In this issue

Teaching tips

Helping students prepare for interviews.

By Elizabeth A. Mulligan and Michelle Mlinac

Members of Div. 20 work in a variety of settings involving research, teaching and direct provision of services to older adults. Interviewing, whether it is for graduate school, internships, postdoctoral fellowships or jobs, is a necessary skill that cuts across all of these roles. As supervisors for VA Boston’s Clinical Geropsychology Training Program, each year we interview applicants for our practicum, internship and fellowship programs. These bright students often have a range of knowledge and skills stemming from coursework, clinical experiences and research with older adults. However, we have noticed some variability in their level of preparation for interviews. We believe that those of us who serve as teachers, supervisors and mentors can assist students as they prepare for interviews. In particular, it might be helpful to incorporate the following recommendations into conversations about interviews with all students:

  • Convey your enthusiasm for lifespan development and aging, especially for your own research and practice in this area. Be prepared to talk about what drew you to the field in the first place as well as what sustains your interest in aging.
  • If you are interviewing for a position that involves training at some level, be clear about your goals for training and how that site or position can specifically further your professional development.
  • Closely read any materials about a given position, and be ready with specific questions about that position.
  • If you know other people who have interviewed for a similar or identical position (e.g., more senior students in your graduate program), they can be very valuable resources. Ask them about their experiences interviewing, including the types of questions they were asked and think through how you would answer the same questions. Have some illustrative examples ready for certain types of questions (your strengths, a challenging interaction in a previous position).
  • Practice your interviewing skills via mock interviews with mentors and classmates.
  • Take advantage of the online resources. For example, APA recently released a video series on applying to graduate school that includes a section on interviews.
  • These websites for aging-related organizations are also quite informative: 
    1. APA Office on Aging
    2. The Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs
    3. The Society of Clinical Geropsychology
    4. Psychologists in Long Term Care
  • Remember that the selection committee has already been impressed by your application materials if you were invited to an interview. You have a lot to offer. 

For those of us who teach students applying to training programs in clinical geropsychology, it may also help to discuss the following suggestions with them:

  • Make sure you are informed about the Pikes Peak Model for Geropsychology Training (Knight, Karel, Hinrichsen, Qualls & Duffy, 2009). Complete a self-evaluation of your own competencies to serve older adults using the Pikes Peak Evaluation Tool (Karel, Emery & Molinari, 2010; Karel et al., 2012), which can help inform any interview questions regarding your strengths and areas for growth. Interviewers likely do not expect you be fully competent in providing care to older adults in every domain or every setting across the continuum of care. Instead, being aware of limitations in our knowledge, skills and experience is a critical, ongoing part of being a geropsychologist.
  • Prepare to speak about (de-identified) patients you have worked with in the domains of assessment and intervention. Consider clinical situations that were challenging and the ethical issues that have arisen in your work.
  • Reflect on how your past clinical, research and teaching experiences have prepared you to work with older adults, even if those experiences were with other populations. For example, in a pediatric setting, you may have developed an understanding of how to read a medical chart or how to work within an interdisciplinary team.
  • Prepare a brief explanation of any key research projects you have taken the lead on recently (i.e., your dissertation or thesis) that includes the main goals, findings and any future directions you envision. Even if your thesis or dissertation did not involve aging or adult development, be knowledgeable about recent research in the field relevant to your work (e.g., evidence-based interventions with older adults).
  • Although there remains a shortage of providers with specialized training in geriatric mental health (Institute of Medicine, 2012), geropsychology training slots are steadily growing as the field continues to develop. Thus, the fit between applicant and training site is key. During interviews, training sites will often ask how their particular site can help applicants get to the next stage in their professional development. Regardless of the outcome of the interviews, geropsychology is a warm and welcoming field, and the job market is waiting.


IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2012. The mental health and substance use workforce for older adults: In whose hands? Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Karel, M.J., Emery, E.E., & Molinari, V. (2010). Development of a tool to evaluate geropsychology knowledge and skill competencies. International Psychogeriatrics, 22, 886-896.

Karel, M.J., Holley, C.K., Whitbourne, S.K., Segal, D.L., Tazeau, Y.N., Emery, E.E., Molinari, V., Yang, J., & Zweig, R.A. (2012). Preliminary validation of a tool to assess competencies for professional geropsychology practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43, 110-117.

Knight, B.G., Karel, M.J., Hinrichsen, G.A., Qualls, S.H., & Duffy, M. (2009). Pikes Peak Model for Training in Professional Geropsychology. American Psychologist, 64, 205-214.

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