Interviews are not fun experiences - for most of us, at least. Although over time you may become better at predicting and answering the questions likely to come up, you can never fully know what you’re going to face. And with some intern interviews taking a bizarre turn (like being asked why manhole covers are round, or required to tell the recruiter a joke), it’s natural to be a touch nervy!
The vast majority of interviews, however, do not include any off the wall questions. If you’re asked something odd, don’t panic. Take your time. Most likely the interviewer is more interested in your reaction to the unexpected questions, rather than the answer you can cook up!
You can’t effectively prepare for the truly weird questions - but you can for the more common tricky questions. Try these, to get a head start.
Number One: Why are you interested in this internship?
Interviewers are human and want to know that you’re interested in them and their business. You may have applied to a dozen different companies, but be wary of a cookie cutter answer to this question. Make it specific, focusing on the business’ unique attributes. Maybe they have a reputation for innovation, superb corporate social responsibility, or are undisputed market leaders. Pick out the reasons that you would be proud to intern there, and talk them up.
Number Two: What do you know about our organisation?
Research is your answer here. You can find out a lot from a simple browse of the company website, but do not rely on only one source for your research. Look also to industry news, such as magazines, websites and blogs. Follow company leaders on Twitter, and read their personal posts on LinkedIn or blog pages. Look also at the direct competition the business faces, from other companies in the sector - what makes this business different to the others?
Number Three: What challenges and opportunities do you see in our industry?
Businesses value the new ideas and insight that interns can bring their business. Because you have a different take on the company and industry, without the burden of knowing how things have always been done, you can share a genuine new viewpoint here. Focus on this as part of your research into the business, broadening out to look at the potential challenges arising as a result of competition, but also changes in the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental landscape. Read more about PESTLE analysis here.
Number Four: What do you bring to the party?
This is your chance to sell your unique qualities. Don’t be shy! Interview practise can help enormously here, as talking about your strengths and personal qualities can feel decidedly odd first time. Ask others for feedback, and be prepared to match your answer to the skills and attributes that the role is looking for. These are usually set out quite clearly in the job description. While you can’t embellish too much, you can certainly make sure you angle your answer towards the things you know the employer values in its interns.
Number Five: What team environment do you like to work in?
Interviewers are looking for cultural fit as well as an ability to deliver the tasks of the job. They want to know how you will ‘click’ with the business, and with the team structure that they operate. There isn’t really a right answer here, although understanding the business structure in advance can help. Ultimately, taking an internship in a working environment that you would not enjoy would not be a good experience, so do not be tempted to simply give the answer you believe the interviewer is looking for. Be as honest as you can, and you’re more likely to find an internship that really works for you.
Number Six: How do you like to be led and managed?
With many businesses taking on multiple interns for different teams, this is an important question. If you’re a good fit for the business, then the recruiters might be able to pair you with a manager who can really get the best out of you. It’s worth, therefore, thinking thoroughly about what great management looks like to you. For some this is about having an inspiring but ‘hands off’ boss, while others value the closer relationship they develop with a more involved manager. Decide what suits your learning and development style, and tell the interviewers.
Number Seven: What business skills and experiences do you have already, that will help you in this internship?
If this is your first internship then you may not have a huge exposure to the world of work. But that does not mean that you have no business skills. Think broadly about the transferrable skills you have, and demonstrate how they fit the role you’re applying for. Of course, if you have already done internships or held part time jobs, then you have more to draw on for this answer - think about articulating the impact you had in your roles as well as the actions you took. So talk about the successes you helped to deliver, in terms of business metrics, as well as sheer hard work.
Number Eight: How would others describe you?
This question is often paired with one asking you to describe your own strengths and weaknesses - and it is no easier to answer! If you’re finding it hard to come up with a credible response, then go round and systematically ask others to describe you. Find family, friends and your college tutors, or school teachers, and ask them to give a short summary of your strengths (and if you’re feeling brave, your weaknesses). Not only is this good for answering this question, it is hugely valuable feedback for personal development, too.
Number Nine: What activities are you interested in outside of work?
Asked at the start of an interview, this might be a way of building rapport and putting you at ease. Towards the end and the interviewer might be feeling out cultural fit. There isn’t really a right answer, so be honest but frame your interests in a way that is appropriate. Responding with the same type of things that every candidate might say, ‘reading, going to the cinema, socialising’, for example, will not make you memorable. If you have any more eye catching interests, hobbies or achievements - long distance running, amateur film making or dedicated charity work, for example, then talk about these here.
Number Ten: What will this internship do for you?
All internships (and, for that matter, full time jobs), are a two way street. You need to get more from it than simply drawing a salary. In the case of an internship it is especially important to think about the stretch and development that you can get through completing an intern program. You will learn business tasks and systems ‘on the job’, but also build the sort of soft skills that employers really want. Have a view of the areas you wish to develop, and how you might go about this through the internship process. This shows you're self aware and proactive - just what the recruiter is looking for!
Performing well in an interview is very much a learned skill. You can prepare and practise, but nothing beats ‘live’ experience to develop these skills. The first interview or two you will doubtless be nervous, but be assured this is normal, and interviewers will expect it. Do your preparation and go in with your head held high. You’re unique and the right employer will recognise that.