Internship interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially if it’s your first time interviewing for a professional position. It takes proper preparation and a positive attitude to make a great impression and land the role. Here’s how to prepare for an internship interview in 11 easy steps.
What is an internship?
Firstly, what is an internship? The most basic definition is that it’s a temporary work opportunity — usually provided to students or recent graduates to gain practical experience in a particular field.
Many are usually short-term, lasting for two weeks, going up to six months — or even longer.
Unfortunately, many internships are unpaid. Luckily, a bit of good news is that many companies have now started offering stipends — which is a positive trend but keep your hopes reined in.
While paid internships are on the rise, the average salaries for interns remain lower than their more experienced peers in the same field. Regardless of this, internships provide fresh graduates and students with several benefits.
You can apply your academic learnings in real-world situations, pursue your passions, test out whether an industry suits you, acquire new skills, and develop professional networks — even within short spans of time.
Differences between internships and full-time jobs
While interns are technically employed at a company, they may not be categorised as “employees”. Internships differ from regular jobs in several ways.
- Internships are temporary and usually last only a few months, while regular jobs are permanent or long-term.
- Interns typically require more supervision and mentoring. This means they get fewer opportunities to work independently. In line with this, the expectations for regular employees are different as interns are required to learn and upskill during their time at a company. Read more about the role of an intern here.
- The main purpose of an internship is to provide practical training. Employers are tasked with providing interns with all the training and support they need to help them learn and develop their skills.
- Interns get paid less than full-time employees due to the amount of training they require and their lack of work experience. Oftentimes, interns are not paid at all.
- Most interns are not eligible for the benefits that full-time employees are entitled to. This includes health insurance, paid leaves, pension plans, etc. Some companies may provide a few benefits, though.
- The laws around internships are a bit different to that of full-time roles. Legally, interns are often not protected by the same labour laws and regulations as permanent employees.
On the other hand, there are guidelines companies must adhere to when hiring interns to ensure it is legitimate and not a way to exploit them.
Create a resume
Before we move on to how to prepare for an interview, you must finalise your resume (or CV). People with prior experience can easily tailor their resumes with no fuss, but the issue with internship resumes is that you don’t really have a lot to buff it up with.
This isn’t really a problem, though. There are several things you can include in it in place of your work experience.
Volunteer work: Have you ever volunteered before? If so, this is the ideal information to include in your application. Volunteer work shows that you’re socially conscious, willing to put in the work, and careful with your time.
Academic achievements: For those who excelled academically, this is a good option. You can include your grade point average (GPA) and any honours or awards you’ve received. Be careful not to exaggerate your accomplishments, as employers may check your academic records.
Relevant coursework: When applying for an opening in a specific field, you need to include any relevant coursework you’ve done in the past. This shows that you have a solid understanding of the necessary basic skills and knowledge required.
For example, if you’re a graphic design intern, you should ideally include a portfolio of your coursework featuring some of your designs.
Soft and hard skills: You may not have worked before but you certainly would’ve acquired many useful skills in life — either through school, hobbies or otherwise.
Create a strong internship resume with our free template that’ll help you stand out and get hired. The next step is learning how to prepare for an interview.
How to prepare for an internship interview
As a first-time intern, there are a few important steps that you should take when preparing for an internship interview. Here’s how to prepare for an internship interview in 11 simple steps that’ll significantly boost your chances.
1. Research the company: Too many times, candidates show up and ask interviewers what their company does. This is a massive blunder that could’ve been easily avoided. Before the interview, just research the company.
Look at the website, and read about its mission, vision and values. Look at the news section and social media. Gather as much vital information as possible.
2. Read the job description: Another common mistake candidates make is not reading the job description (JD) thoroughly. Without a proper understanding of the job requirements and responsibilities, you may not be able to align yourself with the company’s goals.
Review the qualifications and skills listed in the JD. Match your relevant experiences and accomplishments to them and write them out.
3. Prepare your answers: While interviewers may throw the occasional curveball your way, most questions are pretty standard. Look up some common interview questions and prepare your answers in advance.
Don’t write them out in great detail. Stick to bullet points so you can have a natural conversation with the interviewer. Take a look at the buzzwords the company has utilised on their website and in the job posting. Incorporate these in your answers.
Practice your answers out loud — with somebody you’re comfortable with if possible. We recommend using the STAR method to craft the perfect interview responses.
4. Dress professionally: First impressions are important. The way you dress can have a significant impact on how you are perceived. Whether it’s an in-person or a virtual interview (or even a pre-recorded one), you need to dress professionally.
It doesn’t matter if the company has a casual dress code, an interview isn’t the place to show up in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt.
During a virtual interview, you may only show the upper half of your body but take our advice: where appropriate pants. You never know what could happen and the last thing you need is for the interviewer/s to see something they shouldn’t.
Dress well, make sure your clothes aren’t wrinkled, brush your hair (and your teeth if you haven’t yet) and wipe the sweat off your palms! You’ve got this.
5. Keep relevant materials on hand: Companies may request you to bring a few materials with you to the interview — or may expect you to without explicitly stating this.
This could include your portfolio or writing samples, so make sure to have the documents on a drive that’s easily accessible or a hard copy (which is rarely necessary).
6. Body language: Pay attention to your body language and non-verbal communication. You want to exude confidence and look reliable, comfortable and neat. Make eye contact, sit up straight, smile pleasantly, and use gestures as needed.
Here’s our complete guide to interview body language with a visual representation to help you out.
7. Prepare questions to ask: At the end of the interview, the interviewer will likely ask if you have any questions. Most candidates will say “No.” You don’t want to be one of those candidates — you want to stand out.
Prepare some thoughtful questions that mirror your interest in the company and the role. Make sure these aren’t the type of questions that you could’ve easily googled. Here is a list of good questions to ask — and bad questions to avoid.
8. Be on time: No matter what you do — unless you have a really good reason — don’t arrive late for the interview. Arriving late for an interview can be a red flag to employers and you want to give them a good impression.
If it’s online, set up your camera and check your mic in advance. Make sure your space has a neutral background and low noise pollution if possible. If it’s an in-person interview, don’t show up an hour early but at least be there around 5-10 minutes before the allocated time slot.
9. Listen carefully: Paying attention during your interview is the most basic ask. Put your phone on silent and tuck it away. Look at the interviewer or interviewers and pay each of them attention when speaking and when being spoken to.
Ask if you may take notes before the interview and jot down key points during the discussion. Ask for clarification when you don’t understand a question and respond succinctly and with thought.
10. Be honest: It’s tempting but don’t try to exaggerate your qualifications, skills or experience. You never know how much of your background the interviewer has checked and you don’t want to get caught in a lie.
Even if you are faced with a question about your abilities, plainly state what skills you can bring to the role, express willingness to learn and highlight areas where you’d need additional support.
11. Send a follow-up: Many thank the interviewer and walk out of the room, but few actually send follow-ups. Send the interviewer a thank-you email.
Thank them for their time and consideration and show your enthusiasm for what was discussed. They’re more likely to remember you over everyone else who didn’t send a follow-up.
What to ask during the interview
We said it before and we’ll say it again! You can (and should) ask questions from the employer, recruiters or their representatives during the interview. Here are some areas you could focus on:
1. Experience: Earlier on, we mentioned internships are for those with little to no prior work experience. Because of this, interviewers may not focus heavily on your experience but rather expect you to express enthusiasm for the role and showcase your willingness to learn.
This also means that you get to flip the table (metaphorically) on them. Think about what the company could offer you in terms of relevant experience and transferable skills.
2. Length of the internship: We know that internships are shorter in duration than full-time roles but sometimes, internship lengths aren’t specified.
This could be a really tricky situation. If the duration isn’t listed in the job description or in the instance where you were the one who reached out requesting an internship, be sure to clarify this information.
3. Room for learning: The best thing about internships is that you get hands-on experience and the opportunity to learn new skills. The onus isn’t entirely on you, though.
You may question the interviewer on what mechanisms for learning they’ll facilitate. Do you have a direct supervisor? Will you be assigned a mentor? Are there any courses you should take?
4. Compensation: We covered that internships are often unpaid or that the pay is generally lower. Regardless, it’s important to inquire about any compensation or benefits available for interns.
This could include college credits, transportation stipends or other forms of compensation.
All of the above can help you learn how to prepare for an interview and ace it. While these steps may seem overwhelming, they are actually really simple. Just take them on one at a time and you’ll be well on your way to landing the internship of your dreams. Stay confident, put in the work and prepare, and let your best self shine at the interview! Good luck.