The internship interview: what you need to know.
There can be some confusion sometimes among candidates about how to approach an internship interview. Many conclude, unwisely, that as the position is only short-term less is expected of them in an interview than would be the case for a full-time position. This is simply not true. An employer, generally, sees an intern as a future investment that may move into full-time employment; therefore they expect the most professional of standards.
In many cases, especially with big graduate recruiters, the internship application process will be the exact same as that in their graduate programme. This varies from company-to-company depending on their needs. Consultancy firm Accenture for example does a HR interview and then a business interview, auditing company PwC brings candidates in for breakfast presentations the day before their interview and begins the interview with a case study challenge. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, meanwhile, begin with a telephone interview followed by an interview onsite and assessment centre tests.
In more informal internships a simple chat with the boss may suffice for them to get an idea what you are looking for and to see if that is what you can offer.
How to stand out
From our research with internees who were chosen for competitive internship places, there’s one consistent thing they all did; prepare! Having an understanding of the company and its culture is key. “I sold my own skills on the basis that I’m studying engineering, so immediately people expect you have that problem-solving and numerical abilities. However, to come into a company like this you have to have a lot more than that”, says Andrew Kelly who has completed a six-month placement at Accenture. He recognised that the company places a strong emphasis on communication and teamwork and he demonstrated that successfully during his interview.
Key to preparation is having a personal example prepared for each possible question. This can seem daunting for a candidate still in college or just graduated and lacking work experience.
“I had different examples prepared depending on the questions, a few examples each time. I had college experience leading a project team, but I think what really worked for me in the interview was my extra-curricular involvement. We chatted about that a lot”, says Michael Redmond who completed a six month internship at pharmaceutical firm, AbbVie.
When PwC internee Claire Doyle went for her successful interview for an assurance position, she spent a lot of the interview talking about her devotion to Irish dancing! “The interviewers were extremely interested due to my dedication over so many years and my commitment to team events”, says Claire.
One of the important elements to keep in mind with internship interviews is that you have to actually show how it will benefit you. This may seem obvious but choosing an internship generally means earning less money than you would in a full-time job. Therefore why do it? Demonstrate what your awareness is and what benefit the internship will be to you and to your future career prospects after you finish the internship. The last thing an employer (or you!) wants is to realise half-way through the internship that you lack motivation as you feel it won't advance your career.
Typical interview questions
For big graduate employers, it’s not unusual that for their internship programme, they will do two interviews, the first a HR interview, then followed by a more technical interview with a line manager. Louise Clarke, Internship Coordinator at AbbVie, explains what she’s looking for in her HR-style interview with candidates:
“Once it gets to interview stage, what I’m looking for is personality. If they have well-rounded personalities, are confident and articulate, have leadership skills, and if not leadership, then it is a strong number two or they display an ability to get work done. I would also ask in interviews a lot about project work, particularly with engineers in terms of what they’ve done in projects. I’d ask a lot of competency based questions (What did you do? What would you do if somebody didn’t pull their weight?) to get an understanding of their behaviour, if they are a leader or part of the pack.”
“Other than the core skills, what we’re looking for is a clear direction among candidates. Companies don’t have time to allow an intern figure out if this is what he/she wants to do, they want you to demonstrate that it is what you want to do”, says gradireland’s editor Ruairi Kavanagh. Therefore questions like where you see yourself in five years and how you feel the internship will benefit your career are extremely important.
Standard interview questions typical of any type of interview will also be asked, such as:
- Why do you think you are suitable for this role?
- Hypothetical questions (What would you do if a team member wasn’t pulling their weight?)
- Technical questions relating to the profession
- Core skill questions (Tell me the skills you can bring to this role?)
How to appear professional
One essential question that every employer will have in their head but will never ask you is; can you conduct yourself professionally in the workplace? You can prove yourself first and foremost by dressing appropriately. Informal dressing in the workplace is becoming more common, especially in the tech-industry. Nevertheless, always suit up, err on the side of caution and look your best even if the interviewer is in a t-shirt and shorts!
Also, greet your interviewer with a firm hand shake, make eye contact and smile throughout the process. If you can make a good impression on them, the interviewer will feel you can make a good impression on clients too.
Make small talk and don’t be afraid to initiate it if the interviewer doesn’t. Stick to safe topics like the weather or your journey in. Also, some general small talk will help relax you and get rid of the nerves, something which will help once the interview starts proper.
Interview dos and don’ts
- Find out as much as you can about the job, industry and company
- Research typical interview questions and prepare demonstrable examples for each using extracurricular activities and any work experience you have, even if it’s from part-time work
- Make sure your clothing is clean and prepared well in advance
- Double-check the day before how to arrive at the interview location and how long it will take to ensure you are not late
- Be polite, smile and make eye-contact!
- Give monosyllabic answers. Even if you get an unexpected question, think quick and use a related example
- Use offensive language. Stay professional at all times.
- Mention anything about your interview on social media. You never know who might see it.