Congratulations, you did it! You landed an interview for your dream internship. Since you haven’t had a lot of experience in the workplace yet, an internship is an awesome opportunity to get “real world” work experience, figure out what you like and don’t like about a particular industry or job, and build your professional network.
You’re probably preparing for the interview and getting ready to put your best foot forward. Maybe you’re confident about how you’ll answer the questions they might ask you. Perhaps you’re reviewing the internship program description and picking out an outfit that makes you feel beyond confident. All of these steps are important, but don’t forget to think of questions you’ll ask them, too.
As you prep, it’s important to remember that interviews are your opportunity not only to impress an employer, but also to determine if you can see yourself working in a specific role at a particular company. I've spent the better part of the last decade working with college students and early career professionals as they seek internship and full-time opportunities, and I can tell you that asking good questions isn’t just a great way to make a solid first impression and stand out among other internship candidates. It can help you gather key information that will help you decide whether an internship opportunity is a good fit for you.
Here are 10 questions you can ask during your next internship interview to showcase your interest in the position and uncover what you want to know about the opportunity—plus a few quick tips on how to prepare to ask the best questions. (And if you’re looking for an internship to apply to in the first place, you can find plenty of internship postings right here on The Muse!)
1. In Addition to the Responsibilities Outlined in the Job Description, What Projects and Tasks Are Priorities for This Intern Role?
In order to get a sense of the full scope of the internship, as well as how your contributions and performance will be assessed, this question is key. The answer can give you a sense of what you’d actually be focusing on—which could be a great fit or not, depending on what you’re looking to learn and do long term—and help you ferret out how an organization assigns work at the internship level.
Pay attention not only to what they say, but also how they say it. Does it sound like they’ve thought through what this intern will do and how it will help them grow? Do they have support in place to ensure the intern can learn and succeed? If the interviewer struggles to provide specific projects and tasks or, on the flip side, shares a lot of project responsibilities that weren’t listed in the job description, it could mean that the company is disorganized or overburdening interns with unrealistic expectations. However, a range of responsibilities could also mean that the internship will give you the opportunity to learn and work on a lot of different things. In a supportive work environment, this can lead to a wide set of experiences and involvement on the team, allowing you to learn a lot about a company (and the industry more broadly) and gain more transferable skills for future job opportunities.
2. What Does a Typical Week Look Like for an Intern on This Team?
This question provides the opportunity to dig deeper into the typical day-to-day work of interns at the company. You can learn more about what the most common workflows look like and how much an intern gets to interact with other professionals within the organization. Look for routines within the answers they provide: Are there certain meetings or events that happen on a regular basis? How often does the intern have facetime (virtual or otherwise) with the internship program lead or their manager? Answers to this question can provide a lot of helpful insight into what the work looks and feels like—and if it seems interesting and engaging enough for you to accept the role if it’s offered.
3. How Much Time Would This Intern Spend Working Independently vs. in Collaboration With Other Interns or Employees?
The answers to this question can also tell you a lot about what your day-to-day work will look like and how many other interns or full-time staff members you’ll have the opportunity to work with directly. You may also get a good sense of how interns are expected to work with others on the team and share project updates with their supervisor as well as what type of communication channels you’d be expected to use and how often you’d need to check in throughout the week.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. Instead, it’s a way to figure out whether your work style preferences mesh with the company culture. Maybe you thrive when you’re given a project and get to run with it on your own. Or maybe you prefer to work closely with peers and managers to accomplish larger goals as a team and learn best by seeing others in action.
Be sure to listen for details about who you’d be interacting with regularly and who would be responsible for delegating work tasks and giving feedback on individual or collaborative work. These are also the team members who might be providing insights for your performance review. In some industries, including financial services or tech, the feedback you get could have an immediate impact on the possibility of your internship converting to a full-time offer at the company in future.
4. What Are Some of the Most Common Challenges That Interns in This Role Have Faced in the Past?
You can ask this question to get a sense of how invested the organization is in supporting its interns and in improving the intern experience.
If your interviewer can’t come up with an answer, it may mean the organization hasn’t paid attention or created a system to solicit and implement feedback from interns about their experiences. But hopefully, the interviewer or hiring manager can provide insight into the challenges past interns have faced, which can tell you a lot about what areas you may need to seek additional help or support in if you’re offered the internship. Make sure to listen for what strategies the company has leveraged to try to help interns avoid or work through some of the difficulties. Remember, challenges aren’t inherently bad—they can help you develop your skills and prepare you for future jobs—but you do want to know what they might be and how your manager and colleagues might help you face them.
If the challenges that interns in the past have faced speak to any skills or experience that you already have, this can also be a great opportunity for you to reinforce why you would be such a good fit for the opportunity!
5. Can You Walk Me Through the Onboarding Process for New Intern Hires?
When asking this question, you’re looking for clues as to what the first few days are like for new intern hires and whether that kind of onboarding sounds appealing to you. Maybe this is your first internship ever, and you’re really interested in working for an organization that has a highly structured and standardized process to welcome you to the team; allow you to meet other interns and begin building relationships with peers and supervisors early on; and help you learn about the company, its culture, and key tools or technologies they use. Or maybe you are more of a self-starter, and the idea of a more fluid onboarding experience with clear goals but more room to influence how it looks is appealing to you.
While there’s no wrong answer here, if the interviewer isn’t able to provide a concrete response, it may be an indication that they haven’t put much thought into what the intern’s learning experience is like or how to set a new intern up for success. The company might be disorganized, or maybe there isn’t anyone well-versed in creating training experiences for new hires.
6. What Does Mentorship and Professional Development Look Like for Interns?
Based on the interviewer’s response here, you may learn a lot about how interns are valued (or not) beyond their work contributions at the company. Are they just interested in having you there to cross things off the team’s to-do list, or do they also care about your learning and growth? Would you have an opportunity, for example, to be matched with a mentor to help you get acclimated to the organization and learn more about the industry? Do they hold regular training sessions or lunch-and-learns where interns can gain new skills or ask questions?
Relationship building and professional development are important to your career success. Answers to this question will definitely shine a light on how much a company is focusing on engaging and growing their people—even at the intern level. And just by asking, you’ll showcase your interest in professional development and learning, which is an asset in any work environment and ultimately makes you a stronger candidate.
7. When You Think About Past Interns Who’ve Been Successful Here—What Skills and Qualities Made Them Stand Out?
This is your chance to learn what skills have allowed interns to thrive in the past and what type of work style or personality is valued in the organization. In other words, you’re asking who would be considered a rockstar—and how you could be one, too. But you also want to know that you can be yourself and succeed in this environment, so it can help you gauge whether this is the right role and culture for you.
If the answer underscores what a great addition you think you’d be to the team, this is the perfect moment to reiterate any specific skills or experience you have that align with what has impressed them in the past. For example, if interns who ask good questions and don’t wait to be assigned tasks are key, maybe you can talk about the initiative you took at your last internship to suggest a Slack channel for interns to ask high-level questions in one place and learn from one another’s questions as well as the responses. Or maybe you’d tell the story about the time you pitched an idea for a campaign that would help engage with younger audiences when you realized this was a pain point for the marketing team you were interning with.
8. Can You Share Examples of How the Organization Prioritizes a Culture of Equity and Inclusion for All Employees?
As companies and organizations continue to make public statements about their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, asking this question is a great way to determine how critical this work actually is to their overall mission and culture. Asking for concrete examples of how the organization implements diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies can provide insight into whether the organization is actively working on this and whether they’re willing to be transparent about where they have opportunities to do better.
Look to hear about what initiatives are in place to help all team members build community, make their voices heard, and be valued. Examples of equity and inclusion in action might include affinity groups—sometimes known as employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs)—as well as internal training around bias, policies that demonstrate a commitment to create diverse applicant pools and career advancement for underrepresented and marginalized communities, and performance evaluations that take into account DEI goals.
If a company can’t provide concrete examples, it may mean that these efforts don’t exist, that employees across the company aren’t aware of ones that do exist, or that there’s not a culture of open discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The answers to this question can give you a good sense of how important it is to the organization to invest resources for immediate and long-term culture change—or not. Asking now will help you not only to find the right organization to intern with, but also to learn what to look for when you’re applying to full-time jobs.
9. Now That We’ve Had a Chance to Discuss the Role, What Reservations Do You Have About My Candidacy?
This question may feel risky if you’re new to interviewing or don’t feel comfortable talking about yourself. However, it’s a great way to assess and address any hesitations your interviewer might have about giving you an offer. If asked with a healthy dash of confidence and self-awareness, it can create a great opening to share additional information about yourself and how you might be a good fit for the internship.
For example, if they say they’re concerned about how much experience you have using collaborative tools like Google Drive and Trello, you can share how much of a self-starter you are and tell a story about a time you took it upon yourself to upskill quickly and learn the ins and outs of a particular technology tool you needed to complete a school project. Be sure to provide specific examples that speak to their reservations and what you’ve done in the past (and could do in the future) to bridge the gap(s) in question.
Whether you address the interviewer’s concerns in the moment or not, you can always reference these points in your thank you note.
10. How Do You Maintain Relationships With Former Interns in the Long Term?
Asking this question is a great way to gauge whether people at this organization tend to maintain ongoing relationships with former interns to support their career growth in the long run—whether or not the organization is likely to have the budget to hire you full time.
Networking with people in your industry of interest is a great way to find out about job opportunities for years after your internship ends. If you stay connected, people who were once your supervisor or colleagues might keep you in mind when they’re hiring and recommend you when someone they know asks for referrals. They can also become mentors you can turn to for all kinds of career advice. Some larger organizations might even have more formal intern alum communities to help you stay in touch.
Be sure to listen for indicators as to how formal or informal relationships with past interns are maintained: Does the hiring manager keep in touch with their former interns and tell you about what some of them have gone on to do (and maybe how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished)? Is there a Facebook group or Slack anyone who’s been through the internship program gets added to? Have they hired former interns right away or a few months or even years later?
A Few Quick Tips to Help You Ask Good Questions in Your Internship Interview
The questions above are a great starting point for any internship interview. But here are a few additional pieces of advice to help you prepare to ask the best questions as confidently as possible.
- Do your research. Take the time to review the job description so you’re familiar with the internship and gain clarity on the scope of work ahead of time. Taking the time to look at the company’s website, social media accounts, Muse profile (if they have one!), announcements, press mentions, and more to learn about any new initiatives, programs, or products can also provide valuable insight to ask questions around. For example, if you’re interviewing for an internship with the marketing team at a company that has recently acquired another company, you might formulate questions around how brand identity and company structure may impact the marketing department’s strategy. Questions that showcase your research beyond just what you’d be doing at a company are a great way to stand out in the crowd among students.
- Prepare more questions than you think you might need. It’s important to ask thoughtful questions at an interview because it signals to the interviewer that you’re interested in the position and are a self-starter who can do their research and contribute to the team. But there’s a good chance many of the questions you come up with may be answered during the interview (which is a good sign!). To ensure you have two or three strong questions left to ask that haven’t already been addressed, you’ll want to have plenty of options to choose from.
- Practice asking your questions out loud. Practicing your interview skills (including asking as well as answering questions) with someone you know, like, and trust will bolster your confidence. The goal isn’t to perform perfectly, but the more you practice, the easier it’ll be to focus on having a conversation, impressing your interviewer, and walking away with valuable information that’ll help you make your decision if you get an offer.