When you are applying for an entry-level position, a common job interview question is, “Have you completed any internships and what did you gain from the experience?”
When recruiters pose this question, they are typically assessing whether you have any hands-on experience where you applied knowledge and skills to real-world situations. If you are a student or recent graduate, they might wonder if you have the ability to handle a real work environment.
When answering this question, you want to be honest and thorough. Read below for advice on how to answer this question, and see a list of sample responses.
How to Answer When You Have Done an Internship
If you have done internships, you can simply reference your experience and share what you have learned. Before your interview, make a list of the skills that you developed in each internship. Circle the skills that are related to the job you are interviewing for, and be sure to mention those in your answer to the question.
You will also likely get a follow-up question asking you to provide an example of how you demonstrated whatever skills you mention. Therefore, prepare anecdotes or examples that demonstrate how you applied those skills, personal qualities or knowledge bases to add value or achieve some success.
When providing an example, first describe the situation or challenge you encountered. Then explain how the actions that you took led to some positive impact at the company. This impact can be minor, for example, perhaps you wrote the company newsletter and received positive feedback on your clear writing.
Employers will also be curious about how your internships might have influenced your career aspirations. If the internship served to confirm an interest in a career function like marketing or an industry like consumer products that are in line with your target job, then you can share this realization. If not, then consider whether the internship helped you to recognize skills related to your target job that you enjoyed using. For example, you might be targeting public relations but did an internship in publishing. You can explain that at your publishing internship you enjoyed developing your writing skills, an important aspect of public relations.
How to Answer When You Haven't Done an Internship
If you haven't done any internships, then you can take the opportunity to reference any internship-like experiences that you have had.
An internship-like position can be an experience where you applied and developed skills, such as academic projects, labs, campus activities, volunteer work, case studies, research support for faculty, independent studies, theses, and competitions.
You can also describe paid job experiences that support your career interests or provide evidence of appealing character traits. You might have worked at the front desk in a financial planning office and that exposure might have stimulated an interest in the field, or perhaps you worked 25 hours a week at a retail store while maintaining a full course load, demonstrating a strong work ethic.
When answering the question, quickly acknowledge that you have not done a formal internship, and then provide evidence of the skills you gained from your various internship-like experiences.
Examples of the Best Answers
Here are sample interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background. For each of these answers, the interviewee should have an example prepared in case they are asked a follow-up question such as, “Tell me about a time you demonstrated that skill at your internship.”
I completed a marketing internship for a local firm this past semester and was fascinated by how the team analyzed the needs of clients. I enjoyed helping them to orchestrate promotional events, and they loved the copy that I wrote for client websites.
I wasn't able to complete any internships because I was working 20 hours a week to help with my college expenses while taking 16 or more credits. However, I did serve as an assistant editor for the school paper where I learned to cope with deadline pressure and honed my writing, editing, and organizational skills.
This past summer, I completed an internship with a major consulting firm in the city. One important thing I learned is to listen to what your co-workers have to say and watch what they do. Although they may not realize it, other employees can be your best resource to learn both what to do and what not to do in the office.
My university required all fashion design majors to complete a rotation of internships during the summer between junior and senior years. The internships helped me focus more specifically on what part of fashion design sparked my interest the most. I now realize that I am passionate about working directly with clients. It also helped me hone my customer service skills—I even earned an “Excellent Customer Service” award from my internship supervisor.
I did not complete any internships during college, but I did use my last two summers to volunteer at a local homeless shelter. At the shelter, I worked with social workers on a daily basis. I was able to assist with home visits, life skills, and employment issues, along with all the other resources and services offered to the residents at the shelter. Although it didn't have the formal internship title, it served the same purpose and gave me the same hands-on, professional experience I would have gotten by doing a social service internship with the county.