The First Step in your MFT Career: Finding the Right Internship Site By Susan Valentino-Hersey
The majority of graduate students look forward to the beginning of their clinical work with an equal mix of anticipation and dread; the latter being minimized by the support of a caring supervisor, a comprehensive education, and, of course, the right internship site. The right internship site can provide all the necessary supports to ease an intern’s nerves when approaching that ever stomach-wrenching, very first client session. However, the task of finding the right Practicum and Internship site can be a daunting procedure for some.
Having just finished this process myself, I have compiled some thoughts and tips that I found helpful during this period. At first, when handed the list of 50 or so sites in or around Fairfield County, the advice I received was to call the sites in your area. Well, being brought up in a bedroom community where many commute an hour into Manhattan every day for the “right job” my first thought was “Well, these sites are ALL in my area.” So the first task I set upon myself was to narrow down that list of 50 possibilities to a more manageable number: my goal was 10.
Here are my tips to figuring out which sites to contact:
Ask Around: Your fellow students are always good resources for information. For the most part they will tell you that they love their site. Try to get more information and make sure to ask specific questions on why they love it. Be on the lookout for that 1 in 10 student who says she doesn’t like her site; ask where and why.
Do your Research: The list the school will give you will have some specific details about the sites, if at all. Maybe one fifth of the sites have a brief description. If you think a site may interest you, see if they have a web site. If that fails, never be shy to call them to gather more information. The director in charge of placing interns will be more than happy to answer your questions which may reflect well on you in a future face to face interview.
KISS Principle: If you really want to have as many possibilities as possible go down the list and contact the sites with one simple question: Do you have an internship opening at the time I am looking for? Keep It Simple Stupid: If a site doesn’t have an opening, that is a fair reason to cross them out as an option and narrow down your list. This is also a good way to make a broad spectrum of professional contacts at the same time.
Once you have made your initial contacts with all of the sites you are interested in, the interviews will likely be set up quickly. These practicum/internship interviews should be handled just like any other job interview. However, being MFT specific, there are a few things you can do to prepare and although every site is different, I found the following tips important to keep in mind:
Know thy site: Some interviewers start with a lengthy description of their site, they may even go into vast detail about themselves. Be cautious: at the end, they will ask you why you contacted them and why you are interested in their site. Make sure you go into the interview with a working knowledge of the site, a.k.a. their population, their mission statement, type of agency etc. You should basically try to get as much information on the center and your interviewer as you can.
Know thy Self: As in any interview, you will be asked questions about yourself. As most people go into interviews thinking these will be the easiest questions to answer, they can end up being the hardest. It is important to spend time prepping for the interview by thinking about yourself and the answers you will give. Make sure to review your resume. Also, make sure to review your class notes- these supervisors and directors will want to know about your studies, what classes you have taken and what you have learned. The hardest question for me is “Tell me about yourself.” It may feel a bit salesman-ish but it makes the question a bit easier to answer if you have a slightly rehearsed 30-second pitch in your back pocket.
See into the Future: One of the last questions an interviewer may ask is “Where do you see yourself down the road?” This is a good opportunity to discuss your future goals. However, pay attention to their reaction; this is also a good opportunity to flesh out if that particular site’s goals are compatible with yours.
Before the interview ends you will have the opportunity to ask the interviewer a few questions; don’t miss this chance. Interviewers want you to ask questions; asking intelligent questions will make you look more competent, organized, and prepared.
Here are a few of my Internship Site questions:
What is the transition period for beginning interns? As “Prac” students most of us will be entering our internshipsite without ever having met with a client; different sites handle this differently. At some you will meet with clients right away, at others you will shadow your supervisor for a period and at some; you will go through a short training program. Picking something that is comfortable for you is important.
What is the referral process for clients? The answer to this question will give you a lot of information on the number of clients that flow through the site on a daily/weekly basis, the agencies position within the community, and the type of clients you are going to see.
What have people gone on to do after finishing their internship here? Some interviewers will name a select few lucky interns that were placed at their sites after graduation. Dig further, the answer to this question will give you a good idea as to where past interns ended up after their internship.
Relational Hours? Ahhhh, relational hours… Magic words… Do they have them? Make sure to ask if interns of years past have done alright getting them.
Practicum and internship sites are there for you and if you do the proper research and networking, you will get placed in the one that is the best fit for you. Keep in mind that you will likely not get offered a place at every site that you interview, and given the competitive and tightly-knit community that is MFT you may know the person who gets offered the position instead! Things happen, but that is fodder for another article.