If you’re reading this, let us virtually share a hug in camaraderie while I offer you some equally virtual warm cookies and a glass of milk. Your very first internship interview can seem like one of the toughest obstacles during your adolescence-to-semi-adulthood transition. But it doesn’t have to be! Here are seven things you should take note of to help you have a successful internship interview:
1. Be proud of your achievements.
Many of us get overly frazzled by interviews (which is perfectly natural) and it’s hard to be composed and feel relaxed when your nervousness is practically devouring you from the inside. But remember this: The interviewer WANTS to meet you. He or she read your email, looked at your resume or portfolio, and was interested enough about you to set aside time in their often very busy schedule to talk to you and get to know you. So match that enthusiasm. Be confident about your experience and your skills, because your interviewer was impressed enough to follow up with you and plan a meeting.
I notice that most of us downplay our experience and skills a LOT, and that we are way too harsh when it comes to evaluating ourselves. When I was being interviewed for an internship slot in a museum’s marketing and PR section, I was hard pressed for bringing up relevant past experience that was not related to my school assignments. On a whim, I talked about my online shop (nothing too extravagant; I merely sold my second hand clothes) and how I marketed it, and I was so surprised that my interviewer was genuinely interested.
My point is, don’t belittle your experiences. They just seem insignificant to us, but to a pair of fresh eyes, they are something impressive and unique.
2. Your aim is to build a personal connection.
People will often tell you that the interview is all about selling yourself. But as a potential intern, you’ll be selling yourself differently from the regular full-time job hunters: I find that employers hiring interns are more interested in your work attitude and if they actually like you as a person, rather than your amount of professional experience. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why you’re seeking an internship. You most likely do not have a lot of experience so don’t worry, the employer will be understanding about it.
Also, when relating your past work experiences and school projects, try to incorporate your involvement in side activities or hobbies. This adds another dimension to your personality, and who knows, you might share a common interest with your interviewer.
You are there to make friends and have a good conversation. Perhaps you’re on the shy and reserved side (like me), but that doesn’t mean you’re any less capable than your more extroverted peers. You can definitely do it, you just need to put in the extra effort. Be relaxed, not stiff, always smile, show that you’re happy to be there and most importantly, try to talk a lot. But talk smartly. Ask the right questions. Which leads on to my next point.
That’s right. As simple as it sounds, this is something we often forget to do while caught up in the chaos and nervousness of preparing for an interview. We rehearse the questions and make sure we can speak smoothly and have an answer for every question at the tip of our fingertips. But intern hirers don’t want a robot or a smooth-talker. They want a thinker. They want someone inquisitive and intelligent and someone who takes initiative. Don’t be intimidated by this! It’s a lot less nerve-wracking and more achievable than it sounds. You just need preparation. Research the company so that you can ask questions about it. You can even ask about your interviewer’s work scope, what they expect from you as an intern, what departments there are and what their job scopes entail, etc.
DO NOT ask about the working hours, salary, how much you will have to work overtime, etc. first. In fact, maybe don’t even ask about them at all. The questions you ask signify the priorities you have and you don’t want to come across as money-minded or inflexible or lazy. Also, a good interviewer will cover these aspects without you having to enquire about them.
4. Try to envision the work culture before meeting your interviewer.
Why is this important? First of all, it’ll help you decide what to wear. Believe me, being overdressed is just as bad as being underdressed. Don’t turn up in a black pencil skirt and white collared shirt to an interview with a graphic design company (Ok, pretty obvious example but you get the drift). Secondly, you can tailor certain interview question answers to match and complement the work culture. For instance, if the firm is small, they tend to be more busy handling multiple projects at any one time and the environment will be more fast paced. In this case, being able to work under tight deadlines and juggle quality and efficiency becomes more important. Hence, you can highlight this as your strength.
You can generally get a feel of the work culture by the website’s tone, style of writing, size of the firm, what industry it is in, their portfolio and clients, and even your email correspondence with them.
5. There’s no such thing as being “over-prepared.”
Keep practicing, keep researching questions, and keep brainstorming on things you can ask your interviewer. Start early and keep a good, relaxed pace during the days (which are usually not a lot) leading up to your big date. The more time and effort you invest in preparation, the better your interview will go, the more likely you’ll land the job.
And always make sure to get a good night’s sleep the day before, and have a good breakfast. Both your body and mind will feel refreshed and you will most definitely have an easier time during the interview. The last thing you want happening is getting a mind “blank-out” because of staying up all night and feeling lethargic.
How prepared you are also hints at your work ethic and how much respect you have for the interviewer and his or her time, both of which are points that will play a crucial role in helping you get that internship.
6. Bring up future time constraints, if any.
If you will need some time off on a certain day, let’s say a month from now for a test or any kind of important personal commitment, let your interviewer know at the end of the meeting. This can be easy to forget, so write it down in your notebook and take it out when the interview starts. (Also, it shows you’re prepared to take notes, which the interviewer might see as a good indicator of being professional) Be polite and brief about it. Bringing up these issues in advance shows you are organized and thoughtful.
7. Ask when you can expect a decision from their end.
Usually, intern hirers will give you a specific date on when you can hear from them again, or they might even let you know the outcome right there and then. If they don’t give you a general deadline, you should ask for one because A) You are entitled to know, and B) It’ll help you plan an appropriate day to contact them again if they don’t get back to you.
Before seeking an internship…
Here are a couple of steps you should take (or already be doing) before applying.
1. Update your portfolio.
Don’t be lazy and leave it to the last minute when you finally cinch that interview because you’ll regret it. Make it a habit to do this on a regular basis so you can save yourself a lot of stress and time in the future. That being said, if you find that you don’t have any updates to make to your resume or portfolio for a long, long time, it should be a wake-up call for you to start working on projects or getting involved in activities to bulk them up.
2. Read up on the industry often, or at least be consistently involved in it (Disclaimer: This can’t be achieved overnight)
This will definitely help you make a better impression on your interviewer; being more knowledgeable about the industry makes for better conversation starters and topics for discussion. And by adopting hobbies related to that line of work (For instance, if you’re interested in book publishing, aim to be more ambitious with your reading list and perhaps even experiment with posting novel reviews online), it shows you have a genuine interest in it and employers like to see that dedication and enthusiasm.
Once the interview is over…
Don’t bother with googling “How to know if my interview went well.” Trust me, you will know. If you left feeling happy and that you genuinely connected with the interviewer, it is highly likely you got the job. If you feel queasy or doubtful, well… You already know where this is going. Humans are intuitive creatures, so trust your gut feeling.
However, don’t brood over it if the interview left a bad taste in your mouth; learn from it (interviews are the sort of thing you get better at the more you do it) and get started preparing for the next application! Also, I find that not getting the job can be a great blessing; it just means that the position, the work culture and the employer wasn’t a good fit for you. Keep working at it and you will definitely land your dream internship! And after all that hard work, won’t it just make the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that much sweeter?