We Asked, They Answered: Feedback on the Internship Application Process Directly from Internship Training Directors

This is a student blog piece written by Natalie Hong, a rising fourth year doctoral student in the Clinical Science Ph.D. program at Florida International University.

The internship application, interview, and match process is arguably one of the most highly anticipated, dreaded, and exciting experiences of graduate school for students studying clinical psychology. As such, many resources are available to students that provide recommendations to promote success across each stage of the process. In an effort to provide further support to students embarking on the internship application process this year, we reached out to numerous directors of clinical training (DCTs) at internship programs across the country to ask them the following questions:

  1. What qualities are you looking for in an internship application?
  2. (optional) Do you have any tips for students with regard to what to include and/or exclude from essays?
  3. What characteristics are you evaluating during internship interviews? How do you define success at your internship site?
  4. What kinds of actions/activities do the most “successful” internship applicants pursue either before or during their internship experiences?
  5. What suggestions do you have for students who did not match for internship in Phase I?
  6. (optional) What other general advice do you have for prospective applicants?

A synthesis of their thoughtful and informative feedback is summarized below.

The Application

  • Consider your research and clinical interests, goals for and priorities during internship and beyond. Review a diversity of program websites, brochures, and other resources to establish how and why each internship site is appealing to you.
  • Create a timeline for yourself that includes not only completing all application materials, but also time for yourself and others (if possible) to review and make revisions.
    • Proof-reading all materials is essential.
  • Be clear and concise in your cover letter for each site – this is the first item anyone will read and provides an opportunity to make a strong first impression.
    • Make sure the description of your experiences, strengths, and interests provided in each one of your cover letters are consistent with (and individually tailored to) the site.
  • Organize your curriculum vitae such that it is easy to identify the amount and diversity of your training experiences (e.g., a list of evidence-based treatments you have received training in and/or provided to patients)
  • Strike a balance between articulating your prior experiences that align with and/or have provided appropriate preparation for the site’s patient populations and clinical rotations (e.g., what you bring to the table) and your interest and enthusiasm for the unique aspects of the site’s training program (e.g., why you want to continue your training there).
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and the ability to connect research to practice by discussing the broader or longer term implications of your research

The Interview

  • Be yourself. You have received an interview because (the description of) your experiences suggest you could have great promise at this site. At this point, in addition to demonstrating professionalism, sites are interested in gauging your enthusiasm, energy, sociability, critical-mindedness, and composure during the interview process.
  • Be cognizant of who you are talking to during your interviews and tailor the conversation to that person. You may or may not receive information about who you will be meeting with in advance of your interviews. Regardless of when you receive this information, do your best to be flexible about how you describe your work and interests, rather than using a rote script (e.g., you may have vastly different conversations with a neuropsychologist and a faculty member conducting community-based participatory research).
  • Share your goals (not only for internship, but for post-doctoral fellowships and beyond) and connect these goals to the activities you have pursued during your graduate training and the specific site’s training opportunities that you hope to pursue during internship. Of course, keep in mind the site’s orientation (e.g., research heavy vs. largely clinical); sites seeking to train academics will be evaluating not only your fit with their clinical populations and rotations, but also with the research mentor(s) you have specified interest in working with during internship.
    • Demonstrate your passion, “thirst for learning,” and excitement to accomplish your goals, including the chance to receive diverse and complementary training experiences during internship.
    • Ask site-specific questions to demonstrate clear interest and enthusiasm for the opportunities each site has to offer you.
  • Prepare to discuss (and/or be tested on) various aspects of your experiences highlighted in your application (e.g., interpreting the results of a psychoeducational evaluation, interviewing in another language).
  • Talk to current (and/or former) interns. Use these opportunities to hear about the pros and cons of the site’s culture, training model, rotations, supervisors, etc.
    • Make sure you know whether or not these conversations are confidential. Some sites are very clear about these conversations being confidential, whereas other sites may be using them as part of your evaluation.

The Match

  • If you match on the first round: Congratulations!
  • If you do not match on the first round: You are not alone. Very strong applicants may not match for a variety of reasons. The first step is to take a deep breath. Next, go back to review your application materials and the list of sites you applied to during Phase I. Work with a faculty supervisor (e.g., DCT, research mentor) to identify potential reasons and consider the following:
    • Narrow range of internship sites?
    • Geographic limitations?
    • Incompatible “fit”?
    • Interviewing skills?
    • Transcript?
    • CV (e.g., lack of publications)?
    • Clinical experience (e.g., insufficient hours)?
  • Once you’ve taken the time to self-reflect and identify areas to address, it’s time to decide what to do next. There are a variety of valid justifications for deciding to either enter the Phase II match process or wait to reapply the following year.
    • This decision may depend on the reason(s) you identified above. For example, if a lack of publications or experiences was identified as a possible reason, you may decide to spend the year working to improve these areas prior to reapplying, whereas other personal life circumstances or values may compel you to re-enter the match to stay on track to finish your doctoral degree in a specific time frame.

Thank you so much to the following DCTs for their invaluable time and feedback!

  • Daniel Hurley (Hennepin Healthcare)
  • Elizabeth McQuaid (Brown University)
  • Tara Mehta (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Mark Reinecke (Northwestern University)
  • Wayne Siegel (Minneapolis VA Health Care System)

About the Author

Natalie Hong is a rising fourth year doctoral student in the Clinical Science Ph.D. program at Florida International University.