Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash
It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 65 — an experienced executive trying to become a CEO or a college student trying to land your first internship — interviews can be intimidating for almost all of us. Fortunately, if you’re prepared enough, you won’t be as nervous in your interview as someone who hasn’t practiced at all.
That being said, most people are clueless when it comes to how to answer common interview questions. So, if you plan to interview for an internship and you don’t know what to say or what to expect, here’s a crash course in how to answer these five popular interview questions. (Bonus: These tips will work in future job interviews, too!)
Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself
So simple, yet so complicated, right?
This question is your time to shine, as they say. First a few DOs:
So how can you talk about all three subjects above without sounding pompous? It’s easy, just write a script for yourself.
Take time to write down those achievements that really define who you are. Sure, you could tell them about the time you won the spelling bee in 3rd grade or the time you scored the winning touchdown for your school’s homecoming game, but if those achievements don’t directly correspond to who you are or what the internship entails, why discuss them with your prospective boss? Instead of giving them a laundry list of achievements, try saying something like this instead:
I’m an athlete (computer whiz, scholar, etc.), but I don’t think just that one label defines me. My mother (counselor, father, sibling, etc.) has always been a big influence on me, and I know that all I’ve achieved from my honor society awards to my big wins on the field (or other competitive arena) have been not only due to my own efforts but also from her motivation and support. That’s what defines me as a person, my relationships with my family and friends, and also my desire to achieve. And that’s why I’m here. I think this internship is the next step for me.
Notice in the sample how you’re telling plenty about yourself and what’s important to you while still sounding sincere and sharing important information about what motivates you.
Now for a few DON’Ts
- Don’t list your resume.
The interviewer already knows that you worked for company X or interned with person B, so try not to repeat things the interviewer can know just by glancing at your resume. If you accidentally default into talking about your resume, at least keep it short and talk about the positions that helped shape your interest in the current internship.
- Don’t try to be anyone you aren’t.
Interviewers expect you to be professional, but they also expect you to have a personality. Sometimes interviewers are less interested in what you have to offer the company in terms of your abilities and more about whether or not you’ll be able to fit in with the company’s culture. Don’t be afraid to show them a little of who you are.
For example, if you’re someone who likes to joke, it’s OK to show that side, just remain professional at all times.
Question 2: What are your goals for this internship?
This is an easy one. Everyone has goals. Think of your reasons for wanting to have an internship. Are you hoping to improve your language skills? Are you trying to learn more about your prospective field? Rephrase this question in your mind to: Why are you applying for this particular internship? How do you think this internship will further your career path or help you decide which career path to choose?
Then take the answers to the questions above and express them as goals. Did you apply for the internship to learn more about robotics? Then your goal for the internship will be to increase your knowledge in the field of robotics. Did you apply for an internship at a homeless shelter to see if you want to explore a career in social justice? Then your goal for that internship is to further your experience in social welfare.
As long as you have a clear reason for applying for the internship, coming up with goals that reflect that reason shouldn’t be that difficult. After telling the hiring manager about your goals, explain them further by detailing how you’d leverage experience at the internship to attain opportunities in the future. Hiring managers like hearing this because someone who has dreams and goals is bound to work hard.
Question 3: What are your biggest strengths?
This is your chance to impress your interview panel with your skills and knowledge while also giving your interviewer a chance to get to know you better. Remember: Modesty is good, but it’s more important to be detailed and confident. Anyone can list their strengths, but few people can give concrete examples of when they’ve used their strengths to help others, advance a cause, etc.
The key here is to not be general. Be specific, and elaborate on your strengths. If your strength is communication, then tell a story about a time your communication skills made an impact. The goal is to illustrate your strengths verbally, as opposed to just give the interviewer a list. Tell them your strength and then give an example of how you used this strength in school, in the workplace, or while volunteering.
“Anyone can list their strengths, but few people can give concrete examples of when they’ve used their strengths to help others.”
Think of the question this way: The interviewer isn’t really asking what your strengths are. The interviewer is actually asking what qualities or characteristics you bring to the table that can further help to enhance the mission or goals of the organization. By giving examples of your strengths, you’re bolstering your case for why you’d be a great fit for their team.
Question 4: What is your biggest weakness?
The easiest way to come up with a weakness is arguably by making a list of your top five strengths. Number your strengths from 1 to 5 with 5 being the weakest of them all.
Choose between strengths 4 and 5 and elaborate on one of them as your weakness.
Here’s an example of the list:
- Good communicator
- Excellent analytical skills
By creating a list, you can see what your strengths are and then just consider ways that you can improve upon your weakest link, which technically is still a strength. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know that you’re actually talking about something you’re good at.
As you can see in the list above, “patient” is the lowest on the list of strengths. When answering this question, you could say something like:
Although I’m a patient person, I do feel a sense of urgency to complete projects quickly and look for ways to get them done in the most expedient manner. I think I need to have more patience with my colleagues who do not have the same sense of urgency when trying to complete a task by a certain deadline.
By describing your weakness this way, you’re showing that you’re self-aware and open to improving yourself.
Of course, don’t forget to explain how you’re rectifying this weakness. Hiring managers love hearing from people who seek to improve their skillset. This will set you apart from the competition.
Question 5: Talk about a time when you helped a team succeed.
Don’t underestimate the power of working with a team. While countless articles and studies mention how many people are getting out of the workforce and instead working for themselves, it’s important to realize that teamwork is still valued and necessary even in today’s entrepreneurial world.
This question is all about showing your prospective employer that you can do well working on a team. Don’t limit yourself to stories of school projects or stories of teamwork that ended up well. Be clear about why they ended up well because of you.
It’s also okay to think outside the box and talk about your experience on teams that have failed or haven’t been that successful. Talk about what went wrong. Talk about what happened next. How did you help the team recover? This question is about your problem-solving skills as much as it is about your approach to dealing with others.
In a Nutshell
Don’t be intimidated or nervous. Prepare, practice, and write a script to ensure that you’ll master the top interview questions that are the gateway to the internship of your dreams.
When answering, try to give 2- or 3-minute responses to the questions. Hiring managers usually won’t ask interns specialized questions; so, come in confident and know that script.
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