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As you get started thinking about your internship application, you may be wondering why it involves so many essays and materials. After all, after internship, most postdoc and job applications will only consist of a CV and cover letter. However, as much I think the internship application process is harder than it should be, the process of writing essays and cover letters can help you reflect on your training experiences and help you solidify your professional identity as an emerging professional in psychology if you take the time.
This page provides an overview of the purpose of the different parts of your internship application to help you organize all the pieces (instead of thinking, “what’s the point?”).
Essays help the reader get to know you as a person and emerging professional –
- What would you be like to work with as a supervisee (personality, self-awareness/self-reflection, openness, critical thinking skills, knowledge)?
- What are your values and philosophies about psychology and the work you do?
- TIP: Be sure to illustrate with examples – think of these essays as persuasive writing (rather than descriptive). For example, when writing about your theoretical orientation, instead of describing how CBT works, use a brief case example that highlights how you applied a cognitive technique and discuss its effectiveness (i.e., what the therapeutic outcome of using the technique was). Don’t forget to finish the thought! You are persuading the reader that you understand CBT, know how to apply it, and have found it useful in your work.
Your curriculum vitae (CV) lists the facts of your experience –
- Is there a breadth of clinical experiences? What’s the theme of your experiences (clinical, research, service)?
- Does your CV reflect that you’ve gone above and beyond the minimum requirements of an academic program (i.e., how have you demonstrated that you are invested in your own professional development)?
- How do you know if you should include an experience? This is subjective, but ask yourself if the information would be distracting for the reader or interesting in that it represents some quality you want them to notice. E.g., Being voted high school prom king may not add to your CV, but serving as captain of your NCAA swim team in college may be interesting to mention because it represents leadership qualities and a student-athlete’s discipline.
- TIP: Showcase your unique qualities – fluency in another language; awards and leadership positions (psychology related or not); military service; prior work experience (condense the description if it’s a long history); volunteer activity.
Cover letters outline why the site is a good fit for you and your professional goals –
- The fit is how well an internship program’s training opportunities match your interests, qualifications*, and career goals. FIT is the number one consideration in the internship application process (yes, according to research).
- While it’s acceptable to develop a cover letter template, a generic letter will not be very convincing for a training committee to invite you for an interview. Some training committees read the cover letter first – you can have an amazing CV, but if you don’t explain why you’re interested in their specific training opportunities, they will have difficulty envisioning you as part of their program. Therefore, if the training program includes rotations, you should identify which rotations you’re interested in and why (this is also an opportunity to reference your relevant experience).
- TIP: Organize your paragraphs by your interest in training opportunities (e.g., PTSD rotation, crisis hotline, outreach to LGBTQ students), not by chronological order of your clinical experiences. Integrate your interest in their program offerings throughout your letter, not just in the first and last paragraphs.
*Qualifications do not mean you must have the exact experience that the internship site is offering (e.g., working with adolescents diagnosed with schizophrenia). It does mean that you have a solid foundation and relevant/overlapping experience that has prepared you for advanced training – e.g., you have taken several courses in serious mental illness (SMI) and have had a few SMI clients; you have worked with adolescents in a community mental health setting; or you have worked with adults on an inpatient unit. On the other hand, it would be a hard sell to apply to an internship site focused on inpatient work with adolescents, and you have only worked with adults in outpatient settings.
Click here to download a pdf version of purpose of internship materials.