How to answer common internship interview questions
If you’re invited for an internship or work experience placement interview at the end of the selection process you have a very real chance of being offered the position (recruiters are always busy and won’t waste time interviewing someone they have serious doubts about). You will probably be up against several other candidates who will all be asked the same basic questions. Your interviewers will also dig a bit deeper, getting you to clarify the answers you give and expand on what you’ve written in your application and CV.
Internships give you experience in your chosen industry and insight into whether it’s the right career for you. They can also be a gateway to a graduate job as many employers make graduate offers to interns and placement year students who impress them, or fast-track them through the graduate recruitment process.
We’ve compiled a list of common interview questions for interns drawn from intern reviews on TARGETjobs Inside Buzz to help you prepare. If you practise answering these questions it will help you approach most other questions you may be asked, whether you are interviewed in person or over the phone, or asked to take part in a live or pre-recorded video interview.
- #1: Tell us a bit about yourself.
- #2: Why have you applied for this internship?
- #3: Why have you applied for an internship at our company?
- #4: Why do you want to work in this industry?
- #5: What are your strengths?
- #6: How do you prioritise your work?
- #7: Tell us about a time when you have successfully dealt with a difficult situation.
What types of interview are there for internships and placements?
In this article we focus mainly on motivation and suitability questions (which are designed to find out why you want the internship and what makes you suited to the position and the employing organisation). Your interview may also include competency questions and strengths-based questions. You can also make use of our graduate careers advice with these nine tricky interview questions for graduates.
This is often used as a warm-up question, allowing you to relax a bit as you talk about a familiar subject: you. But don’t relax too much; your answer needs to find the balance between showing your personality and avoiding answers that are incompatible with the focused, professional self that you plan to convey throughout the interview. We suggest making three brief points along the lines of: 1) your year of study and degree subject; 2) your career aim or what career you’re interested in; 3) a hobby or interest that you pursue in your spare time.
Similar questions: 'Why do you want to work here?'; 'Why should I consider hiring you?' and 'Tell us a bit about your work experience/extracurricular activities.'
Your reasons for applying will give your interviewers a sense of whether they can provide you with an internship in which you will thrive and feel motivated to perform well. You may have answered this question in your application. Expand on it. Tell recruiters what you really want to get out of the internship. Think about how it will inform your graduate career choices, what skills you are keen to learn from it and other things that appealed to you when you read the role description.
Your reasons for applying will give your interviewers a sense of whether they can provide you with an internship in which you will thrive and feel motivated to perform well.
By all means mention the company or organisation and why you would especially like to take up this opportunity with them, but don’t focus your whole answer on this if the question isn’t specifically about why you’ve chosen to apply to that employer.
Some internship employers – especially the big organisations that hire lots of graduates – offer pretty good pay and perks. It’s safest to stay away from this topic when talking about your motivations. There’s no doubt that you should only apply for things that pay you enough to live on during the internship, but if the pay and perks are the main reason you applied, consider whether you will really enjoy the role and feel driven to do well.
Similar question: 'What do you want to achieve on this internship?'
Note the subtle difference to question #2. This one places the focus on the employer. Chances are you have applied for internships at other organisations too – the interviewers suspect this and want to gauge how serious you are about their opportunity and how likely you are to take it up if they offer it to you (so they won’t have to go through the interview process again with someone else).
Your reasons need to show that you have looked into the company beyond a quick read of the ‘about us’ section on its website and that you and the employer are a good match. What do they specialise in and how does it relate to your career aims or career interests? What are they striving to achieve and how does this relate to your own values? Always back up claims about your own values with evidence. For example, you might want to draw a link between the company’s aim to improve lives through its healthcare technology and your desire to help improve lives through your work. A credible answer would give an example of how you have pursued this passion/interest already, such as volunteering or charity work.
Think about what the organisation specialises in and how it relates to your career aims or career interests.
Good places to do more employer research before your interview include searching news websites for any stories, looking at press releases on the employer website and having a look at the employer’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and the organisation’s LinkedIn page.
Similar questions: 'What do you know about our company?' and 'How do you meet our values?'
Describe what first inspired you or what has fascinated you about the industry as you’ve investigated it further. Give specific examples that show you have done some research about whether you are suited to working in that industry, such as attending a careers talk or choosing a related coursework subject. Avoid giving reasons to do with pay or working hours.
What if you don’t know if you want to go into this industry when you graduate? This is fine. After all, getting exposure to a particular sector, profession or role to find out if you like it is one of the main points of an internship. Explain to your interviewers that you haven’t completely decided about going into that industry yet (as long as you haven’t said the opposite in your application). Follow this with reasons why you are keen to find out more and how you hope the internship will help you decide.
Think about the skills or personality traits you have that will enable you to fit in with a pre-existing team. Good interns are interested in what people around them are doing and keen to learn. They ask plenty of questions but know when to let their colleagues get on. On top of this they are conscientious – they can be trusted to crack on with their work as soon as they’ve had it explained to them – and they are self-motivated enough to know what they want to get out of the internship or placement. See our tips on being a star intern.
Similar question: 'How would your friends describe you?'
You won’t be doing fake work on your internship or placement and you may be very busy at times. Internship interviewers often ask this because they want to get a sense of whether they can trust you with tasks that will ultimately have an impact on the wider business.
Good answers to this common interview question on prioritisation acknowledge that:
- the quality of your work and ability to meet deadlines has an impact on the workload of your colleagues
- you may sometimes have to stop what you’re doing in order to work on something more urgent
- it is appropriate to ask your supervisor what to prioritise if you’re not sure
Interviewers often ask about prioritisation because your tasks will ultimately have an impact on the wider business.
Intern interview question #7: Tell us about a time when you have successfully dealt with a difficult situation.
Lots of internships interviews will have a section of competency questions like this, where you’re asked to provide an example of a time when you’ve exhibited a particular strength or behaviour. See our guide to how to answer competency questions and using the STAR formula to structure your answer.
The above is a common competency question in internship interviews because it is so broad and can be answered without needing a job or previous internship for examples. Our top tips are:
- DO use STAR to structure your answer, spending most time on the A and the R, rather than scene setting
- DON’T use an example where the problem was of your own making; equally, avoid ‘blaming’ someone else for the problem
- DO talk about what you did, rather than your coursemates, for example, as you are the only interesting person to the interviewers right now
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