So You’re Preparing For Interviews, Part 1

Hello readers! I apologize for missing last week’s post. I arrived at my new apartment, unloaded my belongings from the trailer (thank you UPack for servicing the Middle of Nowhere so that I didn’t have to drive the truck myself!), and learned that my shower was not working. My landlady worked with me and got it foxed promptly, and then a combination of thunder storms and bad wiring knocked my power out. I got lights back quickly, but my outlets were still down, so I couldn’t plug in my wifi router or charge my laptop. Fortunately I am back online, although I am still waiting for an electrician to re-wire a couple of my outlets so that I can get both AC units up and running again. Ah, the joys of relocating to a new town.

Anyway, as promised, I will be writing today about interviewing. Over the two years that I applied, I participated in in-person, skype, and phone interviews. I interviewed one-on-one, with a group of other applicants, and alone against a panel of clinicians at the site. It’s all terrifying, stress-inducing, and generally not very much fun. Below is a list of common internship interview questions. I was not asked all of these questions, but my research has shown me that these (or variations on them) are most likely what you will hear in interviews.

Professional Development

  • Tell us about your professional development – what brought you into this field and what has influenced you?
  • What assessment measures have you used?
  • What psychologist has influenced your development as a psychologist?
  • What is your theoretical orientation?
  • How many publications do you have?
  • What clients have you liked or not liked working with, and why?
  • What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses? What do you do to compensate for your shortcomings?
  • What are the qualities of a good psychologist?
  • What is the role of a psychologist in a multidisciplinary team?
  • Tell about an ethical dilemma you faced and how you handled it.
  • What is your opinion of psychologists having prescription rights?
  • What is your experience providing informal consultation?
  • How will you know when you are ready to complete your training?
  • What is your theory of change?

Treatment

  • Describe a difficult case and how you handled it.
  • How can you tell when a client is ready for termination?
  • Tell about a good experience you have had with a client.
  • How do you work with clients who present with many issues?
  • What further training experiences do you need?
  • What empirically validated treatments are you familiar with?
  • How do you work with and understand clients from different backgrounds?
  • How would you respond if a client came on to you sexually / how would you handle it if a client disclosed a previous sexual relationship with a therapist?

Personal

  • How do you handle change?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What sets you apart from other applicants?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What hobbies do you have? What do you do in your free time?
  • What would you do if you weren’t in psychology?
  • What would you like me to know about you that is not listed on your CV?
  • What articles have you read recently?

Graduate Program

  • Tell me about the most difficult thing you have experienced in graduate school.
  • Why did you choose your graduate program?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of your graduate program?
  • Tell me about your dissertation.
  • How to translate dissertation to other populations?

Supervision Style

  • What is your favorite form of supervision and why?
  • Tell about a good and bad experience you’ve had with a supervisor?

Assessment:

  • What is your opinion on projective tests?
  • What does ______ represent on the Rorschach?
  • Conceptualize a recent case (or conceptualize a case presented to you as a vignette).
  • What further assessment training do you need?

Site-Specific

  • Why us? What drew you to this site? / Why do you want this internship? / What do you want out of an internship experience?
  • What makes you a good fit for this program?
  • How do you feel about relocating to this area?
  • What questions do you have for us?

When I was waiting to hear back about interviews, I used the time to come up with general answers to most of these questions. Practice saying your answers out loud, to a mirror, to a classmate, to an adviser, to a web cam, over the phone. Try to keep your answers concise (interviewers hate rambling!) and get your responses down to under two minutes at most. Specific examples and stories make you more memorable, so try to come up with an anecdote rather than a more vague description. For example, if you are asked “How would you handle a client who…”, talk about a similar case you had.

You will most likely give similar responses to many of these questions across several interviews, so you do not need to know which sites will be interviewing you in order to come up with answers. (Your reasons for choosing your graduate program or your assessment experiences are not going to change at different interviews, for example.) I recommend having multiple examples of case conceptualizations to draw on, since some sites may ask for more than one. Also practice thinking on your feet with vignettes assigned to you. Have a friend or classmate present you with cases you have not personally seen, and practice coming up with treatment recommendations, conceptualizations, or assessments you might use on that case. Most sites will only ask for one or two conceptualizations, but I did have one interview in which I was asked to conceptualize two previous clients and FIVE vignettes (no that is not a typo). Be prepared to go with the flow.

Another thing to be prepared for is training directors who want to “test” you during your interview. I personally do not agree with this practice or the logic behind it, but it happens. Those who use this technique claim that they want to see how you handle pressure or difficult situations, possibly by contradicting everything you say or trying to twist your answers in ways you clearly did not mean. However, I maintain that the mere act of being at the interview shows how you handle pressure, and this kind of manipulation is more of a power trip than anything else. They know they can get away with this rude and frankly unprofessional behavior because, with the match crisis, most of us would rather take a less-preferred site than no site at all. When I was ranking sites, I still submitted a site that behaved this way as my last choice. Was I indicating that I would prefer not to go to that site? Absolutely, but I was also demonstrating that I was still willing to go to that site just to be done with the process.

I could write a novel on all the ways that this process, for lack of a better word, sucks. Only you can decide what would cause you to rule out a site altogether. In the four rank lists I submitted, there was one site where I interviewed but chose not to rank. As with everything else, it is a highly personal decision. I will discuss ranking in more detail at a later date. For now, I will point out that it is never too early to start thinking about your answers to the questions above (although maybe focus on getting your actual applications done first), and next week I will talk about the nuances of in-person, phone, and video interviews.

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So You Forgot To Write A Post This Week

In the midst of preparing for my big move, I did not have time to write my promised post on internship interviews. Also I forgot today was Thursday. But I promised you a weekly blog, and a weekly blog you shall get, so instead here is a list of the 12 funniest things my students said this past semester. Some are unintelligent, and others are just hilarious. I tried to get them as close to word-for-word as I could, but a few are paraphrased due to my Old Woman Memory. Pick your favorite. (For the record, I love my students.)

– “Is the final exam mandatory?”
– “Does this youtube video count as an empirical article?”
– (After distributing a study guide that I had announced contained all of the questions that will be on the midterm) “When will you be sending out the answer sheet to the study guide?”
– “Positive reinforcement is when a subject is presented with a stimulating stimulus that leads to an increase in the behavior.”
– “Negative reinforcement is when someone does a desired behavior poorly but you want them to keep trying so you give them good feedback anyway. An example is when a child plays softball poorly and the coach tells them they did a good job so they will keep trying.”
– “I know you said the final is take-home, but will you not be present on the day of the exam?”
– (2 hours after turning in mid terms, at the start of Spring Break) “When will our grades be available?”
– (In an essay on the topic of how fear serves as a motivator) “In the 2012 election between Obama and Mittromney…” (Mitt Romney was consistently spelled Mittromney throughout the paper. The student thought this was his last name.)
– “My presentation today focuses on why people find racism funny.”
– “Fear appeals are built upon fear.”
– “…for example, reacting to a nonexistent threat, such as a dog that is really a bush is not as dangerous as the other way around…”
– “I don’t think humans are innately evil. Even the most horrible murdering dictator was probably nice to puppies or something.”

So You Need Letters Of Recommendation

I know these posts about each section of the APPI are not up to my usual standard of entertainment. Heck, I’m bored with writing them. The good news is, this is the last of my application posts. Starting next week we will focus on the interview process, and then the match. When I started this series I did not realize how extensive of an undertaking it would become. (Sometimes I don’t think things through before starting a project. I occasionally wonder if that is how I ended up in a doctoral program.) I may well still have posts about the internship process coming out when next year’s applicants are interviewing.

Anyway, letters of recommendation! Almost every site I have researched requires 3 letters. A few give you the option to submit a fourth, but I do not know of any sites that require 4 letters. You can request as many letters as you would like; for example, if you are applying to VAs and college counseling centers, you might choose to send a letter from a VA supervisor to the VAs but not to the UCCs and vice versa. You also have the option to have your writers submit more than one version of their letter. (If you have an adviser who is willing to personalize your recommendation to each individual site, then she or he needs to evaluate their professional boundaries, but they might be willing to tailor two versions of the letter for specific types of sites.)

When should you ask for letters? I maintain that it is not possible to ask advisers, professors, and supervisors to write you a letter too early. The first time I applied for internship, I wanted a letter from a college counseling supervisor, but I had just started that practicum. The question of a recommendation for internship was the topic of our very first supervision session. He was surprised, but he got it done. Just make sure that you confirm that they received APPIC’s email requesting the letter. I had an instance where I had to re-submit the request because the email fell into one of the internet’s black holes, and I could have saved myself some time if I had followed up sooner.

When will your letters be uploaded? This depends on the writer. Both years, my dissertation chair had my letter submitted more than one month prior to the deadline. My former supervisor, on the other hand, uploaded my letter on exactly November 1 both times. It was nail-biting for me, but he got it done. If you are worried, or if you have not heard from the writer in a few weeks, or if the deadline is tomorrow, there is nothing wrong with calling them to follow up and make sure they are not having any submission issues.

Can you read your letters? APPIC does not have a way for you to read your letters after they have been submitted. I believe you actually agree to waive your right to see them. However, I have been advised by multiple parties that you should never agree to let someone be your letter writer unless they are willing to let you view the letter before it is submitted. At the very least, when you ask someone to write you a recommendation, clarify that you do not want them to accept unless they are willing to write a strong letter. Due to the internship crisis and subsequent metaphorical arms race among applicants, letters of recommendation for internship are not typical of the rest of the world. Generally, a strong recommendation includes an assessment of the individual’s strengths and areas for growth. For your applications, you will need your letters instead to be glowing tributes to how awesome, amazing, and perfect you are in every way. Indications of room for improvement are often taken by sites as a sign of weakness and lead to your application being moved into the rejection pile. Make sure that your letter writers are on the same page as you with regards to the content of the letters.

And, as usual, remember to take care of yourself despite the ever-increasing stress levels and burdens of responsibility on your time and mental health.

Next week I will move on to the dreaded Waiting Period, followed by a series on nailing your interviews.

So It’s Your Birthday

Hello adoring fans! Today is my birthday, so I am taking a break from the barrage of information about internship (and the community breaths a collective sigh of relief). After all, self-care is huge when you are applying for internship. It is a hugely stressful process, and so keeping up with things you enjoy is key. So in the spirit of self-care and my birthday, here are some pictures of my cats. Have a great weekend everyone! (Photo credits to my awesome roommate.)

care1

Armani giving me kisses 🙂

finnreach

I call this one “Draw Me Like One Of Your French Girls”

armaniyawn

Biiiiig yawn.

finngrooming

Finnegan’s bathtime.

armanitongue

Armani looking…what’s the word the kids are using?…”derpy”

finnegansurprise

Finn’s reaction when he found out we were out of kitty treats.

So You Have To Submit Supplementals

There was a time not long ago when APPIC had few to no restrictions on what sites could request as supplemental materials. Sites began to demand more and more, and the application process became even more unreasonable than it already was. Some training directors were requesting individualized recommendations, additional essays, multiple essays, work samples, and more. I think this was partially so that sites could try to lower the number of applications they received by making the process even more demanding than necessary. (It must be terrible receiving so many applications that you have trouble choosing which of the overly-qualified candidates you will choose.)

The year that I applied to internship for the first time, APPIC mercifully put their proverbial foot down and announced that the only supplemental materials allowed are 1) a sample redacted assessment report and 2) a work sample/case conceptualization. Luckily for you, you probably already have these! I guarantee that, by the time you apply for internship, you have written at least one work sample for class, and if you are applying to the kinds of sites that require a sample assessment, you have had a practicum experience at which you have written several to choose from. Just double-check with your supervisor that you can use these reports.

With your supplementals, make absolutely certain that you have removed any and all identifying information about the client before you submit them. The many urban legend-horror stories about internship applications include several tales of solid applicants who were rejected because they accidentally left the client’s name on their redacted assessment. This means remove first and last names, addresses, home towns, et cetera (I left the state that the client lived in and that did not seem to be a problem). Refer to your client by first initial only, or by a fake name and clearly state that the name has been changed.

I also recommend having more than one sample for each of your supplemental pieces and choosing based on the type of site requesting it. I had two assessments: one of a young child whose primary issues were behavioral, and one of an adult with severe developmental difficulties. As usual, you should have extra sets of eyes look for style, format, and typos.

Good luck! Your application is almost complete!

So You’re Writing Cover Letters

List of sites: check. Updated CV: check. Essays: check. Time to start working on cover letters. As with the essays, I suggest giving yourself plenty of time to work on your cover letters. Unlike the essays, which can be written with a somewhat general emphasis towards a type of internship, your cover letters are unique to each internship to which you apply. You have to write a personalized cover letter to go with every application you plan to submit. Every. Single. One.

On the up side, you will most likely be applying to sites that are similar to each other, so you can recycle paragraphs to save a lot of time. Just make sure you change the DCT’s name and name of the site throughout each letter. In Phase II last year, I was operating under a time crunch to get all of my applications in, and I realized after the fact that one of my letters concluded with “For all of these reasons, I am very interested in pursuing an internship with [different site].” The funny thing was, the site to which I submitted that application offered me an interview. That’s Phase II for you – I will go more into this in a later post.

With the internship crisis, there are more applicants than there are internships available. Students are applying to more and more sites to try and increase their odds, and sites are receiving more and more applications. It’s getting more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd and get an interview. When I first started writing my cover letters, I went to some business blogs to get tips. One thing that stood out for me was a business executive who pointed out that the first word of almost every cover letter is “I.” The writer suggested opening with something more creative. Then I found another blog that said not to diverge from a prototypical cover letter because any risk or divergence from the prototypical application could be taken negatively by the recipient. (I could not find the links to put here, sorry.)

I chose to take the “go big or go home” approach to my applications, but that is certainly not the only way to go. My cover letters all opened with a question: “What is the most important factor in evaluating prospective interns?” I went on to discuss the elusive “fit” component and articulate why I felt I belonged at that site. I then went on, per the advice of my DCT, to briefly describe my program’s qualifications and my dissertation progress. My next paragraph provided a specific account of the components of that internship and how they fit with my training goals, followed by a description of my previous experiences that I felt had prepared me to thrive at that internship. Then I discussed briefly my career goals, tying them into my reasons for pursuing this particular internship, and reiterated my interest in that program.

Don’t forget to double check all training brochures for anything the site might want you to include. For example, one site wanted cover letters to be 500 words or less (really?), and another site wanted a paragraph about my strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. Also, APPIC has a really big character limit for cover letters, so I would recommend not going too much over a page with your cover letters. No one wants to read a three page cover letter.

My last piece of advice has to do with editing. When I started my cover letters, I wanted to plow through the first drafts as quickly as possible. Since I was going off of a template, this became a major annoyance later on when I had to correct for typos in identical paragraphs across 17 different letters. Write your first cover letter and let it sit for a day or two. Then proofread. Then proofread again. Then have 1-3 others proofread it also (remember the people who reviewed your essays?). Then, when you know you’re happy with that letter, use it as a template for the other letters. It will save you so much hassle in the long run, trust me.

Your cover letter is a representation of why each program would meet your training needs, and why you would thrive in that program’s environment. It’s your change to catch the eye of the DCT and make them want to get to know you better in an interview.

Next week I will talk about supplemental materials.

So You’re Tackling The Essays

Internship sites talk about wanting someone whose personality will mesh with the culture of the site, someone whose personal interests and personality are as compatible as their professional interests. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a logical way to list your clinical style or your hobbies on the CV. Enter the essay section of the APPI: an opportunity to sell your personality, interests, and unique style (in four concise blocks of 500 words or less).

I recommend starting work on your essays early, just after you finalize your site list. As with your CV, you have the option to upload multiple versions of your essays to send to different types of sites. Please do not take this to mean that you need to write individualised essays for every site. It means that, if you apply to forensic hospitals and VAs, you could tweak your essays to highlight your personal interest in each of these types of sites. Also, as with your CV, make sure that you have others review your essays for content. Unlike with your CV, though, I recommend choosing two or three readers at most, otherwise you risk receiving conflicting feedback that will cause you undue panic rather than actually improving your writing.

As usual, this post is written based on my individual experience applying for internship. You might read this and decide to do the exact opposite of what I did, and it might work out great for you. Also, when I was writing my essays, I found this resource to be invaluable in organizing my thoughts and figuring out how to get started.

So what exactly is expected from you in these essays?

  1. The Autobiographical Essay. This essay can be incredibly intimidating to write, since the prompt is “Tell me something about yourself.” Sites are equally vague about what they are looking for from the essays, and it has been suggested that this is because DCTs don’t actually know what they want from you. If you are applying to more than one type of site, I highly recommend writing more than one version of the autobiographical essay. I approached this essay as an opportunity to identify myself to sites as a real person who has been shaped by my history into who I am. I opened with a story from my childhood, followed up with an experience I had in college, and then tied these events together as a description of what led me to the field and to my current clinical interests. My biggest challenge with this essay was narrowing down what I wanted to talk about. It’s tempting to try to cram every piece of information about yourself, but there is simply not enough space. You have to decide what is it about you that you want to present to sites, what information is vital to who you are as an applicant that is not available on other parts of the application.
  2. Theoretical Orientation. In my first draft of the second essay, I emphasized my knowledge of my chosen orientations and tried to discuss general approaches to conceptualization and treatment, working in as much jargon as I could so that sites would see how smart I am. Then I threw that draft in the garbage and started over. Good clinicians don’t recite textbooks; they put their knowledge into action. Instead, I chose two clients that I felt demonstrated my preferred orientations and discussed my approach to their conceptualization and treatment. Two is a good number because it shows more range in your clinical skills than you could provide with just one example. Three is possible but more challenging because of the word limit. I opened with a brief, two sentence description of my preferred orientations and jumped into my case examples. I also tried to convey a willingness to be flexible with my therapeutic approaches based on each individual. The 500 word limit does prove to be a challenge. Remember, everyone is held to the same limit, and sites can only expect so much information in this essay, which is why many sites also request a work sample as a supplemental application material. Again, if you are applying to more than one type of site, I suggest making different versions of this essay with examples from the demographic with which you would be working.
  3. Diversity Experience. This essay was hands-down the most frustrating for me to write. Why is the diversity component of my clinical work sectioned off into its own little corner? I ended up taking the multicultural components out of my second essay for the sake of space, and I felt like I was writing off some very important issues in my case conceptualizations because I could include those components in this essay. Personally I think it would be better to combine essays 2 and 3 into one longer essay that would allow applicants to discuss diversity issues as a component of their theoretical orientations, but no one asked me. For my diversity essay, I wanted to focus both on my interactions with clients from different backgrounds and on how my own background and culture impacts the therapeutic relationship. I ended up using three case examples because I had so much trouble choosing only two instances that I felt encompassed the scope of what this essay was asking for, but this of course made it even more difficult to stay at the 500 word limit. In the end I broke each case example down into a description of how the client’s background factored into the therapeutic process, and how my background influenced the relationship. And after days of editing, I finally was able to cut down my essay to exactly 500 words.
  4. Research Interests. The biggest research project you do as a graduate student is your dissertation, so I started this essay with a description of my project and where I was at in the process. You can also bring up your timeline for completion to show the site that you will not be ABD for years after internship. I also talked about some other research projects I have worked on throughout my graduate career and mentioned areas in which I would be interested expanding on these interests in the future. This essay really varies in importance based on the internships you are applying for, so know your sites. If a site requires 10 hours per week of research, highlight how your research experience and future interests are in keeping with those of the site. This is probably because I did not apply to many research-heavy sites, but this essay was probably the least stressful for me to write.

There is no one way to approach the essays, and they easily become overwhelming due to the vague instructions. Try not to over-think the details of what you write and be open about who you are as a clinician and as a human being.

Next week’s topic is cover letters. Enjoy the weekend, and remember to take care of yourself!