Common Internship Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Landing an interview is an amazing feeling. At the same time, interviewing is stressful for everyone—and for students and recent graduates, it’s even more intimidating. But with the right tools, and enough practice, anyone can ace their internship interview.
Today, we’re going to give you the inside scoop on preparing for your interview. Read on for tips on how to answer 23 of the most common internship interview questions.
How Should I Prepare for an Internship Interview?
Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. Your resume is just the tip of the iceberg for hiring managers. In fact, most hiring managers spend less than 10 seconds looking at your resume. Resumes say next to nothing about your work ethic, personality, and personal motivations. If you really want that internship or job, you need to ace your interview. And to do that, you need to study up on and practice the most common interview questions and how you should go about answering them.
How Do I Answer Internship Interview Questions?
First, let’s break down the different types of interview questions the hiring manager will ask you. Then, we’ll review the most common questions for each category. Finally, we’ll review each one in detail to ensure you know how to answer each internship interview question.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- How would your boss/friends/co-workers describe you?
- What are your hobbies?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
These are the questions that give a sense of who you are as a person. The interviewer wants to put you at ease and get to know you, so be open and honest in your responses. At the same time, remember to link all your answers to the role for which you’re interviewing.
The most frequently asked “about you” interview questions include:
1. Tell me about yourself.
This open-ended invitation often kicks off an interview, so make sure you’re prepared with a smart, short response. Interviewers don’t want to know your entire life story; think of this as the highlight reel, and keep your response to about one minute. While you don’t need to share your entire life story, if you’re proud of certain accomplishments, now is the time to highlight them. Start with your education, share your career highlights, and focus on what’s relevant to this position.
You want to enthusiastically and clearly state how your current and past responsibilities and qualifications will add value for the company. And while you want to stay focused on the job at hand, your personal interests can make your answer stand out—making you a more memorable candidate. They can also allow you to create personal connections with the interviewer.
2. What are your strengths?
Despite appearances, this common question isn’t a trick; it’s a gift. Answer as truthfully as possible, with a focus on strengths that will make you a great fit for this particular role. For a strong response, name three strengths that best reflect you, and then support them with evidence, including awards, accolades, or specific anecdotes.
Choose strengths that are directly related to the job and demonstrate your ability to settle into the job faster and perform better than anyone else. Try your best to stay away from cliché answers that the interviewer has likely heard a million times. Instead, think outside the box to experiences where your unique abilities improved a situation.
3. What are your weaknesses?
The others side to the “strengths” coin, this question is popular among interviewers and feared among candidates. Again: back up your responses with evidence and stay away from clichés. Perfectionism is not a weakness, nor is working too hard. The interviewer knows you’re human and wants an accurate picture of you.
The key here is to choose weaknesses that aren’t true deficiencies (this is an interview, not a therapy session) and aren’t vital to the job at hand. If you’re interviewing to be an accountant, don’t say that you’re bad with numbers. Be honest about your weaknesses, but come prepared to talk about how you’re improving yourself. Employers want to see that you’re taking action to address your shortcomings and improve.
For both strengths and weaknesses: Practice makes perfect! Be ready with clear strengths and appropriate weaknesses, and then back up your answers with concise, detailed stories. Whenever you have an important or unique experience in your daily life, take a minute or two to write it down. You never know when you might need to share it in a future interview.
4. How would your boss/friends/co-workers describe you?
This can be a difficult question if you haven’t thought about it ahead of time. Consider recent feedback you’ve received, both positive and negative. The point of this question is to see if you’re self-aware, so a good response would include two positive traits and one “needs improvement” to show that you’re insightful and honest. As always, back up your response with evidence. This question also gives you an opportunity to show more of your personality: Do people laugh at your jokes? Do they turn to you for advice? Are you the life of the party or a laidback observer?
Because you won’t have your boss/friends/co-workers beside you while you answer this question, you do have some leeway, but be cautious. If you’re hired, your new employer will want to see that sense of humor you talked about in your interview!
5. What are your hobbies?
Try not to overthink this question. Hiring managers don’t ask it to trip you up. They genuinely want to learn something about you and make sure you’re a good fit for their company personality-wise.
Again, honesty is the best policy here. You don’t want to lie and say something you think is impressive—like that karate is one of your hobbies—only to find out the hiring manager is a black belt and wants to know more about your dojo. Simply share a few hobbies that demonstrate your commitment and show that you have a life outside of work. And don’t share anything controversial (keep politics and religion out of interviews) or that could be construed as having a negative impact on your work.
6. Where do you see yourself in five years?
If the position you’re interviewing for aligns with your future goals, now’s the time to mention it! Given that over 59 percent of employers make a full-time job offer to interns, your interviewer is most likely looking for someone with potential for long-term employment.
In your response, emphasize what drew you to this career path. You don’t need to have a specific future role in mind, but ensure your career goals follow a natural progression from this position to more senior roles in the industry. Your answer should strike a balance between being realistic and being ambitious. But if you aspire to become President of the World by your 30th birthday, it’s best to keep that one to yourself.
- Do you have prior experience?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- How do you deal with stressful situations?
A lot of interview questions rely on your sharing experience from past jobs, and that can be difficult if you have limited or no work experience. Remember that it’s okay to be new to the workforce, but prepare yourself with an answer to each of these questions before the interview:
7. Do you have prior experience?
Don’t let this question scare you. If you’re a current student or recent graduate, it’s unlikely you’ve had an internship or job that’s identical to the one for which you’re interviewing. But you do have experience!
The key to success when answering this question is relate your experience through school, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and internships to the job at hand. Whenever possible, try to quantify your previous accomplishments with specific outcomes and metrics; it lends credibility to your response.
8. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
This question shifts the focus from your general strengths to your measurable impact. At the same time, it shows what matters most to you. There are a couple of points you’ll want to hit in your response. First, set up the situation that you’ll be describing and include the task given to you (e.g., “In my last job, I managed schedules for 20 employees.”). After this brief introduction, go into detail about your actions and their (impressive) results (e.g., “I standardized processes and reduced turnover by 20 percent.”). Wrap up by briefly describing why the accomplishment was important to you.
This is another question that calls for specific stories and benefits from the STAR method. Be sure to practice a few of these scenarios before the interview.
9. How do you deal with stressful situations?
Hiring managers love this interview question because they want to make sure: 1) You’ve handled stressful situations in the past, and 2) You’ll be able to handle stressful situations with their company. If you haven’t had any nerve-wracking experiences at work, branch out a little. For example, if you had a particularly stressful class last year, talk about it.
Interviewers want to gauge how you react under pressure, so use our old friend the STAR method to share an experience with them. Never say that you don’t get stressed; it will raise a red flag for dishonesty with the interviewer. You can learn more about the “working under pressure” interview question here.
- What do you know about our company?
- Why did you apply for this position?
- Why should we hire you?
Questions about the company are meant to test whether or not you did your research—and, implicitly, whether or not you really care about getting this role. These questions can help inexperienced applicants stand out over experienced ones, so be sure to spend some time exploring the company’s website, reading the latest press releases, and perusing LinkedIn prior to your interview.
10. What do you know about our company?
This question is one where you don’t want to respond with, “You’re great!” or “I know nothing.” The interviewer wants to see that you put in the time to do some research and truly care about your potential employer.
Adding personal touches when answering this question can go a long way. The more you can connect your newfound knowledge to your own interests and experiences, the better. Something along the lines of, “I appreciate this company’s mission because…” or “I was excited to see that you’re expanding because …” will make you more memorable.
11. Why did you apply for this position?
Never say that you’re just looking for something to pay the bills. As far as your interviewer is concerned, you could pay the bills by selling your things on eBay. Even if your primary motive is to earn a paycheck, focus on other factors that inspired you to choose this job in particular. Your potential employer wants to know what see in them, so include specific attributes garnered from your research. Then, highlight how your unique skills relate to these areas.
Often, interns don’t have large amounts of relevant experience, so it’s fine to say that you applied for the position to gain experience in that specific field. Just be sure to include a few recent projects or aspects of the company culture that show that you did your research.
12. Why should we hire you?
This question is similar to the classic: “What makes you the best candidate?” You’ll want to approach it with a two-pronged approach. First, highlight the strengths, attributes, and/or experiences that make you unique. Second, show how that uniqueness will enhance the company.
Since you’ve already studied up on the company prior to the interview, use that knowledge to tailor your answer. Highlight characteristics that would make you a great fit for the company culture in this particular position. Read the full article for examples and more tips on answering “Why should we hire you?”
- Who was the most difficult person you ever worked with?
- What is an example of a conflict you had to resolve?
- Do you prefer to work on a team or independently?
Questions in this category can be among the most informative for potential employers. Many hands make light work, and it’s crucial that you can work well with others, whether they’re at the desk next to you or across the country. In today’s interconnected world, interpersonal skills are becoming more and more important.
13. Who was the most difficult person you ever worked with?
As a new intern or new employee, you’ll be working with lots of different people. Some of them will be very different from you, and you won’t get along with all of them—but you still have to work productively together. In asking this question, the interviewer is confirming that you’re a professional who can get along with anyone if need be.
When answering this question, be cautious: The company you’re interviewing with doesn’t want to hire someone who is petty. Make it clear that while you did have problems with your co-worker or classmate, it’s behind you, and you don’t hold a grudge. Don’t name names, and end on a positive note. Even if there was no clear resolution, you want to show that you did what you could to improve the situation and learned from it.
14. What is an example of a conflict you had to resolve?
This is another question seeking to check that you’re a team player that can work with anyone. Stick to work-related conflicts for this one; you don’t want to give the interviewer a sense that you can’t separate your personal and professional life. Your response should focus on experiences where you showcased your leadership and problem-solving skills in a professional or academic setting. Again, the STAR method is your BFF. Even though the interviewer is asking for an example of a conflict, they’re really asking how you went about resolving it.
15. Do you prefer to work on a team or independently?
Pretty much every job requires you to work with others in some capacity. When you respond, be diplomatic, assuring your potential employer that you’re versatile. The interviewer is checking for three things: your preferred work style, whether you can play well with others, and whether you can stay focused without direct supervision. Share your preference, and then describe two positive examples: one in which you thrived as part of a team and one in which you thrived working solo.
- How do you organize your time and set priorities in a typical day?
- What are you looking for in your ideal position?
- Would you rather complete a job on time or do it right?
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
- What kinds of decisions are most difficult for you?
Your answers to these questions should show the interviewer how you actually perform on the job and whether you’ll be a good fit for the organization. While you want to paint yourself in a positive light, honesty is key. This is where you’ll set expectations regarding your productivity and preferences.
16. How do you organize your time and set priorities in a typical day?
For this straightforward question, describe how you keep track of deadlines, use your time, and determine which tasks receive priority. Be sure to connect your method to the job to which you’re applying, assuring the interviewer that you’ll be able to stay on top of multiple projects.
A response about juggling your coursework, homework, and extracurriculars is completely appropriate for this question. It’s safe to say that the person interviewing you has been through some form of higher education and can understand the stresses of college life.
17. What are you looking for in your ideal position?
For this question, tailor your answer to the job or internship you’re interviewing for. Even if you want to be petting baby pandas in your dream role, focus on the aspects of this job that you’re most excited about.
It helps to use the job description as a framework for crafting your response. Hit on the major responsibilities and highlight those that drew you to the position in the first place. You can draw upon your research on the company; if you know they have a strong mission, mention that your ideal position would be working for a values-driven organization. But remember: Interviewers are intelligent people. If you directly quote the job description, they’ll question whether you’re being honest.
18. Would you rather complete a job on time or do it right?
This question can vary based on the industry you’re interviewing in. Before you say anything else, be sure to mention that you do your best to ensure all tasks are completed promptly and correctly. This lets the interviewer know that you rarely have to choose between completing a job on time or doing it right.
Then, focus on the priorities for that specific job. If you’ll be dealing with strict deadlines and time-sensitive documents, describe why you think being on time is most important. If you’re interviewing for a role that values quality above all else, explain why you’re willing to sacrifice punctuality when absolutely necessary.
19. What type of work environment do you prefer?
Doing your research is the key to answering any question about work environment preference. No matter what your answer is, you need to make sure it jives with the established work culture and reputation of the company. For example, you don’t want to say you like a fast-paced work environment if the company you’re interviewing with is known for its laidback, chill atmosphere.
20. What kinds of decisions are most difficult for you?
There are a multitude of responses to this question, including decisions involving others, decisions with a big impact, or decisions involving large sums of money. Ultimately, the interviewer wants to know that you can handle any decision thrown at you—and they want insight into how you tackle the really tough ones.
The best way to approach this question is to choose a decision, and then share an actual example of a time when you encountered that kind of decision. Emphasize why it was tough, and then walk the interviewer through what happened and how you approached it. Finish up with lessons learned/happily ever after.
- Do you have any questions for me?
- How many jelly beans can fit in an 8-inch x 10-inch x 12-inch container?
- Do you have any children at home?
21. Do you have any questions for me?
This is a guaranteed question, typically asked with 10–15 minutes remaining in the interview. The interviewer is gauging your level of interest, checking that you did your research, and acknowledging that an interview is a two-way street. This is your final opportunity to convince them that you’re a great fit for the role—and to check that this is a great fit for you.
22. How many jelly beans can fit in an 8-inch x 10-inch x 12-inch container?
Questions like this are given to candidates as intentional curve balls. If you’re applying to a STEM-related position, you might want to prepare yourself. Most of the time, you won’t be expected to give an accurate answer. The interviewer mainly wants to see how you problem solve and think through unique situations.
If you’re blindsided by one of these questions, do your best to stay calm and formulate a best-guess answer, instead of just saying, “I don’t know.”
23. Do you have any children at home?
Any question that relates to your family, race, religion, gender, or age is illegal. The interviewer should know not to ask these questions, but if you get them, you should know how to respond.
You’re not required to answer, and you can steer the conversation in a different direction: “I’m not comfortable discussing that topic, but I do have a question about your management structure. Can we discuss that further?” If they pressure you for an answer, then that company is not somewhere you want to work.
Interviews are important. If you want to truly stand out from the crowd and get that job or internship, remember to follow this basic advice: Be honest, be prepared, and think through your answers before you get to the interview.
Be confident and remember: You’ve got this!