Kristen Farrell
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Over the decades, the concept of an internship has evolved significantly. What once was a part-time summer job for college-level students has become a variety of learning opportunities offered year-round for traditional and non-traditional candidates.

Before your company starts the recruitment process, it’s important to understand how internships have changed, the types of candidates in today’s job market, and the best interview questions to ask in order to hire the best intern.

Questions to Ask an Intern Candidate

Internships have evolved over time (read on for the history and current state of internships in the United States). Have the questions you should ask internship candidates changed as well? The answer is yes and no.

There will always be questions you can’t ask to ensure your company is not discriminating. This article gives guidance on questions that are off limits. Also, there will always be questions you should ask. The famed “Tell me about yourself” question can be a great conversation starter that will walk you through the candidate’s resume and guide you to relevant experience and skill-based questions.

Experienced-based questions can often be more revealing than skill-based questions. They can reveal a variety of transferable skills, which are important to keep in mind if a long-term goal of your internship program is to fill full-time positions. If one goal of your internship program is to become a mentor, allow candidates to treat your conversation partly as an informational interview. Encouraging candidates to ask you questions will give them insight into how their careers could progress.

The Questions

Here are 30 general questions to ask prospective interns in order to get a sense of their work ethic, values, strengths, weaknesses, and more.

1. What is your greatest strength?

Knowing the intern's biggest strength can help you maximize it.

2. What is your greatest weakness?

Likewise, knowing the intern's biggest weakness can help you minimize it.

3. Tell me about yourself.

At the end of the day, you should know the kind of person who is working for you.

4. Why should we hire you?

Understanding why the intern thinks they are right for the job can give you perspective.

5. Why are you leaving, or why have you left your job?

Knowing why an interviewee left their last position can help you determine whether or not you can see them sticking around long-term for you.

6. Why do you want this internship?

Do they just want any internship or are they passionate about working for you?

7. How do you handle stress and pressure?

Chances are that, at some point on the job, your intern is going to be under pressure or stress — so you should want to know how they are going to handle it.

8. Describe a difficult work situation/project and how you overcame it. 

You will want to know how they handle difficult and challenging situations, too.

9. What are your goals for the future?

Do they see themselves in a similar career? If so, they may express more interest and, therefore, be a harder worker.

10. Why do you want to work for this company?

Do they want just any internship or do they want experience with your company, in particular?

11. Are you the best person for this job? Why? 

Why would they say they're the best person? It may surprise you.

12. Describe your work style.

You should want to know if they are a good culture fit, too.

13. Do you prefer to work alone or on a team?

Again, this question goes back to culture fit.

14. How much do you expect to get paid?

You'll need to know if they are even in your budget.

15. How do you measure success?

Does their measurement of success match yours? If not, is it a problem?

16. If the people who know you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say?

You should want to know how people who have worked with them before would assess their work.

17. What are you passionate about?

Outside of work, are they someone whose interests align with yours? Will you enjoy working with them?

18. What can you contribute to this company? 

What assets can they bring to the company?

19. What have you learned from your mistakes?

Knowing how the learn lessons and apply them to future situations is key.

20. What do you know about this company?

Have they done their research?

21. Tell me about a time you set difficult goals for yourself?

Do they push themselves past their comfort zone?

22. Tell me about the relationships you've had with the people you've worked with.

You should be curious as to how they work with a diverse group of people.

23. What have you done professionally that is not an experience you'd want to repeat?

Did they learn a lesson?

24. Is it better to be perfect and late or good and on time?

The right answer to this depends on you.

25. What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?

Knowing what they're most proud of can help you determine their capabilities.

26. What's your definition of hard work?

Understanding how they would define hard work can help you assess how they may tackle their work.

27. Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?

Who do they look up to?

28. What is something you'd be happy doing every single day for the rest of your career?

You want to know what incites passion in them and motivates them so you can help make their time interning fulfilling.

29. What’s the biggest decision you’ve had to make in the past year? Why was it so big?

How do they handle big decisions? What is considered a big decision to them? Knowing these answers can help you determine whether or not they'll be able to handle the work you give them.

30. Do you have any questions for me?

Remember that interviews are two-way streets.

The last question is especially important because the answer to this question also reveals what's important to the candidate and how quickly they can think on their feet. "Are they wondering about company culture or compensation?" asks The Balance. "Are they curious about growth potential, or learning opportunities? There are no right or wrong answers, but personality and communication style are important factors when considering hiring someone to join your team, and you can get a sense of these factors with their answer."

A lot of the other questions on the list make it easy to learn more about the candidate, too. While it's important to hire for skill (or, for an internship, a willingness to learn skills), it's also important to hire someone who's likely to be happy in the job for which you're hiring. 

Likewise, it's important to see how a candidate approaches decision making, to see what their values are, to see what they aspire to be by forcing them to articulate why someone else is smart, to test them for self-awareness and to learn what hard work and success really mean to them. These will all help you decide whether or not a candidate would fit into the company culture, especially if you're looking to possibly hire them full time after their internship concludes.
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Kristen Farrell is a professional communicator who previously worked in human resources. She shares career lessons and everyday experiences on her blog: kristen-farrell.com. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running, crafting, or spending time with her husband, Jonathan and cat, Trotsky.