First impressions are often lasting impressions, and the interview is usually the first opportunity to make a positive impression on a potential employer. Make sure you're prepared for interviews by practicing your responses to some of the most commonly asked interview questions. At the same time, don't forget that you are, in a way, interviewing the employer as well to learn more about the position and organization. The interview should flow as a conversation, where both parties are trying to learn if the other is a good fit.
Sample Questions to Answer:
1. Tell me about yourself.
The employer is looking for a brief summary about you and is more interested in hearing about your educational and professional background than your hobbies and favorite foods. See if you can sum up your educational and professional background in about 60 seconds and ensure that you make connections between your background and the position for which you are interviewing.
2. Why do you want to intern/train here?
Focus on a few of the key responsibilities that are especially interesting to you or highlight aspects of the company that you find appealing or beneficial to your professional development. Be sure to include what you hope to learn from the position, but also explain what you would like to contribute to the organization as well. Absolutely avoid mentioning you want the position solely because of its location or because it is a requirement for your degree.
3. What do you know about this industry?
You may not have a lot of experience in the field yet, but make sure you have researched and are ready to discuss current trends – particularly what's happening in the U.S. and in your home country. It's also extremely important to refer to specifics from internships or work experience you've had in the past or topics you've recently studied in school.
4. What do you know about our company?
A potential employer wants to know that you have researched their company. You don't need to know everything about the company, but you should be able to discuss the basics. Find out what the company's mission statement is, who the biggest clients are, etc. Research recent news articles about them. The company's website, blog, and social media is also a great place to start.
5. What specific skills do you have that would relate to this position?
Make sure you've thoroughly read the requirements for the position and confirm that you meet them. Refer to specific responsibilities of the position and tie them to your educational and/or professional experience. If you aren't applying to a specific internship/training opening and are proposing the program to the employer, be sure to explain that you have a strong foundation for training in this industry. They will understand that they will need to teach and train you, but they will also want to know you have sufficient preparation to be successful.
6. What makes you a good candidate for the position?
Discuss your qualifications, including your educational background (include specific coursework or projects), internships and professional work experience. You may also want to include some personal characteristics (e.g. motivated, hardworking, getting along with many different types of people, etc.), but do not simply list positive attributes. The interviewer is more interested in how you demonstrate these skills or attributes.
For example, instead of saying you are motivated, provide an example of how you proactively identified a need at a previous company and subsequently led a project to meet that need. This will prove that you are motivated without you just saying, "I'm highly motivated." If an employer ever asks you to "tell me about a time…" this is the type of response they are seeking. They don't want to hear that you are good at time management—they want you to provide actual examples of your time management skills.
7. Tell me about your strengths.
Many people are inclined to recite a list of traits such as "dependable" or "creative", but it's especially effective to discuss experience or skills that are directly related to the internship/training program to which you're applying. For example, if you're applying to intern/train in Sales but have no previous sales experience; highlighting your presentation skills might really impress an employer. Or you may want to provide an example of how you were able to persuade someone to do something since that is the foundation of the sales industry. Again, provide actual examples rather than a list of attributes.
8. What is your biggest weakness?
This is one of the most challenging questions to answer. You obviously don't want to say something negative about yourself to a potential employer, so the trick here is to turn a negative into a positive. For example: "Staying organized used to be a challenge, but I developed a time management system that works for me and that has really helped keep me organized."
9. Why should I hire you for the position?
Give specific examples of your accomplishments and why you are the best person for the position. Talk about the responsibilities of the position and the skills you possess to fulfill them. Be sure to restate your interest in the position!
10. What are your goals for the future?
An employer wants to know that the position relates to what you hope to do in the future because it's a sign that you will be motivated to learn and work hard in the position. Talk about your goals and explain how the position would help you achieve those goals.
Sample Questions to Ask:
1. What is the overall structure of the company and how does your department fit within that structure?
This is a good way to get a sense of the how the company operates and what each department does so that you can see how your role as an intern/trainee would fit into this organization.
2. What will be my day-to-day responsibilities? Can you give me an example of a project on which I would be working?
You should ideally know the major responsibilities of the position before interviewing, but this question will help you get a better sense of the more specific types of tasks you would be doing and the anticipated level of your involvement within the organization.
3. Can you describe the work environment/office culture?
Is it casual? More corporate/formal? You will want to know the office dynamic before accepting an internship position with the company. Can you see yourself training in a similar environment? How does this office compare to offices in your home country or previous positions you've held?
4. What do you like about working here?
Be curious and inquisitive! Show that you are interested in the interviewer's background and experience at the company. You will learn about the advantages of having an internship with them and get some firsthand insight.
5. Why are you interested in hiring an intern?
This is a great way to gauge the employer's motivation for having an intern in the first place. You can better understand what they might have you working on and what type of role they envision you having.
6. What is the typical career path for interns or employees in this department?
You can relate this question to your long-term career aspirations by mentioning where you see yourself in a few years and how this position ties into those future professional goals. Maybe the employer will mention a previous intern. Do you share a similar background with that intern? This is a great way to learn about what a typical or potential career track might be.
7. What would you consider to be the most important aspects of this internship role?
You can use this question to really emphasize your strengths and draw on your education and/or previous experience. The better you are at understanding the expectations for the position, the better you can show them how you will meet those expectations and be an exceptional intern/trainee.
8. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of this position?
This interview is an opportunity to really learn about your employer's expectations for the position. You can also turn this into a conversation about challenges you've faced in your previous positions and how you have overcome them. (Hopefully very well!)
9. Does the company participate in any team-building activities, traditions or events?
The purpose of the Career Training USA program is cultural exchange. The program is a really great way to learn more about U.S. culture and to share your culture with Americans. This question allows you to learn about opportunities or activities for you to get involved in with the company.
10. What are the next steps in the interview process?
You don't want to be pushy about when you will find out if they have offered you the internship, so this is a good way of asking what happens next.
What NOT to ask:
1. What does this company do?
Show that you have done your homework! The interviewer will think you are wasting their time if you ask questions that you can easily find the answer to yourself, such as on their website.
2. Can I change my schedule? What salary, vacation time and benefits do I get?
Wait until you are offered the internship before negotiating things like salary and vacation time (if applicable). You certainly want to have these things agreed upon before accepting an offer, however you don't want to give them the impression that you only care about the perks of position instead of the position itself.
3. Did I get the position?
Be patient! You can follow up with them via email after the interview, perhaps a few days later, to inquire about next steps.
Also, don't forget to send a separate thank you email to each person who interviewed you within 24 hours of your interview. It sounds simple, but it often goes a long way. It's also another way to reiterate your strong interest in the position. Did you think of another question you didn't get a chance to ask? Include it in your follow-up email!
Want more practice questions? Visit Monster.com for a list of 100 common interview questions.
Allison joined the InterExchange team in 2011 and holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Higher Education. She oversees the daily operations of the Career Training USA program where she has the privilege of working with students and professionals from around the world pursuing U.S. internships and training programs. Allison is originally from Massachusetts and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.