Potentially, one of the most intimidating steps of applying for an internship in school psychology is the actual internship interview. Where you likely were able to take significant time and seek the input of others to construct your cover letter, resume, and work samples carefully, the interview requires you to think on your toes and provide responses to questions concerning any aspect of school psychology or your professional training.
Interviewing for your internship presents many of the same issues as interviewing for your first full-time job. For both you need to be prepared, confident, answer questions concisely yet openly, ask good questions, be a good listener, and be able to articulate your goals as a professional. However, when interviewing for your job, you will have the significant advantage of having worked for a year in a school setting as well as having already gone through the interview process for your internship. Your internship interviews are important not only because their outcome determines where you will fulfill your year-long internship requirement but also because they offer a great learning opportunity for future job searches.
Every jurisdiction is likely to handle the process differently. If fact, your training program might have an ongoing relationship with internship sites freeing you from even having to sit for an interview. However, most school psychology graduate students applying for an internship will have to jump through the interview hoop. Some general tips follow on how to prepare for your internship interview.
Know the Interview Format
You will be better prepared and more relaxed if you are familiar with the interview format prior to walking into the interview room. You can elicit this information from colleagues who interviewed at the same district in previous years as interview formats tend to change little. You may also find the internship contact person or psychological services administrative assistant helpful in providing such information. Suggested information to find out:
- How many people will be interviewing you? Most internship interviews are conducted by a panel of individuals including a director of psychological services, school psychologists, and current interns. It is helpful to know ahead of time if you will be walking into a room of 2, 4 or 12 individuals.
- What tasks are required? While most sites will ask you questions about school psychology and your experiences, some may also require you to complete a writing sample or case analysis the day of the interview. Knowing these things ahead of time will prevent you from being surprised by any task they may ask of you.
- Is there a time limit? Some locations may hand you a list of questions and expect you to answer them in a limited period of time (e.g., 30 minutes). Be sure to ask ahead of time if there is a time limit so that you may plan your response length.
Study Best Practices
Through the interview, the potential employer is seeking information about your personality, character, training, and knowledge of best practices of school psychology. Therefore, most interviews will include a few questions about common issues in school psychology. Some people have even compared internship interviews to oral comprehensive exams.
Prior to the interview consult such resources as the “School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice II” and other available fact sheets to be sure you are up-to-date on NASP recommendations for best practice in particular areas. Some commonly asked questions include:
- Procedures for identifying learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, mental retardation, and ADHD.
- “Hot topics” for each area, e.g. issues in identifying Learning Disabilities.
- Hypothetical scenarios to which you must explain the steps that you would take in response. For example, “What would you do if .”
- How to handle concerns that a teacher or parent brings directly to you.
- How to respond to difficult parents or staff members.
- Crisis procedures.
- Ethics and special education law.
- Problem solving steps.
- Positive behavioral supports.
Study Your Resume
While this may seem basic to some, it is important to remember to study your own application materials prior to the interview. Interviewers are likely to ask you questions about any of the information you provided. Think about those practicum experiences, research, or work experiences you included and have ready detailed incidents or memories to talk about if asked. Also read through your work samples before your interview and re-familiarize yourself with the cases. You may decide to prepare answers regarding your methodology for the case and reasons for choosing particular tests or making particular recommendations. Some questions to think about in advance:
- Why did you decide on a career in school psychology?
- What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?
- What are your experiences working with children with developmental delays, ADD/ADHD, behavior problems, etc.?
- What are your expectations for this internship?
- What, if any, gaps do you see in your training?
Ask Questions of Your Interviewers
Take time to learn about the practices and programs of the school district to which you are applying ahead of time, and ask questions to show that you are interested. Ask about new or ongoing initiatives in psychological services, research grants, or specifics of the district (e.g., demographics) to show that you have taken the time to research them. The best avenues through which to solicit this information are through the district/county website as well as current and former interns.
Important Questions to Ask Potential Internship Supervisors
In addition to selling yourself, the interview is also a time for you to find out information about the site so that you may choose the internship that best fits your needs and interests. Some questions to consider include:
- What opportunities are there for interns to attend conferences and other professional development activities?
- What type of supervision do interns receive? From how many people? How frequently?
- What are the responsibilities of interns? Are they supervised closely or are they eventually given freedom in their practices?
- Is there workspace available for the intern, and will there be clerical and equipment available commensurate with other professionals?
- In how many schools are interns placed? Will they experience diverse ages, cultures, and diagnostic issues? What is the assigned caseload?
- What percentage of time will be spent in assessment? Consultation? Counseling? Other activities?
- Will the intern be able to meet the requirements for specific training programs? National and state certification? Doctoral licensure (if applicable)?
- How are interns evaluated? Is there a formal feedback process? How does it relate to the University evaluation procedures?
The most important advice is to feel confident-but not cocky-when you enter your interviews. As a result of your training you likely are prepared for anything that they will ask of you. When you feel confident, you appear confident; this is an attractive trait for potential employers. However, remember that you are a student and that there is a lot that you have left to learn while you are on internship. You are not expected to know everything or have experienced everything. Tell them about the education you expect to receive on your internship. It is important to understand that some interviews will, for a variety of reasons, uncover a “poor fit” between the intern and the school?. The interview process is a good way to discover these issues.
Role play can be helpful as well. Rehearse responding to commonly asked questions by yourself or with the help of someone else. While it may feel somewhat awkward at the time, hearing your responses aloud will likely increase your preparedness and comfort level when you are responding to actual questions.
Some interviewees choose to come to the interview prepared with a professional portfolio including such items as sample reports, letters of recommendation, and résumé. It is a good idea to have one prepared in case an interviewer is not familiar with your interview materials. You may also refer to it if you are asked a question about your resume or a sample report. For more information on creating your professional portfolio, see the fact sheet “Developing Your Professional Portfolio: Work Samples and Resumes”.
Dress for success. While there is no official dress code for interviews, standard business attire is recommended (i.e., suit). First impressions are important. While it is likely more formal than what you will be wearing while on internship, presenting a professional appearance shows your interviewees that you are talking your internship and the interview seriously.
Maintain eye contact throughout the interview. Speak to all interviewers in the room, not just to the one asking the question.
Smile, have fun, and show your excitement for the field of school psychology.
Looking ahead: Interviewing for school psychology jobs
While it is difficult to predict the format of interviews for permanent school psychology positions, most of the recommendations above still apply. Your internship experience will likely help you pinpoint those job characteristics that are most important to you. Ask about the work environment and the amount of support that exists among psychologists. Determine what if any mentoring opportunities are available from more experienced psychologists. You likely will also choose to ask questions about salary, benefits, vacations, and support and resources.
This fact sheet was developed as part of NASP’s graduate student outreach initiative by NASP graduate intern Andrea Cohn (University of Maryland), in collaboration with the NASP Student Development Workgroup and other NASP leaders.