Applying and Interviewing for Internships in the U.S.

Applying for a great internship can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but our tips can help you land an internship with your dream company!

Tips on Applying

Young woman researches on laptop
Spoiler alert: your job search is going to take some research.
Image courtesy of Pexels

So you’ve done your research and found a company or two that you’re interested in. The next step is to apply for that dream internship! Make sure to follow our tips for creating and customizing your resume and cover letters. Once these are ready to go, follow our guidelines below to submit your application:

  • Ensure that you meet any requirements in the internship descriptions and that you have researched the company and its location.
  • Follow all application instructions carefully and make sure to include all of the requested documents. Even things such as file type make a difference: the professional norm is to save resumes, cover letters, CVs, etc. as PDFs. Nevertheless, you may find special instructions to save your files as Word documents or even to put all materials into a single document. Moreover, there might be easily-missed instructions to put specific information into a resume: availability, required compensation, etc. Overlooking these instructions, and submitting an incomplete application, will reflect poorly on you and may even terminate your candidacy.
  • Before submitting anything, don’t forget to check your social media accounts. Make sure your Internet personality matches the one you want to project to your future employer. Yes, they do check your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Instead of being held back by your social media image, you can use these tools to power your internship search!
  • One of the best ways to keep track of the companies you have applied for is to create a spreadsheet. If you’re offered multiple internships, this spreadsheet will make it easy for you to compare your options and make a decision regarding which opportunity will be best for you. You will want to keep track of the following:
    • Company name
    • Website URL
    • Hiring Manager
    • Hiring Manager email (if available)
    • Location of the company
    • Internship description
    • Pay
    • Dates of the internship
    • Any other relevant benefits or perks
  • If you’ve found the perfect company but they don’t have any internship listings, consider creating your own internship. Applying for this type of opportunity would look a little different, so make sure to check out our guide on how to propose an internship to an employer.

Tips on Interviewing

Employers who like 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.

Interviewing over video or over the phone and doing it well can take more preparation than an in-person meeting. Be sure all alerts, notifications, or any other features on your computer that make noise are disabled so as not to interrupt the flow of your interview. You don’t want a Skype from Grandma to cost you the internship! For more preparation tips, check out our guide on preparing for a professional video interview.

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.

Young man practices speaking in mirror
You should even consider practicing in the mirror.
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  • 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.” More information on using the STAR method to answer interview questions can be found here.

  • 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.

Prepare questions

American employers expect and want applicants to ask about the company and the internship responsibilities. Read our guide for sample questions to ask an employer in an interview. 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.

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.

Everyone gets nervous during the interview process. The most you can do is practice until you’re confident. Fortunately, there are many online resources at your disposal. Start here with an overview of common interview questions and how to answer them!

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation