How to interview for your dream internship

Here are some important steps to take when preparing for your internship interviews.

Interviewing for an accounting internship can be one of the most important moments of your college career. Employers often offer their top interns permanent positions, and, even if you choose not to work for the organization you interned for after graduation, having the experience will help bolster your résumé.

What’s more, interviewing for an internship is also great practice for interviewing for a staff job, because the process is nearly the same.

“It’s the same employers in the same process, same questions, same amount of networking,” said Jo Chauvin, senior career consultant in the Master in Professional Accounting program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Here are some important steps to take when preparing for your internship interviews:

Do your research. Before an interview, build a base of knowledge about the employer.

“Make sure you know this organization as well as you can,” said Justin Rice, senior associate director of career education at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “Have a full understanding of its culture, and what is required of people working there.”

You can often learn about the organization’s culture through your network, he said, adding that you can follow up with contacts within the organization before your interview to make sure you walk in with enough information and context to explain why you are the best fit for the position.

Don’t sell your skill set short. Just because your CV is heavy on summer jobs doesn’t mean it’s light on useful material. Chauvin said students often don’t give themselves enough credit for the skills they developed at non-accounting jobs. A summer job working at a shaved ice stand, for instance, could involve interpersonal skills that you could highlight.

“Instead of just, ‘I handed ice to people,’ reference the transferable skills,” Chauvin suggested. “Even shaved ice servers have to handle unhappy customers and deal with money.”

School projects and campus organizations also are appropriate to mention on a résumé, so long as you stress what you achieved rather than the fact that you merely attended.

“Join a club. Start a club,” Rice said. “By sophomore year, students are able to step into leadership roles and show their involvement in things other than just going to class. Employers want to see you are willing to take over leadership and help organizations strategically grow.”

And remember, companies are hiring students for internships, not partnerships. Skills are important, but coming off as teachable and smart goes a long way.

“No matter what the experience, if you can sell yourself as personable, they know they can put you in front of clients and work with you all day,” Chauvin said.

Know your STAR stories. Part of your preparation should be building a stable of short, informative anecdotes called STAR stories, said Paige Parent, a master’s degree student at UT-Austin. STAR (an acronym for situation task action result) is a formula for building interview responses in a focused way. Start with an issue you identified at work or in class, then discuss how you planned to address it, how you implemented the plan, and what the result was.

STAR stories can help you answer such interview questions as: “Tell me about a time you were on a team and there was a disagreement. What did you do in that situation?” Practicing your STAR stories will give you a set of stock answers, as well as help you keep your responses focused.

“If you make broad enough stories, more like ‘This is a success story where I had a problem,’ you can mold that to fit an interview question,” said Parent, who recently completed an internship at PwC. “It keeps you from talking too long, rambling, and getting stuck in a story.”

Be prepared to go off-book. Not every story in your arsenal needs to highlight something specific to your skills and experiences. Some recruiters just want to see that you are a well-rounded person with interests outside of landing an accounting internship, Parent said. In fact, some companies go out of their way to lead the conversation outside of work.

Since that’s the case, be able to talk about your interests or about current events. “I always keep up with the news as best I can,” said Parent, adding that staying up-to-date on tech trends like big data or artificial intelligence shows you have a broad range of interests.

“Recruiters will think, ‘Oh, cool, she’s the type of person who keeps up with things going on around her,’ ” Parent said.

By Matthew Philpott, a North Carolina-based freelance writer.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien.

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