It’s interview season, as students applying for summer internships learn whether they’ve made the cut for this next step. Internships are increasingly important for future employment, and increasingly competitive — and a strong interview is essential to land a good one. If your student has been invited to interview, make sure she’s well prepared by sharing these tips.
1) Do your research
Investigate the organization in detail. Peruse every element of its website. Know its history, its accomplishments, and its leaders. Friend the company on Facebook, and follow it on Twitter and LinkedIn. Google it and read about it. Be able to speak specifically about why you’re interested in the company. Few things impress an employer more than an applicant who demonstrates knowledge and understanding of the organization he or she seeks to join.
2) Dress professionally
Even if you’re applying with a company known for its laid-back vibe, err on the conservative side when it comes to appearance. If it’s a financial, legal, or corporate setting where a suit and tie are de rigueur, buy one as an investment in your future. Otherwise, “business casual” is usually right: a dress shirt and khakis for guys, tailored dress or skirt/dress slacks and blouse for women, and dressier shoes. No low-cut necklines or tight silhouettes. If you have tattoos, cover them till you’ve got the position and know what’s appropriate to display in the workplace. Nails should be clean, with an unchipped coat of pale polish for women. A fresh haircut and shave are essential.
3) Practice beforehand
As digital technology becomes ever more dominant in the workplace, some initial interviews for internships and jobs are conducted via Skype or FaceTime. All these tips still apply, including those regarding dress and appearance. Approach a virtual interview just as you would an in-person meeting.
Do some mock interviews ahead of time — enlist a friend to take the interviewer role. Have her greet you, pose questions and critique your demeanor and language as you respond, including identifying overuse of filler phrases such as “like” or “um.” Talk out loud to a mirror when you’re by yourself. Go out on a limb and ask someone to video you as you answer questions — few methods offer a better way to critique and improve your performance.
4) Anticipate frequently asked questions
While it’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll be asked, some questions can be expected: “Why do you want this internship? What interests you about the company? What strengths and skills do you bring to this position? How will this internship benefit you? Why should we choose you?” Practice will help you hone and polish your answers. Have a friend ask these questions till your responses are succinct, articulate, and effortless.
5) Come with questions of your own
By having a few questions ready to ask your interviewer, you’ll demonstrate initiative, curiosity and an investment in the outcome — all traits that an employer values. You might ask questions such as: “How will I be supervised? How many other employees will I be working with? What tasks will I carry out? What learning goals do you have for interns? How often do you hire interns, and what are your criteria?”
6) Bring your portfolio
If it’s appropriate, take samples of your work. For fields like design or studio work, architecture, photography, advertising or journalism, a portfolio showcasing your work will enhance the conversation and make you more memorable. Present your work in a professional format such as a folio to leaf through or an e-portfolio, rather than loose pages.
7) Make a good first impression
Arrive 15 minutes early. Take time to compose yourself. Don’t be staring at your phone when your interviewer arrives. In an era where many college students communicate largely by text, in-person communication skills often get short shrift. When you greet your interviewer, smile and extend a strong, confident handshake. Keep eye contact, even if you have to pause and contemplate an answer. Avoid fidgeting, playing with your hair or other distractions. Be attentive yet relaxed.
8) Be confident but not arrogant
While you must never come across as cocky, an interview is no time for false modesty. This is your chance to convince the employer that you are the best candidate among the many she will be considering. Know your resume, and emphasize your accomplishments: grades, coursework, awards, volunteer and extracurricular activities, previous internships or work experience. Demonstrate how the skills you’ve attained (leadership, organization, perseverance, meeting deadlines, analytical prowess, problem solving, interpersonal communication) apply to the opportunity you’re seeking. But be honest, and don’t oversell yourself. You expect to add value to the company, but you are not doing them a favor by applying; you are in a position to learn.
9) Leave your business card
A sharp, clean business card emphasizes your professionalism and promotes a relationship. Leaving one with your interviewer as you say thanks on the way out will keep you at the top of his memory and distinguish you from other applicants who most likely won’t have a card to share. All you need to include is your name and contact information, though your college logo might be a nice addition. Numerous online companies offer inexpensive business cards with a wide slate of designs to customize.
10) Follow up immediately with a thank-you
Compose a short, handwritten thank-you on a simple notecard and mail it as soon as your interview is over — decisions are often made quickly. Thank your interviewer for his or her time and consideration, and restate your interest and qualifications. If anything arose during the interview that you would like to clarify, you can do so briefly here. Sound professional, write legibly, and make sure your note is 100-percent free of errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation — have a qualified person read it to be sure. When many professionals are buried under hundreds of emails a day, a handwritten note stands out, making you a more memorable candidate.