlight dietetic internships by listing rotation types, hours, and sites, focusing on relevant accomplishments on your resume.
  • Use the top third of your resume for impactful qualifications, emphasizing your active role in internships and experiences.
  • Develop stories for interviews that showcase teamwork, overcoming challenges, and leadership to demonstrate your skills.
  • Practice for interviews, research the company, and keep in mind that not answering every question perfectly is acceptable.
  • For career advancement, opt for a readable two-page resume, highlighting transferable skills and quantifiable achievements.
  • Demonstrate leadership in interviews for higher positions by discussing your experience leading projects and mentoring others.

Starting Your Career in Dietetics


Starting or advancing a career in dietetics comes with its set of challenges, from standing out with a resume that truly represents your skills and experiences, to acing interviews and negotiating salaries. Kelan Sarnoff, a seasoned professional in dietetics, offers indispensable advice on how to navigate these hurdles effectively. Whether you’re drafting your first resume, preparing for an interview, or stepping into a higher-level role, Kelan’s insights are tailored to help you make impactful career moves in the dietetics field.

“If you’re a new dietitian without past work experience in nutrition, I always recommend including in-depth details about your dietetic internship on your resume. Some companies will count your internship experience or supervised practice hours as a year of experience in the field. 

When listing out your internship rotations, include the rotation type, the total hours of supervised practice, and the site name. You don’t need to list specific dates for each rotation type, instead include the start and end dates of your dietetic internship. 

List the most relevant rotation first (you do not need to stick to chronological order). For example, if you’re applying to clinical jobs, move your clinical rotation to the first spot. If you completed an outpatient or private practice rotation, move that to the second spot. 

When writing your bullet points, focus on 1-3 core accomplishments or responsibilities within each rotation. 

As you gain more work experience, you can decrease the details about your dietetic internship. Eventually, you might even remove all of the rotation-specific details and replace them with just a one-line overview in your education section.”

“A lot of new dietitians downplay their internship experience and past nutrition experiences. 

As hiring managers, we know that you’re working under the supervision of a dietitian during your internship. This is implied. If you collaborated with your preceptor on a project or had their assistance, try moving the “assisted” part to the end of your bullet point. 

Instead of: 

“Assisted the dietitian with teaching a nutrition education class”. 

Try a stronger bullet point that emphasizes your accomplishment:

 “Developed and led a nutrition education class for 30 fifth graders with the assistance of the RD”.   

In this example, we still acknowledge that you had the support of your preceptor, but it gives credit to your work.

The top third of your resume is the most valuable real estate. Don’t fill this space up with your educational background. As dietitians, it’s already implied that you have at least a Bachelor’s degree. You can include any higher education such as an MS or PhD with your credentials after your name. Move the education section to the bottom of your resume and keep it short.”

I have interviewed hundreds of applicants over the past decade and the candidates that stand out the most are those who tell stories that demonstrate their skills. 

Why stories? 

Stories will help you forge emotional connections and leave a lasting impact. They also provide concrete examples of your skills and emotional intelligence. As a hiring manager, I going to remember a candidate who shared a story about how the handled a disagreement with a physician who wanted to put a patient on a ketogenic diet against their will. I may not remember a candidate who says something generic such as “I am a clear communicator and I would talk to the physician if I had a disagreement”. 

Here are 5 stories I recommend preparing: 

  • A time when you worked with a team;
  • A time you overcame a challenge;
  • A time when you resolved a conflict;
  • A time when you excelled at a task;
  • A time when you juggled multiple priorities.

If you prepare your story bank, you will be well equipped to handle any situational interview question that comes your way.”

“It’s perfectly reasonable to be nervous during an interview. Nervousness shows that you care about the opportunity and want to do your best. You can overcome this by practicing for the interview ahead of time. In addition to building your story bank, research the company and the people who are going to be interviewing you. 

If you are stumped by a question during the interview, here are a few things to try: 

  • Ask the panel to repeat or clarify the question.
  • Paraphrase the question to confirm that you understand it correctly.
  • Ask for a moment to think about the question and then take a sip of water.
  • If you cannot think of an answer, acknowledge that first then ask to share a similar example if relevant. 

If you fumble on a question, don’t dwell on it. Take a deep breath and move on. You don’t need to answer every question perfectly to land a job. Remember, an interview is a conversation to make sure that it’s a great fit for both parties.”


Advancing Your Career in Dietetics


“A lot of dietitians get hung up on the 1-page or 2-page resume debate. However, the majority of my clients end up having a 2-page resume. As dietitians, we have certifications, licensure, and professional membership/affiliations that we typically need to include. 

Don’t try to squeeze everything onto one page by using size 8 font and tiny margins. A 2-page resume with lots of white space is easier to read than a jam-packed 1-page resume.”

“I have found that many of my clients have very redundant bullet points and struggle to think outside of the box when it comes to listing accomplishments. This is often the case if they have held several similar positions. For example, if they started their career in clinical nutrition like many RDs, they might list several bullet points that are related to providing nutrition education and medical nutrition therapy. 

When tailoring a resume for different sectors, it’s important to showcase transferable skills. 

Here are a few examples of ways dietitians can highlight their skills and quantifiable accomplishments:  

  • Collaborated with a team of healthcare professionals to develop and implement a new nutrition program for patients with cancer.
  • Developed and delivered educational presentations on nutrition and healthy living to over 50 community groups and schools.
  • Led a team of dietitians in developing evidence-based nutrition protocols for a major hospital.
  • Established key partnerships and referral systems to enhance collaborative and comprehensive patient care. 
  • Managed a caseload of 50+ patients per week while consistently meeting or exceeding productivity targets.”

“One of the most common questions I get asked is how dietitians can make the leap from a more traditional dietetics role to a higher-level position if they don’t have direct management experience. Even if you don’t have experience managing others, you can still showcase your leadership skills. 

In the field of dietetics, this might look like: 

  • Leading a project or initiative at your facility.
  • Mentoring or precepting new dietitians or dietetic interns.
  • Volunteering for a leadership position with your local dietetic association.
  • Participating in a quality improvement or quality assurance committee.
  • Presenting at a conference or committee meeting.
  • Updating or creating nutrition protocols or standards of practice.
  • Overseeing the day-to-day work of a diet tech.

You can then use these experiences to answer common interview questions for higher-level positions. 

Some example questions include: 

  • Can you provide an example of a time when you had to deal with an unexpected interruption or crisis while working on a tight deadline? How did you adjust your schedule and manage your time effectively to still meet the deadline?
  • Share an example of a time when you had to work with a diverse team to address a challenge. How did you foster collaboration and ensure that everyone felt valued and included in the process?
  • Share a situation where you encountered resistance from a stakeholder or team member on a particular decision. How did you address their concerns and ultimately gain their buy-in?

You can use experiences from work or from volunteer roles to address these questions.”


Mastering Negotiation and Evaluating Offers


“There are a few different tools and approaches that I use to help dietitians determine competitive pay. 

First, there is a new initiative called Dietitian Salaries (www.dietitiansalaries.com). Dietitian can share about their current and past position, location, salary and benefits. Then other dietitians can use this information for salary negotiation and raises. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also provides a salary calculator as well as an annual Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession. These tools are only available to current Academy members, but it is a great starting point. 

The calculator is one of the most robust options because it allows you to put in your dietetics practice area, certifications, education, supervision experience, and geographic location. It was last updated in 2021 and new data will be available in late Spring 2024. 

I also recommend collecting and saving job descriptions for similar positions especially if they include salary ranges. This information can be used to justify a raise or be used for salary negotiation. 

And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask your network about salary ranges based on a position description. You don’t need to ask them what they make. Instead, you can say something such as “what is a fair salary range for a dietitian with 8 years of experience in this role based in this geographic area?”.”

“Currently, the average pay for dietitians is well below the salary for other allied health professionals with similar training and educational requirements. Dietitians have become more vocal about this over the past few years and several of my clients have landed raises or salary adjustments for the whole team by using data to back up their ask. 

My suggestions are to:

  • Always negotiate your initial salary offer
  • Keep track of data, accomplishments and outcomes that show your impact as a dietitian. 
  • This could be client/patient health outcomes, the number of patients or clients seen, total number of malnutrition diagnoses, improvements in nutrition behaviors, etc. 
  • Encourage your supervisor and manager to create a career ladder for dietitians at your facility. 
  • Career ladders are a great way to allow for progressive responsibility in clinical and community positions. With this model, you might receive a raise for obtaining an advanced certification or for achieving a certain number of years with the organization. 
  • Advocate for salary increases for dietitians with a master’s degree. 
  • Collaborate with your colleagues to increase awareness of salary transparency and come to your manager/supervisor together to ask for salary adjustments.”

Beyond salary, how should dietitians approach the topic of benefits and other compensations during negotiations, especially as they gain more leverage in their careers?

“This is a tough question to address. I recommend having realistic expectations when it comes to negotiating benefits beyond salary. The majority of dietitians are employed by large healthcare or government facilities where there will not be a lot of flexibility for negotiating things like more PTO or earlier performance reviews.

If you’re working for an organization that follows strict guidelines, you might still be successful in negotiating: 

  • A partially hybrid schedule (for example, seeing clients remotely a few days a week or permission to chart at home).
  • A stipend for continuing education.
  • Reimbursement for pursuing advanced certifications.
  • Additional compensation for having a master’s degree.
  • Tuition reimbursement.
  • A sign-on or relocation bonus.
  • Equipment/Technology Stipend (for remote roles).”

If you’re working for a smaller company or in a non-traditional setting for dietitians, you might have more flexibility to negotiate more time off or more schedule flexibility. This is going to be very industry dependent.”


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