Even if you applied for after-school jobs before getting into college, an internship interview might feel like a whole different beast. What kind of interview questions are you going to get? What kind of experiences do internship interviewers even want to hear about?
Well you’re in luck. As someone who recently wrapped up hiring a class of summer interns for the Oakland Museum of CA, I have plenty of tips to offer on this topic.
What interviewers are looking for
First, keep in mind that an internship is a two-way street. Yes, there are tasks, and probably a bigger project or two, that your employer wants you to complete over the course of your time working there. You’re expected to be an engaged, productive member of the team. But the company also wants to provide you with an incredible learning opportunity.
That means you’re not expected to be an expert in the space or have a wealth of “professional” experience to speak to in an interview. Mainly, the interviewer wants to get to know you, your experience so far (including professional, educational, and volunteer opportunities), and how you handle (and will handle) different types of work situations.
They also want to understand why you’re interested in this internship. What are you hoping to gain? Is it in line with your career trajectory, or are you just looking for something to do this summer? Hint: They want to hire someone who’s actually passionate about the field!
With all that in mind, here are 30+ internship interview questions you can expect during your conversation:
1. Why are you interested in this internship/company/industry, and what skills or experiences do you hope to gain?
As you might guess, this question is used to measure if your expectations and career goals align with the internship and what the company can offer you. The interviewer also wants to make sure you’re actually excited for this opportunity and want to work with them.
How to answer
Show enthusiasm, do your research to come up with a thoughtful response for what drew you to the company or role, and be specific. The interviewer knows you’re looking for a learning opportunity—tell them what you want to learn from this internship in particular, and make sure it aligns with the organization and what you know about the role so far. You can also use this question as an opportunity to talk about your experience, passions, and values.
For example, if you’re interviewing for a marketing internship, you need to go beyond saying, “I’m really interested in getting marketing experience.”
“I’m really excited about this opportunity because I think it will give me exposure to thinking about messaging for many different audiences and through many channels and specifically a number of social platforms. I was looking at your social media, and am really fascinated by how you craft posts for all of your different initiatives. Your commitment to community engagement really speaks to the values I’m looking for—I’d love to work for a company that really values its users and takes their wants and needs into account.”
2. Tell me about a situation where you took initiative or took on a leadership role.
This question helps the interviewer decide if you’re someone with drive. In other words, are you going to be able to step up when needed?
How to answer:
Any time an interviewer starts a question with “Tell me about a time” or similar, that’s a signal they’re looking for a specific example from your past. These kinds of inquiries are called behavioral questions, and they’re based on the idea that how you acted in the past and what you learned will predict how you’ll handle situations in the future. For behavioral questions, or any question where you need to tell a story, you can structure that story using the STAR method:
- Situation: Give your interviewer the context they need to understand the scenario.
- Task: Talk about what your job or responsibility was.
- Action: Detail what you did, why, and how.
- Result: Share the outcome of your actions—including anything you learned from the experience.
Specifically for this question, a lot of times candidates will answer with an example of leading a group project, which totally works as an option. But you can also talk about a time when you noticed something that needed to change and took the initiative to change it, whether or not you had a “leadership” title or role.
For example, maybe in your part-time program coordinator role on campus you realized some of your colleagues were struggling with a certain portion of the program because the instructions weren’t super clear. So you took the initiative to ask the other coordinators what could be more clear, and recreated the instructions so the program could be implemented more seamlessly for current and future team members.
Using the STAR method, your answer could come together like this:
Situation: “Last semester in my program coordinator role, I was part of organizing an open house for nonprofits in the area looking for student volunteers. The students who were in charge of reaching out to nonprofits and assigning them to booths were given the same forms to fill out as we usually use for our job and internship fairs, and some parts of the form didn’t make sense in our context.”
Task: “I decided that we should make things clearer so that we’d be able to sign up as many nonprofits as possible and not look unprofessional while doing so. I created a specific form for companies looking for volunteers.”
Action: “I sent around a Google Doc version of the form currently being used and asked all of the students involved in outreach to comment on questions and fields that didn’t apply or weren’t as clear as they could be. Taking these comments into account and using the original form as a jumping off point, I was able to put together a form that gave us all the info we needed for this specific event.”
Result: “I brought my suggested form to my manager and let her look it over—after a few tweaks we were able to send it out and start using it immediately. In the two weeks that followed, we were able to get as many organizations to commit as we had in the two months before the new forms. Plus, my boss was so impressed by my initiative that she offered me the role of senior student coordinator for this upcoming fall—and I’ll be helping to train new student employees.”
3. What’s the best team you’ve ever been a part of and why?/What’s your ideal team?
The “team” question can come in many shapes and sizes. However it’s delivered, the interviewer wants to understand how you work with others so they can envision how you’ll work within their team. Simply put, does their team culture and your potential boss’s management style make sense for you?
How to answer
If you have real examples from past experiences that you can draw on to explain your dream team, great! You can draw from class experiences, extracurriculars, volunteer work, part-time jobs, and more. But if you don’t have any relevant experience, that’s just fine—talk about what you believe makes for a stellar group dynamic.
Whether you’re drawing on past experiences or not, details are key. For example, “Good communication is important for a great team” is the start of your answer, not a complete statement. You’ll also want to define what good communication means to you and what it looks like in practice. (Hint: You can use the STAR method here to talk about how the team worked together and what you achieved.)
One answer to this question could look something like:
“Good communication makes for a great team, and creating best practices around how a team is going to communicate is really important. For example, for my last class project our team had to put together a 30-minute presentation that required a lot of research and analysis that had to be done in a certain order. In order to make sure we were always on the same page, we met weekly and created shared Google Docs so we could collaborate even when we weren’t with each other, and we all agreed we could call each other whenever we needed something so that we could stick to our timelines. This synthesis of working styles helped us to stay on track, work efficiently, and ultimately get along with one another. Plus we got an A on the presentation, which was icing on the cake.”
Just remember: This isn’t supposed to be a vent session where you bash former teammates (that attitude says more about you than them). If you’re using a negative team experience as an example of what you don’t want, focus more on what you learned from that experience rather than what wasn’t good.
4. Tell me about an assignment or project from start to finish—what went well, and what would you have done differently?
The interviewer wants to know how you do things. This question isn’t necessarily about the final product—although make sure to share that as well as the impact of the project. It’s an opportunity to understand your process and how you go about tackling assignments. Are you organized? Efficient? A team player? Do you change course when you know you need to? Do you learn from your mistakes when things go wrong? Do you think strategically about why you do certain things?
How to answer
You want to go into detail about how you completed something. So use the STAR method with a heavy focus on the “Action” portion. Did you do any planning? Did you use any tools? Did you have to do research? Spell out how you got from A to Z clearly and concisely, and why you chose to do what you did.
For example, “I planned a talent show” should really be:
“As an RA in my dorms, I planned a student talent show to bring the students together and build community. I started by recruiting a couple volunteers to help, setting a date, and confirming the venue. Then I spoke to all the students about signing up to perform by going door-to-door in all the dorms on campus—not just the building I worked in—handing out fliers that I designed and printed, and making announcements at our monthly dorm meetings and having other RAs make announcements at theirs. I created the show schedule, emailed it to all participants, and then made sure to keep in contact with all of the students so they didn’t drop out. I used shared Google Sheets to stay organized and delegate tasks to other volunteers. To help encourage people to participate and come, I coordinated with campus food services to have some food and drinks served at the event.
“On the day of the show, I coordinated a quick run through and then MCed and managed the whole run of show. It ended up being the highest attended dorm event of the year! That said, if I were to do it again, I’d partner with some other school clubs to curate a more diverse and inclusive set of performances.”
5. Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge or obstacle.
This is to check if you’re adaptable and self-aware. The way a person deals with challenges, mistakes, and failures can tell an interviewer a lot about the intangible attributes that are going to make them a good intern—and a good person to have at the company overall.
How to answer
Describe a specific example using the STAR method, but keep it high-level. It doesn’t have to be a huge challenge, either—having to solve some small problem or do something difficult works perfectly fine. You definitely don’t want to harp on the negative, but rather spend most of your time talking about what you learned and maybe what you would have done differently. The goal is to show resilience and an eagerness to grow and improve.
For example, I’m always impressed with candidates who share when they’ve had to have tough, direct conversations, like when a team member isn’t carrying their weight and the issue needs to be addressed head on. One candidate I spoke with shared an example like this, where she decided to speak with the team member directly. She asked to speak with them in private, and took the approach of asking pointed questions to understand why the person wasn’t doing what they said they would. Because the issue was addressed thoughtfully and without outright blaming or shaming the person, she was able to learn that they had too much on their plate and the work needed to be redistributed so their workload felt less overwhelming.
But of course that’s not the only option.
Here’s what an answer might sound like for a different kind of challenge:
“At my part-time café job, one morning I arrived for my opening shift to find that the café was still locked and the other four employees were waiting outside. The shift manager hadn’t shown up due to what turned out to be a family emergency, but we were due to open in an hour. I suggested one person call the owner, one call the general manager, and the other try to get in contact with the shift manager. Meanwhile I headed to the building manager’s office for the shopping center. Luckily I found someone in there who was able to unlock our back door. Once we were in, I gave everyone one of the prep tasks I knew was most important and jotted down a quick list on a white board of the prep tasks in order of priority. We were able to get enough done that we only opened five minutes late and I held down the register throughout the morning rush with one other barista so the others could finish prepping for the day. When the owner got our messages and rushed in, he found things running fairly smoothly. Rather than having to redirect us, he was able to jump on making drinks to speed up the line. When the rush ended, the other employees told him how I’d stepped up and he loved how I’d sorted the tasks by priority so much that he made it a standard process for closing at the end of each day so that whoever opened could get right to work.”
6. Tell me about a time you had to learn something completely new.
Basically, the hiring manager wants someone who’s open and eager to learn, not someone who’s going to be close-minded, do the bare minimum, or not get anything out of their experience. They also want someone who’s willing to develop a new skill or take on a new assignment for the good of the team.
How to answer
Identify a time when you had to learn something completely different from your area of expertise or interests, then focus on why you decided to pursue it in the first place and how you actually picked it up. Your classes or class projects will provide some great examples of this.
“I’ve always been interested in science, so even though it’s not a requirement for me to graduate, an introductory biology class really caught my attention—we’d get to go out to different ecosystems and see the effects of climate change on the environment firsthand. So I signed up, but when I got to the first lecture there were hundreds of other students there. I was used to classes of 50 max. And I felt like everyone was speaking some language I’d never heard before. But instead of dropping it, I made sure to read each section ahead of time and look up new terms and concepts so I wouldn’t get lost in the lectures. I also took advantage of our library's massive collection of scientific journals to both learn more about the class topics and get used to how scientific research gets written about. By the end of the semester, the professor joked that she should put my name on one of the chairs in her office to reserve it for office hours—I was always there asking questions to make sure I understood the material and to talk about outside info I’d learned. I aced the class and learned so much. Plus, I started a study group with my lab partners to go through homework together and even two years later, they’re some of my best friends. We don’t have classes together but I love hearing about what they’re learning.”
7. Can you tell me about a project or accomplishment you’re proud of, and why?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask, because I want to know what lights the person up. Interviews are nerve-racking, and sometimes it can be hard to gauge how a candidate will actually show up to work. This question is meant to put a smile on your face, and give you the floor to brag a bit!
How to answer
Choose something you’re genuinely proud of, not just something that relates to what you think the interviewer wants to hear. It doesn’t even need to be something you did at work. A candidate recently spoke to me about a solo volunteer trip he took to Central America, and his whole demeanor changed when he explained how he felt after the trip (and talked about his plans for another)—which instantly impressed me.
Share the specifics of your accomplishment, but focus on the why, too. What exactly made this a proud moment? Did you overcome a huge challenge? Did you take on something brand new? Did your accomplishment impact the greater good?
This might sound like:
“In my postmodern novels class, we were tasked with writing a paper on a book we’d read—which is pretty common. Usually, I’d just stick to the expectation of only evaluating the text itself, but this book had really moved me, and I wanted to dig deeper and figure out why. The book was set in a nearby city, and after some research I realized that many of the settings were real places—or at least they were when the book was written. So I decided to go to the main locations from the book, compare them to their descriptions in the book, and use that to talk about the themes of memory and place in the novel. For each place, I also tried to talk to someone who frequented there. My professor was so impressed with my project that she helped me apply for a student slot at a local literary conference. I was accepted and presented as one of three undergrad speakers. Before this experience, I used to avoid my more creative ideas in favor of doing things I know will work—but now I know how far my creativity can take me. Plus, I’d always been fairly socially anxious, so talking to people for my project and giving the speech during the conference really pushed me out of my comfort zone and I’m really proud of myself for going through with it.”
8. Do you have any questions for us?
You should always have questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview—about the internship, your potential manager, the team, or the company as a whole. You literally have an expert at your disposal, so use your time with them wisely by digging into the specifics and getting any lingering concerns addressed. The interviewer wants to know that you’re engaged in the interview process, and asking thoughtful, provoking questions is a great way to show this.
How to answer
Prepare at least two to three questions that not only show you researched the company and know what it does, but also demonstrate that you’re excited about the role and all it has to offer.
Here are a few great questions you can ask, depending on what you’re looking to get out of the conversation and who you’re speaking with:
- “What’s your career path been so far that’s led you here, and what made you stay at this company?”
- “What’s been your most memorable experience here and why?”
- “What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on?”
- “How do you measure success for this internship?”
- “What’s one thing you’re hoping to get from an intern? How can an intern make your life easier?”
- “What do you love most about your job? This company?”
Check out this article on the best questions to ask in an interview for more great ideas.
Pro tip: It’s perfectly OK—and encouraged—to write your questions down ahead of time and pull out your notes when it’s your time to ask. This ensures you don’t forget anything, and if you bring a pen and take notes it shows the interviewer you’re paying attention and taking their responses seriously (just don’t be heads down the whole time).
9. Role-specific interview questions
In an internship interview, you may also encounter some specific questions that speak directly to the role you’re interviewing for—so make sure you have examples and related experience prepared to address any of the “required” skills or specific projects and tasks listed in the job description.
For example, if you’re interviewing for a human resources internship that will give you access to sensitive employee data, be prepared to share an example of when you’ve dealt with confidential information and explain specific experience you’ve had working in databases. For technical questions, even if you haven’t used the company’s specific system, describe similar systems you’ve used and your ability to learn quickly (with actual examples of these skills in action).
Bonus internship interview questions
Beyond these inquiries, you might get asked some of these common interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Walk me through your resume.
- Why did you choose your major?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What are some of your weaknesses?
- What can you bring to our team or company?
- Why should we hire you?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What did you do in your previous internship?/What do you do at your current job?
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
- How do you deal with stressful situations?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss or a professor.
- How do you stay organized?
- How do you like to be managed?
- What are you passionate about?
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
- What motivates you?
- What are your career aspirations?
- What is your dream job?
- What makes you unique?
- What are your hobbies?
- What should I know about you that’s not on your resume?
- How do you keep yourself on task when working or learning remotely?
Above all, remember that the interviewer wants to get to know you and ensure the internship will be mutually beneficial. So be yourself, take a deep breath, and know that you’re going to do great!
Regina Borsellino also contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.