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How to answer internship application form questions

Online application forms for internships and work experience placements often include motivational and competency questions. Here’s how to answer them, even if you have limited experience to draw upon.
Recruiters understand that applicants for internships have less experience to draw upon.

If you want an internship with a large organisation you are likely to have to apply online. These are often the same as for applicants to graduate schemes because, after all, employers often use internships as a pipeline to their graduate scheme.

The format of an online application form for an internship

An online application form for internships and work placements usually involves uploading personal details and any work experience history (sometimes the software can fill in these details for you using an uploaded CV or your LinkedIn profile).

After this, you might submit a CV and covering letter, but in addition or instead you may be asked to answer in-depth questions about your reasons for applying, your skills and your abilities.

Finally, you might be asked to fill in a diversity questionnaire – the details of which will be used anonymously and won’t be shared with your intern interviewers or future manager.

You may also be asked to complete online ability and psychometric tests as part of your application.

What are motivational questions on an internship application form?

If you are asked to answer questions on an application form, the first questions are likely to be about your motivations for applying. The most common questions are:

  • Why do you want this internship?
  • Why are you applying to our employer?

How to answer motivational questions such as ‘Why do you want this internship?’

What you should show in your application is that you are genuinely interested in this internship and with this employer (even if you are also considering other career sectors and employers).

To do this, you need to have researched the employer and the role, as you must back up any reasons you have with facts and information about the employer and the role. You need to explain exactly how you think the role and/or employer will help you to achieve any career ambitions, discover more about the sector and yourself, and/or develop your skills.

Connect your personal reasons to specific aspects of the role (eg what you would be doing or the team you’d be working in) and specific facts about the employer (eg what it does, its projects/products, its training opportunities, its corporate values and so on). For example, you could write about how you share the company’s corporate values and you want to work with an employer that has such values.

What are competency questions on an internship application form?

Many online applications ask competency questions, in which you need to give a real-life example of a time when you have demonstrated a particular skill or achieved something. Examples include:

  • Give an example of a time when you worked as part of a team.
  • Give an example of a time when you brought about an improvement.
  • Give an example of a time when you increased profits.
  • Give an example of a time when you delivered outstanding customer service.
  • Give an example of a time when you brought someone round to your way of thinking.

How to answer internship application questions about your skills

The questions may look tricky, but recruiters understand that applicants for internships are typically younger and have less experience to draw upon than applicants for graduate jobs. They are just looking for evidence that you can make good use of whatever experience you do have.

Most online application systems allow you to view all the questions before you start answering. Take advantage of this to decide which example to use for which question – if you are able, try to use a different one for each. You can draw on any aspect of your life; you don’t need an example from the industry you’re applying to.

If you are struggling to come up with an example, think laterally around definitions of words. For example, when faced with the word ‘customer’, you might feel stuck if you haven’t worked in a customer service job in, say, a pub or a shop. However, a customer could be anyone who has relied upon you to provide a particular service. Have you volunteered as an usher for an arts performance or a marshal for a race? Helped keep college IT facilities running smoothly for fellow students as a member of the IT committee? Compiled sound effects for the director of a university show?

Likewise, a concept such as ‘increasing profits’ might make you feel you have nothing to write. But have you been involved with any sort of organisation that makes money? This could include commercial businesses but also charities, fundraising organisations, Young Enterprise groups, committees organising university events, student-run enterprises and performing arts groups. Profits can be increased by either increasing revenues or decreasing costs. You might, for example, have helped increase ticket sales by promoting an event well, choosing a popular theme or raising standards. Or perhaps you have helped to reduce costs by sourcing products more cheaply, reducing waste or negotiating discounts.

Use the ‘STAR’ approach to structure your answers – briefly outline the situation and task, then focus on stating the action you took and the results.

Write about what you personally did, not what a team did as a whole. Think ‘I’, not ‘we’. Use numbers wherever possible to add detail (for example, the number of customers or team members, your budget and your revenue).

Example answer for an internship application form question

An online application form might include a question along the following lines:

What do you consider to be your most significant achievement other than your academic results? This should be something you personally decided to do and worked hard to achieve. Please describe why you see the achievement as significant and any obstacles you had to overcome.

Let’s say that your most significant achievement was successfully standing for the position of charity ball chairperson and, once in the role, doubling ticket sales and making the ball’s biggest ever profit for your chosen charity.

When writing the part about overcoming obstacles and how you increased ticket sales, you might choose to say the following:

‘… Some of the ball committee were initially unsure about my idea to hire a well known singer rather than using a local tribute band as had happened the previous year, as it would be more expensive. I therefore contacted and surveyed 60 students who had attended the previous ball: 80% of them said that the entertainment had been substandard, with 76% indicating that they would be willing to pay more for better quality. I used this data to successfully make the case for hiring the singer and increasing the ticket price by £5 on the previous year to cover the extra cost…

Here you have identified fellow committee members’ views as an obstacle but have focused on concrete action you took to help you argue your case – including some helpful figures – rather than dwelling on any undignified squabbles that may have taken place.

Dos and don’ts for internship application forms

  • Double check that each required field is filled in with the correct information. Make sure that the contact details you provide are up to date; if you give a university email address, make sure you can access it during the holidays.
  • Read the application questions carefully. If a question asks about more than one skill or has several parts, answer everything.
  • Write all of your answers to application form questions in MS Word first so that you can use the spell and grammar check.
  • Save copies of all of your application form. Print if possible. You will need to refer to it if you are called to interview.

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