Your Guide to Intern Interviews

If you’re in college looking to build up your resume, or if you’re out of college and looking to get your foot in the door with a company through an internship, this article is for you. It’s a major assumption by working professionals that colleges are preparing the next generation with best practices for interviews. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and these professionals are shocked when they encounter just the opposite during their intern interviews.

Having performed countless PR & Social Media Internship interviews at Zion & Zion over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two which, if asked by a college student to share, would definitely give that candidate a leg up in the interview process. This article lays out what not to do when interviewing for an internship. While my experience is with a marketing agency, I’m confident reading this will help regardless of the company or industry the interview is for.

These tips are best practices, which could even be applied to interviewing for an entry level job. Whereas interviews for those who have years of experience under their belt are more about their track record and successes, interviews for internships and entry level jobs will typically follow a simple, similar structure.

So, if you’re reading this article, and you want to “close the deal,” prepare yourself with these tips for what NOT to do when interviewing for an internship.


1. Do not be unable and unavailable to take on an internship

It’s admirable, and often required in college, to have real, on-the-job experience on your resume to help for when you look for a job in your field upon graduation. However, if you are overextending yourself, do yourself and the company you’re interviewing with a favor and don’t pursue the internship. If you’re too busy, you’ll likely end up underperforming, which is bad for everyone involved. Overachievers beware: life in the real world can be a whole lot more intense than college life.

This is also important because you need to take your internship seriously; treat it like a job, not a class. If it comes across to your boss(es) that the internship is a low priority for you, you won’t be regarded highly, and won’t be considered for employment should the opportunity arise.

2. Do not arrive late

This is the most obvious and basic of all the interview best practices. At our agency, arriving 10-15 minutes before your scheduled interview time is expected. If you do encounter something out of your control, like an accident on the freeway, etc. then contact the person who scheduled your interview to give them a heads up. Chances are, if you showed the maturity and responsibility to call ahead, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and go ahead and reschedule your interview.

3. Do not arrive underdressed

There may be confusion for interviewers in the marketing and advertising fields as to how to dress for an interview, given the fun and relaxed reputation these industries have. Don’t let this fool you! Standard rules apply to interviewing in the ad world – dress to impress. You may feel silly or overdressed during the interview process if you arrive and the staff is casual or business casual, but dressing to impress contributes to how much your interviewers perceive you want the job. If you show up in street clothes, your interviewers will not only think you don’t take the position (or their company) seriously, some will cancel your interview on the spot.


4. Do not come without copies of your resume (CV) printed out

This is a major pet peeve for interviewers. Keep in mind, you have no idea who is going to be in the actual interview, so while some might assume they don’t need to bring a resume since they were already selected to be interviewed, this just simply isn’t the case. Having copies of your resume is a subtle best practice, but it is yet another way for interviewers to get a sense of how prepared, responsible and professional you are. When in an internship program, part of what sets some apart from others is being proactive and making your boss’ lives easier. So, if you come into it thinking the employer should be the one who is totally prepared, change your mind thought immediately. If the selection process is competitive, it could literally come down to something as small as which interviewees brought copies of their resume.

5. Do not be afraid to address any weak spots on your resume

When you’re interviewing, you’re pitching your own personal brand. Whether you’re in college, or trying to break into a new career, it’s likely your resume has some weak spots. However, if this is the case, don’t sell yourself short. Think of ways that your seemingly unrelated experience contributes to, or enhances, your qualifications for the position at stake. This applies to both the cover letter and the interview. If you choose to view those holes in your resume as negatives, you’ll either give off that impression, or leave the interview not having addressed them at all, which leaves the interpretation up to the interviewers.

6. Do not use buzz words without being able to back them up

As the world has become more tech savvy in recent years, it’s more prominent for students or recent graduates to use buzz words in interviews to impress interviewers. They’re marketing related, and sound great to the ear of an interviewer; Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, to name a few. Keep in mind, if you choose to tout these buzz words in an interview, there’s a good chance the interviewer(s) will ask you to elaborate about your experience with them. So, don’t lie! If it becomes clear you do not understand said buzz words, you just hurt your chances of getting the internship. Simply stated: do not include buzz words on your resume, cover letter or in your interview, just to impress. If you somehow are selected by falsely touting these skills, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

7. Do not go to the interview without researching the company (and position) first

This is another nuance that contributes to the perception of how prepared you are. Do not approach an interview with the confidence that your resume alone will get you the position. It will be apparent to the interviewers if you don’t know anything about the company. Do your due diligence and research the company ahead of time.

I will say that there have been times when knowledge acquired from research done ahead of time was brought up by an interviewee, very much to their benefit; whether the knowledge complemented their qualifications, or even supported their role in the direction the company is headed. Be clever about it.

8. Do not come without any questions of your own

This one goes back to being prepared and anticipating what the interviewers are going to expect from you. It’s common knowledge you should always have a few questions planned in your head ahead of time to ask in the interview. What if during the interview your questions get answered – then what? What if you had no questions at all? If the interviewers ask at any point what questions you may have, if any, do not settle for saying you have none. It makes interviewees seem unprepared, and even that they lack in creativity. To prevent having your questions answered (and hence not having any), think of a question or two that you would imagine couldn’t possibly be discussed – like “How long have you been at this company?” or “What do you like about this company/your job?”

I’ve even encountered an interviewee or two who came prepared with a written list of questions, ready on-hand for them to read from. They were either a list of things they needed answered before accepting the position (if offered), or they were afraid of not having any questions at all. Regardless, I as the interviewer couldn’t tell, and it looked like the interviewee went above and beyond to be prepared.


9. Do not forget to send a “thank you” email or card

After your interview is over, you still have one more opportunity to make a lasting impression. Sending a follow up “thank you” email or card not only makes you stand out from the other candidates that forget this step, it’s another subtle sign that you communicate professionally. When decision makers sit down to make their selection, the applicants who sent follow up correspondence will definitely be considered as the ones who are most passionate about getting the position. But also remember that it can take a mailed card a few days to arrive in the hands of the interviewer, so if hiring decisions are being made quickly, you may consider both email and snail mail.

Next Steps

Interviewing can be nerve wracking, but it’s good to put yourself out there and to have goals for yourself. There are seemingly countless tips out there to assist with interviews, but if you’re looking for an internship, the tips of things not to do listed in this article will help you succeed in the interview process.

To conclude, I leave you with a final tip, which not only applies for when you interview for an internship, but for the rest of your life: keep in mind, even if you don’t get the internship (or job), every interview is practice; the more you interview, the better you’ll get. Good luck!