Chapter 2 introduces the internship and helps guide students through the process of finding a "good fit," though that might not turn out to be exactly as one imagined. More specifically, this chapter discusses much of what students want or need to know before finding and starting at their placement sites. Remember, your school may structure the course as a practicum or internship, but we are using the terms interchangeably because there is considerable overlap between them.
- Human Services Worker: A person who is trained to assist others to find appropriate and positive solutions to various life issues and problems. Their academic training varies widely.
- Network and Networking: The continuous development of a supportive system of sharing information and connections between individuals and groups that share common interests.
- Internship: An experientially-oriented course or learning situation aimed at providing students with real-life training and experience in a human service setting. Typically described as a practicum, internship, or service-learning experience.
It is important to know what exactly we mean by human services and what is expected of a human services worker before site selection. In general, human services and the related agencies they work at try to help people by addressing a wide spectrum of problems ranging from mental health to protective services. In so doing, they demonstrate a commitment to improving the overall quality of life for service populations and communities. Often, agencies will focus on a specific need or problem and direct their resources to help people deal with them. Human services workers come from several major areas, such as social work, psychology, liberal studies, criminal justice, and so on. They may hold many different positions in various types of human services agencies.
There are three human services workers: one holds an associate degree, another has a bachelor’s degree in social work, and another in a different area. One decides to use the degree to work for a nursing home, helping to ensure that the residents are treated humanely. Another takes a job at a non-profit food bank where they deal with suppliers and clients while the third works with juveniles in the criminal justice system. All of them are professionals doing valuable human services work in relevant settings. Although trained differently, depending on their degrees or background, all of them are likely to benefit from having had a positive internship experience
Beginning the Internship
The internship and courses like it are learning experiences that students undergo to prepare for the workforce. It is an invaluable field experience where we, as students, can start learning to apply the knowledge we gained throughout our human services coursework. The process is time consuming, and students entering the “helping system” for the first time may experience feelings of uncertainty, tension, or even anxiety. These feelings often occur during initial interviews when students are trying to find a site and during the first days at the site. Overcoming these feelings can help students do well at the site and better prepare them to empathize with clients and their struggles.
The internship is entirely different from traditional educational experiences in that students will utilize skills previously learned in coursework and implement them in new, unpredictable, real-world situations. Under the guidance of an instructor or site supervisor, students are provided with opportunities to learn as they go. Often this learning process is further enhanced in the classroom through interactions with the instructor who addresses student questions, comments, and concerns. The instructor also discusses course material and may hold weekly discussions where students can offer each other support and suggestions based on their own experiences. In this sense, an internship course can expose students to many different career paths as they learn about each person’s site and the work it does. It may also help to know that instructors look forward to these courses because they are often launching pads for students as they get ready to leave the academic nest for their future professions.
Choosing and Preparing for a New Type of Learning Experience
There are many things to do to prepare for the internship experience, such as finding a site, making the first call, and requesting and preparing for interviews. Although this might be a stressful time, being prepared in advance through proper planning can relieve anxiety throughout the process. It also is helpful for you to find healthy ways to unwind and release such tension. The internship of your choice can be a rewarding, enriching, and successful experience if you prepare for it in advance.
Generally, the first concern you encounter is finding a site, although sometimes the college assigns you to one. Students majoring in human services are usually given information before the beginning of the semester in which the internship is offered. It is recommended that you become familiar with the materials and register for the course as early as possible, especially if you have to find a site on your own or if there is competition for those sites. The paperwork and the detials associated with preparing for a site sometimes seem overwhelming because they often involve legal agreements between the agency and the college. If you are feeling overwhelmed with this process, it can be helpful to step back, take a deep breath, and look the material over to get a sense of what is needed. Then you can begin to use your developing problem-solving skills to form a step-by-step action plan aimed at reaching the goal of setting up your internship. Reading through this first chapter will help you identify the steps needed to secure a site. Again, it is recommended to start the process as soon as possible as it may move slowly. Agencies that take interns usually do so at their own expense, are generally very busy, and may not get back to you in a timely fashion. It is not uncommon to have to look for different sites until things work out, and that takes even more time.
Sometimes colleges or instructors will give you a list of potential sites for an internship. However, this may not be available in every class, so it is helpful to ask your instructor for site recommendations. Keep in mind that just because a site is not on the list, that does not necessarily mean it is off-limits. Most colleges have a process by which a new location is approved. Typically, it only involves instructor consent and a little paperwork. While the list of sites is helpful to get you started, it is best to think about doing some networking, making the first call, setting a date for the interview, planning how to best handle the interview itself, and finding effective ways to finish the interview process. All of this might seem a little intimidating but being prepared can ease a lot of the tension.
Networking and Resources
A network is defined as a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. Often, we have relationships with people who can help us find a site, and this class is an excellent opportunity to utilize that connection. A resource can be described as an aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed, and often it involves our connections with others.
One of the first steps is to discover the resources you have through family and friends. By doing this, you will begin to network and find connections to others who will be beneficial to your success in finding a site. After searching through these "internal" resources, you should begin to search trhough your "external" resources, which may include churches, co-workers, classmates, instructors, or even personal aquaintances. Many times, we are unaware of how extensive our network is, which is why it is a good idea to explore your interpersonal connections at the beginning of the process.
Networking is a useful, ongoing tool that can expand your potential resources and can help you in the future. Of course, it is also important to turn to the usual resources, such as the Internet, social media, and Facebook sites, and to find the agencies in your community that interest you. After carefully deciding on a site that suits your human services interest, it may be a good idea to discuss it with family, friends, and acquaintances.
Finding a Good Fit
Finding a suitable site also involves figuring out what areas of the field interest you the most. If there is a preference for working with children, for example, you might want to consider applying to school districts, children’s services, daycare, or juvenile facilities. Similarly, if you are interested in geriatrics, look at senior citizen homes, assisted living facilities, or area agencies on aging. Some important details to consider when choosing a site that is a good fit involve asking yourself some questions, such as, “What are my strengths?,” “What are my weaknesses?,” and “What are my interests?” Then, reflect on your answers. Having this type of information is useful for determining where to start your search for an internship site.
In the example above, for instance, it would help to know if you could work with children or listen to people tell their life-stories. If you have some insight or understanding of people who deal with mental health issues, addictions, or who have been victimized, then those types of services might be worth exploring. Considering your strengths and interests is usually a primary step before exploring internship sites and can lead to more suitable matches.
Conversely, knowing what you don’t like or are not interested in is also valuable to consider. For example, if you do not have an interest in taking care of children, you may not want to investigate a site that focuses on childcare. In most cases, however, it is a good idea to look for a place that matches your strengths and interests because it is closer to a career path or even a job that appeals to you and your approach as a developing human services professional.
Be sure to examine the available sites in your area to see if one looks interesting. If there is not a site on the list that sparks your interest, it often helps to be creative. Remember, the same techniques used for finding a site are very useful when looking for a job in your desired field. New sites often require a bit more work in terms of setting up an internship, but starting from the ground up may also be a good experience and could be useful one day. If you do come up with an alternative plan or site not on an approved list, be sure to discuss it with the instructor as usually only hours worked at an approved site count toward the internship. After all, the college has various legal obligations to fulfill in providing internship experiences.
Next, find a few sites of interest that could work for the internship and do some research to learn more about the agencies before contacting them. This type of preparation increases the chance of finding a site that meets your, and the course’s, needs. It is also a good idea to find at least three sites and rank them in order of preference. Remember, other students from your college, and other colleges as well, will be looking for sites. Opportunities are limited. Starting early and being flexible will help you avoid being squeezed out at the end.
In order to prioritize tasks and obligations, it is helpful to keep in mind the course requirements, such as deadlines for finding an internship, getting one approved, making sure that it will provide the required number of hours, and so on. Since most students juggle multiple obligations, time management is a key to the successful internship experience, which is the aim of this book and your course. For example, it is a good idea to calculate how many hours are needed per week to complete your internship on time. Managing your time well prevents an overload that too many classes and outside activities often create, especially near the end of the semester when everything seems to be due at the same time.
Keep in mind that schedules may conflict. Sites are open certain hours, and you may have other obligations during those times. It is not uncommon for some students to reduce hours at work in order to participate in the internship. It is almost always helpful to try to develop a complete schedule rather than looking at just one part of it. For instance, you may have to look at your work, school, and family schedules to identify what times work best for you at the site. Since most internship sites do not pay and since students usually have bills to deal with, a site with a rigid schedule may not work for you if your regular job is not flexible. In that case, finding a site that is more accommodating in terms of its hours becomes more important and may even make that site more attractive than some others you might have been more interested in at first.
Something to Remember
Finding an internship site may be one of the most important tasks you will perform during your college education. It is right up there with selecting a major in terms of its ability to shape your career. The site you choose will determine the skills you need to master, the people you get to know, the type of supervisor you have, and may even influence your overall level of satisfaction with your major. Given that the internship site will play a huge role in your development, it is important to carefully identify, investigate, and find a setting that will provide a rewarding educational experience. Thus, it is not recommended to choose a site solely based on convenience or location, although you should not overextend yourself as well.
Since there are many types of human services and volunteer agencies, it may surprise you to discover just how many opportunities there are for an internship or even a job. Human services professionals can typically be found in schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, courthouses, detention centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and a myriad of other facilities. You can even check your current workplace to see if it employs human services workers. If you are already working in a human services setting, many colleges allow a student to have an internship experience at their place of employment if they have new and supervised duties that meet the criteria of the internship. This path not only includes an income but also may lead to a meaningful promotion. Be sure to talk with your instructor if this possibility applies to you.
Jane was in a meeting with Randy, a job developer, discussing places for a potential internship. The two were considering a faith-based site due to Jane’s interests and the fact that there were a few social services agencies available that readily fit the requirements of the practicum. Some of them were even on the college’s approved list. Randy suggested a Lutheran nursing home for Jane. All that was needed was a contact name. That night, Jane went to a church council meeting where a guest, who happened to be the development officer for a Lutheran social service agency, was present. Although the development officer attended the council meeting for other reasons, Jane used this as an opportunity to network and asked for her business card. After making a telephone call to that individual the next morning, Jane received the contact name of the administrator of the Lutheran nursing home. The speaker even mentioned Jane to the administrator. Before she knew it, she was given an internship spot at the nursing home. Jane saw an opportunity and acted on it by putting her “foot in the door.”
Two students, Amay and Maliki, were in a class together. Amay was already participating at a site. Amay knew that Maliki was looking for a site and was impressed by his performance and insight. Amaya referred Maliki to her site and gave him a good recommendation. Maliki was interviewed based on Amay’s referral and offered an internship. This story is an excellent example of why networking is valuable. Keeping your eyes and ears open can provide opportunities that you may not even expect.
Once you identify what type of internship will fit your individual needs, it is time to do some legwork. Securing a site requires a degree of assertiveness because opportunities are usually limited as others will be looking for one as well, so it is your responsibility to follow up after the initial contact. Sometimes being assertive takes practice, and this is an excellent opportunity to perfect that skill.
There is a variety of things you can do to help relieve the stress throughout the internship process. Some ideas may include planning ahead, asking questions, and doing advanced research on the sites you are considering for your internship.
Previous students suggest that newcomers can decrease anxiety and stress by planning and prioritizing time management. Another tip is to have any paperwork completed and ready to turn in on the first day of class. This simple practice allows you to start the internship as early as possible instead of waiting and then having to cram the required hours into a shorter period.
Many internship sites have specific requirements that must be met even before you start. They may include, for instance, finger printing or background checks. It is important to ask about these possible requirements early in the process, so you can complete them before starting. Keep in mind that if a site has special requirements, fulfilling them will take extra time which could affect your start date. Also, it helps to select a primary and secondary site in case your preferred site does not work out.
Anisha picked a site that she thought would be the perfect match. However, after an interview, she knew there was no way she would be happy working there. Consequently, she accepted a position with her secondary choice. Keeping in mind that positive networking is important, Anisha also made sure to express her appreciation to those at the first site for their willingness to interview her.
Most internship sites will request that you provide them with a resume. You can reduce stress by having your resume prepared in advance. If you do not know how to make a resume, there are resources available for building one. These can usually be found at the office of career planning and placement on your campus. You may also find an online template that you can use as an outline for your personal resume.
If a site does require a background check, getting that done ahead of time can save time as this process can involve several weeks, which would only delay you. Depending on the state in which you live, the background check can be obtained at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the local sheriff’s department, or at a local police station. Your agency will be able to give better direction as to where you can obtain the background check. Background checks are usually good for one year and may be used for more than just the internship site. The price of background checks will vary. Keep in mind that some sites may reimburse the cost of the background checks, but others may not.
Summary of Preparing for the Internship
As the list of site options that interest you begins to narrow, start doing some research on the sites to ensure that you will get what you are expecting from the agencies. Through research, future students can learn more about what activities take place at the site before contacting it. This information will help later during interviews as well. Also, be sure to have a primary and secondary selection in mind. Having a backup plan is always a good idea!
Felix had his heart set on a certain site. He was later contacted and told that the site was unable to have him there because it already had too many interns. Felix then had to find another internship site at the last minute. If he had been prepared with a good backup plan, he would not have been caught off guard when the first-choice site wasn’t able to accommodate him.
Again, in order to make your search for the best internship site less stressful, it’s important to be prepared. First, you should have an idea of what population most interests you, such as children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and so on. Once you have a general idea, you can then research sites that serve that population. After you have found two sites that interest you most, you can set up interviews to secure your ideal internship site. If that ideal site does not materialize, you can follow up with your second and even third choices.
Preparing for the Interview
A prospective site that has expressed interest in you may ask you to fill out an application or to do a face-to-face interview as part of the acceptance process. Even so, it is important to understand that your “first contact,” even if it is “only” with a phone call from a secretary, is a type of interview. Haven’t you developed first impressions of a doctor or hospital based on the first contact you had with a secretary or nurse? What about the first time you called the college or an instructor?
Sometimes, agencies ask the initial contact person about you, meaning that this encounter can play a role in whether you are selected or not. The chief editor of this book was offered a job once over many other candidates because he took care to treat the secretary respectfully while waiting for the interview. It turned out that she was involved in the hiring process and the 15 minutes he spent with her helped the team assess how he would likely interact with “regular people,” not just doctors and other mental health professionals. Whereas most of the candidates ignored her, his fair treatment of this person helped more than he realized!
You can also across as being better prepared by having a schedule of your availability ready as the site will want to know about hours and times. However, it also makes sense to be flexible as sometimes it is necessary to adjust schedules. Since the agency must pay attention to its own scheduling, the need to be flexible usually falls on you.
Making the Call
Making the first call is usually hard for most interns. Therefore, it may be helpful to make a list before placing the call. Begin, for instance, by writing down the number of hours required, the time frame in which the hours need to be completed, and types of experiences, such as the degree of client contact and supervision, that the college expects or requires from your internship. You might also add to the list some additional information you found about the site since that information may help you look more knowledgeable and motivated. Writing even a simple list can reduce any anxiety before the call because it gives you a plan and direction to follow.
Contact your first choice by calling (or emailing) the main number of the agency. From there, you may be directed to the department head that can provide the necessary information. If your first choice is unable to accept students, you can then call the second choice on the list, and so on. Eventually, you will have to set up a day and time to interview with the site supervisor. During the call, be sure to find out what the agency would like you to bring with you, such as your driver’s license or resume.
Finding an internship is like looking for a job in many ways, which is one reason many, if not most, internship courses require students to find one and get it approved by the college or the instructor. In other words, looking for an internship site is like trying to find a position and is, therefore, a type of on the job training. Like a prospective offer of employment, students can find it hard to wait for the site to return your call after an interview or initial phone call. Remember, these agencies are usually very busy, so while this step can become frustrating, it is “normal.” It can help to let the contact person know right away about the required deadlines so that a prompt response is more likely. If a response is not received within a reasonable amount of time, it is appropriate to contact the agency again. At that point, however, you should also consider exploring your second choice.
Asking for an Interview
Now that the initial phone call has been made, it is necessary to be patient. However, it is a good idea to ask the agency if there is a good time to contact a potential supervisor by phone or email. After a reasonable period has passed (one to two weeks), do not be afraid to leave a clear, pleasant, and well-structured voicemail that includes stating the purpose of the call and a return number or email address. Doing so increases the likelihood that you will receive a call back from the site.
When the supervisor or agency responds, the next task is to ask for an actual interview. Again, try to speak in a clear and confident tone as it lets the other person know that you are motivated as well as interested in the agency. Have dates in mind that would work for potential interviews, as fumbling over dates gives off the appearance of being unprepared. It is important to be aware of how you handle yourself during the interview. Your behavior and nonverbal reactions reflect more than just yourself. You are also representing the school, the program, and the instructor during this call. Appropriate behavior and handling yourself well may affect the success that future students have. Finally, remember to be courteous and thank the person for their time, regardless of the outcome of the conversation. You might find yourself waiting for what seems like a long time to get a response from the agency. If this happens, and it often does, there are a couple of options that might help you get in contact with the appropriate person. Give the supervisor at least five business days to return your initial call before calling a second time. If things take too long, it might be a good idea to go to the site and ask to speak with a supervisor in person or to set up an appointment through the receptionist. This route should only be used as a “last ditch” strategy as you may appear intrusive. If you take this path, be sure to dress and speak professionally.
Congratulations! Spending days or weeks looking for the right internship experience has finally paid off and an interview has been offered. The interview is often the most difficult part of obtaining a site. The interviewee only has a certain amount of time to sell their skills to the employer. Consequently, the interview can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, keeping a few key points in mind can help make for a successful interview.
One way to approach an interview is to see it as a time for you to promote your best qualities. Doing a few things in advance may help in this regard. For example, you may want to be sure to arrive a little early as being late may cause people to form a negative impression of your work habits before you even begin. It might even be a good idea to visit the site without entering it in advance, so you know where it is and how to get there if you are uncertain about those things. Similarly, be sure to bring any materials you were requested to present as well as the internship paperwork and any questions you have prepared ahead of time. In other words, try to treat this interview as you would any job interview. You should dress comfortably, but also appropriately. In general, try to get a sense of the “dress code” the agency seems to follow and make sure you look like a professional. It is OK to be a little more formal in an interview because employers usually expect that. Although a suit is not mandatory, it is a way to show you are serious about landing that site. For men, a polo or dress shirt with a pair of khaki pants would also be appropriate for more informal sites. In general, you should not have any exposed tattoos or, if you are a woman, you should not have too much skin showing, as some employers will frown on such things. Your outward appearance is a visual representation of who you are and what you are all about, so make sure to represent yourself well. After all, first impressions are often lasting.
Again, it is advisable to check the location of the internship site and calculate some extra time in the event you run into unexpected complications. If you are able, drive to the site before the interview. This is helpful in becoming familiar with the new surroundings, finding adequate parking, and building in a cushion of time for other unanticipated problems that might occur.
Cleo went to take papers to a site and typed the address into a GPS. The only problem was she arrived at the wrong location! Not only was it the wrong spot, but it was a family residence. Quickly, Cleo realized the error, left that location, and called the site to get the correct address. Thankfully, she had allotted extra travel time and made it to the site for the scheduled appointment time. Unanticipated traffic events and road closings could present the same dilemma.
Finn anticipated some very bad weather on the day of his interview. He found a place near the site to stay the night before the interview. Finn took the time to find the appropriate building, checked out the parking situation, and was able to arrive thirty minutes early for the interview. With this extra time built into his schedule, he found a restroom where he was able to make last-minute adjustments to his appearance. During the search for a restroom, Finn spoke to a gentleman in the hall who turned out to be the person conducting the interview. He appeared to the interviewer as punctual, prepared, and presentable for his interview.
General Preparations and Suggestions
- Review your qualifications.
- Be prepared to answer broad or open-ended questions: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?,” “Why do you feel like you are qualified for the position?,” and “What can you tell me about yourself?”
- Rehearsing an interview is one form of practice that can help people sound more polished and reduce being nervous during the actual interview. There is nothing wrong with asking a friend or colleague to role play an interview with you as rehearsal usually helps iron out the wrinkles in most presentations. If your colleague is also in your class, you can help each other in this way.
- First impressions mean a lot in an interview. Dress to make a good first impression. If you are unsure of what to wear, go with a professional look. This will convey to the interviewer how serious you are about obtaining a placement. Avoid wearing excessive jewelry, perfume, or flamboyant clothes. There are many clothing stores that are budget friendly if you don’t own any proper dress clothes for the interview and internship. Dress pants with a neat, clean shirt, loose fitting skirts or dresses, and clothes that reveal the least amount of skin as possible are ideal. In addition, being well groomed and having good hygiene is important.
- Have a pen and notebook ready to take down information, such as names and titles of the people you meet, the computer programs used at the site, or any other information that might be useful later if you are offered the position.
- Punctuality is important! Employers expect employees to arrive on time for work, and if you arrive late for an interview, employers may question your ability to be punctual or to meet deadlines. Being on time or even being early to an interview shows that you’re serious about the position, respect the employer’s time, and appreciate their generosity for giving you the opportunity. These qualities help make good impressions on others.
You can make an impression on others by knowing the names and position requirements of those with whom you met during an interview. It shows that you are paying attention, and it often opens the door to others’ willingness to help you later. As Janet started her internship, she wrote down the names and job titles of everyone she was introduced to at the courthouse where her internship took place. A week later, Janet was dropping paperwork off at the judges’ chambers and had reviewed her notes from the previous night. She remembered the secretary’s name, as well as some of her duties, which allowed Janet to provide some extra information to the secretary. Since Janet had done her homework and researched the secretary’s job requirements, she showed that she was “on the ball” even as a beginning intern. The secretary was very impressed with Janet’s memory and her appreciation for the staff. In addition, the secretary mentioned it to Janet’s supervisor, so as you can see, doing your research and taking notes on the site and the supervisor is extremely beneficial. Not only does it reflect well on you, but it also gives you more insight into what services your site provides.
Time for the Interview
Finally, the time has come for the interview. Researching the agency is done, the carefully chosen outfit is on, you have arrived early, and you are well prepared, if not confident. Now you are ready to “sell” yourself.
When meeting the interviewer, greet them and offer your hand, if that is culturally appropriate, when introducing yourself. Friendly but professional behavior comes across as confidence and helps to create a good first impression. In addition, it is expected that you will use good manners with everyone you meet at the site. When you are invited to sit, make sure you sit up straight with shoulders back, and remain alert and attentive.
It may be helpful to practice a technique to facilitate attention and awareness at the interview. Many internships require a prerequisite course in interviewing skills before taking the class. If you did take such a course, then use one of the techniques to help professionalize your presentation. A commonly taught method that was developed by Gerard Egan is called SOLER (Murphy and Dillon, 2011), which stands for Sitting squarely, maintaining an Open posture, Leaning forward, making Eye contact, and remaining Relaxed.
Be sure to answer all questions honestly. It is better to respond with “I don’t know” if you don’t know an answer than it is to “fake it.” Also, if you think you can find out the answer on your own, you might say, “I don’t know right now, but I will be sure to find out.” Avoid using slang and try to keep the interview positive by avoiding negative remarks about previous jobs or employers as you can never tell who knows whom! Furthermore, be cautious when talking about previous tasks or responsibilities that you disliked. Instead, try to remember the good things about the position.
Finally, remember the “three Ps” of interviewing: be prepared, be professional, and be polite. It is hard to go wrong when you stay within these guidelines. After all, no one expects an intern to be a Sigmund Freud right off the bat!
After the Interview
Make sure to thank the interviewer and say that you were pleased to have had the opportunity to meet with them. In addition, you can send a card thanking the interviewer for their time. This simple but increasingly uncommon courtesy lets the interviewer know how interested you are and reminds them of you. Follow-up calls are a good way of showing appreciation as well.
Another important skill to develop is the ability to accept rejection. For a variety of reasons, not all human services agencies are willing or able to take on students. Sometimes it is for lack of money, a shortage of staff time, an excessive workload, or unforeseen circumstances such as cutbacks at the agency. Seldom is it personal, unless you have done something inappropriate. Don’t be afraid to be assertive, as discussed earlier, and ask if there are any other sites they know of that you could contact. Remember, you are always networking, and it is possible to do that here as well. Making a positive impression at those sites can help you in the future when looking for a job.
If you seem to hit a wall, remember that there are many other sites that you can investigate. You can also talk to your instructor about the possibility of creating a new one if you have an interest or setting in mind. In the meantime, brush up on resume writing and interviewing skills. With this added effort, something will work out. In over 30 years of placing students in internships, the primary editor of this handbook has never had a student fail to find or create an internship opportunity.
The Internship Itself
Now the interview process has finally come to an end and you found an acceptable site. What is next? Of course, it is important to find out answers to such basic questions, such as what to wear and where to report. You will probably be scheduled to have an appointment with a supervisor and fill out the proper paperwork is filled out. Paperwork is an important part of human services because it fulfills legal requirements, and it is necessary for the agency to be paid for its services. Remember, most colleges will not count hours at a site unless it is an approved placement and liability forms have been completed. It may even be necessary to find a different site if the internship you are interested in does not comply with the college legal requirements.
It is very important to understand what your responsibilities and duties will be as an intern. Each site should have a detailed list of duties that can also be discussed during the interview. Some colleges even require an “educational agreement” that specifies them. All in all, it is better to be clear on these duties ahead of time.
Soon you will reach the point where anxiety and confusion are replaced with excitement and anticipation. Graduation may be around the corner and now you can apply the skills you learned in class to real world problems and issues. In addition, supervisors, coworkers, and others in the field all possess an immense body of information that cannot be obtained from a textbook or lecture. The internship provides a unique environment to meet new and interesting people, gain valuable experience, and perhaps even help others in need. Remember, the internship is like a practice game. You are going to execute the “plays” of your trade, but also have the freedom to explore opportunities while being guided instead of left completely on your own.
Now that you are placed, it is likely that you will deal with a lot of paperwork and other technicalities even before working with the clientele. Often, for example, you will need to sign a confidentiality agreement. At some early point in this process, interns are given an orientation and some basic training. It is a good idea to read any handbooks and policy material the agency has available to help you prepare for the internship. Reading organizational charts, program procedures, and rules of conduct may seem tedious, but it is a good way to anticipate certain problems and avoid mistakes. Your jobs in the future will make such things mandatory, so getting used to it now is good training.
As you begin to get comfortable at the site, the use of unfamiliar computer programs may pose a challenge. If the different computer programs used at the site are difficult for you, ask a knowledgeable friend or family member about them or perform some online research to find information that will help you better understand them. Do not be afraid to ask the supervisor for some program training, too. For future reference, be sure to take notes on how the program works. Keeping a pen and paper on hand shows genuine interest, attentiveness, and eagerness to learn during the internship. It is important to be open-minded and willing to learn from people who have experience in this field. Remember, there is always something to be learned, so be sure to pay attention.
Challenges Along the Way
Starting an internship can present any number of challenges. For example, you may find yourself working at a site that is less than ideal simply to fulfill the requirements of the course and graduate. In this case, the challenge is to make that site a valuable learning experience. If nothing else, finding out what type of work you do not like is an important lesson that can save you time later.
Setbacks are a part of life, so they may occur at your placement as well. If an unexpected challenge arises, it is a good idea to talk with your instructor or supervisor. They are there to help and may be able to make suggestions about how to handle or improve a situation.
If your background involves circumstances that might be a problem for an agency, you may experience anxiety when looking for an internship. Such “disqualifiers,” as they are sometimes called, are something that will impede your internship and no longer make you a candidate for the site. Some of the most common ones include past criminal activity, a violent history, and drug use. Do not be discouraged if you have disqualifiers in your background. They are a challenge, but they can be overcome with more thought, preparation, and effort.
It is almost always a good idea to let your instructor know about these things before applying to sites if you think they will present a problem. Creating a situation where the instructor finds out about it after the fact makes things more difficult for everyone. The same is true for the agency, of course. Although you may want to time the information well, asking for clarification during the initial interview is much better than waiting until you start at the site. After all, people do not like to be surprised after the fact. Also, holding information back can make you appear dishonest.
Some areas of human services work are more receptive to these issues than others. For example, those who have previously suffered from substance abuse related issues make up a significant percentage of those who work in the field of chemical dependency. People who have had mental health issues may be more knowledgeable about them than “newbies.” Individuals with physical limitations may be better positioned to appreciate those who struggle with health care issues. Although there are no guarantees, if you have a history in any of these areas, the individuals who work in them may be more flexible about these issues than those who are unfamiliar with them.
Again, it is best to be prepared to discuss disqualifiers during the interview. That issue should probably not be the first thing that you bring up, but having the conversation before finalizing an internship position will improve your chances of acceptance. It is also a good idea to bring documentation supporting the outcome of the charges – such as dismissals, letters of recommendation by probation officers, instructors or even therapists. Being prepared, honest, and professional will enhance your experience. If a specific site is unable to place you because of one of these issues, it may know of an agency that does not have a problem with it. Networking can turn a negative situation into a positive outcome!
While finding an internship site can be stressful, it can also be a very rewarding experience. Reading materials provided by the instructor or talking with them in advance will help you prepare before you start the internship. Additionally, it is helpful to research sites you are interested in and have all the paperwork completed and questions ready in advance. There is always a possibility that complications will arise, but careful planning will help reduce stress in those situations. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that you are representing yourself, your instructor, and your college during your internship.
Tools for Chapter 2
Activity 1: What would you do?
Those who helped write the drafts of this book experienced many types of internships and situations. Sharing them with readers and having readers imagine these scenarios can help both illustrate points and offer helpful suggestions. Activity A involves imagining that you recently accepted an offer at the site you really wanted. While working on finalizing the paperwork and obtaining the required background check, the site allows you to start next week since your background check can be done through them. However, the person who must finalize the agreement beween the university and the agency is on vacation for two weeks.
There are four courses of action you can take:
- Start next week to keep on track. The paperwork and background check may take a long time to finalize.
- Wait to start at your site until the paperwork is complete. If the agency is willing to allow you to begin before their requriements are fulfilled, then that's their choice.
- Wait until the paperwork and background check are complete. If it takes a long time, at least you will learn the value of starting the process earlier.
- Find a new site
Now, what do you do? Why do you want to take that route? Discuss your thoughts on all the options with your classmates.
Activity 2: Roleplaying
Activity 2 aims at giving you the opportunity to demonstrate and improve your interviewing skills through roleplaying. Creating a mock interview is a useful exercise because it will help you understand what is expected during an initial phone call and in-person interviews. This type of practice can also ease your anxiety about being in the spotlight while responding to a series of professional questions. It may even be helpful to videotape yourself acting out the interview to assess your body language and how you answer questions. The interview process does not have to be an anxiety-provoking situation; roleplaying and mock interviews are great tools for helping you get the site you want while reducing your nervousness.
Steps to follow:
1. Know the interviewing process
- Dress appropriately
- Be prepared for basic, open-ended questions
- Do your homework on the site(s)
- Practice professional listening
- Do not be afraid to ask your own questions
2. Create a safe and comfortable environment in which to practice
- Setting up your mock interview in an area that does not make you uneasy will alow you to focus on the roleplaying tasks at hand.
- Role-play with people you know. You will need a friend, colleague, or family member who will give you feedback. The advantage of roleplaying with a colleague, especially one who is taking the class too, is that you are on equal ground and can even take turns.
3. Be open to feedback
- Feedback is supposed to help you reflect and grow. Critiques from a trusted person can be just as scary as the real interview process, but remaining open-minded will only benefit you when you are in front of your site supervisor.