Edition Focus: Navigating the Internship Process

What is the most common mistake you see in internship applications?

How to avoid pitfalls of internship applications.

By Kellye S. Carver

1.“Excessive transparency in essays: ‘I knew I wanted to become a psychologist as soon as my bipolar disorder got stabilized.’
2. Preposterous statements about career motivation in the essays: ‘When my parachute wouldn’t open, I experienced overwhelming anxiety. When it finally did and I landed, I knew I wanted to become a psychologist and reduce others’ anxiety.’”

Robert Goldberg
Louis Stokes Cleveland DVA Medical Center

“...[Failing] to reflect understanding that the internship year is a ‘generalist’ psychology experience. The application has premature focus on specialization that is more appropriate to the postdoctoral level. Its nice to know where you’re going professionally and to have goals for the long term, but the internship is your debut as a full-time psychologist and openness to experiences marks the good application.”

Kenneth Adams
VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System

“Padding the application with extraneous stuff that slows the review of the application process. Please remember that the reviewer has a limited amount of time to go over a large number of applications. The most common mistake in this respect is the long intro letter. I give extra credit for applicants whose intro letter is short and to the point. You can go into detail about all your great accomplishments on the essays and your CV. [Another mistake is] not giving enough credit to yourself for accomplishments that you should mention. Ours is a generalist internship — the more varied your accomplishments the more you will stand out. For example, if you have played in a band, traveled extensively in foreign countries, were a volunteer fire fighter, put it down. The most common mistake perhaps (and the one that really disgusts me) is the ‘generic’ autobiography that lists how passionate you are about research, and details what you have done in the labs of drs. X, Y, And Z. I would really prefer to have a bio that defines you as an individual and makes you stand out from the crowd.”

Bela Geczy, PhD
Oklahoma City VA

“...Forgetting to change the name of the program to the one to which you are applying. Getting an application telling me how much you want to work at a different VA does not make a positive impression!”

Diana Sholtz, PhD
VA Maine Healthcare System

“Turning in an overly sanitized application. Applicants go over their materials so many times, get competing and conflicting information from so many different and entirely valid sources, but the end product o-ten is a ‘version’ of you that is so bland, you risk fading into the background.”

Sarah E. Turley, PhD
Salt Lake City VA

“...Lack of seriously proofreading submitted materials. I would recommend all candidates have others proofread essays all of their materials prior to submission.”

Richard Yocum, PhD
Western State Hospital

“Not following the guidelines of the program. For instance, minimum number of contact hours or assessments with specific instruments are required by our program. I would guess that approximately half of the applications that we receive do not come near to these criteria, yet the application is sent to us anyway.”

Jody A. Rubenstein, PhD
VA North Texas Health Care System

“The ‘personal’ essay is all about your work in the field of psychology — this one is a real pet peeve of mine. … [Also,] having all of your recommendation letters originate from your school. At least one letter (two is better) should come from an outside practicum supervisor.”

Myra Elder, PhD
James H. Quillen VAMC

“...When applicants submit an application to our internship program with a cover letter that clearly reflects training experiences offered at one of the other two APA-accredited internship programs in Little Rock. This happens every year and reflects very poorly on the applicant’s organizational and proofreading abilities. We automatically exclude these applicants from review because we cannot be certain if the application was intended for us or was a mistake.”

Hillary R. Hunt, PhD
Arkansas State Hospital