Guidance for students on internship matches

Increasing your likelihood of a match includes being open to relocating, practicing interview skills and demonstrating willingness to learn

Guest Column by Arnold Abels, PhD
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Mentorship Program for New and Developing Training Programs
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC)

The realities of the internship match imbalance are a significant concern for the psychology training community as a whole, but have an especially personal impact for intern candidates. There is not necessarily one factor that can help an intern candidate increase their chances of matching, but perhaps many different things that should be considered.  In no specific importance, in my opinion as a training director (not speaking in my role as an APPIC Board member here) some considerations may include the following: 

  • It is likely that an intern that is not limited by geographic restriction may have an enhanced chance of matching. If one is confined to the Kansas City area would be more limited than someone open to applying anywhere in the state of Missouri or broader Midwest area. Be open to relocating. 

  • A candidate should review each site’s APPIC Directory information and the site’s website to determine if their qualifications fit with what is required at a given internship program. Application materials (e.g. cover letter) should reflect a candidate knows the site and articulates how their candidacy “fits” with the program’s description. The words “fit” and “match” do mean a great deal, and generic letters that may contain inaccurate information may reflect poorly on candidates. 

  • Have multiple people review your materials for wording, grammar, punctuation, etc. Small details can make a positive or negative impression. 

  • One’s potential for matching may be influenced by a candidate’s reference letters. It is a wise step to talk with potential references to ask them if they can write an informed letter that is outstandingly positive with an honest assessment of areas for continued growth and development. If a reference cannot do this, it may be better to explore different options. Include references that have been your primary clinical supervisor during practicum, i.e., people who know your clinical work.  

  • When approaching the time to conduct phone or in-person interviews, practice, practice, practice. Practice interviewing over the phone with friends, faculty members, peers, Career Services, etc. and get honest feedback. Audio and video record yourself and be open to learn how you present yourself and how you answer questions. 

  • If you encounter travel problems when interviewing, contact the site as soon as possible to update them on what has happened. Most TDs are understanding and will work with you to reschedule. If you are in a reasonable driving distance of a site that offers on-site interview, if possible, choose this option instead of a phone interview. 

  • Find methods of dealing with stress and allowing yourself to relax. The internship process is a long, emotionally and physically difficult process. Try to not take on the anxiety of other candidates. Try to have fun on this important professional journey. Remember, the interview process is a two-way street where you are also interviewing the site.  Get the support you need from family, friends, the department etc. you need during this process. 

  • Be appreciative, respectful, humble and confident in your presentation. Recognize that everything is an interview whether talking to an intern, staff member or administrative person. Express your appreciation to be considered as an applicant and how glad you are to get to know the site and the staff at an agency.  Find your style of presenting what you can uniquely bring to an internship as a professional and person. 

  • In your materials and your manner of presenting yourself, demonstrate an openness and active desire to learn. Being involved in the field of psychology involves a commitment to life-long learning. Present yourself as open and having a hunger to learn, being open to supervision and desirous of challenging feedback. Exhibit you want to become the best psychologist you can be. 

  • Maintain good eye contact, smile and dress professionally and appropriately. Reframe from using profanity and talking negatively about other internship programs, people, etc. Be positive and enthusiastic. Find appropriate points to integrate humor, be yourself and allow your personality to shine.  

  • Be respectful of other candidates that may be on site at the same time. Being cooperative, a good team player, and collegial are desired professional qualities. 

  • Have interesting, unique and thoughtful questions prepared. It may be a turn off when a candidate has no questions or has questions that do not reflect the specifics of a unique site. In group interviews do not dominate the time to ask questions.  

  • Make sure you have reviewed the correct website of the program you are interviewing. Yes, this has happened with someone thinking the UMKC Counseling Center was the UMKC Community Counseling and Assessment Service. 

  • Write thoughtful and personal essays. Many TDs have been in their role for some time and can tell if answers are recycled. It is refreshing to see essays that show part of who a person really is. Incorporate unique and interesting things about your life experience, what sets you apart from any other candidate.  This may be something you did in childhood, as an undergraduate or a different phase of your life. 

  • Practice a list of questions, try to remember questions that are asked in each interview you participate and accept the reality that you cannot prepare for every possible question. That being said, be able to share what you do know and apply it to questions you may not be prepared to answer.  

  • Arrive slightly early for interviews and bring a bottle of water as you will be talking a great deal. 

  • Visit the APPIC website to see what training directors who respond to the APPIC annual survey are looking for in candidates i.e. what they view as most important. Note, it is not all about hours. While candidates need to meet the minimum criteria, there are many other important factors that get candidates interviews and placement on a rank list outside of numbers. Issues of competence are significantly important at this phase of your professional development. 

I hope these suggestions may be helpful as candidates thoughtfully prepare for the internship process.