Internship Insider

Worst. Interview. Ever.

Sleeping through an interview or showing up without your pants is the stuff of nightmares. But flubs happen in real life, too — and it's not just the students who feel the pain. Internship directors who are at the receiving end of careless comments and wardrobe malfunctions can be sympathetic at best, offended at worst.

"It's important to remember that the competencies involved in being a good graduate student, good clinician, good researcher and good teacher are different than the competencies required to be a good interviewee," says Greg Keilin, PhD, who coordinates the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) internship match. "Taking some time to practice and get constructive feedback from faculty and fellow students can be very helpful and can make the difference between matching and not matching."

To help set upcoming applicants on a path to success, internship directors across the country shared some of their most cringe-worthy — yet entertaining — memories with gradPSYCH. If an interview is in your future, take note.

Interviewing vs. speed dating

Jeanette Hsu, PhD, the training director at a West Coast VA system, remembers hearing a story from a fellow director about an internship applicant who ran into the clinic asking the front desk clerk how long the interview would take since she was double-parked outside. "This was noted as unprofessional by the clerk right away," says Hsu. To make matters worse, the woman was wearing "a too-short dress that looked like she just came from a wedding or cocktail party." And in fact, she was in town early to attend a friend's wedding, making the director wonder if she wore the same dress, adds Hsu. Saving money by combining business with pleasure into one trip is savvy, but packing only one outfit is not.

A sweet tooth gone sour

If you're at an interview, you're expected to talk, so it's in your best interest to keep your mouth free. Hsu remembers one candidate who couldn't answer the interviewer's question because she was chewing on a piece of candy. "The candidate said, 'Hold on, let me finish this,' swallowed the candy and then answered the question," she says. Another candidate ate candy throughout the interview and crinkled the wrapper several times. "I suggest not eating during an interview as this is very distracting, not to mention unprofessional during a formal interview," says Hsu.

Lost and found

Michelle Chunis, PhD, the director of victim services at an East Coast health center, remembers one among the more than 100 candidates applying for four internship slots. The position involved clinical therapy work with children and adolescents, but the candidate insisted on an interest in advocacy.

"I kept trying to talk to [the candidate] about our clinical training that we offer, but [the candidate] did not hear it," says Chunis. "I was baffled as to why someone would travel by plane, on their dime, to come interview at a place they had no interest in." Lesson here: Do your homework.

Loose lips sink (intern)ships

Sure, you want to let your personality shine through, but if you think something might border on offensive, don't go there. Susan Tritell, PsyD, another East Coast internship director, recalls one candidate who said, "I am interested in working with future murderers." Another candidate wrote an essay that began, "I'm the product of the sperm that won." Really? The content of your responses should set you apart — not their questionable phrasing, internship supervisors suggest.

A future auctioneer

Candidates for positions at one Seattle counseling center always interview via phone and are given the interview questions ahead of time, so they are expected to have well-thought-out responses. But being well-prepared is different from being scripted, emphasizes Christine Grant, PhD, associate director of training at the center. "We have applicants who are reading their answers and you can tell. We get no sense of connection with the applicants who read what they wrote down because they tend to talk really fast … and we get overwhelmed just trying to keep up," she says. "It's not a good idea because it doesn't let us see who they are."

The candidate who (almost) got burned

Grant remembers one candidate who suddenly sounded upset, and then began giggling over the phone. "[The candidate] had been trying to calm down and lit a candle, but the candle tipped over," she says. Fortunately, the interviewee was unharmed — and then came clean about what had happened. "It made us like [the candidate] even more," she says, because it showed flexibility, honesty and an ability to connect. "We really value interpersonal abilities." So, if you should stumble during an interview, take heart, says Grant, who reminds candidates that the interviewers were once in your shoes. "We're very empathic with the applicants because we know they're so stressed out during the internship match," she says. "We're sitting here encouraging you, even though you can't see that. We want you to do your best."