Many graduate students assign increasing importance to training directors' applicant selection preferences.
While internship directors differ in what they seek in candidates, most look for a two-way fit between the applicant and the site. That means the candidate fits well with the program's philosophy, goals and staff, but also means that the program fits well with the candidate's needs, desires and career plans. To show their fit, candidates should be able to convey specifically why they are interested in a particular program throughout the selection process (including in cover letters, application essays, letters of recommendation and questions during the interview).
FACTORS IN FIT
Although fit will naturally mean different things to different training directors, some factors might include:
Personal characteristics. A recent survey by the Association of Counseling Center Training Agencies (ACCTA) conducted primarily by Mollie Jaschik-Herman, PhD, revealed that personal characteristics were more important to internship training directors than either professional or academic characteristics. The top two variables in this study were openness to learning and interpersonal skills. Factors included as important were likability, attitude toward learning and interaction with staff.In terms of interviews, demeanor with staff interviewers was ranked most important, followed by demeanor with current interns and front office staff, and asking good questions.
Professional experience. It is a myth that endless practicum hours are necessary for quality internship selection. Rather, programs seem to prefer quality relevant experience, with at least some experience in the area of multiculturalism. For instance, in the ACCTA study, a range of 200 to 800 direct-service practicum hours was preferred, but practicum hours were ranked No. 15 out of 39 variables. In addition, the distribution of those hours is important (since not all direct service hours will be equally relevant to a particular site) as is the ability to think clearly and to articulate a theoretical orientation. Finally, while relevant experience to the site is valuable, internship directors generally would prefer a candidate who still has something left to learn from the program.It is worth noting that 78% of the internship training directors in the ACCTA study considered both master's and doctoral practicum hours on the AAPI when evaluating candidates.
Academic record. Most directors strongly prefer applicants from APA-accredited programs and who have completed comprehensive examinations prior to application. The importance of the reputation of the academic program, GPA, sharing research interests with the site staff, finishing the dissertation proposal (or the dissertation itself), having presentations or publications, etc., will vary among programs.
Specific skills. Some internships require specific skills such as particular types of psychological testing, psychotherapy from a particular theoretical orientation, clear and concise writing (especially as demonstrated in the AAPI essays), supervision, etc. Many internship directors also appreciate characteristics such as the ability to speak a second language, general life experience and awards.
What can candidates do to increase their "fit" with an internship site?
Understand that information is power. Start thinking about selection well in advance of the due date for applications. Know as much as possible about a site (the APPIC directory at www.appic.org/directory is a great resource). During interviews, talk to current interns to see how they experience the program. Pay attention to your "gut" reactions. If a site seems too formal, or too informal, or too whatever, that is important information. Remember that internship selection is all about the two-way fit.
Relax and be yourself! Dress and act professionally during internship selection, but don't force a fit with a site and end up having a less than satisfying internship year.
Remember that we need you! Internship directors are in this business because we love working with you and being part of your development as psychologists.
Best wishes for a smooth internship selection and a terrific internship year!