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Clinical/Counseling Psychology Interview Advice


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Hi all! I was hoping to create a space where we can share advice on preparing for interviews for Clinical and Counseling PhD programs. What can we expect on interview day? Has anyone previously done a virtual interview day? What should we be on the lookout for since we will not get the experience of an in person visit? What advice would you give to someone going into a grad school interview for the first time? I would love to hear any and all experiences and advice. Thank you!

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1. Make sure you are prepared to discuss anything that's on your CV, especially any posters/presentations. So if you've got something that you presented a few years ago, make sure you refresh your memory. 

2. Be familiar with the current work your POI has put out in recent years. Make sure you have a pitch on what you can bring to their lab. Maybe have an idea or 2 for potential projects, just in case they ask. Why does their work interest you? What skills do you bring to the table? 

3. Be familiar with various aspects of the program overall. Have a good response if/when they ask why this program. Research match is 1 (very) important part of it, but what else about the program do you like? Are there particular practicum placement options you like? Are there specific course offerings that stand out? Outside of the standard curriculum required for APA accreditation that is. Reading through the student handbook (should be available online) is a really good way to assess program culture/policies/expectations/etc. 

4. Have questions. Have questions for your POI, as well as any other faculty, and any current students you may meet with. Make sure these questions aren't easily answered by reading the online written material or the handbook. Use the available information to craft questions that show you have spent time looking into this program and are invested in it. Don't be afraid to ask the same question to multiple people. You can also ask questions about the city/surrounding area, especially to current students. 

5. I cannot stress this enough. Be a person! You are not a robot with 0 personality. While you obviously want to remain professional, be you. You will be in this program for a minimum of 4-5 years. That means the faculty and other students will be engaging with you for a number of years. They are looking for capable, but they are also looking for people they can see themselves working with for 5 years. Being likable goes a long way. I just got my letters of recommendation for my next round of externship applications, and all my letter writers devoted the last paragraph to how likable and responsible and easy to work with I am. I don't think they all unanimously thought that was important to include by accident. People like working with people they like. Be natural and be you, since that's who you'll be for the foreseeable future.

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59 minutes ago, PsyDuck90 said:

1. Make sure you are prepared to discuss anything that's on your CV, especially any posters/presentations. So if you've got something that you presented a few years ago, make sure you refresh your memory. 

2. Be familiar with the current work your POI has put out in recent years. Make sure you have a pitch on what you can bring to their lab. Maybe have an idea or 2 for potential projects, just in case they ask. Why does their work interest you? What skills do you bring to the table? 

3. Be familiar with various aspects of the program overall. Have a good response if/when they ask why this program. Research match is 1 (very) important part of it, but what else about the program do you like? Are there particular practicum placement options you like? Are there specific course offerings that stand out? Outside of the standard curriculum required for APA accreditation that is. Reading through the student handbook (should be available online) is a really good way to assess program culture/policies/expectations/etc. 

4. Have questions. Have questions for your POI, as well as any other faculty, and any current students you may meet with. Make sure these questions aren't easily answered by reading the online written material or the handbook. Use the available information to craft questions that show you have spent time looking into this program and are invested in it. Don't be afraid to ask the same question to multiple people. You can also ask questions about the city/surrounding area, especially to current students. 

5. I cannot stress this enough. Be a person! You are not a robot with 0 personality. While you obviously want to remain professional, be you. You will be in this program for a minimum of 4-5 years. That means the faculty and other students will be engaging with you for a number of years. They are looking for capable, but they are also looking for people they can see themselves working with for 5 years. Being likable goes a long way. I just got my letters of recommendation for my next round of externship applications, and all my letter writers devoted the last paragraph to how likable and responsible and easy to work with I am. I don't think they all unanimously thought that was important to include by accident. People like working with people they like. Be natural and be you, since that's who you'll be for the foreseeable future.

This is really helpful, thank you!!

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What I noticed during a couple of my interviews last year was some interviewees constantly trying to be "impressive". PI's have already reviewed your application and already know you are qualified, now they just want to get to know YOU, as a person. Focus less on trying to be better than others or trying to prove why you deserve a spot. I recommend instead focusing more on trying to be your authentic self and everything else PsyDuck90 said. When I interviewed I made a document for each school I got an interview at and went through their website and their handbook and write down any questions I had: specific to the program, specific to the PI, specific to graduate student life, and specific to how they address social justice issues. I also added some of my key points I wanted to try and touch on during my interview with the PI (this was more to ease my nerves in case my brain went blank), such as my research interests and research ideas that could complement their line of research. I honestly had a great time during my interviews and I think a lot of it had to do with me just reminding myself that the hardest part was getting the interview, now it was more about getting to know me and about me getting to know them and how my quality of life would be if I were to get an offer. Also make friends with the other interviewees! They will eventually be your colleagues and you might see them at other interviews or future conferences.

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Throwing my two cents in as a two-time applicant and first year clinical PhD graduate student:

1. Take a deep breath and remember it's at the most basic level a conversation between two people who are both excited and knowledgeable about research in a given area. Maybe I'm in the minority, but especially before my first interviews of the season, I became incredibly nervous my mind would go blank or I would forget the English language - spoiler, it never happened! My anxiety actually decreased throughout the interview as I realized I could form coherent sentences (haha).

2. To second @PsyDuck90, absolutely prepare a semi-specific potential MA project/PhD thesis. If you have 2+ interview days, someone WILL ask, and I've seen a fair number of posts on here throughout the years about people who were caught off guard and didn't match the specificity that their POI was looking for or who erroneously believed that saying "I'm flexible and open to any project" is a good idea. Nine times out of ten, it isn't. Now, I don't believe most POIs would expect specific methodology and analyses (but never say never!), but a few good research questions and a rough sketch of how you would carry it out is often expected when a POI asks this. Bonus points if you've read enough previous research of your POI's/know enough about their lab to know that the methodology you discuss is possible there!

3. Relatedly, do not compromise your research interests to fit "perfectly" with your POI's. This is a mistake I made in my first application cycle and it's something I believe hindered me from gaining acceptance. Within my general area of interest, I gave slightly different pairs of research interests depending on the POI I was interviewing with. In my second application cycle, I decided that there was one sub-area of my area (forensic psych) that I was truly passionate about and ran with it, even if it didn't fit *perfectly* with POI's interests. Now, one POI straight-up told me in interview that my ideas sounded great but he didn't have access to organizations that I would need to partner with to do the research I wanted. But I appreciated that! Now, if you truly are passionate about multiple areas and there's a logical way they mesh, this might not be applicable to you. But I found that my passion shone through much more the second time around, I felt more confident discussing the literature since I was more familiar with it, and I had stronger research ideas (see point #2).

4. Brainstorm answers to all the sample grad school interview questions you can find online (but don't prepare them word for word for risk of sounding stilted!) and be sure to prepare a quick little intro in response to "tell me about yourself." It will be the first thing asked in at least 50% of the interviews! It's up to personal preference, but I always like to throw in 1-2 non-academic tidbits at the end of my intro, a fun hobby etc., to humanize myself. 

5. Try to gain all the information you can about the personality of the POI(s) you're interviewing with beforehand. Most are fairly normal in interview settings, but there are some that will ask you strange questions to catch you off guard - I had one of my POIs do this to me! But I knew what to expect when interviewing with him through colleagues and graduate students at my undergrad institution in my area that knew his personality.

6. You'll often get the question "Why do you want to come here? Why this program?" Be creative in your answer! Aside from the obvious research- and course-based answers, try to throw in one reason that's related to the program's location, a novel way in which it's committed to diversity, or potentially some little piece of information that you learned from a graduate student (I know this is much harder when you're not staying with one on-site). This shows something that is of interest or really important to you and it might get a conversation going, for example - you may say the location is perfect for skiing, which you love, and your POI might be an avid skier! 

Best of luck to everyone in their interviews - you've got this! :) 

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