How to answer five unspoken internship interview questions
If you want an internship, placement, voluntary post or work shadowing opportunity, you’ll need to answer the questions employers have in the back of their minds.
What goes on in the mind of a work experience recruiter? To help you look at the process from the employer’s perspective, we’ve compiled a list of the top five questions that recruiters will ask themselves about you when you apply for an internship, placement, work shadowing opportunity or volunteer placement. You probably won't be asked all of these questions directly, but you can still answer them through your attitude and demeanour.
Question one: do you have the necessary skills and qualities?
If you are going for an opportunity that requires you to carry out actual work rather than just to observe, the recruiter will assess your potential to do that work. Do you have the necessary skills?
Recruiters advertising formal opportunities usually provide a job description or job advertisement, detailing the skills, attributes and knowledge they seek. Make sure you give examples in your application and interview of when you have used these skills in the past. If there isn’t a job description, use our list of the top ten skills that will get you a graduate job to guide you.
The level of skills that employers are looking for will depend partly on what they want you to do and partly on the nature of your work experience. If they are offering you an industrial year placement – or if they are using the internship as a direct channel to hire graduates – they will require a higher level of proficiency than if you are coming in for a week or two. If you are work shadowing for a day, they will expect little more than a keen sense of observation and interest.
It will be easier for you to impress recruiters during the selection process for any kind of work experience if you’ve taken advantage of opportunities to develop your skills, such as through extracurricular activities. If the pandemic has curtailed your usual activities, take a look at our 14 career-friendly activities you can do from home for inspiration on how to develop your skills in other ways.
Question two: will you do all of the tasks I need you to do?
Good work experience employers will see that you get an insight into the organisation’s day-to-day work. Often this will involve interesting opportunities, such as sitting in on client meetings or visiting project sites. Large employers may offer formal networking evenings, too. Alongside this, however, it is highly likely that there will be some duller tasks. Recruiters want to know that you will take advantage of the more glamorous opportunities offered to you but that you are also capable of completing monotonous, repetitive or routine tasks to a high standard and without complaining.
At application and interview stage, don’t forget to cite the more menial or repetitive jobs you’ve done. After all, if you can stick at a job cleaning the college loos, recruiters reason that you won’t be put off by filing, sending out mailshots or updating databases!
Question three: could I safely introduce you to clients?
If your work experience involves interaction with clients, recruiters will want to know that you can be trusted to represent the organisation in a professional way.
Make sure you show your professionalism at every stage of the recruitment process. Ensure your initial application is free of errors and that any emails or letters are consistent with the standards expected for business correspondence. At interview stage, project a professional image. Even if the work experience is informal, wear something smart. Make small talk with your interviewers, but keep to innocuous topics: don’t talk about how much you drank at the weekend!
Question four: will you fit into the team?
Whenever a recruiter makes a hire, they are changing the dynamic of the working environment. While managers aren’t seeking a team of copycats, they don’t want to hire someone who will disrupt or annoy the rest of the team either. Recruiters will gauge this by how you come across at interview and they may ask questions such as ‘what motivates you?’ and ‘tell me about your interests’ to help them get to know you better. Here, all you can do is to be yourself.
Question five: do you want the internship?
... and will you accept it if we offer it to you?
These are key questions for recruiters. They want to hire candidates who will get as much as possible out of the experience, both personally and professionally, and who will be motivated to do a good job. Show your commitment by researching the company thoroughly and make use of what you’ve learned at application and interview stage.
Investigate the practicalities of taking up the offer: whether you can afford the living costs involved, how you would get to work and so on. If the chance presents itself, you can explain at interview that you’ve already considered these factors. Asking well-informed questions about the internship and company at interview will also help your enthusiasm and interest to come across.