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If you’ve been granted an interview, you’re already halfway to getting the exciting internship you’ve been looking for. Congratulations! Since so many students apply for a limited number of positions, companies generally eliminate candidates based on their resumes, using interviews to make the final cut. Here are some interview tips to make sure you’re the one they pick:
The real key to a good interview is preparation. You’ll probably have plenty of other work to do while you’re applying for internships, but setting aside time to prepare for your interview makes all the difference. Employers want to hire students who are confident, relaxed, and ready to meet challenges-not floundering because they’re unprepared. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll put yourself ahead of the competition.
Choose your outfit carefully
First impressions are important; there’s nothing worse than candidates who arrive at an interview under- (or over-) dressed and looking like they just stepped out of the shower. As a general rule, you should dress “business casual” – conservative, but still comfortable. Despite the summer heat, women should avoid clothes that are too tight or revealing, and men should stick to dress shirts and pants.
Prepare responses to frequently asked questions
There’s no way to predict every question you’ll be asked, but you can prevent “um-ing” and “uh-ing” your way through the interview. The key? Articulating ahead of time why the internship opportunity is important to you. Interviewers don’t want to waste their time waiting for you to think up the perfect answer, and the first thing that comes to your mind may not be the best response. Instead, spend time before the interview considering the answers to some common questions. You don’t have to memorize a scripted response; the point is to have some focused ideas in your head that will convey your best side to the interviewer. You should at least know the answers to these questions:
- Why do you want an internship with this company?
- What do you think makes you a good candidate?
- What do you think you will gain from an internship with this company?
- How does this internship relate to your career goals?
Research the company
We can’t emphasize enough how important this one is. No matter how busy you are, if the company has a web site, take the time to surf it. There’s nothing that impresses an interviewer more than someone who shows a real interest in the company and its goals. Doing your research proves that you’re engaged with what the company has to offer and that you made an informed decision when you applied for the position.
If applicable, bring your work
Employers like to see initiative. They like to have a lot of information about a candidate, a personal quality that stands out, even a memorable anecdote. Particularly if you’re applying for an internship in advertising, editorial, or the arts, a sample of your work will give interviewers something solid on which to evaluate you. Don’t have anything to show? Don’t stress. You’re applying for an internship, so employers expect that you might not have a lot of practical experience. If they want to see what you can do, they’ll give you an assignment. If you are asked to prove yourself before you’re hired (with a writing or editing test, for example), don’t underestimate the importance of such projects – sometimes they can make or break your chances of being hired.
Prepare questions of your own
Wait a minute – aren’t they supposed to be the ones asking you the questions? Not necessarily. Having thoughtful questions prepared for an employer will show that you’re conscientious about making sure the internship meets your needs as well as the company’s. In fact, employers expect questions-they are a sign of an employee with potential. Here are some sample questions you might consider asking:
- What’s the company’s philosophy behind hiring interns?
- How many interns is the company hiring?
- Who will be my boss? With whom will I be working?
- What do you like about your job?
- What is the office environment like?
- How do you think this internship will benefit me?
If you aren’t convinced you’re right for the job, they won’t be either. The interviewers we spoke with agree that the number one thing they look for in a candidate is self-confidence. But how do you accomplish confidence without sounding cocky? The best way to talk about yourself is to be honest and sincere at all times. Interviewers will be suspicious if you have all the right answers to their questions, and they’d rather hire interns who are aware of their own faults than those who appear to be hiding something.
Discuss it now
If you have financial concerns, housing issues, or time constraints that could affect your employment, address them at the interview. Not only will the interviewer appreciate your candidness, but you’ll save yourself the awkwardness of having to ask for these allowances after you’ve been hired. Give employers the benefit of the doubt. They understand that you’re in school, you need money to live, and that you may need time off to spend with your family. Discussing these issues at the interview will help the employer feel comfortable hiring you, since you were thoughtful enough to deal with these issues up front.
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Often overlooked, the thank-you note is a crucial part of the interviewing process. It doesn’t have to be long, but promptly thank your interviewer for his or her time and consideration. This is also a good opportunity to stress your best qualities, reiterate why you’d like the position, and address some of the concerns you feel the interviewer might have had when speaking with you. As with all correspondence to potential employers, be sure to use correct grammar and avoid informal language.
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By Kristen Farrell
Over the decades, the concept of an internship has evolved significantly. What once was a part-time summer job for college-level students has become a variety of learning opportunities offered year round for traditional and non-traditional candidates.
Before your company starts the recruitment process, it’s important to understand how internships have changed, the types of candidates in today’s job market, and the best interview questions to ask in order to hire the best intern.
A Brief History of Internships
The idea of an internship dates back to the 11th Century. Thankfully, InternMatch (since acquired by WayUp ) developed this infographic that summarizes how colleges and universities transformed trade apprenticeships into the norm for students of all disciplines who are looking for “real world” experience. The infographic shows the number of college students who completed an internship before graduation increased from three percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 1999. That’s a 96 percent increase. Today, it’s more likely a college student has completed multiple internships than just one or none at all.
Summer has always been an ideal season for internships because most college students are on a 12-week break from school. Managers develop a program based on company values and goals, and align it with curriculums so students gain valuable experience and skills during their time outside of the classroom. Although, year-round internships are just as popular since more and more employers require at least one year of experience for entry-level jobs . The key difference between summer internships and year-round internships is the time an intern is scheduled to work each week.
As much as it feels like work-from-home and remote jobs are relatively new workforce policies, virtual internships have already been around for a number of years. In 2012, The New York Times published a story about these learning opportunities that require just an Internet connection, a computer and a video conference tool, such as Skype , for checking in with the internship manager. The newspaper reported the benefits are “less expensive and in many ways more productive ” experiences for both companies and students, and “flexible hours” that allow interns to manage a full semester of classes and part-time jobs that pay. It also shines light on missed opportunities, like “insight into professional expectations, corporate culture and office etiquette.” As for 2018, WayUp says one-third of employers are hiring virtual interns and close to three-quarters of students are “open to the idea of holding a virtual internship”.
The gap year phenomenon is another factor that is driving change the internship landscape. Organizations like the Gap Year Association and USA Gap Year Fairs encourage high school graduates to take a year off before enrolling in a higher education, and explore careers and learn skills through traveling and volunteering. In a way, gap year programs are internships and co-ops for high school graduates.
Lastly on the different type of internships, it’s important to know if your definition of an internship program coincides with the U.S. Department of Labor ’s definition under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) . Take the “primary beneficiary test” to determine if the extent of your company’s internship program is considered an employee relationship, as the FLSA requires for-profit companies to compensate employees.
Interns of 2018
A few years ago, Hollywood director Nancy Meyers introduced the world to Ben Whittaker, a retired widower who decided to reenter the workforce by applying for an online fashion start-up’s internship program. In an interview with Bustle , Meyers shared the story about a young entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway) managing a 70-year-old intern (Robert De Niro) came from her desire to have a person like Ben in her life.
The Intern is a piece of fiction, but the scenario is realistic. A 2017 survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam found that 93 percent of Baby Boomers are “comfortable having a younger boss” and “nearly nine in 10” Millennials are okay with managing a person who is older. In 2016, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. So although the world may not see many 70-year-olds like Whittaker returning to the workforce as an intern, you or someone you know may find yourself in a relatable work relationship one day.
Carol Fishman Cohen is the Chief Executive Officer of iRelaunch, which is company that helps professionals reenter the workforce after a career break. In an article for Medium , Fishman wrote, “Internships these days are not just for college kids on summer break; they’ve become an effective vehicle for professionals returning from a career break to engage with employers. Reentry internships can be used by the whole range of non-traditional professionals: not only those relaunching after breaks for childcare or elder care, but also returning retirees, vets, military spouses, and expats.”
Elizabeth Lowman authored an article for The Muse and wrote about her experience as a 30-year-old intern. After relocating and struggling to find a new job in a poor economy, Lowman applied for a part-time, temporary position as an unpaid editorial intern. Having once dreamed of working for a magazine, Lowman shared, “I realized that this was a rare opportunity that could help me achieve several goals at once: I could get a taste for a job I’d idolized for so long, keep my mind sharp and my body busy, and still have time to search and go on interviews for a full-time job. I even played with the idea that once the magazine saw my true potential, they’d snatch me up as a permanent employee.”
In my previous life in human resources , I recruited for an MBA internship that attracted candidates from Ivy League schools like Harvard Business School and Yale University . One year I interviewed a former professional NFL player who was enrolled in Harvard’s NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurship Program , which is an education track designed to help transition NFL players into their second career. The candidate, who is a Super Bowl Champion, told me that 75 percent of NFL players go bankrupt or get divorced after their professional career ends, and he didn’t want to be part of that statistic. I can honestly say I had never considered this unique challenge of a professional football player before that moment.
The point here is the workforce is changing and so are internship candidates. Remember to have an open mind when reading resumes and listening to candidates answer your interview questions.
Questions to Ask an Intern Candidate
So when taking the evolution of internships into account, have the interview questions you should ask an intern candidate changed? The answer is yes and no.
There will always be questions you can’t ask to ensure your company is not discriminating. These illegal questions revolve around age, marital status, family, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities and other topics. This article gives guidance on questions that are off limits, even to interns.
Also, there will always be questions you should ask. The famed “ Tell me about yourself ” question can be a great conversation starter that will walk you through the candidate’s resume , uncover something interesting that’s not stated on the candidate’s resume and/or guide you to relevant experience and skill-based questions.
In my opinion, experienced-based questions can be more revealing than skill-based questions. Questions like “Tell me about a time you had to give someone difficult feedback” and “What was an inspiring project you worked on” will prompt responses that you can relate to, as well as disclose a variety of transferable skills , like critical thinking , time management and customer service . Furthermore, these questions require candidates to tell a story, which will give you a sense of their storytelling ability. If a candidate lacks a certain skill, consider if that’s something he or she could acquire through your company’s resources. Even if a candidate is not the best storyteller, that’s a skill that can be enriched through public speaking seminars and practice. A candidate’s learning aptitude and transferable skills are important to keep in mind if a long-term goal of your internship program is to fill full-time positions.
One of the benefits of hiring interns is getting a fresh perspective on old processes, so asks candidates how they would perform a cumbersome task differently. Especially if a particular task can be mundane, inquire about where they find inspiration and how they stay motivated every day. If you’re stuck between a few candidates, assess who was the most enthusiastic and ambitious about your internship as determination is something you can’t teach.
If one goal of your internship program is to become a mentor , allow candidates to treat your conversation partly as an informational interview . Encouraging candidates to ask you questions will give them insight on how their careers could progress in five, 10 or 20 years.
Here are 30 general questions to ask prospective interns in order to get a sense of their work ethic, values, stengths, weaknesses and more.
1. What is your greatest strength?
2. What is your greatest weakness?
3. Tell me about yourself .
4. Why should we hire you ?
5. Why are you leaving or have left your job?
6. Why do you want this internship?
7. How do you handle stress and pressure?
8. Describe a difficult work situation / project and how you overcame it.
9. What are your goals for the future?
10. Why do you want to work for this company?
11. Are you the best person for this job? Why?
12. Describe your work style.
13. Do you prefer to work alone or on a team?
14. How much do you expect to get paid?
15. How do you measure success?
16. If the people who know you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say?
17. What are you passionate about ?
18. What can you contribute to this company?
19. What have you learned from your mistakes?
20. What do you know about this company?
21. Tell me about a time you set difficult goals?
22. Tell me about the relationships you’ve had with the people you’ve worked with.
23. What have you done professionally that is not an experience you’d want to repeat?
24. Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?
25. What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?
26. What’s your definition of hard work ?
27. Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?
28. What is something you’d be happy doing every single day for the rest of your career?
29. What’s the biggest decision you’ve had to make in the past year? Why was it so big?
30. Do you have any questions for me?
The last question is especially important because the answer to this question also reveals what’s important to the candidate and how quickly they can think on their feet. “Are they wondering about company culture, or compensation?” asks The Balance . “Are they curious about growth potential, or learning opportunities? There are no right or wrong answers, but personality and communication style are important factors when considering hiring someone to join your team, and you can get a sense of these factors with their answer.”
A lot of the other questions on the list make it easy to learn more about the candidate, too. While it’s important to hire for skill (or, for an internship, a willingness to learn skills), it’s also important to hire someone who’s likely to be happy in the job for which you’re hiring. Likewise, it’s important to see how a candidate approaches decision making, to see what their values are, to see what they aspire to be by forcing them to articulate why someone else is smart, to test them for self-awareness and to learn what hard work and success really mean to them. These will all help you decide whether or not a candidate would fit into the company culture, especially if you’re looking to possibly hire them full time after their internship concludes.
Even though your focus right now is to hire interns, it’s important to perform exit interviews when your internship program ends — it’s just part of the interview process. Another thing that will never change is the two-way nature of an employer-employee relationship. Ask interns if the program met their expectations and how it could be improved. Did they think it was a good fit for them? Did they feel like they contributed to the company mission? Was their job like the job description that the interviewers originally posted on the company website? What are some examples of the strengths and weaknesses of the company? Was it a good internship for people in their career path? What are some examples of the qualities they enjoyed and some examples of the qualities they didn’t enjoy? What could the interviewers have warned them about? Also, ask how they would describe your company’s environment and culture. If your internship program does not provide value and/or is unsatisfying, it won’t produce quality candidates to fill your company’s full-time roles, nor positive online job board reviews, nor word of mouth referrals for future interns. Ask for genuine answers.
Any interviewer may want to review these examples of common interview questions if they’re interviewing a job candidate to see if they’re a good fit for the company. The interview process, even for internships, could be long and grueling for a hire manager. But finding a good fit with the necessary strengths and understanding of the company mission — who may just turn their internship into a long-term career — could be ideal for an interviewer. Especially if a major company goal is to retain new, young talent in any area.
Kristen Farrell is a professional communicator who previously worked in human resources . She shares career lessons and everyday experiences on her blog : kristen-farrell.com . When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running, crafting, or spending time with her husband, Jonathan and cat, Trotsky.
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