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By Dana Schwartz
gradPSYCH staff

Beginning the search for an internship can be a stressful process. Logging practicum hours, penning essays and deciding where to apply keeps many students up at night. To help calm those nerves, APAGS pulled together a panel of knowledgeable mentors for a question-and-answer session at APA's 2007 Annual Convention.

With solid advice in hand, students can even have a little fun with the process, said panel member Nadine Kaslow, PhD.

"While there is a lot of stress to this process, it's an incredibly exciting, energizing part of your life," she said. "It's like a dating service. You feel them out, they feel you out, and ultimately you don't want to be in a long-term relationship with somebody that doesn't feel right."

Here is further advice from the panel, composed of Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) Chair Steve McCutcheon, PhD, Greg Keilin, PhD, training director at University of Texas at Austin and APPIC Match and Clearinghouse Coordinator, Kaslow and Julie Jenks Kettmann, PhD, who just received her doctorate from the University of Iowa and was APAGS Member at Large, Education Focus.

What are some things that prospective applicants should be doing to compete with the supply and demand problem with internships?

McCutcheon: There is an urban myth that practicum hours are the most single important thing. As it turns out, our training directors tell us that the No. 1 factor that influences their decision is interview behavior and answers. In particular...training directors are looking for "the fit:" who they truly are as people and how their experience and training goals would fit with this particular site. By far, interviews are the single biggest factor in influencing decisions among training directors. After interviews comes the application, letters of recommendation and then practicum hours.

Keilin: Don't feel like you have to increase the amount of applications that you send out. We have very clear data year after year that says that the optimal amount of applications to send out is between 11 and 15.

I'm looking into specializing in a field. Can you talk about the balance of 'this is what I have' and 'this is what I need' when applying for a specialized field?

Kaslow: What we look for is someone with an interest in breadth but [who] brings some specific depth. It's fine to show where your strengths are, but talk in a really honest way about what you're interested in pursuing that you don't have.

Kettman: I sat on an intern selection committee this year and I found that there were many students without the proper practicum experience that didn't explain why they thought they were going to benefit from this training and why they were a good match. So it's important to make sure to explicitly state that in your essays and your cover letter.

What exactly is the screening process like with internships? Do I have to meet all the requirements to land an internship?

McCutcheon: On the APPIC directory, each program lists their minimum qualifications. Every year, students apply for programs where they don't have the minimum qualifications, and they probably have a relatively small chance of being selected. If there's a program that you're interested in and you don't meet the minimum qualifications, shoot out an e-mail to the training director to explain the situation and to ask if you would be considered.

Is there a good way to navigate the APPIC Web site?

Keilin: The best advice that I've heard so far is to start by getting really picky and selecting all the things that would make up the exact internship that you want, and you might get two results, or you may not get any. Then start unchecking boxes, start loosening your requirements and casting a wider net to see what's out there. Other then that, it does take some reading, using the links, visiting Web sites and seeing how you feel about certain places."