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The internship interview: It's not only a chance to highlight what you can offer a site and your enthusiasm for the program. It's also a great time to evaluate whether that program can help you achieve your career goals, say internship directors.

Here are some tips internship directors and current interns offer for a smooth and successful interview.

KNOW THE SITE BEFORE YOU INTERVIEW

Directors say they expect students to be informed about their specific sites before they meet. Asking questions, instead of only answering them, helps show your interest and knowledge in a program, says Sharon Berry, PhD, who has been the internship director at Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis for eight years.

"You stand out if you ask questions relevant to the program," such as on specific training models or philosophies, she says. To prepare yourself, read the program's Web site and learn about unique aspects, such as seminars or research opportunities, that you can bring up in the interview, Berry suggests.

Then figure out what kinds of careers the internship is preparing its interns for and how you fit into those goals, says Richard Weinberg, PhD, director of the psychology internship at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida, who has interviewed students for nearly 20 years. "We are looking for the kind of students who will involve themselves in the kind of professional experiences we train them for two, five and 10 years after the internship," he says. "Applicants should assess if they really want to do that and, if so, why. Then try to convey that in the interview."


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Practice beforehand using mock interviews, so you can offer thoughtful responses to interviewers' questions, says Heather Rasmussen, PhD, who recently completed an internship at the Colmery O'Neill Veterans Administration Medical Center in Topeka, Kansas, and is now a postdoc in the joint cardiovascular behavioral medicine program of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Berry adds that you can expect some of the same questions at every site, such as:

  • Describe a case you are working on.
  • Describe a case where you hit a wall and had to try a different process to meet your result.
  • Why are you interested in this site?
  • What can you bring to this internship?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • Tell me about your dissertation and how you came up with the topic.

Most directors also ask some type of hypothetical question about how you might handle an ethical dilemma, Weinberg adds.

But just because you can anticipate the basic queries, you should still think on your feet, Berry says. "Interviewers catch on if you give rote responses," she says. "They want to see people who can just have a conversation."


ABOVE ALL, BE YOURSELF

Directors say they want to see an applicant's personality shine through during the conversation.

For example, Weinberg says that when a huge snowstorm grounded every flight for a Midwestern applicant trying to interview at his site in Tampa, Florida, the applicant took a midnight flight, landed at 2 a.m. and still was punctual for the 8 a.m. interview.

"It says a lot about her character and her perseverance," Weinberg says. "The lesson is: Don't be modest about actions that you've taken that reflect certain assets or characteristics."

And staying calm is important, Berry adds. If you are shy by nature, don't think that you need to act outgoing to impress interviewers. "You don't need personality transformations," she says. "Appearing genuine is so important." Sticking with thoughtful answers and highlighting your talents are what counts, even if you're not an extrovert.


 TALK TO CURRENT INTERNS

Questioning current interns on the inner workings and day-to-day activities of the program can be helpful in determining whether the site fits your needs, say experts. In fact, programs often schedule time for applicants to meet with current interns in private.

Rasmussen suggests asking interns questions such as:

  • Does the program offer what it claims?
  • What is a typical work day like?
  • How do the faculty typically treat interns?
  • Do supervisors take active interest in your work?
  • What are the program's strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are the equipment and office space up to par?
  • What is the city like and how easily did you find housing?
  • Does the internship leave time for personal or family obligations?

 TAKE NOTES AND FOLLOW UP

As soon as you leave the interview, jot down your impressions so you can remember details when ranking sites later on.

"After each interview, I would sit in my car and write down notes, my reactions to the site, what I liked about it and who I'd want to work with," says Rasmussen, who was involved in the internship interviewing process for prospective interns at her former site and co-authored a chapter on interviewing in "The Portable Mentor" (Kluwer/Plenum, 2003).

Finally, consider sending thank-you letters or e-mails to the internship director and others who interviewed you, Rasmussen advises. In your note, reiterate your interest in the site and that you appreciated the chance to meet with the director, Berry advises, but make sure not to mention where you have put the site in your Match rankings.

"We are looking for the kind of students who will involve themselves in the kind of professional experiences we train them for two, five and 10 years after the internship."

Richard Weinberg
University of South Florida