Your résumé and cover letter got you through the first round of the internship application process. But now they’d like to interview you. And just like that, things get very real.
So how do you prepare for an internship interview? You might know the basics, but these five internship interview tips just might surprise you…
P.S. This advice applies to regular job interviews too!
1. Prepare for some offbeat, unconventional questions
You might already be familiar with some common interview questions, like “Why did you apply for this position?” or “What makes you qualified for this program?” However, with internships becoming more the norm these days and applicant numbers soaring, recruiters are now asking students more interesting questions. These weird internship interview questions help them get a feel for your personality, your ability to think on your feet, your creativity, and more.
I have been thrown off by questions such as “Name a time in your life when you exhibited a strong emotion over something.” It’s important to remember that these questions are deeper than they seem—and that your answers should always come back to why you’re a good fit for the internship. So, with a question like “What has been the hardest thing in your life up until now?” (which I’ve personally heard in an interview), the interviewer actually wants to know how you overcame that struggle. This will give them a sense of how you’ll deal with challenges as a student intern.
While I must admit that there have been times where I stare blankly and am not quite sure how to answer the question, I have found that it may also help to ask the interviewer to narrow down the question a bit more so that you may better think of an anecdote to answer it.
2. Have a short list of questions to ask
They say interviews are as much about you interviewing the company as they are about the company interviewing you. So it is important to have a short list of questions about the program, the company itself, etc. to show you are truly interested in the internship. Some good ones are “What did past internship participants do in the program?” “What are the biggest challenges in this role?” or “What is the best thing about working at your company?” Questions like these not only help you get a feel for whether or not the company is a good fit for you, but they show you’re genuinely interested in the position and that you did your homework on the company. Here are a few more examples of impressive questions you might ask.
However, there are some interview questions you should not ask. In particular, you don’t want to ask about things you could easily figure out on your own (like “What your company’s address?”), questions that are all about what you can get from the company (like “Do you think this internship will lead to a job” or “Is there an employee discount?”), or basically anything that might make you look bad (like “Will there be a drug test?”). Here’s a good master list of questions not to ask in an interview.
3. If interviewing via Skype, test the equipment at least an hour beforehand
It is very common to interview via Skype (or similar services) these days, especially if you are applying to a program that is not near your hometown/college campus. And Skype is great because it’s free, easy to use, and convenient. However, it comes the potential for technological errors, so you should make sure your setup (i.e., laptop, smart phone, iPad, etc.) is working properly at least a couple of days beforehand. You should also test the connection and sound at least an hour before your scheduled interview time. Skype has an “Echo/Test Sound Service” that allows you to test the quality of the call in advance, which should alert you of any technological mishaps. Having too many Skype problems during the internship interview can be distracting or perhaps even make it seem as if you were unprepared. So play it safe by doing these simple tests.
4. Dress the part of the position and the company
Most college career counselors will remind applicants to wear business casual clothes for their internship interviews, but I believe “dressing the part” is about more than wearing a nice sweater and dress pants. It’s important to research the mission statement of the company and its work culture beforehand; then dress up accordingly. For example, you might wear a suit for a conservative, traditional office setting or something trendy for a fashion magazine or marketing position. Also brush up on industry terms so you can “speak their language.” This is not to say you should pretend to be someone you’re not, but it is better to show that you can fit in, know what you’re talking about, and will represent the company well.
Related: Infographic: Interviewing Etiquette
5. If the internship will take place in another country, research the business customs
Although they’re not as prevalent as domestic internships, internships abroad are becoming increasingly popular among US college students—and increasingly valuable as the world becomes more globalized. Completing interviews in another language/with another culture can be quite stressful, but researching ahead of time can eliminate some of this anxiety. For example, before interviewing in Japanese, I brushed up on some of the formal business Japanese grammar that is necessary when addressing someone of a higher status than you. I also learned how to accept someone’s business cards in a certain way, and found out that it is traditionally not polite to cross your legs in front of someone “more important” than you. Having knowledge of even the seemingly small business culture customs makes you stand out as an applicant and shows that you are willing to integrate into their society.
Interviews may not be every student’s strength, but unfortunately they are the ultimate deciding factor in getting a college internship and perhaps eventually a full-time position after you graduate. While we are still young and exploring our professional strengths and weaknesses, it is important for us to strengthen our interview skills and project the very best versions of ourselves to future employers.
How did you prepare for your internship interview? Or if you haven’t interviewed yet, do you have any questions about what to expect? Leave a comment and let us know.