The Graduate College

Spring 2012

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Professional Development
Kathy Bohan, EdD

Applying for and Getting an Internship

In many graduate programs, the internship is the capstone experience to your education and training. The internship provides you with the opportunity to put your knowledge and skills into practice under the supervision of experienced professionals. It is a critical milestone as you enter your new career.

Finding and applying for an internship that matches your interests and goals requires time, money, and effort. At the same time that you are searching for the perfect internship, you are likely still busy with finishing your coursework, preparing for exams, and writing your thesis or dissertation.  Thus, it is essential to plan ahead and follow a few basic tips.

Tips for applying for an internship that matches your interests and goals

  1. Consider your options. Some professions have competitive processes and organizations like Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) to assist potential interns and sites in finding optimal internship matches. Your graduate program likely has specific requirements for your internship experience. Check with faculty in your college to find out about their expectations and suggestions for possible internship sites.

    Are you willing and able to relocate to a different part of the state, region, or another country? Do you need a paid position or a stipend, or can you survive for a semester or year in an unpaid position? What specifically do you want to gain from the experience? If the site later offered you a position, is this somewhere you might like to live? Consider all options, and don’t limit yourself. A semester or year goes by quickly.

  2. Identify potential internship sites. Make a list of potential sites accepting internship applications, and narrow your list to those that best match your theoretical orientation, goals, and expectations. Some applications, such as APPIC, may have fees. In any case, costs for stationary, postage, and envelopes add up. While attaining highly competitive internships is appealing, don’t limit yourself to applying to only one or two sites. In contrast, don’t apply to too many sites since spending time individualizing a successful application takes time and attention. Depending upon your goals, applying to five to ten sites increases your odds, yet can reasonably fit your budget and time constraints.

  3. Spend time writing a professional resume or curriculum vitae. Write down your education history, work and volunteer experiences, research experiences, honors, and accomplishments. Obtain accurate contact information for your references. Format your vitae neatly and clearly. Ask others to proofread your vitae to correct grammatical and spelling errors.

  4. Follow the application directions. For essay responses, spend time pre-writing, writing, and editing your response. Your response shows not only your interest in the internship, but also your written communication skills. Some applications may also want a copy of your transcripts, a sample report, or a case study. Some sites may accept electronic submissions, while others may want several copies sent through the mail.

    You may also wish to write a brief cover letter highlighting your interest and qualifications. Include specifics about the agency or business that illustrate why you would be a great match. A personal touch shows you have done your homework and are genuinely interested in the organization.

  5. Develop a checklist. Include the name and summary of the internship site, application deadlines, contact individuals, and other details. In some large agencies, sending your application only to the human resources department may end up in a revolving file, while submitting to the director of a specific unit may have better results.

    When you mail materials to various potential internship sites, save a copy and enter dates into your spreadsheet so you can reference information later. It is amazing how quickly the details from various sites can blend together.

  6. Send applications in early. Avoid waiting until the deadline to submit your application. This prevents errors, omissions, and postal delays that may take you out of consideration.  

Tips for a successful internship interview

  1. Obtain a list of potential questions. Your college faculty or alumni likely have sample questions you might be asked. Practice responding concisely and confidently. Interviews may be on the phone or in person. Factor in costs for travel if interviews are face-to-face. Find out if you will be talking to one person or a hiring committee.

  2. Prepare a question or two to ask. Consider additional information you would like to know about the site, staff, or community.

  3. Dress professionally and arrive on time. A conservative outfit that is comfortable communicates that you are serious about the internship opportunity. Map directions to the location of the interview in advance and give yourself ample time so you are relaxed and prepared.

  4. Show your potential! During the interview, remember to make eye contact, listen, and take a second or two to formulate your best response. If you don’t know an answer, say so. Avoid making up a response, but rather show your desire to learn under their mentorship. The interview opportunity is your time to shine.
Kathy Bohan

Applying for and getting an internship can be stressful. The application process can often require attention several months to a year in advance. Creating a realistic timeline, doing your homework, and attending to details can greatly increase your chances of obtaining an internship opportunity at the top of your list. The internship can open doors for your future career. The extra planning and effort will serve you well!


—Kathy J. Bohan, EdD, Educational Psychology chair