Internships can open up a whole new world of work and experience, so be ready to secure that vital interview with our internship interview tips

What exactly is the role of an intern?

First off, it's prudent to spell out exactly what the role of an intern is all about. It's basically work experience over an allotted amount of time that is, hopefully, a win-win situation for both the intern and the company. Typically taken on by a school leaver, university student, or graduate, an intern gains valuable experience and relevant skills in a particular industry of their choosing, while the organization which has taken them on benefits by employing the best interns with known assets and strengths. This can save a lot of time and money in training and upskilling.

How to answer internship interview questions

You've made it through the first round of the recruitment process - check. Your well-written and concise resume has landed you an internship interview - check. You've bought an appropriate new outfit that will make the right impression - check. You've prepared yourself and understand what to bring to the interview - check.

Now it's time to knuckle down to the prep. What sort of internship interview questions are likely to be asked? How can you prepare adequately, so you're not blindsided by a particular approach or questions that take you by surprise? Of course, you want to make a good impression and show how authentic you are, leaving the interviewer in no doubt that you're smart, capable, and perfect for the internship on offer.

With TopInterview's guide below, you're on your way to slam-dunking the whole process and achieving your dream of flying through the internship interview questions and landing your dream internship.

Common internship interview questions

A lot of the most common internship interview questions are a take on questions that someone would pose in an interview for a permanent role. Just switching out a word or two can make a classic question become relevant for an internship interview. “How would your colleagues describe you?” can be changed to “How would your teachers / tutors describe you?” Or “Talk to me about how you tackled a major problem at work” easily becomes “Talk to me about how you tackled a problem at school.”

The most common internship interview questions are set out below, with pointers on how to answer them, which can be customized using your own experience and background.

Tell me a bit about yourself

This is a nice, relaxed way to ease you and the person on the other side of the desk into the internship interview. Everyone loves talking about themselves, right? But don't get carried away and start with, “Well, I was born in Chicago on June 9th and my first word was…” You want to make a good first impression, so keep it succinct and relevant to the internship. Citing hobbies and interests is totally valid when talking about yourself, so do include these - especially if they're a bit out of the ordinary or relate to the intern position.

Why are you interested in this internship?

This is one of the classic internship interview questions and is bound to be high on the list with interviewers. Your motivation and expectation of the organization are being analyzed here, so prove that you've done your homework on the internship and what it entails, as well as the company itself.

The key to answering this type of internship interview question is articulating the knowledge you've acquired from your meticulous research beforehand, while simultaneously dovetailing it with why you want to gain experience and capabilities with this particular firm.

Why should we hire you for this internship?

This is your chance to really shine and prove to the interviewer that you're worthy. Do this by demonstrating that you fully understand the role and what's expected of you. Introduce a few key skills that you know will match the requirements of the internship. Lastly, show how you believe you'll fit in well with the particular work culture of the organization and that your values complement those of the company.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Here, the interviewer is trying to establish what your ambitions are. As a potential intern, you're just dipping your toe in the world of work, so of course, they want to know your plans. Where you see yourself in the future is important, as it paints a picture for the interviewer about your aspirations.

Rather than detailing a specific job title that you're aiming for, make it more open by talking about the level of responsibility you see yourself having, whilst also emphasizing that you hope to still be with this organization.

What skills can you bring to this internship and to the company as a whole?

This intern interview question is all about your strengths. But don't just rattle off a list. Tailor your strengths to the specifics of the internship and how they can benefit the company. Discuss them one at a time, highlighting how they relate to the requirements of the internship, maybe even elaborating on one particular asset of yours by talking about a specific achievement that's relevant.

Tell us about a time you faced, and overcame, a challenge

This is a situational interview question, the type that shows how you manage stress or resolve problems. They give a potential employer an understanding of your character and how you tackle situations, along with your adaptability and self-awareness. So talk about an actual example, using the STAR method - Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

Do you work better under your own initiative or in a team environment?

Mmm, this is a tricky one, as you don't want to come down on either one side or the other. The best bet is to say “both,” along with some examples of when you excelled under your own steam and when as part of a team.

How would your teachers / tutors describe you?

All about perception, the interviewer is trying to ascertain how others see you and how you think they see you. Be armed with a few pertinent adjectives that show you in your best light - resourceful, dedicated, motivated, that sort of thing. Then relate these to the intern role.

Talk to me about how you tackled a problem at school or college

It's not the actual problem itself, it's how you approached and tackled it that's important here. Highlight what actions you took to overcome the problem, stressing the skills that you employed to do this while emphasizing how these same skills are relevant and can be adapted to the internship.

Can you tell me about an accomplishment that made you proud?

Often, this sort of answer would require a work-related achievement, but the chances are you won't be able to draw on that. Instead, focus on a personal goal that makes you stand out from the rest. Embellish on the specifics while also giving a nod to the “why.” Why are you proud of this achievement? Is it because you overcame an obstacle to achieve it? Did you step outside your comfort zone?

How do you deal with criticism?

With this question, the interviewer wants to find out what sort of person you're like to work with, if you really listen to constructive feedback, and then take it on board to address any issues. If you can't handle criticism well, it's going to be a problem in the workplace. So tread carefully here as you want a positive to come out of this.

If appropriate, choose an example where you were criticized, but show how you quickly made amends to learn from the experience and improve that part of your character or work. It's turning a negative into a positive selling point.

Questions to ask during an interview for an internship

As with most interviews, whether it's for an internship, a career step-up role, or a VP position, you're likely to be asked if you've any questions for your potential employers. After all, an internship interview is a two-way process.

This might seem daunting, as surely you're the one being interviewed? But it's common practice and a good opening for you to reiterate your enthusiasm and interest in the internship, as well as showcase any detailed research you've undertaken before the internship interview.

The questions to ask during an interview for an internship need to be concise, relevant, and carefully thought out beforehand. It's no good winging it. With  47% of interviewers stating they wouldn't choose a candidate with little knowledge of the company, it certainly pays to prepare. But keep it precise. You don't want interviewers to be tapping their fingers, shifting uncomfortably, or checking their watches for the umpteenth time as you embark on your 10th or 11th question.

Below are some examples of questions to ask during an internship interview.

  • How would I, as your new intern, make your life easier?
  • How will my performance as an intern be evaluated?

Notice how these intern interview questions are phrased in such a way that it sounds like you've already won the intern role. This is deliberate, as it demonstrates your confidence and might help to further persuade the interviewer that you're the right intern for the internship.

  • How important is communication / relationship building / time management to the internship?

This is an internship interview question designed to illustrate a strength of yours that you don't feel has been covered adequately during the internship interview. Get ready to blow your own trumpet here - as long as they reveal that it is an important aspect!

  • How often do internships convert into full-time positions?

A perfectly valid internship interview question, as it proclaims your interest but should also reveal the company's policy on interns. If the reply is “never,” then you know where you stand and can start planning your career path, potentially gaining skills from this internship but realizing that a full-time position will need to be sought elsewhere. However, if the firm does often recruit interns, that's a really positive, motivational technique to pull you in and ensure that you'll work really hard if you do land the internship. 

Topics to avoid

Steer clear of any internship interview questions where the interviewer would expect you to already know the answer, such as questions about the organization that a quick glance at their website could clarify.

It's also not wise to bang on about any holiday or pay due to you. You're aiming for an intern role, which is traditionally either unpaid or just covers expenses, so don't embarrass yourself by knocking on that door!

Last but not least…

At the end of the internship interview, after all the internship interview questions have been asked, don't forget to thank the interviewer for their time before leaving. You might be ready to race out of there to catch a breather and reflect, but remember your manners at all times before you do.

So, you checked those boxes at the beginning of the article. Here's one to add. You've now nailed those tricky internship interview questions - check.  

If you'd like more advice on interview techniques and how to approach the internship interview with increased confidence, check out our professional interview coaches for one-to-one support and to learn more about how to prepare for an internship interview.

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