Student internship guides

Internship Interview: Questions and Answers

Brown arrow 21 Written by Nathan Parcells on May 11, 2010

The Top 5 Interview Questions You Should Master

Got five minutes?  Great!  Here are the top five questions you should be prepared to answer before any internship interview.  The art of interviewing well includes knowing how to respond to the most popular types of interview questions.

If you feel nervous about being interviewed, we encourage you to practice answering the following foundational questions.  Remember, you initially took the time to prepare an outstanding application (which got you to this stage in the first place) so continue this trend and take the time to prepare for the interview.

Of course, please take more than five minutes to actually prepare for your interview.  Practice the answers to these questions—in fact, master them:

1. Tell me about yourself?

The interviewer’s intent of asking this question is to get to know you.  Your goal, however, is for the interviewer to remember you.  Be brief by keeping answers to 60 seconds or less.  One way of doing this is to open up by introducing where you are from and by directly stating what you are currently doing (student or working professional).  Proceed to discuss your academic of professional interests and list 1-3 past experiences supporting your interests.  Conclude by stating the reason(s) for applying to the internship.

2.  What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The intent of this question is to learn more about your competencies and your motivation to improve your weak ones.  Prepare to discuss at least 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses.

Most candidates get nervous at the thought of divulging weaknesses.  After all, isn’t stating a weakness a bad thing?  It actually is not if you are choosing to do something about.  Herein lies the strategy; first, stay away from cliché and ineffective answers such as “perfectionist” or “workaholic”.  Second, always follow a statement about a weakness with a statement describing what you are doing to improve upon it. For instance, if you have struggled in the past with public speaking, you could state, “However, by learning to collaborate within smaller teams and joining leadership positions on campus, I am learning to give speeches and short announcements to larger crowds…”

Also remember that the lack of experience in a given field can be a weakness but that transferable skills or experience may make up for it.  For instance, “While I have never worked in a marketing position for a large nonprofit, I have taken classes in nonprofit management and I have volunteered for political campaigns where I learned to develop targeted messages.”

3.  Give me an example or a situation in which…

The intent of this question is to understand how you would respond to situational or work-place situations.  By asking questions about your past, the interviewer may try to predict how you would handle and resolve future workplace situations, from deadlines to interacting with coworkers.

Individual questions vary, but typically, you should prepare at least 3 scenarios to cover any of these questions: (1) a situation in which you faced a conflict or difficulty at work or in school; (2) a situation in which you may have had difficulty with a supervisor, co-worker, or peer; and (3) a leadership opportunity or a project you were most proud of.

Where do you find examples?  Look at your resume.  Remember, you can use also use experiences from school or from other prior internships or work.

To answer such questions, use a variation of the “STAR” technique: answer the question by retelling the situation and stating the task at hand that was involved in the situation.  Then describe how you acted(the action).  End by revealing the results of your actions and how you resolved the situation.  Using the STAR technique will keep your answers relevant and succinct.

4.  Let’s go over your resume (and what’s not on it).

The purpose of this question is to see how you discuss past educational and professional experiences.  Seize this opportunity to successfully market yourself.  An interviewer may start by going over your resume but end by asking you to provide more details on a variety of topics, whether it’s a project you’ve collaborated on, the time gaps in between jobs, and class subjects you enjoyed or least enjoyed.

This question is a big reason why you should know your resume inside and out. Aside from sounding confident and prepared, you will sound professional.  So know your resume like the back of your hand.  One strategy to help you highlight certain parts of your resume to the interviewer would be to prepare an “interview resume” to bring to the actual interview.  This is a resume that has been slightly marked up with your notes.  These notes could be extra information or qualities that are relevant to the internship description.  If permitted, pull out the resume at the beginning of your interview so you can have your notes in front of you at all times.

5. What are your career goals (a.k.a. where do you see yourself in ___ years)?

Interviewers usually pose this question because they may be interested in knowing how serious you are in pursuing a given academic or professional field.  In an internship context, this question should compel you to dig down and think about your career interests in the long term: Are you planning to go back to graduate school?  Are you interested in gaining a few years of actual real-world experience?  Would you like to work as a full-time staff member of an organization similar to the one you are applying for?  There is no “right answer” but you do have to provide one that is insightful in that you have a plan to keep building your professional skills after your internship.  Who knows, maybe your organization would like to know if you would be available for a permanent position after you complete your internship.  And in that case, how you answer this becomes all the more important.

There you have it.  To sum up, thoroughly prepare your answers on these 5 basic questions.  In fact, have a friend drill you to help keep your answers brief and avoid rambling.  Talk to a mirror.  Repeat the answers in the shower.  Write your answers down and keep studying at it.  The results: a successful interview and newfound confidence in your ability to interview well.  Check out the opinions of hiring execs at leading companies in the video below, they'll tell you the same.

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