Cover Story

Can internship training directors ask you questions about your family obligations at your internship interview? The bottom line is no, says attorney Mona Mitnick, JD, the public member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. In fact, Mitnick says, "Sites may be precluded from asking questions of applicants about family and marital status and other personal issues under protections provided by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other related statutes," which prohibit employment discrimination based on sex, health status, disability, religion and race.

However, Mitnick adds, "If the applicant raises the issue, then it is fair game within the scope of the original question." Indeed, mentioning family doesn't give an interviewer the freedom to ask probing personal questions on whether an applicant's family life will impinge on their work, she says.

While some students prefer to focus strictly on their qualifications, others raise family issues to gauge how the site may accommodate their needs. For example, Marion Stone, PhD, a recent graduate of the counseling psychology program at the University of Kansas, mentioned her then-20-month-old twin sons during internship interviews to get a sense of how family-friendly the sites were.

"I also didn't want [my children] to be a surprise to anyone if they brought me on," she says. She also questioned current interns about their family responsibilities and how such issues were viewed and handled.

Likewise, current intern David Wood, of the Southwest Consortium Predoctoral Psychology Internship in Albuquerque, New Mexico, told interviewers he wanted to work no more than 40 hours per week to have time for his family and a part-time job. "Being a husband and father is part of who I am and has important implications for the internship year," says Wood, a fourth-year counseling psychology doctoral student at Arizona State University.

Conversely, Criss Frick, a fifth-year clinical psychology graduate student at the Antioch New England Graduate School, chose not to mention her twin 3-year-olds at her interviews and adds that such issues did not come up.

"The less said about family obligations, the better," says Frick. "That isn't why you are going to work there."

So, how should you handle an unprompted or inappropriate question about your family status? If you're uncomfortable answering the question, dodge it, according to advice in "Internships in Psychology: The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Match" (APA, 2005).

Say something along the lines of "I believe I will be able to meet all of the demands of this internship without interferences from my personal life," and leave it at that, suggests workbook co-editor Carol Williams-Nickelson, PsyD, who is the associate executive director of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

What's more, students who get such questions may want to notify their graduate program afterward, says Mitnick. She adds that after an intern is hired, questions from their internship supervisor or other staff at the site about marital or family status may become relevant for tax, insurance and emergency contact purposes.

-J. CHAMBERLIN