Find a Job You Really Want In
So you want to be an intern? Or maybe you just want to hire one.
Either way, you’re going to need to know a few things about what an intern does, what people look for in a good intern, and what sort of questions people use to figure out who might fit the bill.
Contrary to popular belief, interns aren’t (typically) just whoever an employer can pull off the street.
Fortunately, regardless of whether you’re applying for an internship or looking to hire an intern, your friends here at Zippia have you covered.
The following is our complete guide to interview questions for interns, both which ones to ask and how to answer them.
What Makes a Good Intern?
There’s a pretty good reason in general why people seem to keep hiring interns, and it’s not just because they’re cheap/free.
An internship can, at its best, be an extended trial period for employment.
After all, it takes a lot of time to train even a good intern, and that’s time that an employer could be using in order to train a new employee. It makes sense that you’d consider this person you’re spending so many resources training for an eventual job with your company.
Of course, there’s a catch.
When hiring a real employee, odds are that they’ve had at least some working experience, or are otherwise qualified for the position you have in mind in some way through education.
While an intern might have a college degree, odds are that, if anything, they’re only partway through their degree. Heck, maybe they haven’t even started yet.
So what does a good intern look like? What should an employer look for, and what should a potential intern try to emulate?
Essentially, a good intern is someone with good soft skills — someone who’s quick-thinking, knows how to prioritize, is able to supplement those around him, and who can learn on the job as much as possible.
A good intern is able to quickly fit into an existing structure at the company, which is obviously useful to any new hire, but with an intern, it’s almost the only skill that matters.
You really have to work in order to figure out what kind of a person is to see if an intern is going to be smart hire — and to do that, you’re going to need to ask the right questions.
Questions to Ask at an Internship Interview
Whenever you’re asking a question in a job interview, the biggest thing you always want to keep in mind is what kind of information you’re trying to get about your interviewee.
With interns, the biggest thing you want to figure out about a person is their soft skills.
What have they demonstrated an ability to do in the past? What evidence do you have that they’re able to translate these skills?
If you’re going to interview several applicants, you might also want to take some time to standardize what you’re doing a little bit. Put together a central rubric that you’ll be using to compare your interns in the long run, grading them differently depending on how well you think they answered the question.
Here are some good questions to ask when you’re trying to hire a new intern:
What are some accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of? This question is good both to learn a little more about what your interviewee has done, as well as give you a little insight into what kind of their own experiences they see as being most important to the job at hand.
What do you know about the company? This is good to see how much research they’ve done about your company, or whether they’ve even done any at all. If they have, you can ask questions branching out from here to see what their opinions are about the company and see if they’ll fit in.
Do you have any experience working with a team? This question is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to remember here that they might not have the most robust experience here one way or the other.
So whatever they’ve got, try to think about how their experience might translate to your own team, because that’s one thing they probably won’t know themselves.
What are your goals? This is a big one. You want to know why they’re trying to get experience with you in the first place.
For one thing, this will tell you how involved they already are in the industry they’re hoping to enter, but it will also give you some idea of whether or not they’ll stick with your company (and thus whether investing some resources in their development is worth it to you).
How to Answer Intern Interview Questions
As tough as it can sometimes be to figure out how to ask these questions, answering them is truly the more stressful side of the experience.
So to help you out, we’ve put together some advice on how to answer the same questions that we mention in the above section.
It’s important to remember here that, obviously, an interviewer has more questions than these that they can ask you, and they might have a few curveballs for you that you’ll have a tough time preparing for.
But these four questions are good to prep for because, in essence, they represent some of the main avenues of conversation that an internship interview might take.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while answering these intern interview questions:
What are some accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of? Remember, they’re trying to figure out what you’ve done and what you value. Think about what you know about the kinds of jobs you might work if you enter this career you’re in: what kind of experience is relevant to this, even if it’s only classroom experience?
What do you know about the company? They’re trying to figure out how much research you’ve done about them. This is the biggest and typically easiest one you can prepare for: all it takes is a little Googling.
Do you have any experience working with a team? If they’re smart, the asker should know not to expect anything too much out of you here, but it’s still important that you show them that you play well with others.
Bring up anything here, even if it’s from school, and do your best to demonstrate what sort of specific role you’re comfortable exploring with any given team.
What are your goals? This is where they figure out how committed you are to the career associated with your internship, or how much you even know about this career in the first place. This is another question that’s difficult to figure out in the moment: you have to do a lot of research into your chosen industry, for one thing and decide what your goals really are.
You also need to figure out how to sell this internship to your boss as being important to your overall journey. Otherwise, they might not be so keen to take you on if they think this internship is just a whim for you.
Internship Interview Tips
Research the company. Before your interview, take time to research the company thoroughly. Some good facts to know include when the company was founded, what their mission statement is, and what values they embrace publically. You should also know something about the team you hope to join and what their goals are.
The more you can paint yourself as a person with inside knowledge who can add value from day one, the better off you’ll be. Check for news articles, information on LinkedIn, and even white papers that the company produces.
Dress to impress. Hiring managers and recruiters know that this is likely your first official job interview, but if you want to appear like a polished candidate, you need to dress like a veteran job seeker. That means doing a bit of research into the company culture to determine an appropriate dress code.
Be prepared for common interview questions. Take some time to study the most common interview questions that always pop up. Questions like “tell me about yourself” and “what is your biggest accomplishment” come to mind. The idea is that you have a general guideline for how to answer these questions rather than write a script and memorize a response.
Practice giving your answers a few times before the interview to make sure that you remember the key points and can work out precisely how you want to phrase your answers.
Bring supporting materials. Don’t show up to your internship interview empty-handed. Bring a padfolio, pens, copies of your resume, a cheat sheet, and a list of questions for your interviewer. You can also bring a list of professional references and examples of your most impressive work in a portfolio.
Showing up with all the materials you need will show interviewers that you’re thoughtful and prepared. From the start, hiring managers and recruiters will see you as a responsible adult, rather than a risky hire straight out of college.
Prepare stories. Internship interviews, like other job interviews, are full of behavioral interview questions.
To answer these, it’s best to use the STAR method (situation, task, action, result). When preparing for behavioral interview questions, think of several stories for the various common categories (conflict, accomplishments, teamwork, etc.) and then structure your stories using the STAR method.
That way, whatever topic the interviewer wants to cover, you’ll be prepared with a coherent and compelling story, rather than a vague and general response.
Ask good questions. If you really want to stand out as a top-notch candidate for an internship, it’s essential that you prepare a list of great questions for your interviewer. We have a list of great questions to ask at the end of an interview, and we suggest you steal some ideas from there.
Don’t just save all of your questions for the end of the interview, though. Ask questions as they arise to make the interview feel more like a natural back-and-forth conversation rather than an interrogation. Then, at the end of the interview, ask any final questions that you didn’t get to ask in the course of the conversation.
Follow up after the interview. There’s one more step to a successful interview after you’re done answering questions and leaving the interview room — sending a follow-up email.
In this email, express your gratitude, remind the interviewer who you are by giving a brief and personal anecdote from the interviewer, and re-state your enthusiasm for the role and your qualifications. Then, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Regardless of how well an interviewer is able to answer questions, they still have essentially no experience on the job — so if you’re an employer who finds yourself constantly frustrated with your interns, make sure you stop to think about why.
Are they truly doing poorly? Or are the mistakes that they’re making reasonable for someone with this level of awareness?
Similarly, if you’re a fresh intern and find that you’re constantly messing up, don’t take it too hard. Obviously, you should strive to be better, but there’s a certain amount of leeway that employers (good ones, anyway) tend to offer to their interns.
That is to say, you’re probably not going to get fired for putting salt in the coffee on accident. At least, not if you only do it once.
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