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This would have been a helpful guide for me to have back when I started. I remember looking at the application and saying, ‘um, I can’t do this.’  When I finally sat down to write, which it took me over a year to do (a talking point for me in its own right), I finally had a semblance of an idea of what to write.  As I have begun working, hopefully, on the process of board certification as a chaplain, I have revisited the application essays and I am amazed both at what I wrote and what I missed at the time in my autobiography.  And missing elements is part of the chaplaincy process.  We can’t know it all, as the author also indicates in sharing that the goal is not to Ace the process.  Rather, we should look at the  essay as part of the CPE process.  Having the opportunity to do life review for ourselves is valuable, especially when we consider most people only do life-review when close to death.

With lots of seminary students interviewing for summer CPE placements, I thought I would offer some advice. Granted, every supervisor/y student is different in their approach to interviewing, so this is just my personal take on things. Heed and proceed with caution.

First, the title of the post is a blatant misnomer. There’s no way to ace this. Sorry. That’s the first thing to let go of. Most CPE interviews are unlike any other interview you’ll ever have. I have a colleague who refers to CPE as “Bizzaro World.”  When interviewing for most internships and jobs, one tries to be polished and project your best persona. In CPE land, I want to cut through that facade and see your truest self.

The Application

I know it seems super long with lots of essays. The question “Give a reasonably full account of your life” is particularly painful. But it is helpful for me to read to get a picture of you.

  • Be reflective. This is good practice for the writing you’ll be doing in the program.
  • Be thorough. I don’t want to read a novel (keep it under 5 pages) but if you’re leaving out a major life event, I’m going to wonder about that.
  • Don’t just report the facts. I can tell what year you started seminary by looking at your resume, instead tell me what it was like to make that transition with all your family and friends thinking you’re the craziest person on earth. Throw some feelings in there.
  • Write neatly. If you can submit the application online, do it that way. If not, make sure your first page with your contact info is written legibly. I have a hard time telling handwritten 5′s and 3′s apart. Don’t get me started on 7′s and 1′s.
  • Appear professional. Have a normal email with some semblance of your name. This is an obvious tip that most seminary students people already know. Please do not make me email you at greatestpastorever@yahoo.com or Jesusismyhomeboy@gmail.com.

The Interview

If you’re able to go to your preferred site to interview, you should. If you’re at school and plan to move elsewhere for the summer, you can arrange for a proxy interview at a local CPE center.

  • Acknowledge what’s going on. Are you sweating profusely and really nervous? Tell me. Are you confused as to why I’m asking you a particular question? Tell me that too. The interview is good practice for what CPE is like. When you’re in a group, you are going to be encouraged to point these types of things out. If you can be self aware during the interview – bonus points!
  • Give me an actual weakness. People-pleaser and working too much are won’t work. I’ve used them and they’re probably great go-to’s in the corporate world. In CPE, it is important to have an idea of your weaknesses, because that may be what you use to craft your learning goals. Admit that you’re afraid of hospitals, confess that you might not be the best listener. I’ll be impressed by your honesty and then we have something to work with in your first unit.
  • Expect to be caught off-guard. At the end of the interview, I usually ask, did you expect to be talking about your relationship with your father/your biggest fears/ your unresolved grief, etc. today? The answer is always No.
  • You’re interviewing me too. While I’ll probably ask the majority of the questions, this time is also to see if you’d want to work with me. There are lots of ACPE Centers with different supervisors. If you’re not sure about working with me, for whatever reason, there are other folks you might learn from/get along with better. You will not hurt my feelings.

Good Luck! 

Do you have other helpful tips? Embarrassing stories? Unsolicited advice?