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How to prepare for interviews as an Aspiring Psychologist, top tips and techniques

By Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

This is taken from The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast Episode 10.

So, if you are reading this article, then it's probably quite likely that you are aware, that certainly for clinical psychologists, application season is in part of its cycle, part of its life span. So people are currently waiting to find out if they are going to be offered interviews for the clinical doctorate. And I would love for some insider info about the life cycles, the application cycles of your particular discipline. So if you are reading this and you're thinking, well, ours isn't September until spring, then let me know, because it's obviously important that I'm providing content that feels useful for you, whatever discipline of psychology you are in. So, if you have a different time span, let me know, and I can make sure that I'm putting stuff in my diary, planning content that's going to be useful for you at the time that you need it. Because I don't want this to be just for aspiring clinical psychologists. I want this to be useful for you, whatever your particular niche goal is in psychology. And if you are waiting on news about whether you are being invited for selection tests or for interviews themselves, then my heart goes out to you, it is tricky. And by the time this goes live, that time will be all the more closer and you might well be getting, probably not letters these days, will it be? It'll probably be interviews being communicated to via email.

So yeah, I remember that anxiety well, the waiting, hoping, the wishing and reflecting on every word you've written in your form and thinking, is it good enough? Is it going to be okay? And even the experiences that you have in the days, weeks and months even, after you have clicked submit on that form, you're thinking,

oh, this would've been great on the form. This would've been great!

And let's hope that you don't need to reflect on that in future forms. But of course it can take a number of attempts and beyond to get to.

And I was just talking to someone from the Express newspaper actually, a journalist, to get to manifest what it is that we want and that's what we are trying to help you do in this podcast. We are trying to help you to manifest your dreams. And my stance on that is that by goal setting and being quite focused and determined around what it is that you would love like to achieve, makes it a whole heap more likely that you are going to bring that goal to fruition. Whether or not you want to add any crystals into the mix is entirely up to you and people who like manifesting often do like a bit of crystal healing and all of that jazz. But by goal setting and tuning into the right podcasts, ones with jingles, you are going to make it more likely for yourself that you are able to achieve your dreams and achieve your goals.

So that's my little take on what we are. That's my little mission for this podcast that this helps flavour the water that you swim in with qualified psychology opinion. And I hope that you're finding it useful. Yeah. So, I digress as I am want to do. And I hope that you don't mind the fact that I digress because hopefully the stories are interesting along the way. If you don't like my digressing and you wish it was just pure psychology, then you might like to listen on double speed or maybe I'm not your jam…... I'm quoting Princess Poppy again.

So, when I was an aspiring clinical psychologist, I was having to wait for letters to drop through my letter box, to invite me for interview or to decline me from an interview. And I remember the first time I was offered an interview for a doctorate course, I sat on the stairs at my parents' house, and I ripped it open. And the first thing I saw was a map and I was like, oh my God, they don't send maps to people that they don't want to see. And so, I just felt really excited from seeing that map. And I think that's a bit of a sad thing about moving to online communication because you'll know as soon as you open it. There's no ‘how thick the envelope is’ about how much information you are getting, because you don't know how big the email is before you open it. So yeah, that's a downer for modern technology because when you got a slightly fatter envelope, that felt pretty exciting. So yeah, fond memories of that. And I still have my letters offering me, interviews on the course that I accepted and I still definitely have my letters offering me places on both of the courses that I was offered because that is really a significant milestone in my life. And you knowing me now like you do, you're probably like,

Did you buy a perfume? Did you buy some shoes?

No. I decided to go off traveling. Where did I go? I went around India with one of my friends who was also getting onto a doctorate course. And also, before that, I went to Spain and Morocco. So that's what I did. And I'm afraid the pandemic has squashed people's ability to be able to jet set as much as they did. But once I knew that I was on the doctorate, I was making plans to jack my job in and to go and enjoy this stage of my life, where I knew what the next stage was going to be and when it was going to start. I do believe it started on September the 22nd. So, I just had to make sure I was back in the country for then. And I did, I think I got back from India on the Friday. I had my leaving party on the Saturday. I moved on the Sunday and my doctorate started on the Monday. So, I was not leaving any time for living my life unlived. But then, that said, I loved my doctorate as well. So, it wasn't like, it was a question of putting my life on hold. I was committing myself to one locality for three years, but if you're reading this perhaps as a qualified psychologist or perhaps as an aspiring one or a trainee psychologist, and you're like, she loved her doctorate, what? Then I say, yeah, I did. I knew it would be tricky in parts and in parts it was. I knew I'd be signing up to work and study. I knew I'd be having lots of different demands, but for me, I didn't have children at that time. And I was single when I started the course, it was what I expected it to be. And I had made space in my life to accommodate those three years. I didn't go into it thinking it was going to be effortless and it wasn't. So I think sometimes going into things with our eyes open can be really useful.

Once again, I've wobbled off I've digressed. So if you are waiting for your own application season to start, you might well be clicking and checking whether your references have been received. And if they still say no, then it might just be worth checking in with your referee, it's always a good idea to check in with your referee before you submit to check that A, they're not going off on some six months secondment or maternity or paternity leave, that their contact details haven't changed and that they are indeed happy to write your reference.

So then if the reference hasn't been submitted or hasn't been received, you can just gently check in with them to explore whether they have been able to do that for you or whether they need some more time or some more, I don't know, some more something from you, or maybe they just need a little jig. Maybe the reference requests are just sitting in spam folder or something and they've not seen it. So with you gently getting in contact to probe, it might make that come to fruition that bit quicker.

I, in the days of the stone ages, used to wait for my own little stamped addressed envelope to arrive that said references received. So the course would send those out or Clearing House would send those out. Oh, to my own cost of a stamped addressed envelopes, we called them in the day. Yeah. To let me know that A, my application had been received, that's a happy one on to receive. Although I knew, because I'd already stalked it on oil mail and B, that references had been received. And then it was like, okay, we are good to go. Let's just wait and see and hope and wish.

Okay. So a useful piece of advice here is when you, and if you, hopefully, are called to interview, it can be a really good idea to look at your own application, to look what you submitted. And any bits that make you cringe a bit, maybe you're thinking, I might slightly have padded out my own expertise and knowledge in that area. It's a good chance for you to be able to try and thicken that dialogue a little bit between now and your interview date. For any of you watching The Apprentice, I do believe I've watched every single series and every single episode. I just love it. We all know that the most cringeworthy episodes are the interview ones where their CVs are turned over and they've got in contact with people and they've been ousted as actually having not done some of the things they've claimed to have done or they've picked up their part and it's just horrifying. So just try to make sure that what you've put on your form in retrospect, in hindsight is factually correct as possible. And I don't know of anyone who goes to the extents that Lord Sugar and his team do. But yeah, just have a look over what you've submitted because of course that's what you've been invited on the basis of.

Okay. Once you've had a look at what you've said, if you do feel like there's any weaknesses, any drawbacks that you feel might be your Achilles heel. And like I said, it's your chance to get as much experience so that it doesn't feel like you're going into that interview with an Achilles heel. We all will have Achilles heels. We might not know what they are until they ask us the question. And then we're like, oh man, I have no clue. Just take a breath, just take a pause. You can always ask for a moment as you feel like your world is imploding and there's tumbleweed and crickets. You can always ask for a little more time, and you can always ask them to repeat the question again because what we know is when we are in a excited forward slash agitated, anxious state, that the top part of our brain might go offline a little bit. So taking those breaths can be really useful and just yeah, encouraging yourself to calm down. And it's okay to ask for the question again.

Okay. So you might find it helpful to go through in supervision, your form, if that is the kind of relationship you have with your supervisor and to think about any question that crop up for them. Yeah. They might already have read your form anyway. If they haven't, then it might be useful if you can bear it, if you can tolerate it, to explore some of that in supervision. And your next port of call will be for whatever job you're applying for, be it an assistant psychology post or a research psychologist post, or indeed one of the clinical doctorate courses, or your own qualified specialty route, then you need to be looking at the job description. So it might be an idea to look at what the course themselves are saying about their program.

If you are an aspiring clinical psychologist, it might be useful for you to get yourself a copy of the alternative handbook to look at what the other trainees on the course are saying about the course. And if you are applying for an NHS job, then it'll always be a person description and of course a job description. So make sure that what they're asking for, because they could ask about any of those things. And I'm obviously in this podcast, I'm not going to be giving any past examples of questions because that's not really appropriate, I don't feel. And so, yeah, if you were tuning in hoping that that's what I was going to do, then sorry, spoiler alert. That's not going to be here. I'm sure if you Googled, some would come up, but yeah, it doesn't feel particularly fair for me to do that.

And of course, with my knowledge of the two clinical doctorate interviews that I've been, yeah, it wouldn't feel particularly fair to broadcast that in case they're still using the same sort of questions. It just wouldn't feel like it was particularly fair. It would be like giving you the exam questions before the exam. So I'm sorry, I'm not going to do that, but I want you to do your best and to be your optimal best self and to have to Scrabble in a session like I probably did with those tumbleweed moments, but managing your own physiology enough to be able to get through it and to pull the rabbit out of the hat and get self that job.

So those are our basic checks to make. It can be also helpful to Google the names of anyone that you know is going to be interviewing you so that you can read any research that they might have done recently or to see what service they work in and kind of the way that their service operates. If you are applying for a specific trust, then it can be useful to Google, whether there's any trust values that are around for your trust. So they might be things like compassion in action, respect for everybody, safety. I don't know, it differs between trusts. But if you know a specific trust, not so much for clinical interviews, because it's not the trust that they're interviewing you, it's usually academic staff and clinical staff from the locality. So it might be that actually on some doctorate courses, that there was a representative from the trust who's going to be employing you. But to my knowledge, I'm not familiar with that. So if, actually that is the case, let me know and I can make sure that we'll reflect that in future.

So yeah, perhaps if you're going on to a PWP or an assistant psychologist or some other kind of related job, support worker and you are going to be looking at trust values, then it can be really useful to make sure that in every answer you give, that you are weaving in a trust value as well. So if they're asking something about confidentiality, then you could give your usual patter about what confidentiality is and why it's important. You could give little case vignette about where you've used confidentiality or how you've explained it. And then you could weave in a relevant trust value of, I don't know, respect for everyone and clinical excellence or whatever the trust values are, but you need to be making sure you're giving a values based interview.

So yeah, I hope that is useful. Always look out for who is employing you and what is important to them and try and quote it back to them in interview, because that's going to help you stand out. And the same is true, of course, for the clinical courses, if they specialising in CBT, then it makes sense to be mentioning CBT, if they are really dynamic or systemic or any other kind of discipline, then it makes sense that you talk the talk and walk the walk.

So like I said, at the time of recording, it's January 2022 and we are most definitely still in pandemic season, aren't we? And so certainly for 2020 and 2021, application and interview seasons looked a little different. They looked a bit like home working, didn't they? Quite often they took place via Zoom. Maybe they might have been shorter than would've been ideally. And it might mean that you don't see anyone who is also an aspiring psychologist during the interview process. It might just be you and the academic staff, and you and the clinical staff. Whereas actually, a key part of the experience for me was sitting with however many people there were on the day in the waiting room and lunching together. So for me... Oh, when you do online training at home on Zoom, it's not the same, is it? Because you don't get the snacks, you don't get the lunch.

And so if I was applying for a job, I would make sure that I bought myself an aspiring psychologist lunch. That's totally what I would do to make sure that I felt like, yeah, I'm treating myself nicely here. But also gearing myself up to perform optimally. So in making sure it's not something that's going to make me really sluggish all afternoon. And that's going to be ready for me to be able to grab it and eat it when I'm ready to eat it. So, oh, I can't stand fridge cold sandwiches. So I'd probably have to text my husband and say, take the sandwich out the fridge or whatever I was eating or a salad so that it wasn't too cold. But can you take care of yourself on interview day or maybe have someone else take care of you and your catering needs, to look after you because it's a really stressful process. Because it really matters. If you are striving to be a psychologist, then you're not doing this for kicks, you're doing this because it matters to you.

And so yeah. Can you help get someone else on board to look after you and to make sure that you are fed and watered in a way that really helps you to thrive. And if there isn't someone, then you can do that for yourself and maybe by the time we are in applications, whenever it is that you are listening to this episode, that face to face interviews are back on the agenda. In which case I hope that they are still doing drinks, refreshments and lunch, because that is just the highlight for me. That's like a bonus, you get free lunch and an interview.

Yeah. So yeah. Bring on the snacks. I'm all about the snacks and the drinks. And actually, one of the ways I chose between which clinical course to accept was because one of them had given me a choice of herbal teas on interview day. And I just thought, these are my people. These are my people. Where I think in the other one, there was just black tea or coffee. And I was like, I don't drink either of those. So clearly it wasn't the only reason, but it was certainly on my list of pros of the course that I eventually picked. Selection of herbal teas, check.

So if I was having interviews at home, I'd be making sure that the environment I was in was also kind of aspirational and kind of nice. So I might be lighting my favourite scented candle. I might be making sure that I was dressed properly for an interview, not just from the waist up. So I'd probably make sure that I had an outfit where I felt like a trainee psychologist. So I'm trying that outfit on for size or I felt successful or worthwhile. So of course I probably would be a little bit smarter for an interview than I would be for a day on placement for example. But I want something that helped me psychologically get on board with the fact that this was a really important interview day. This wasn't just me sitting in my slippers and in my joggers. Okay. So for me, that's how I would make sure that I was in interview mode all day. It's a big deal and I'd probably wear my shoes in the house on that occasion.

I took my kids to the cinema recently and in the back of the car, my eldest said to me,

Mummy, I'm looking forward to going into the cinema because it makes me feel like a millionaire. And I said, oh, what do you mean? And he said, well, because I wear my shoes on the carpet. And I was like, oh, what, you mean because I make you take your shoes off at home? And he said, yes.

But when we watch old episodes of Topsy and Tim and stuff, they wear their shoes all over the sofa and on their beds. And my kids are appalled with that. Like, mommy, why have they got their shoes on on the sofa? And I'm like, I don't know. I don't know.

So yeah, I would be breaking my own rules on interview day or getting myself some new shoes. So New Year's Eve, I dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. And I did wear shoes in the house, but they were red ones and they'd never been worn outside. So that helped me feel that I was okay. And I probably didn't go on the carpet with them. I probably just stayed on the hard floor. So yeah. Do you have your own weird little rules about shoe wearing in the house? Whatever is okay for you is okay for you. But if you ever come around my house, please take your shoes off. So yeah. Wear your shoes on your carpet on the day of your interview because it'll make you feel like a millionaire. And that's direct from my eight year old. Who doesn't want to feel like a millionaire on the day of their interview?

So we need to be turning our phone off, not just on silent. So I was just distracted for a moment there because my watch buzzed, it told me to move my bum. So maybe turn that function off and make sure that your phone's off. And if you've got a dog, maybe it's a good idea to see if anyone can look after the dog for the day so that you're not having to worry about walking the dog. You can still walk yourself. You can still do that on breaks, but you don't want to have to be worrying about the barking or distracting you. If you are at the front of the house, then it might be a good idea to draw the curtain so that you're not distracted by the postman. And it might be helpful to, we've all got deliveries arriving all the time these days. So it might be helpful to see if you've got someone else on call or put a note on your door, sending any deliveries to your neighbour if you've got one.

Need to make sure that you are adequately hydrated, it can be useful to have a glass of water with you in the interview. But of course, we do have a tendency as humans to use drinks as safety seek behaviours and this was something that we observed in our professional personal development group at my own training, is that people would tend to use having a slurp of their drink to pause for time and deflect questions. So I would probably nowadays just try and own that a bit more and pause and take a breath and maybe even be explicit about whatever is going on for me as my internal processes. Whereas in the past, certainly as trainees, we would pause and dominate the conversation with fiddling around with our bottle of water and all of that. And we made a decision that we wouldn't do that. We wouldn't bring drinks to sessions, or if we did, they'd stay under our chair so that we could try to stay as connected to the process as possible.

So just be mindful if you are wanting to hydrate yourself all the time mid interview, it's okay to be nervous. It matters, it's a big deal. But yeah, just think about how you're using your hydration to perhaps buy you time and just be consciously aware of that, I think. And like I said, it can be useful just to give yourself some breathing time, to be able to slow down that tricky brain of ours and to be able to bring your A game. If our mind is racing, if our thoughts are worrying a thousand miles a minute, then we're not going to be able to think about what it is that we've got to do and what we've got to answer. So just give yourself a pause, take a breath before answering the question, really think about your options. And it's always okay to ask for the question again, especially if you've done a big waffle and you want to make sure you've covered it.

So if you know any trainee psychologists at the moment, or you know any qualified psychologists, perhaps hopefully your supervisor, they might be willing to do a mock interview with you. And that can feel like a very cringeworthy exercise indeed. And I did that with my supervisor at the time who was a forensic psychologist and I was an aspiring clinical, but it just helped me to get crickets moments and all of the tumbleweed moments where I just felt like a pretend human, let alone an aspiring trainee clinical psychologist out of the way. And just got me some of the ability to want to laugh at myself out the way because I did that in the relative safety of my supervision relationship. So it can be really helpful to have that, and just to have someone ask you questions in an interview setting and kind of be a bit more stony-faced with you because that can be really useful to help you feel that pressure. And then when you get to the actual interview experience, it feels less alien.

And perhaps if you haven't been in your post that long, or you feel like your relationship is not that great with your supervisor, then you might not want to admit that you're going for a new job. So that might not always feel that approachable, but hopefully you might know someone who's got more experience than you. It might be a trainee or it might be someone who's already qualified, but not your supervisor. And they might be willing to, at least have a look through your application and have a look through the job description to come up with some example questions that might be useful for you to consider.

So I hope you found this really useful and there should be some time between when this episode goes live and when certainly the clinical application interview season comes to the fore. So if there are any specific questions you've got, then do let me know through my contact details of which you can find in the show notes in the links section. And I will really be really happy to help shape this. And yeah, thank you for listening. I hope you find this useful and good luck with your interview.

Being well supported during any interview season is so important. I have therefore planned some compassionate question and answer support sessions for you. You are absolutely welcome to come along to all of them. Some of them, none of them, no need to book. And here are the dates for you:
  1. Monday, the 28th of February from 7:30 PM.

  2. Monday, the 21st of March, 7:30 PM.

  3. Monday, the 4th of April, 7:30 PM.

  4. Monday, the 9th of May, 7:30 PM.

They will all be live streaming via my socials, which includes Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook. So you can absolutely pick your favourite platform and they'll all be available on replay as well. Hope you find it so useful and I will look forward to catching up with some of you then. Take care.

To listen to this episode of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast Click Here. To listen to other episodes of the podcast click here.
To grab your copy of the Clinical Psychologist Collective Book click here.


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