The real key to a good interview is preparation. You’ll probably have plenty of other work to do while you’re applying for internships, but setting aside time to prepare for your interview makes all the difference. Employers want to hire students who are confident, relaxed, and ready to meet challenges-not floundering because they’re unprepared. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll put yourself ahead of the competition.
Choose your outfit carefully
First impressions are important; there’s nothing worse than candidates who arrive at an interview under- (or over-) dressed and looking like they just stepped out of the shower. As a general rule, you should dress “business casual” – conservative, but still comfortable. Despite the summer heat, women should avoid clothes that are too tight or revealing, and men should stick to dress shirts and pants.
Prepare responses to frequently asked questions
There’s no way to predict every question you’ll be asked, but you can prevent “um-ing” and “uh-ing” your way through the interview. The key? Articulating ahead of time why the internship opportunity is important to you. Interviewers don’t want to waste their time waiting for you to think up the perfect answer, and the first thing that comes to your mind may not be the best response. Instead, spend time before the interview considering the answers to some common questions. You don’t have to memorize a scripted response; the point is to have some focused ideas in your head that will convey your best side to the interviewer. You should at least know the answers to these questions:
Research the company
We can’t emphasize enough how important this one is. No matter how busy you are, if the company has a web site, take the time to surf it. There’s nothing that impresses an interviewer more than someone who shows a real interest in the company and its goals. Doing your research proves that you’re engaged with what the company has to offer and that you made an informed decision when you applied for the position.
If applicable, bring your work
Employers like to see initiative. They like to have a lot of information about a candidate, a personal quality that stands out, even a memorable anecdote. Particularly if you’re applying for an internship in advertising, editorial, or the arts, a sample of your work will give interviewers something solid on which to evaluate you. Don’t have anything to show? Don’t stress. You’re applying for an internship, so employers expect that you might not have a lot of practical experience. If they want to see what you can do, they’ll give you an assignment. If you are asked to prove yourself before you’re hired (with a writing or editing test, for example), don’t underestimate the importance of such projects – sometimes they can make or break your chances of being hired.
Prepare questions of your own
Wait a minute – aren’t they supposed to be the ones asking you the questions? Not necessarily. Having thoughtful questions prepared for an employer will show that you’re conscientious about making sure the internship meets your needs as well as the company’s. In fact, employers expect questions-they are a sign of an employee with potential. Here are some sample questions you might consider asking:
If you aren’t convinced you’re right for the job, they won’t be either. The interviewers we spoke with agree that the number one thing they look for in a candidate is self-confidence. But how do you accomplish confidence without sounding cocky? The best way to talk about yourself is to be honest and sincere at all times. Interviewers will be suspicious if you have all the right answers to their questions, and they’d rather hire interns who are aware of their own faults than those who appear to be hiding something.
Discuss it now
If you have financial concerns, housing issues, or time constraints that could affect your employment, address them at the interview. Not only will the interviewer appreciate your candidness, but you’ll save yourself the awkwardness of having to ask for these allowances after you’ve been hired. Give employers the benefit of the doubt. They understand that you’re in school, you need money to live, and that you may need time off to spend with your family. Discussing these issues at the interview will help the employer feel comfortable hiring you, since you were thoughtful enough to deal with these issues up front.
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Often overlooked, the thank-you note is a crucial part of the interviewing process. It doesn’t have to be long, but promptly thank your interviewer for his or her time and consideration. This is also a good opportunity to stress your best qualities, reiterate why you’d like the position, and address some of the concerns you feel the interviewer might have had when speaking with you. As with all correspondence to potential employers, be sure to use correct grammar and avoid informal language.