You’ve submitted your application for an internship, and a few days later you receive an email from the hiring manager. You’ve caught their eye, and they want to schedule an interview to hear more about you and your experience. Congratulations!
Now that you have an interview lined up, the next step is to prepare. Being given an opportunity to interview for a job is a big deal. To set yourself apart from all the other candidates, you’re going to have to do everything you can to showcase yourself as a professional who has what it takes to do the job.
In this guide, we’re going to walk through the top seven common questions that come up in internship interviews. We’ll also provide example answers to these questions which you can use to inform how you respond to them.
#1: Tell us about yourself.
Employers know that job interviews can be intimidating. If you’re looking for an internship, it’s unlikely you have any experience interviewing for a job. Employers ask this question to help break the ice and segue into the interview.
If you are asked this question, there are a few points you should highlight:
- Who are you? An employer’s only impression of you so far may be what they have read on your resume and cover letter. When they ask this question, they are looking to gain more context into who you are and what you are interested in.
- What have you accomplished? Once you’ve introduced yourself, you should talk about some of your main accomplishments. Discuss your year of study, grades, research projects, or anything else that you think showcases your skills.
- Where do you want to go in the future? Having an idea of where you want to be in the future is a good sign that you are self-aware and care about professional progress. These are two attributes employers actively look for in job interviews, and so you should spend some talking about your long-term goals.
There are a few other ways in which this question could be phrased. For instance, you could be asked to “Give us a bit of background about who you are and what you are interested in.” or “Tell us a little bit about your work experience and extracurriculars.”
Here is an example answer you could give to this question:
“Sure! I am Hannah, a first-year student at Stanford University who is currently studying computer science. I discovered programming when I was nine, and since then I have been immersed in solving problems using code.
In college, I participate in the campus computer club, where we discuss the latest developments in software and hardware, and share minicomputers that we have built. I have maintained a GPA of 3.9 in my class. I am also a volunteer mentor for a program that helps high school students get started with programming.
In the future, I want to become a software engineer. After reading about your internship program, I found that many of your values—such as long-term growth and investing in your employees—resonated with me deeply. I also think that your workplace would be a great place for me to develop hands-on professional experience solving difficult problems.”
#2: Why are you interested in this internship?
Employers ask this question to evaluate whether your long-term career goals and ambitions align with what the company can offer you. The last thing an employer wants to do is hire an intern who, while talented, would not thrive in their work environment.
Before you go into your interview, you should spend some time researching the company. What do they do? What interests you about them? Doing this research will help you craft a compelling answer to this question, and show an employer how passionate you are about the opportunity for which you have applied.
In your answer, you should discuss what you hope to learn. Then, you should talk about how this aligns with the long-term goals of the business, or their vision.
Suppose you are applying for an internship as a software engineer. You could use this response to answer this question:
“Since I was ten years old, I have been programming. I am really passionate about using code to help solve problems, and I find pleasure in how one program has the potential to help millions of people around the world.
I am really excited about this opportunity because it sounds like you are working on a number of technical challenges, and I would love to see how I can help you solve those challenges. I am especially fascinated by your commitment to helping junior engineers advance in their careers through mentorship, too.”
#3: Tell us about a time you had to learn something new.
Internships are great environments to learn—there’s always something new for you to do. Employers want to hire someone who has a growth mindset, and who is capable of keeping up with everything that is going on within the business.
To answer this question, you should think about an occasion where you had to learn something new. It’s often best to give an example that is outside of your main area of interest, which will help you show how you learn in environments outside your circle of competence.
Here’s an example answer to this question:
“At school, I decided to enroll in an introduction to philosophy course. This was outside of my field of interest—computing—but I felt as though it would be a good way to expand my knowledge.
Before I enrolled, I decided to do some preliminary research on philosophy, so that I would have some background context before I began the course. Then, I spoke with a few current students to help me get started. I also participated in a study group with my fellow students to help ensure that I was staying up to date with my work, and to increase my exposure to different perspectives on the topics we were learning about in class.”
#4: Tell us about a project you built from start to finish. What did you learn from this experience?
While you may not be leading your own project as an intern—although, who knows—you will still be expected to contribute to company projects.
Employers ask this question to learn about how you work. How do you approach working on new projects? Are you open-minded? Do you like spending your time solving the big challenges? Can you quickly respond to changing information?
In your answer, you should talk about a project you have completed, whether it is an assignment, a class project, a lab project, or something else. You should also discuss how you contributed to the project. If it was a team project, what responsibility did you take on? Then, you should discuss specific ways in which you contributed to the project.
“In my business development class, me and a team of three other students were tasked with coming up with ways a business could improve their client retention rates. This was a one-month project that involved a lot of collaborative work.
I started by making a list of my ideas on how the business could improve their client retention rates. Then I met with my team to discuss their thoughts, and we all went around and scrutinized each suggestion that everyone had. This led to us narrowing in on four recommendations, which was the requirement to complete the assignment.
I took the lead on writing one of these recommendations. This involved outlining my thought process, collecting data to back up the recommendation, and writing the final draft. I then presented my recommendation to my peers for their review and reviewed each of their recommendations too. We ended up receiving an A for this project, on account of our creative thinking and the actionable nature of our recommendations.”
#5: What are your strengths?
Employers ask this question to evaluate how self-aware you are and to learn more about the character traits that you think best describe yourself.
Think about the main skills that you have extensive experience practicing. Are you a good communicator? Are you capable of using a specific sales process in your work? Do you have experience working with the public?
You should discuss two or three of the strengths you identify in your answer to this question. In addition, you should back up each of your strengths with an example of how you reinforced them. This will help an employer actually see that you have a strength, by way of example, rather than just having you tell them that you are skilled in something.
“One of my core strengths is that I am reliable. In my last internship, I was given a lot of responsibility, which made me realize how important it was to be dependable.
I take great pride in maintaining organizational systems so I can stay on top of my work. When I am giving a new assignment, I will break it down into its main components, and build a timeline to ensure that I am on schedule. This behavior allowed me to complete the main project I was assigned in my last internship one week ahead of schedule.”
#6: Tell us about your proudest accomplishment.
Employers ask this question to learn more about the type of work that you like doing. They want to know what projects you have taken great pride in the past so that they can evaluate whether they can get you involved in that kind of work during your internship.
If you are asked this question, you should talk about something that you are really proud of, even if it doesn’t sound as impressive as something else you could mention. Are you really proud of a website that you built in college? If so, mention it in your interview.
When answering this question, you should also discuss why you are proud of your accomplishment. Was it a good learning experience? Did your work pay off in a way that you didn’t expect? Did your project have an impact?
“My proudest accomplishment was completing my first-year thesis for my marketing class. In this project, I developed a social media marketing campaign for a fashion company.
During this project, I had to break down the needs of the business, understand their constraints—both operational and financial—then design a campaign that allowed them to effectively show off one of their new products.
I am really proud of this project because I was able to work on it from start-to-finish, and because it involved a lot of problem-solving. For instance, my initial campaign was way over budget, and so I had to go back, rethink my approach, and analyze ways in which I could make my campaign cost-effective while still maintaining its impact.”
#7: How do you prioritize your work?
Internships are real-world working experiences. If you are late handing in an assignment, it will have a direct impact on a business.
Employers want to know that you are good at organizing your work, and are able to prioritize effectively when you are given multiple tasks to work on. Indeed, employers want to hire people that they can trust to do the work they have been assigned, even if there is a lot of work that needs to get done.
To answer this question, you should give an example of a situation where you had to manage a heavy workload. Talk about how you initially recognized that you needed to prioritize your work, and then discuss the steps you took to ensure that you were able to complete all your work on time. Here is an example of an answer to this question:
“Last semester, I found myself with a wide range of homework assignments to complete, as well as a thesis. This led to my having to prioritize my work.
First, I made a list of all my commitments, so that I knew what I needed to work on, and how much work needed to be done. Then, I ranked those commitments in order of importance, and in order of how much time they would take. This helped me identify what work needed to be done immediately, and what work could be delayed until the future.
My organizational approach helped me hand in all my assignments on time. I was also commended multiple times for the quality of my work, which made me even more confident in my system of prioritizing work.”
Internship interviews can be nerve-wracking. If you do well, you may get the job; if you make a mistake, you may have to start all over again in your job search.
To prepare for your internship interview, consider how you would respond to a few common interview questions. This will help you build up your confidence and start to think about how you would respond if different scenarios came up in your interview.
You may also find it helpful to do a dry-run with a friend or a family member. This is where you will have them ask you a list of questions, in an environment similar to an interview. Dry-runs are a great way to prepare for the intensity of an interview and get feedback on your answers.
If you prepare enough, you should have no trouble positioning yourself as the right candidate for the internship in your interview!