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How To Handle The Tough Interview Questions and Land Your Dream Internship

The art of practicing for an interview is different than anything else entirely.  Many college students have little to no experience on handling interview questions, especially the big issues that are poised to earn you a spot at your dream internship.  

I recently spoke with a student who is participating in the New York Dream Careers program this summer who was terrified to interview with prospective companies.  After talking with him and hearing that he felt much more comfortable with his upcoming interviews, the conversation sparked the idea for this blog post - what are the tough questions you should prepare for if you want to land a dream internship?  

I’ve compiled together some questions (and answers!) as well as some general thoughts on being well prepared and ready to land your dream internship:

Q: Tell me about yourself?

A: This is going to be your most commonly asked question during your interview process.  While you may be interested in telling the hiring manager whether you’re more of a cat or a dog person, this is not what they are looking to hear from you.  The employer is asking for your elevator pitch.  If you’re unsure of what an elevator pitch is, it is a succinct (usually 60 seconds or less) description of who you are professional.  It should include where you’re from, stating what you’re currently doing either as a student or professional and include past work experiences and future interests.

Forbes contributor Nancy Collamer has broken down what makes the perfect elevator pitch and the tips you should follow to achieve employment.  In the article, Nancy states, “You should be able to reel off your elevator pitch at any time, from a job interview to a cocktail party conversation with someone who might be able to help you land a position.”  Practice your pitch so that it feels natural and intriguing to others, you never know when an opportunity may arise.  You can view Nancy’s full article on the perfect elevator pitch here.

Q: How would you react in this [Example] situation?

A: Depending on the company or industry you’re interviewing for, these questions may vary, but they all exist in some form during the interview process.  My answer to all of these questions is to be prepared.

Roman Philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  This is a mantra to live by while trying to land your internship.  Preparation will get you farther than anything else in life, and it’s when you’re given the opportunity to sit across the table and interview with a dream company that you prepare like there is no other job in sight.  Prepare and form at least three real-life or hypothetical stories and how you would handle them in any alarming situation.  

Remember to keep your answers short and sweet during your interview, it’s important to know how you’re going to respond to every question before you even step into the office.  With the right amount of practice and preparation, you’ll be walking into your interview with the confidence and ability to land that dream internship.

Q: What do you consider to be your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

A: We all know how to discuss our strengths, you should hopefully know what you’re best at in any setting.  What is usually a little more challenging to a student preparing for interviews is understanding what their weaknesses are, and not turning those into weaknesses that can secretly be strengths.  

Stray away from the typical use of the word “perfectionist”, most likely the employer has heard this one in the past.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an interview mistake to mention where your weaknesses lie.  For example, let’s say that you’re bad at public speaking and a little shy; focus on how you’re going to improve that lack in your skill set.  Focus on what your strengths and weaknesses are, you may even learn a little more about yourself during the process.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A:  If you’re interviewing for a company that you hope to turn into a future career, be honest with the employer.  It will never hurt to let them know you’re looking for full-time employment, just be sure that you’re able to back up that statement by letting the employer understand how you plan to make that happen.  

If you don’t have the skillset yet to become a full-time employee, show them that you’re passionate and willing to learn about the business while you’re an intern.  The conversation of full-time employment may be a possibility in your near future.

By following this template of questions and being well prepared, you should be ready to tackle any of the challenging internship issues that come your way.  Practice with a friend or peer and do a mock interview to relax your jitters, write down notes and key points of information that you’d like to memorize.  Be honest, work hard and you will be rewarded.  For more information on the hiring process, check out this video of Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk and what he looks for during the interview process.

Clayton Wert is a Career Coach and Internship Advisor at Dream Careers, the leading internship program for college students. Clayton advises college students on how to land internships at the best companies in Los Angeles.