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The Student Perspectives section of the July, 2015 issue of StressPoints discussed factors to consider when navigating your job search. If you are in the midst of applying for an internship or are currently completing an internship, it might feel overwhelming to even think about your first psychology job. If you are anything like I was, you are caught up in just obtaining the best possible trauma-focused internship and postdoctoral positions.

Although it is possible to land a trauma-specific job if your prior training was not tailored to that area, it is certainly more difficult. In recent years, there has been a push for more specialized training. Whether or not you agree with this shift in the field, it is a factor to consider when choosing your training experiences.

So, if you are ready to interview for trauma-focused training positions, here are a few key tips that could be helpful in the process.

1) Make your wish list. If you really took time prior to applying to programs to create your own training “wish list,” then this step will be easy. If you only applied to programs that meet most of your requirements, you are even further ahead in the game. Although it is difficult to find a program meeting all of your wish list specifics, going into interviews well aware of how each program stacks up is vital. You need to be able to confidently talk about how a program fits with your training needs and goals. Moreover, if you are confident a program fits your wish list, you are going to come across as more excited about the opportunity. If you did not spend significant time making a wish list prior to getting an interview, it’s not too late. Sit down and think about what you hope to get out of this training experience. What balance are you looking for in terms of research, clinical, administrative, supervisory, and programmatic evaluation experiences? What specific experiences (e.g., training in X treatment or Y statistical procedure) do you want to round out your training? Be sure to highlight specific elements relevant to the trauma field. This might sound intuitive, but when you are nervous you could forget that important link!

2) Do your research. You might be surprised how many people only look at basic information before an interview. In the trauma field, this will not help you land a competitive position. Spend time reviewing in-depth available written materials (e.g., brochures, websites); this could include a brief review of the larger institution that houses the program. Once, I was asked what I thought about recent changes in the larger organization. I had not prepared for that question and could not respond—embarrassing! When reviewing these materials, consider the breadth and depth of training experiences listed that correspond with your wish list. Use this information to actually write or type out how that program fits with your needs and goals, craft answers to interview questions, and create your own list of questions to ask interviewers and current trainees. It is an advantage if you can talk to or email former or current trainees about their experiences during the interview process. Ask them about the tone of the interview, people with whom they met, and any questions they remember. Any information you can gather is only going to help you during your interview.

3) Prepare for the interview. It should go without saying that you need to prepare for each individual interview. Although you may feel more prepared over time, each program is different. Use the information from steps above to practice interview questions. Some universities and internships offer on-site interview practice. Take advantage of these or related services. The more you practice answering questions in front of others (especially strangers), the better interviewee you will be. Craft specific questions to ask each program. Not asking questions could raise concerns for programs. If you ask specific, thoughtful questions about the program, you will not only impress interviewers, you will get more information to make future decisions regarding an offer. The next two tips go along with preparing for the interview, but are specific to landing a trauma-focused position.

3a) Consider your stance on EBPs. Whether you are pursuing a clinical, research, or combination training position in trauma, evidence based practices (EBPs) and/or empirically supported treatments are likely to be at the forefront of many training programs. There are different opinions on the effectiveness and usefulness of these practices, which is beyond the scope of this piece. If your training focused on longer term, psychodynamic approaches to trauma treatment, consider if you would be happy in a program that primarily trains and practices short-term EBPs. The take-away point here is to be aware of movements within trauma-focused care. Consider your personal experience with EBPs, goals related to beginning or continuing them, and the program’s stance on them as well. Questions related to EBPs are incredibly likely to come up during your interview, especially for programs focused on clinical practice.

3b) Read recent trauma literature. This one is short and sweet. It would be a mistake to go into the interview process for trauma-focused training without doing some reading of the recent literature. This is especially true if you do not yet have the strongest background in trauma. Read articles that interest you and be prepared to talk about current issues. Read articles authored by people at the site at which you are interviewing and discuss or comment on them if it feels appropriate during the interview.

4) Set yourself apart. On interview day, sell yourself as a trauma psychologist. Integrate all of the above information whenever you can during your interview. Discuss recent literature that stands out to you. Talk about your experience with diverse trauma clients, treatments, research, etc. Importantly, figure out what sets you apart from other applicants and emphasize that on interview day. The trauma field is competitive. There are many very qualified applicants and you need to leave a positive impression. If you have a unique experience or a particular trauma-related research project in mind, talk about it. If you are lacking in previous trauma experience, sell why you are making the change and how you see your future as a trauma psychologist. There will not be another opportunity. You can also set yourself apart interpersonally—for better or worse. You will likely have a similar application on paper to many applicants, but your interpersonal style can distinguish you from others. It’s true that your competence and interest in trauma is being evaluated, but you are also being evaluated on whether or not people want to work with and train you.

Good luck to all!

About the Author

Emily Voelkel obtained her PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Houston. She completed her internship at the Cincinnati VA on the PTSD-track and her postdoctoral fellowship at the Boston VA as one of two PTSD fellows.