Ace your summer internship interview

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I’m excited that I’ll be going to my Alma Mater tomorrow to help students practice their interview skills. It’s inspired me to write this article.

The challenge many students face is how to speak about their experiences. I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to approach this and ace your interview.

Establish the groundwork

I had written an article in back January It’s time to start thinking about summer internships where I explored topics including how to research a company and how to introduce yourself to professionals. I would highly recommend checking this article out to establish your groundwork. It’s important to remember that there are many students out there whose background is similar to yours, especially if you live in a town with several universities (Montréal was named the world’s best student city). It behooves you to be well prepared.

Promote your experience

It’s been my experience that hiring managers aren’t familiar with how to interview students. They have a solid understanding about how to assess candidates already in the workforce but struggle when it comes to assessing students’ skills and potential. This is where you’ll have to promote your experience.

Listen carefully to the questions then relate them back to the experiences you DO have. While you aren’t a pro in the business world yet, you have experience. Group projects, case competitions, involvement in student associations, previous internships and summer/part-time jobs all constitute experiences that give you exposure to “real world” problems and solutions. This is the experience you will draw from when answering the interviewer’s questions.

Let’s play this out.

Hiring Manager: Please tell me about a time that you faced difficult situation with a colleague. What was the situation and how did you resolve it?

Student: Well, my part-time job is in a stock room and I primarily work alone. With that said, I have experienced a conflict with one of the team members in a group project. We all agreed to have the first part of our project completed by X date and this person hadn’t completed anything. I asked the person when they thought they would complete it, and the person told me to relax and calm down, which really surprised me. I kept my cool then scheduled a call with the other team members. We decided on two potential actions: Plan A was to schedule a time that we could all meet face-to-face and understand why the work wasn’t done then see what was wrong and/or offer any help. Plan B was to redistribute the work between ourselves and speak to the professor. It turned out that the person’s parents were going through a divorce and they were very upset. Thankfully we were able to clearly communicate our sympathy but also the impact their work had on us all as a team. We managed to get the work back on track and got a great mark. 

As you can see, even without direct experience in your field, you can still give solid answers.

The method for strong answers

The key to giving strong answers is to answer questions thoroughly. A common error that many candidates make in interviews, even those with several years’ experience, is that they speak using hypotheticals. They talk about what they “would” do.

A better way is to answer with the SAR method.

SAR stands for Situation, Action, Result and this method will help you to answer interview questions thoroughly and based on experience. When answering questions using the SAR Method, describe the situation to give the hiring manager some context, talk about the specific action(s) you took then speak to the result, meaning describe what change occurred thanks to your input.

The question/answer role play I shared above is an example of an answer that incorporates the SAR method and I also shared a few more examples in my article Give better answers to interview questions with this method.

In addition, this method of answering questions helps to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are a doer, that you are results-oriented and that you are aware of your impact on others. These are attractive qualities for employers.

Resources for more information

I have written several articles about interviewing, and while they are geared towards professionals, I believe they can be helpful for you as a student:

I wish you all the best and hope that you’ll land a great summer internship! Good luck!