How to speak and listen


Make no mistake: Interviewers read a lot into your body language, tone, and conversational style and wonder how those traits will mesh in the workplace.

Just like in your social life, first impressions can set the tone for an entire relationship. But if you send the wrong signals during an interview, that relationship may not last further than the office door. Make sure your interviewer gets the right impression by reading the guides below.

Being authentic

The best way to be authentic in your interview is to pursue an internship in an industry and/or profession that truly interests you!  

It is really hard to fudge passion. People can detect real excitement for their work over those faking it. Employers want interns who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty because they love the opportunity to be involved in a role/function that is helping to expand their scope of knowledge, skills, and abilities. For these guys, there is no such thing as grunt work. Getting coffee for the boss is the opportunity to get a glimpse of his/her world every morning and pick up on snip-its of conversation that impact a leader’s life.  Boring or mundane tasks quickly transition into opportunities to get face time with people in positions that you otherwise couldn’t easily meet or interact with, if not interning there.    

It is very true that when you are doing what you love – it really doesn’t feel like work. That’s not to say that all of us don’t do tasks that are less enjoyable than others.  I know I certainly do, but it is completely worth it because I recognize it as the minor cost I pay in order to do what I love the rest of the time. It is not only important to choose a summer internship that “fits” you because you will interview better, it is important because it will be a more exciting summer.  

When you are in the wrong place, it is like being right-handed but having to perform your daily functions as a left-hander. That would be completely exhausting! If you are reading this and thinking, “Well that’s just great if you know your interests, but I don’t,” that’s OK.

Being an active listener

Did you ever hear the quote, “Nature has given men one tongue and two ears that we may hear twice as much as we speak.” by Epictetus? Employers want to hire interns who understand their organization’s goals and objectives. They want you to listen to them, understand them and commit to acting in their best interest. They want you to be focused on the company, not on yourself.  

In fact, did you know that more offers are extended when the interviewer talks more than the interviewee? Yes, that’s right. More offers are extended when you get interviewers to share more about themselves and the company, as opposed to when they spend time listening to you talk about yourself.  You might ask, “Why is that?" Asking good questions and gathering information on the interviewer and their company transmits the message that you’re interested in their needs. You are saying through your actions that you are concerned about doing a great job for the company. That creates a great first impression!

You might be wondering, “How do I get the interviewer to talk about the company rather than drill me with endless questions?” After all, that is how most of us tend to imagine a typical interview. Well, it is a good question.

Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask to get the interviewer talking:

  • I’d love to hear your opinion on what you believe are the most important things I could do to be a great intern if you chose to hire me?
  • I’ve been told that “fitting in” at the company I work for this summer is really important. I’m really interested in learning about what the company is like and how past interns have been effective at fitting in and contributing as part of your team?
  • I want to be an intern who can help the company do more for less because I am here to contribute. If you could put me anywhere to get some things off your plate, what would you want me to do? I’d like to convince you that I can do those things.

These questions are just a few of the possible opportunities for interviewers to engage and share perspectives. They also demonstrate good active listening skills. You can tell them you recognize how important their time is and want to use it wisely. Tell them that you’d like to know as much about their goals and needs regarding a summer intern so that you can give them the most relevant and valuable information about you.

Communicating confidence

You’ve got to believe in yourself in order for the interviewer to believe in you.  

I like quotes. There are so many that are perfect for conveying an important point about the interviewing process. For example, Jesse Jackson said, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.”  I love this quote because people tend to believe that only the brightest get the best opportunities. That is totally and completely bogus! Interviewing is like a chess game. Often, it’s not the person with the most assets that wins. It is the person who uses his or her assets most skillfully that wins. The reality is that you can be the absolute best candidate for a position and still not get the offer. The way to consistently get the offer is by influencing interviewers to believe that you are the best candidate. Having talent, genius and education is useless if you can’t convince the interviewer you possess these attributes.

Asking questions during the interview

While answering questions is a significant portion of the interview, your ability to ask effective questions is just as important.

Selling yourself through questions

Your questions provide an opportunity to position yourself favorably in their eyes. You can do this by asking questions that encourage employers to envision you as an important member of their team. There is a strategy to asking questions that can play an integral part in your success as an interviewee.

A great question to ask is, "If selected for this internship, what will I need to accomplish to receive an outstanding review?" This question makes the interviewer envision you in the company and as a top performer. You actually make that person "see" you as great in order to answer the question.

Asking effective questions can also help you learn about hard to research aspects of the organization. It is difficult to learn about an organization's culture from corporate literature, external research or the company's website. Ask questions that elicit information on culture and full time offers to help you assess if this is the right internship for you.

If you want to know about the culture, you could ask:

  • Who is the most successful intern you've hired and what characteristics did that person possess that made him/her a great contributor?
  • Tell me about some of the employees that have the longest tenure here and what, in your opinion, has made them so loyal to the company?
  • Who in the organization would you say best personifies the culture of the company and why?
  • How would you describe the company's management style and culture?
  • How many interns do you traditionally hire into full time positions?

Notice these are all very positive questions designed to offer insight about corporate culture and who the powerful people in the organization are and why. It is great information to know so that you can observe and learn from them if offered a position.

Do's and don'ts when asking questions

Do:

  • Ask for a business card
  • Ask "How do you go about..." questions
  • Ask what the next steps in the selection process are and the best way to follow up
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to improve your candidacy
  • Ask positive, future-focused questions that incorporate you into the company

Don't:

  • Ask yes/no questions
  • Ask negative questions
  • Ask about salary
  • Ask questions you know nothing about
  • Leave without asking some questions

Answering questions during the interview

We recommend using the STAR method to respond to questions during an interview.