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How do internship sites select from an increasing number of good candidates? By paying more attention to personal and nonacademic factors, such as applicants' personalities and volunteer experiences, according to a new study.

Training directors are putting more emphasis on such subjective criteria as a way for internship selection committees to "differentiate between applicants with similar training, education and achievements," say authors Ross W. Ginkel, Shawn E. Davis, PhD, and Paul G. Michael, PhD, of Pacific University in Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 4, No. 4).

In the study, the researchers surveyed 118 internship training sites from the 2007-08 academic year, asking training directors and others decision-makers which of 38 criteria were most important in their selections, and what caused them to automatically exclude applicants from consideration. They compared these results with a similar survey of 249 internship sites conducted with training directors in 1997 and reported in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 30, No. 4). 

In both surveys, training directors agreed that the most important selection criterion was a good fit between applicant goals and site opportunities. But subjective variables grew increasingly important over the decade, with an applicant's "professional demeanor" rising from seventh in importance in 1997 to third in 2007, and volunteer and work experience jumping from 26th to 17th. Similarly, training directors were much more likely in 2007 to automatically exclude candidates based on personality characteristics than they were in 1997.

What does this research mean for you? The authors suggest that you: 

  • Work on your presentation style and pay attention to how you come across in personal essays. Tap your adviser to practice interviews with you, read your essays and provide candid feedback on your personal style. 

  • Showcase your volunteer work, especially work that pertains to the needs of the internship site.  

  • Pay more attention to "fit" by thoroughly investigating internship sites, shaping your goal statements and tailoring your essays to individual sites.

Such efforts can give you an edge in today's competitive climate, says Davis.

"These days, being a successful candidate means more than looking good on paper," Davis says. "In a way, it's fitting that in our field, an individual's personality should carry such weight."