How to Answer Interview Questions About Internships

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When you are applying for an entry-level position, a common job interview question is "Have you completed any internships? What did you gain from the experience?"  When recruiters pose this question, they are typically assessing whether you have any hands-on experience where you have applied knowledge and skills to real-world situations.  

How to Answer When You Have Done an Internship

If you have done internships, you can simply reference your experience and share what you have learned.

Itemize the skills that you developed in each experience.  For follow-up questions, prepare anecdotes, stories or examples that demonstrate how you applied those skills, personal qualities or knowledge bases to add value or achieve some success.  Describe situations or challenges you encountered, actions that you took which reflect the asset and the impact you had (even if it was minor).

Employers will also be curious about how your internships might have influenced your career aspirations. If the internship(s) served to confirm an interest in a career function like marketing or an industry like consumer products that is in line with your target job, then you can share this realization.

If not, then consider whether the internship helped you to recognize skills related to your target job that you enjoyed using. For example, you might be targeting public relations but did an internship in publishing or online media.

 Once you discover that public relations employers value writing skills, then you might mention that you enjoyed that aspect of your publishing internship.

How to Answer When You Haven't Done an Internship

If you haven't done any internships, then you can take the opportunity to reference any internship like experience that you have had.

 Any experience where you applied and developed skills can qualify, such as academic projects, labs, campus activities, volunteer work, case studies, research support for faculty, independent studies, theses, and competitions.

Don't forget to describe paid job experiences that support your career interests or provide evidence of appealing character traits.  You might have worked at the front desk in a financial planning office and that exposure might have stimulated an interest in the field or you worked twenty-five hours a week at a retail store while maintaining a full course load (demonstrating a strong work ethic).

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are sample interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background:

  • I completed a marketing internship for a local firm this past semester and was fascinated with how the team analyzed the needs of clients. I enjoyed helping them to orchestrate promotional events, and they loved the copy that I wrote for client websites.
  • I wasn't able to complete any internships because I was working 20 hours a week to help with my college expenses while taking 16 or more credits.  Also, I was an assistant editor for the school paper where I learned to cope with deadline pressure and honed my writing, editing, and organizational skills.
    • This past summer, I completed an internship with a major consulting firm in the city. I learned two key things about working in the business world. First, not one college course can prepare you as well as personal, hands-on experience. The second is, listen to what your co-workers have to say and watch what they do. Although they may not realize it, other employees can be your best resource to learn both what to do and what not to do in the office.
    • My university required all fashion design majors to complete a rotation of internships during the summer between junior and senior year. At first, I did not understand why we were spending the summer working, but once I started my rotation, I knew why they set the requirement. The internships helped me focus more specifically on what part of fashion design sparked my interest the most. Without the personal experience, it would have been a shot in the dark, and I may have had to go back to square one if I was not happy with my career choice.

    • I did not complete any internships during college, but I did use my last two summers to volunteer at a local homeless shelter. At the shelter, I worked with the social workers on a daily basis. I was able to assist with home visits, life skills, and employment issues, along with all the other resources and services offered to the residents at the shelter. Although it didn't have the formal internship title, it served the same purpose and gave me the same hands on experience I would have gotten by doing a social service internship with the county.

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