Interviews are stressful. As your one chance to really sell yourself to another person who will be determining whether or not you’ll be able to get some experience in your intended field, there’s a lot of pressure on you to get it right.
You need to stand out if you’re going to be considered for the role you’ve applied for, so here are 7 ways to do just that:
1. Research the company or organization you’re applying to
It’s important to know just what you’re getting into any time you’re breaching unfamiliar territory, but it’s especially important to know what you’re getting into in any interview. Typically, if you’ve made it to the point in your college career where you’re ready to start learning the ins and outs of your prospective field, it’s good to get an idea of exactly what it is you’ll be doing before you start.
The best place to start learning all the information you need, then, is with the company itself. A company’s mission, values, and objectives say a lot about the kind of environment that you’ll be working in during your internship, so knowing those before you go into your interview is going to give you a leg up on the other candidates.
Not only does it make you look like a well-researched candidate who is interested in them and knowledgeable about your role in the larger scheme of their company, but it also gives you to weigh your own values and expectations against what’s in front of you. The better research you conduct on the company or organization you’re interviewing with for an internship this summer, the better equipped you will be to drop the little tidbits of information you’ve learned into your answers to make yourself a standout candidate.
2. Prepare your answers ahead of time
Research is only the first step in preparation for your interview. Once you’ve established a solid knowledge base, it’s time to move on to practicing how you’re actually going to prepare your answers. While it’s true for most people that conversation comes easier to them when it’s unscripted, an interview for your dream job probably isn’t the place you want to try “winging it.”
You don’t have to plan out what you’re going to say word for word (although, if you’d like to, that’s totally fine!). You should, however, at least roughly plan out what your answers to some of the more common interview questions are going to look like. No matter how good of a natural conversationalist you are, chances are that you’ll start to feel the pressure when you sit down for an interview.
You can expect to be asked at least some variation of a few of the linked questions in an interview, so having something prepared ahead of time can save you from all of the pressure that’ll build up around you while you’re in the interview. Before you go in to try for your dream internship, it’s a good idea to sit down and self-reflect for a bit. One of the first things your interviewer will probably say to you is, “Tell me about yourself.” So, know yourself.
3. Composure is key
As lovely as it would be (for you), interviewers aren’t just looking at your answers to their questions when they’re trying to find standout candidates. They’re also looking at your composure. How you carry yourself says a lot about the kind of person that you will be as a member of your team. Are you relaxed or stiff? Do you slouch? How quickly are you speaking? What kind of attitude do you bring to the table?
All of these questions are something that your interviewer is going to be silently cataloging the answers to throughout your interview, so practicing poise is key. The company or organization you’re applying to wants to know how you’re going to fit in amongst the people who are already working for them - and a big part of that determination for them comes from your body language.
If you sit up straight (but not too rigidly), speak slowly and clearly enough for them to understand you, and smile often, you should start to shape yourself as a standout among some of the higher ranking candidates for your internship. If eye contact makes you uncomfortable, practice it beforehand with someone you trust so that you’ll be ready to look your interviewer in the eye and sell yourself to them.
4. Get excited - but do it subtly
There is nothing that potential employers love more from their candidates than some good, old-fashioned enthusiasm. Enthusiasm shows them that you want to be there, that you are truly interested in the position and what they do at that company. So get excited. But depending on the company, it might be best to channel your excitement into some tangible and noteworthy things that will also earn you some extra brownie points.
You don’t need to come into your interview like a cheerleader who’s just swallowed ten pixie sticks. Sometimes, excitement can be something as simple as smiling and nodding enthusiastically as your interviewer tells you about the company. It can be asking questions to learn more about a particular job function or something your interviewer has expressed interest in. It can be a well-placed laugh.
In order for your interviewer to be sure that you’re going to be a good fit for their team, they’re going to want to see that you have a positive attitude, that you can hold a conversation, and that you’re attentive. But they’re especially going to look to see just how excited you are about the position you’re applying for. In an interview, enthusiasm is the making of a standout candidate.
5. Have examples to back up your skills and qualifications
Employers don’t just want you to tell them what you’re going to bring to the table if they bring you onto their team. Anyone can say that they have one skill or another, but without any evidence to back it up, your interviewer has no way of really knowing what that skill or qualification is going to do to help them in their company or organization in its daily objectives.
When you’re preparing your answers to interview questions, then, it’s best to also come up with some examples that will back up the skills and qualifications you plan to present to your interviewer. These can typically come in the form of past work experiences you’ve had that have helped to prepare you for this role or - for an internship - classroom experience in lieu of any missing work experience.
We recommend coming up with examples that will allow you to tell a specific story of how you came to gain certain skills or knowledge or achievements. Because of the way our brains are hardwired, an interviewer is much more likely to remember you, as a candidate, if you can sell yourself narratively. A larger story is easier to remember than smaller details, so the interviewer will likely think back on the situation you presented and remember you from that.
6. Use numbers whenever possible
The more specific you can be about your past experiences in an interview, the better standing you’ll be in when it comes to the final candidates they’re going to look at for the internship. Storytelling is a great first step, but if you can also quantify your skills and accomplishments, it’s going to help you paint a clearer picture to the interviewer of the type of intern you’re going to be.
Quantifying your experiences isn’t always easy. You may not have access to certain information or need to estimate in some cases, but quantifying is another way showing your interviewer who you are as a candidate, rather than telling them. If the interviewer can visualize the logistics that went into a particular experience you had in a former position, it’s going to help them to remember you.
To quantify your experiences, you may have to dig around in your memory or some old records that you still have access to at a current job. Think in terms of time and outcomes. If you wrote 5,000 words a week across four different articles that ranged anywhere from 500 words to 2,000, say that. Your interviewer can visualize those numbers - and if you mention that you did that on top of your schoolwork, you’ll earn some extra brownie points.
7. Don’t just answer questions - have a conversation
The biggest struggle when it comes to interviews is trying to balance out the dynamic of who’s pulling the most weight in terms of conversation at your meeting. You, as the candidate, are the one who is required to answer the questions posed to you if you want any chance of being considered for the position, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable for everyone involved when it’s an endless cycle of the interviewer asking a question and you politely answering it.
While it is the purpose of the interview for the interviewer to be able to gauge what kind of candidate you are by your answers to specific questions, it doesn’t need to be a painstaking process. Rather than sticking to the question/answer format of a traditional interview, try to turn yours into a conversation. Each of you should be participating in the conversation fairly equally, with you probably pulling just a little more weight.
Most interviewers will ask you if you have any questions at the end of an interview, but there’s actually nothing wrong with asking in the middle of the interview, as well. Probe for some elaboration on a question if you think something is unclear, ask your interviewer about their own experiences or if they’ve experienced anything similar to you, and bring up things that you like outside of work. You don’t want to veer too far off of the subject, but letting the interviewer know who you are as a person isn’t a bad way to make yourself stand out from other candidates.
Take a deep breath. You have all of the qualifications you need to participate in this internship, so now all that’s left is landing it. Come prepared, relax, and get excited and you’ll be well on your way to setting yourself apart from the pack for your summer internship interview.