Office Hours: How to ace your startup internship interview

Originally published on Medium.

Editor’s Note: The internship interview tip below can apply ALL interviews!

So, you polished up you resume, sourced the opportunities of your dreams, written a killer cover letter, and landed an internship interview? Amazing! But don’t celebrate yet. Let’s talk about what it takes to ace that interview.

An internship is by definition not a real job, so an internship interview isn’t a real interview, right?

Actually, no. Extremely not right.

We’ve interviewed hundreds of intern candidates over the years, and we take these interviews seriously—just as seriously as we take vetting candidates for full-time jobs. Our summer interns are integral to the success of Training Camp, and we would be a less successful organization if we didn’t find exceptional intern talent, year over year.

At this point, we’re pretty good at finding the right people for the job. So take it from us—it’s not enough to just show up on time.

Here’s what makes a truly impressive intern candidate.

1. You’ve done your research

Venture for America can be a little complicated to explain. We get it. But if you’re interviewing for an internship at VFA, it’s hard to take your interest seriously if you don’t know what we do.

It’s 2017—there’s no excuse to come into an interview without a firm understanding of how an organization operates. For bonus points, go beyond memorizing the company website. Look for press about the company, like interviews with their leadership team. Acquaint yourself with their social media presence. If they make a product, read reviews. You might discover areas where the company is struggling and could use your help. At the very least, bringing up some company esoterica during your interview suggests a high level of interest.

Think about it this way: your job is to show the interviewer how you can contribute to the success of their company. How can you talk up your ability to contribute without knowing what you’re going to be contributing to?

2. You know why you want the internship

And no, the answer isn’t “because my parents told me I couldn’t hang around learning YouTube dance routines all summer.”

This is a prime opportunity to demonstrate that you 1) understand the company, and 2) are excited about the opportunity at hand—both important markers for your interviewer. Don’t squander it!

Our Talent Manager Hannah Steinhardt recommends writing down five reasons why you want this particular role at this particular company, then taking away two. You’re left with the three most important reasons, all of which should be easy to articulate in a few sentences.

The good news: once you’ve done thorough research, this shouldn’t be hard!

3. You demonstrate flexibility, but you know what you want to get out of the experience

Yes, most internships involve doing a wide range of tasks. We look for interns who are open-minded and willing to take on unexpected responsibilities. It’s important to stress your agility.

But at a startup, you’ll almost certainly need to do a lot of self-directed work. If you come to the internship interview with no sense of what you want to work on or learn, it might signal to the interviewer that you’re going to need a lot of hand-holding—i.e., the opposite of what they’re looking for.

Worried that you’ll seem too particular? If an interviewer asks you what you’re interested in working on, you can address this tension directly. Try something like: “I’m most excited by the opportunity to strengthen my social media and video editing skills—but I’m flexible, and good at learning on my own, so I’d be happy to support your team in whatever way you need.”

4. You come prepared with questions

Nothing says “I’m disengaged” like failing to ask a question when given the opportunity.

When an interviewer asks you if you have any questions, you should always ask a question. It’s your chance to turn the interview into more of a conversation, and give the interviewer a chance to talk about themselves and their experience—something most people like. It’s also a great opportunity to assess whether or not you want the internship at all.

Always come prepared with a few questions so you don’t freeze on the spot.

Not sure what to ask? We’ve compiled 31 important questions to ask during your interview—download them here!

5. You approach the interview process like a professional

Again — just because this is an internship interview doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. Here are a few things we look for to gauge whether or not an intern candidate seems reliable, detail-oriented, and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

Show up on time

And you guessed it—on time actually means ten minutes early. If you’re late to an interview, why would we expect you to show up on time for work?

This goes for remote interviews, too. If you have a Skype call, make sure you’re logged in, and that your computer is set up correctly. If it’s a phone interview, make sure you’re in a quiet place with reception. Don’t let technological difficulties make a bad impression.

Respond to emails promptly

Do we need to elaborate? When scheduling an interview or sending along references, get back to the hiring manager within 24 hours, always—sooner if possible (and it’s probably possible).

Dress professionally

No one expects a college student to have a perfectly-tailored suit. But please make an effort. Wear a button down or a sweater and clean slacks or a skirt. Borrow something from a friend if you need to. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. Don’t look like you’re headed to a music festival. It might seem superficial, but it’s a way to show that you’re taking the opportunity seriously.

And yes — this goes for video interviews, too.

Bring a few copies of your resume

It’s always a nice touch to have your resume in hand. Here are our tips for formatting your resume, and a few more for how to present your experience.

Send a thank you email to everyone you spoke with, not just your primary contact

This is a chance to show that you’re detail-oriented, excited about the job, and a people person. It’s also a great chance to reiterate how qualified you are. And it never hurts to have multiple interviewers rooting for you!

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