As a student or recent college grad, one of the best ways to build the foundation of a successful career is to complete an internship. Internships provide first-hand work experience where you get to work on real-life problems, network with others in your field, and learn important skills. While many of us know the value of an internship, understanding how to land the gig and beat out the competition can be a little harder.
Aside from creating a stellar resume and cover letter, one of the main parts of the internship application process where you can stand out is during the interview stage. Many internship programs involve both customary introductory interviews where they get to know your background as well as technical interviews where hiring managers get a feel for your skill level.
Below we’ve put together a list of some common internship interview questions as well as a few not-so-common questions to help guide you through the process. By knowing which types of questions may come up, you can better prepare and position yourself as the best candidate for the role.
The Most Common Internship Interview Questions
The most common interview questions aim to illuminate more about your past work experience, your personality, and your career path. Hiring managers may ask general questions to see how you formulate answers and identify your values or they may ask specific questions to examine your technical skills and knowledge. When answering internship interview questions, it’s important to be detailed and succinct. You don’t want to ramble on and on, but you also want to provide enough context to stand out from other applicants.
Tell Me More About Yourself
This question seems so basic yet so many candidates fail to prepare for this. Being able to articulate who you are in 2-3 sentences is not an easy skill. In order to do so, a person must be able to organize their thoughts quickly and succinctly. If you can do this, it’s a good sign that you are an intelligent candidate, know your strengths, and are able to pitch solutions and thoughts in a quick and informative manner.
This question also allows you to briefly explain your career goals and how your past experience will enable you to contribute to the team. You can also use experience in extracurricular activities if you don’t have prior work experience to show your interest in the field and how you apply yourself to a project. This question is your chance to make a great first impression and set the tone for the rest of the interview.
Keep in mind that hiring managers also do their own research about you before the interview date. They may check out your LinkedIn profile and any social media sites before your interview. Make sure that your information there is professional and reflects who you are as an individual.
What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
While it’s easy for many of us to identify our strengths, it’s often much harder to talk about our weaknesses. We’re often programmed to think that weaknesses are negative and so we don’t highlight them. However, recruiters use this question to see how well candidates evaluate their own work and their level of awareness. This question also gives you a chance to examine your greatest weakness and then parlay that into a positive.
This way, you’re showing the hiring manager an accurate view of your skills, while also demonstrating that you’re improving on your known weaknesses. This shows a strong work ethic and an awareness that you’re not perfect, but working on improving.
How Did You Hear About This Position?
This is another obvious question, but it gives you the chance to show off a little bit. You’ll be able to show the hiring manager how much research you’ve done about the company’s history. This allows the manager to gauge how interested you truly are in working for the company. You’ll get bonus points if you can quickly tie in how your background can help the company achieve a particular mission or goal.
When formulating an answer, figure out why you applied to the role in the first place. Maybe it’s your dream job or you discovered a passion for the industry while taking a course on campus or during a summer program.
What Would Your First 30, 60, or 90 Days Look Like in This Role?
Hiring managers use this question to get a grasp on how ambitious candidates are. Since this question isn’t answered easily by a yes or no, you’ll need to do some preparation. Think about what skills you have that are valuable to the company. In addition, consider how you’ll grow and contribute to the role over the set time frame. You can use concrete examples of projects you’d like to work on or expand and show how you’ll play a vital role in the company’s goals.
Keep in mind that hiring managers also use this question to see how closely their vision aligns with how you think about the role you are applying for. This is where company research becomes extremely important. Take the time to find out what the company values, what their future goals are, and what the company culture is. Figure out how your role as an intern can play into that larger vision and use that for your answer to this common internship interview question.
How Would You Deal With a Stressful Situation?
This behavioral question is particularly common as it gives hiring managers a look at your problem-solving skills and your thought process. It may be asked as a general query like it is here or it may be more specific — like, “Tell us about a time where you had a dispute with a co-worker” or “Tell us how you would handle an impossibly tight deadline.”
To answer this question, pick an example of a time where you were faced with a stressful conflict or a hard deadline that was difficult to meet. Use concrete examples to show how you approach tough situations and then highlight the parts of your process that are successful.
For example, if you’re talking about a stressful situation with another employee, you can explain how you used negotiation skills, compassion, and good communication to work through the issue. Don’t worry if you don’t have prior professional experience, you can use examples from everyday life as well. Explain how you managed a stressful situation in high school or as a new employee in a student job on campus.
While most main interview questions touch on scenarios you’ve come across in previous gigs, there are some tricky interview questions that are less common. When preparing for internship interview questions, you want to make sure you aren’t caught off guard. Here are some less common questions you may encounter.
- Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?: The ideal answer is typically good and on time because perfection is relative. However, the bigger thing hiring managers are looking for here is how well you can make an argument for what you believe to be true.
- If you woke up and had 1,500 unread emails and only had time to answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?: This question is purposefully hard but it shows hiring managers how well you can think on your feet. Your answer should also explain how you prioritize communications and projects.
- Which of our competitors should we be worried about and why?: This is a creative way of asking, “What do you know about our company?” By showing your knowledge of the company’s competitors, hiring managers can see that you are truly interested in the role and have done your research. They also get an idea of your decision-making process and how you assess situations that can affect the company.
The job interview process is a two-way street so don’t be afraid to ask questions to learn more about the team you’ll be joining and what the company expects from you. As the interviewee, ask follow-up questions to show you’re interested in the role. You can ask specific questions about what other team members you’ll be working with, what a typical day on the job looks like, and what resources or learning tools are available to employees who want to develop or improve their skills.
Get Help Finding and Landing Internships
Whether you’re applying for a full-time job or a summer internship, navigating the internship interview process can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, with a little preparation and a slight change in your mindset, you can master the interview and land the gig.
Instead of feeling intimidated by interviews, try to frame them as a chance to show who you are. Use your answers to demonstrate relevant experience and how your personality and work ethic can help you achieve your long-term goals and contribute to the company.
Interested in finding out more about internship opportunities or getting interview tips? Join our internship community. You’ll get access to hiring managers at some of the top companies and can create a portfolio so interested recruiters can get in touch. In addition, you’ll find a wealth of information on our blog and podcast, including tips straight from company recruiters at companies like Activision, Dell, Intuit, and Pinterest.