Your résumé and cover letter got you through the first round of the internship application process—congrats! You’ve landed an interview…but now you actually have to prepare for the interview. And just like that, things get very real. So how do you prepare for an internship interview? You might know the basics: where a nice outfit, be honest about yourself, and pay attention. But here are five internship interview tips that will help you get through it that just might surprise you…
1. Prepare for some 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. 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?”).
3. Test equipment at least an hour beforehand
It's very common to have an interview via Zoom these days, especially if you're applying to a program that's not near your hometown/college campus. And Zoom 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 is working properly at least a couple of days beforehand. You should also test your connection and sound quality at least an hour before your scheduled interview time. Zoom has an feature that allows you to test the quality of the call in advance, which should alert you of any technological mishaps. Having too many 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 ahead of time.
4. Dress the part for the position and 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.
5. Research business customs for abroad internships
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.
Find more advice for crushing your college internships in our Internships and Careers section.