How to Rock Your Dietetic Internship Interview
Your personal statement is done, your resume is perfect, and you’ve finally submitted your DICAS application. You’ve been freaking out about DICAS for so long that you don’t know what to do with yourself–what can you freak out about now?!? Never fear, if you’ve applied to programs that conduct interviews (and most of them do) then the interview invitation emails will be rolling in shortly. Cue rumbling stomach and sweaty palms, all while trying to convince a director that you’re perfect for their program.
Not all programs conduct interviews, but the benefit of applying to programs that do is if you receive an interview, you know if you’re being considered. I have friends that only applied to programs that did not interview they were nervous wrecks all the way up until match day. Not that you won’t be nervous as hell, but at least if you have an interview you’ll know if you are in the running for a spot. After attending my internship’s open house I learned the director only interviews the top 20 of the 150+ applicants they receive annually…for only six spots. I almost didn’t apply because the odds scared me, but I realized if I got the interview then I was really only being considered against 19 other applicants. All I could do was put my best self forward in my application, prepare for a strong interview, and then cross my fingers.
Each program has a different focus and no two internship interviews will be the same. I had three interviews during my application process and each asked very different questions. One focused more on situational “What would you do if…” questions, one more on general MNT questions (“What kind of diet would you recommend for…”), and the third was a mix of the two. My first interview was SUPER casual, the director and I were both Chatty Kathy’s and we were telling stories and laughing throughout. The second director was friendly, but stuck to the questions at hand, and the third was completely different: a panel of three RDN’s, very formal, and there were really long pauses after I finished my answers. This was a bit nerve wracking because there was no feedback and it was all I could do to just bite my tongue and not ramble on and on and on. And on.
If every program is different, how can you prepare? Below are five ways you can rock your interviews and be confident on match day.
1. Do your research
Don’t be that person, the one who didn’t even realize there was a required internship until the beginning of their senior year. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you stumbled upon it while searching everything the internet has to offer on dietetic internship interviews. Good, you’re on the right track. Your research should be focused on what to expect from each program’s interview, and the only way to do that is to reach out to current or former interns, people who have interviewed with that program before, or anyone that knows an iota about the internship in general. The point is to collect as much information as you can about what to expect: the questions, the vibe, the director, etc. Don’t be afraid to cold call (well, cold email) current or past interns–I did and I was given some great tips, though keep in mind that interns are generally not allowed to tell you what questions were asked (some might, but most programs insist you keep tight so everyone has a fair chance). A former intern gave me great advice about my internship’s general interview style and it was a tremendous help when I was faced with a panel of interviewers. If I hadn’t asked then my anxiety would have skyrocketed when I answered the phone and was surprised to be talking to three interviewers instead of just the director. But I knew the MO going in, which helped to alleviate nerves. A little.
2. Compile a list of questions and practice, practice, practice
A simple search will bring up loads of potential interview questions online, and you can also search the many YouTube videos and blog posts for other interns’ tips. Compile a list of interview questions and your answers to them, print them out, and practice them out loud as much as possible. Practice while driving, have your family or friends throw you random questions, and get a group of other dietetics students together to practice. The more you know the general idea of what you will say, the easier it will be to tailor those answers during the actual interview. The general categories of questions are usually as follow:
- Personal Questions: “Tell me about yourself…,” “Why do you want to be a RD?,” “Why do you want to be an intern at XXX?,” “What are your future goals as a RD?” Not all programs will ask you these questions, but prepared for them anyway.
- Situational questions: “What would you do if…,” “How would you handle a situation in which…,” “If x, y, and z happened, how would you respond?” These questions are asked to see how you would handle stressful situations…because there will be many in an internship.
- MNT Questions: Most likely these will be pretty general, such as diabetes recommendations or dysphagia diets. However, I have heard of some programs asking you to calculate TPN or enteral formulas. Don’t let this scare, if you do your research about the types of questions asked, then you should be prepared for any curveballs.
- Restate the question and give answer
- Give an example of a situation
- Analyze the solution relating to the question asked
- Wrap up by addressing the question again
3. Know your interview day game plan
Know your plan for interview day, don’t leave it up to chance.
Schedule to have an empty house or reserve a room at your university’s library to ensure you’ll have a quiet space, but make sure there is good phone reception. A lot of people suggest getting ready and dressed as if you were doing an in-person interview so you feel more professional, but this is up to you (I did mine in my kitchen in my pajamas). Print out answers to the most common questions and tape them to the walls or spread them in front of you for easy viewing. I was too nervous to sit, so I taped my answers to my kitchen cabinets while I paced around, had my computer open to Google *just in case,* and had a glass of water ready in case my voice decided to get weird and act like a boy in puberty.
Video Call Interview
First and foremost, make sure you have a quiet space because loud noises or random pets will be distracting and unprofessional. Also, make sure to face your computer toward a blank wall, or a clean space–no one wants to look at your Bob Marley poster and the fact your laundry is all over the floor. Look presentable and wear a nice shirt as if this was an in-person interview. A friend of mine set her computer up against a wall and taped her answers to questions around the computer for easy reference in case she got stumped. Practice setting up your Skype/Hangouts calls beforehand with a friend so you don’t have technical difficulties when its interview time. Practicing by recording yourself on webcam can also clue you in on any distracting habits and will get you comfortable seeing yourself on camera.
Know where you’re going, don’t allow any possibility of being late. Dress professionally and make sure to have good eye contact with your interviewers. You won’t have the luxury of having your answers available to you, but if you’ve done your research and practiced your general answers then you should feel comfortable coming up with a solid response on the spot.
You’ve done your research, practiced your questions, and prepared as much as possible for the interview. The final thing to remember on game day is the most cliche, but possibly the most important part: be yourself. You will be nervous, but letting interview anxiety get the best of you will do you no favors. You are qualified and directors are interested in you; if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be doing this interview. The hard work in your classes, work experience, and volunteering is behind you and this is your chance to show your personality and professionalism. State your answers with confidence, don’t ramble, and end decisively (this video by Jenny Westerkamp, RD is a great reference). If you don’t know an answer, say so. It’s better to say, “I’m not sure of the answer to that question, but to find out I would….” than to say, “I’m not sure, hehe.” Show a bit of your personality and why you would be a great addition to their next intern class.
5. Follow up
Don’t forget the thank you card! A handwritten thank you card can do wonders; it shows you are professional and is a nice reminder for the director of how you rocked your interview. Saying something specific in the card that was discussed in the interview is always great. For instance, in one of my interviews the director told me that she believed RDs are the key to elevating the profession and that they are responsible for MDs and RNs respecting their work. I mentioned that I appreciated her thoughts and will keep them in mind during my internship rotations, as interns are the future of the profession. Make it personal, but keep it professional.