For students who are wrapping up their graduate studies, the coming months can be very stressful. Whether you are heading out into the work force or to a postdoc or internship, it's easy to become overwhelmed with writing research statements, job talks, applications and essays, and counting clinical hours. But if there's one thing that I think students often overlook in the bustle, it's interview preparation.
During APA's 2010 Annual Convention, I spoke with several training directors who said they pass over many otherwise well-qualified internship applicants because of poor interviewing skills — skills that are just as crucial for students seeking jobs and postdoctoral positions. So, to help you now and throughout your career, I've rounded up some tips from several sources, including "Internships in Psychology: The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Fit" (APA, 2010).
Before the interview:
Know yourself. Be ready to discuss your training, research or clinical experiences and interests, the opportunities you hope to have, and the skills you want to continue to develop. An easy way to brush up on this material is to review the statements or essays that you submitted for the position.
Know your site. Research the internship site, postdoc or job you're applying to. Review the research abstracts and clinical descriptions of potential colleagues or supervisors. This will help you to engage in thoughtful conversation during the interview.
Dress professionally. Many experts recommend a jacket and tie or suit for men and a dress or suit with nylons, dress shoes and subtle jewelry for women. This may seem obvious, but I've heard many reports of inappropriately dressed interviewees. Remember, you want people to remember you for your experience, not your wardrobe.
Bring materials with you. For last-minute cramming, study up on the brochures and other research you've gathered about the internship or job you're applying for, as well as a copy of your application. Also have on hand extra copies of your curriculum vitae or resume.
Practice. Answer typical interview questions with a friend, partner or colleague. This will help you to fine-tune your answers and get feedback on your presentation in a nonthreatening environment. Practicing will also increase your interviewing self-efficacy, a factor that researchers have found improves your chances of interview success.
During the interview:
Don't sweat the small stuff. Instead of focusing on the details of social interactions, keep your answers appropriate, professional and considerate. Even if you feel travel fatigue and anxiety, convey your interest in their site and the positive attitude you will bring to their team. Most important, emphasize your unique fit. Highlight your accomplishments, experiences and interests as they relate to the site or job.
Ask good questions. Use question-and-answer periods to insert subtle reminders of your good social skills, enthusiasm and unique fit.
After the interview:
Write thank-you notes. Thank-you notes demonstrate your initiative and interest, and they may make you more memorable. They are also an excellent opportunity to remind interviewers of how you'd contribute to their team. Just remember to be prompt and send notes within two days of the interview.
Applying for jobs or internships is a very stressful process, and it's easy to overlook interview preparation. These simple tips can help reduce your anxiety and increase your self-confidence and interviewing self-efficacy as you move forward in this process.