Interviewing for Internships in the U.S.
Interviewing for Internships in the U.S.

The Ultimate Guide to Interviewing

Interviewing for Internships in the U.S.

Employers who are impressed by your application and feel you would be a suitable candidate to intern or train with their organization will contact you to set up an interview, either in person if you happen to be traveling within the U.S., or via webcam/phone if you are still in your home country. Check out our Interview Tips webinar and refer to the following reminders as you prepare to interview for internships and training programs.

Do your homework: Get to know the company

One of the major reasons applicants experience bad interviews is due to a lack of preparation. Finding out as much as you can about the company and researching the actual internship you’re applying to is essential to preparing for an interview. Consider treating this like studying for a university course. Make flashcards to learn key people and departments. This may sound like overkill, but the more easily you remember details about the company, the more you’ll impress your interviewer. Make sure you understand the company’s mission and values, and have anecdotes prepared to show that you embody these traits.

After you’re familiar with the company, it’s important to brush up on what you know about yourself. Make a list of your skills, characteristics and attributes, and use these to formulate a strategy to stand out over other applicants.

Make a good and lasting first impression

On the day of the interview, be on time and be prepared! If you are interviewing via phone or webcam, test your equipment in advance so that you are sure you know how it works. Also, be sure to find a quiet, private spot so that your interview will not be interrupted and there will be no distractions.

If you happen to be on vacation in the U.S. or have an opportunity to interview in person, the following tips will help you prepare for interviewing face-to-face:

  • Turn off your cell phone or switch to airplane mode before entering the building. If it rings during an interview, that’s bad. Moreover, you may not realize that, in a quiet conference room, your cell phone will be audible even on vibrate. Don’t take the chance that you get back-to-back buzzing notifications that derail your train of thought.
  • Go by yourself. Don’t ever bring a friend or family member to an interview. In particular, do not bring anyone to translate for you. It is essential that you have sufficient English language skills to operate in the U.S. workplace, and you will not be able to demonstrate you have this ability if you have someone translating your interview for you.
  • Bring a pen and a notepad, as well as a copy of your resume. You’ll want to be able to write things down during the interview, even if you’re interviewing via webcam or phone.
  • Practice walking into a room. It’s very important to be aware of your body language at all times. You don’t want to look bored, impatient, or too nervous.
    Perfect your handshake. Your handshake should be firm and confident—not too weak and not too strong.
  • Make sure that you maintain eye contact and use your interviewer’s name when greeting one another. By doing this, you make the meeting a little bit more personable. Names are important. Remember that notepad you brought? Use it to immediately write down the names of all the people in the room with you and address them by name throughout the interview.
  • Be courteous and professional to everyone you meet at the office. The doorman to the building? The office manager? These people may not be making the hiring decisions, but you can bet that the person who is will take their opinions into consideration.
  • SMILE and be confident. Don’t second-guess yourself going into the interview. You were asked to come in for a reason.
  • Stay calm and breathe. When people are nervous, they tend to talk fast without realizing it. You will almost always benefit from consciously slowing down your cadence, particularly if you’re a non-native speaker.
  • Be honest. It doesn’t take a police psychologist to tell when someone is lying or exaggerating. Remember, these people probably have years of experience in their field; they’ll be able to tell if you lie to them.
  • Listen carefully and think of answers in your head before responding. Don’t feel like you have to rush to answer the questions.
  • Most importantly: Dress for the internship you want. Make sure to dress and groom yourself accordingly. In most cases, the first judgment your interviewer is going to make is based on how you look and what you are wearing. Always dress professionally and appropriately.

Practice your responses

Know the questions you’ll be expected to answer. Be especially prepared to discuss the experiences and skills you listed in your resume and the specifics in your cover letter.

  • Be concise. Make sure you answer what is being asked and avoid rambling. Too much information will confuse your interviewer and may make other answers to future questions redundant. Here you can rely on the STAR method, a widely-used means of forming succinct responses to interview questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for “situation,” “task,” “action,” and “result.” 
  • Do extra research on questions you find to be especially difficult. Most importantly, answer by providing examples of things you have accomplished. Arriving prepared with stories that relate to the skills your employer is looking for can give you an advantage. Respond by saying “Yes, this is similar to when I…”
  • These stories/examples should emphasize your strengths, flexibility, leadership skills, motivation to learn new things, any contributions you’ve made to organizations in the past, creativity, problem solving, etc.

You want to make sure to demonstrate both your interest in and your fit for the position.

Sample Questions to Answer:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

STAR method opportunity alert! You might say, for example:

  • Situation: “Staying organized used to be a challenge.”
  • Task: “In 2019, my former supervisor asked me to take on an additional project, Project B, in addition to my current workload, Project A. I realized that I needed to develop my organizational skills in order to succeed.”
  • Action: “I developed a time management system that works for me and that has really helped keep me organized: I started breaking down tasks into hour-by-hour chunks.”
  • Result: “As a result, both projects were successful. Projects A and B represented, respectively, 15% and 10 % growth compared to the same projects previous year.

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.

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.

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, get 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.

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!
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.

Using the STAR Method

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.

And, as in any good conversation, you should make an effort to be concise. We’ve all been in a group where one person keeps talking and talking and talking. You don’t want to be that person. Similarly, in the workplace, you need to demonstrate clear, concise communication. Fortunately, you can rely on the STAR method, a widely-used means of forming succinct responses to interview questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for:

Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

Task: What goal were you working toward? What was the specific thing you were trying to accomplish?

Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.

Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results. Also, use specific numbers if possible (e.g., my actions led to 10% growth in sales for the second quarter).

Most professional resources state that the STAR method is used primarily in “behavioral” interview questions. As the name suggests, these questions ask how you would behave in a particular work situation. For example, an interviewer might say, “tell me about a difficult decision you’ve made,” to which you would respond by discussing a specific situation, task, action, and result relating to a difficult decision.

Questions you will hear during an interview may not at first seem behavioral. How could “tell me about your strengths” possibly relate to a behavior? In fact, many questions can be answered with the STAR method because your answers should be supported with examples of how you have behaved in professional situations. So you might answer the “strengths” question by saying something like, “I consider my greatest professional strength to be my adaptability. For example, I was once in a situation where…” You get the idea!

The STAR method might seem like a lot of effort at first. However, all it takes is a bit of practice, and then you’ll be checking off the letters in your head as you form succinct responses to questions during an interview. Below, we’re going to present several common interview questions. Some allow you to consider how you might incorporate the STAR method. We’re going to call attention to these opportunities with a STAR method opportunity alert! Where you see this, take a moment and consider how you would respond by discussing a specific situation, task, action, and result relating to the question.

Prepare Questions

American employers expect applicants to ask about the company and the internship responsibilities to demonstrate their interest and curiosity. Interviewing your employer or future colleague will help you learn more about the organization and what it’s like to work there. Although your employer is trying to see if you’re fit for the position, you should be equally curious to see if the company is a good fit for you, too.

This is yet another opportunity for you to impress your interviewer. Asking certain questions will make a good impression.

Sample Questions to Ask in an Interview:

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 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.

Bonus points: Ask the question in a way that shows the interviewer that you’ve already done some research about how the different departments relate to each other. For example, consider the following question: “I saw online that there are three departments reporting to the Director of Programs. Do these departments interact on any projects?” Such a question shows that you’re aware of some basic company hierarchy already: you know the role of the Director of Programs and that this person supervises a certain number of programs. Asking this kind of question makes you sound informed, and your interviewer will note that you’ve done some research. Where might you have done this research? Most organizations’ websites have an “About Us,” “Our Work,” or “Our Programs” page.

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.

Bonus points: Ask about a project that’s currently ongoing within this department. You might be able to find a calendar of events on the company’s website, or a list of projects on the page of the program to which you’re applying. You could say, for example, “I saw that the annual spring fundraiser is coming up; how would I support that in this position?”

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?

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. Note that both this question and the preceding one, about the work environment, are both commonly used by prospective employees. It’s good to memorize these as backup questions for the interviewer. But if your intention is to impress in the question phase of the interview, ideally you’ll go with one of the other inquiries.
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.
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. However, be cautious not to imply that you only see the position as a stepping stone to another role. Your employer will want to have faith that you’ll focus on the tasks your position entails.
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.Bonus points: Use the responses given by the interviewer to sell yourself. For example, after hearing the interviewer’s response, you may say something like “I’m pleased to hear that; I helped a previous employer in that area.” Then, of course, give a succinct explanation. Remember that all stages of the interview are opportunities to demonstrate your ability to excel.
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.
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.

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 in an Interview:

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.
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.

Be patient! You can follow up with them via email after the interview, perhaps a few days later, to inquire about next steps. When you do follow up, don’t directly ask whether you got the position. We get it: it’s normal to be anxious and want to know. However, pointedly asking whether you got it can sound pushy and off-putting.

Instead, follow up with a simple thank-you email.

Preparing for a Video Interview

As an international intern applying to companies in the U.S., the chances are high that you will be asked to do a video or phone interview. The basics of preparing for a remote interview are the same as preparing for an in-person interview, but there are extra steps you’ll need to take to make sure you and your space are ready for a video interview. 

Preparing for a Video Interview:

Download and test software
Video interviews may occur on several platforms, such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. Verify the platform the company will use to interview you and make sure you have the right software downloaded to your computer. After you’ve downloaded the proper software, do a test call to make sure your audio and video are working as they should. If you have technical difficulties, contact your interviewer to discuss other alternatives.
Find a quiet interview space with a good internet connection and without any distractions. You’ll want to be able to shut the door so your roommates or dog can’t interrupt you during the interview. Try to create a professional background by removing any clutter. You want to be the interviewer’s main focus – not your posters or knick knacks! Don’t forget to also make sure you have a fully charged computer battery on the day of the interview, or else ensure your interview spot has a place to plug-in.
Make sure to confirm the date and time of the interview when you receive the invitation. Take into account time zone differences and clarify with the employer if there’s something you’re not sure about. On the day of the interview, be ready to start your interview on time, dress professionally, and turn off or silence your mobile phone.

Body language is much harder to convey over video, but by making sure to nod and smile along with the conversation, you can demonstrate your interest and attention through the camera. Remember to also keep your eyes on the camera while you’re speaking, not the screen.

The microphone will pick up small noises so try to limit extra sounds like typing. If you need a few moments to think before answering a question, let the interviewer know that you are thinking so they don’t fear the video feed froze. Make sure to also allow for small silences after you speak to give the interviewer time to respond or take notes. Don’t worry if there is a small delay.

Follow Up!

Your interview doesn’t end once you sign off Skype or leave the building.

Post-interview follow-up is just as important as going in for the interview. Within 24 hours after your interview, send a short email to thank the person(s) that conducted the interview for their time and to reconfirm your interest in the position. You can also add something specific that you talked about to help them remember who you are or highlight certain aspects of the position that you find especially interesting or would look forward to doing if offered the internship.

This is your last chance to make an impression and it’s also another way to reiterate your interest. Did you think of another question you didn’t get a chance to ask? Put it in the email. Better yet, you can include more examples of your work discussed in the interview. Maybe your interviewer made a casual reference to an article you wrote for a student newspaper. Include it as an attachment. Show them that not only did you pay keen attention when speaking with them, but you also took the initiative to follow up.