How to interview aspiring interns: the complete guide

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The ultimate hiring manager’s guide to conducting a great interview for aspiring interns and hiring the best of the bunch

Interviewing candidates for your internship vacancy can be hard.

Common interview questions about previous work experience are – well, out of the question! So how do you ask prospective interns the right types of questions in an interview to see who is the best candidate for the job?

We believe that running a great internship interview process is about more than asking a few great questions. It actually starts before that, all the way at the interview invitation.

Interview invitations for interns

Your interview invitation will set the tone for your candidates.

It’s easy to just give your top candidate a quick phone call out of the blue and talk at them, but this is a serious mistake.

It gives the impression that you’re desperate which is a major red flag. We would always recommend setting up formal interviews with your top 3 applicants at the very least.

The last thing you need is to get too excited to properly vet your candidates and end up hiring someone who lied about their skills on their CV!


Here’s a sample interview invitation for aspiring interns:

Hi [name],

We’d like to invite you to an interview at [company name]. The details are as follows:

Interview type: Video interview

Date: 01/06/2021 at 13:00

Instructions:

Click this link: [link]

You’ll be talking with [interviewer name(s)].

Please let me know whether you’re available.

Thanks,

[Your name]


There are a few things to note about this interview invitation:

  1. It’s very clear about the format of the interview and even mentions who the interviewers will be. This is a nice thing to include for candidates that like to research!
  2. The candidate is given a slot, not asked what time they can do. This saves you from a lot of back and forth with your candidates.
  3. This is the bare minimum of what we suggest you include. Your internship applicants might have never interviewed anywhere before, so giving them a ballpark end time and more details is always a good idea. You could mention wanting to chat about the company and what the internship would include.
  4. If you’re arranging an in-person interview, the details will be similar. But be sure to include an address for the office and for free parking nearby!

We would always recommend arranging interviews a few days in advance, or the day before at the very least.

Common internship interview questions

Nervous aspiring intern in an interview with employer

Why did you apply for this internship?

The last thing you need is to hire the wrong kind of person.

This includes people who have no desire of working in this industry or field long-term, but it also includes people that already have experience too.

Your intern needs to be someone with very limited experience – if they have any at all. Otherwise their role could quickly become boring and they could leave before their time is up.

A great answer to this question might include:

  • Wanting to try out their skills in a professional environment
  • Gaining more experience for their career goals
  • A particular interest in your company or industry

Can you see yourself in this kind of role in the future?

When job hunters are trying to secure their very first role, they can apply to anything they see.

But you don’t want to hire just anybody. You want to hire someone with the passion to learn fast, give fresh ideas and be really great.

So it’s important that you hire someone who could see themselves in this field in the future. Their career path and this role should align in some way.

If you hire someone who really wants to get into marketing for a sales internship, you could be barking up the wrong tree.

A great answer to this question might look like:

  • I don’t know where I’ll be in the future but I’ve always had an interest in this kind of role and want to try it out
  • Absolutely, it’s my dream to work in this field

Do you have any relevant experience you can share?

First jobbers might not be great at writing a CV that sells their skills, so give them the chance to do it in the interview!

Your top candidate should be able to give you an answer that shows they’re proactive in their life.

Whether that means they:

  • Have volunteered before
  • Do relevant things in their personal life, for example write a personal blog
  • Have taken online courses to help them develop relevant skills

Tell me about your coursework/extracurriculars

If your candidates have absolutely no work experience, you can rely on their school experience to show you how they work.

If they balanced schoolwork with extracurricular activities and a part-time job, you can trust that they’re proactive and motivated.

A great answer:

  • Won’t depend on them going to an amazing school or getting top marks
  • Will show proactivity, self-discipline, motivation and time management skills

Are you interviewing anywhere else?

Some companies take weeks to assess applications and hire an intern. But some only take a few days to come to a decision.

It’s easy to leave hiring an intern on the back burner. But top intern candidates will be snapped up by other companies in a flash.

You don’t want to be left without any candidates because it took you too long to make a job offer.

A good answer:

  • Will be honest
  • Will give you some motivation to get on with hiring

Behavioral internship interview questions

Smiling aspiring intern shaking hands in a job interview

Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team

Everyone has worked as part of a team at some point in their life. And you want a candidate that doesn’t upset your company culture.

Knowing how to work well with others is an integral part of becoming an intern and employee.

A good answer might involve:

  • The role they usually play in a team
  • How they help others to reach an end goal
  • How they approach a project and coordinate other people

Tell me about a time that you managed a varied workload

Interns usually have a lot of low-level work on their plate.

You don’t want to hire the underachiever that cracks under pressure. You want to hire an intern that can keep all of their plates spinning so that you can focus on your work, not micromanaging them.

A great answer:

  • Includes a real-life example of a time they managed lots of different things
  • Talks about overcoming challenges and getting good results

Tell me about a time that you took ownership of a project

Like I just said, you don’t want to be micromanaging your intern. You want to hire someone that can manage their own time and tasks.

You want to hire someone that can take ownership of their work!

A great answer might include:

  • A time they lead a project
  • A time they overcame difficulties to meet a deadline

Tell me about something you’re proud of

This is where you can get a feel for your candidate’s passions and personality.

Obviously a bad answer will be that they’re not proud of anything!

They might mention:

  • Their dissertation or a big school project
  • A time they helped someone
  • A side hustle or passion project

Tell me about a time that you overcame a challenge

And finally, if none of the previous questions have interested you then this one hopefully will.

You want to hire someone that can rise to a challenge, not someone that quits when things begin to get tough.

You want a determined problem-solver.

A good answer might look like:

  • Them explaining a clear challenge they overcame, no matter how serious it was
  • That they look for help and advice from others
  • Them taking initiative and getting creative to find a solution

Will you test your applicants?

We don’t like to leave hiring to chance. That’s why we always test our applicants to find out who really has the skills to succeed.

And we recommend you do too! Sometimes people with more experience will be less skilled than those untested candidates with natural talent.

Give your internship applicants feedback

And finally we always recommend giving your interviewed applicants some great, actionable feedback.

Internship candidates will inevitably have little interview experience, so any tips and resources you can give them will be invaluable.

I hope this article helps you interview aspiring interns and hire the best of the bunch. If you need any help sourcing more internship applicants to interview and hire, check out our hiring platform.

About post author

Hi, I'm Daisy. I'm using my passion for writing to work with DigitalGrads on their content and social media campaigns.
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