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Career Corner
The Internship Interview

Julia Penny -- Internship interview candidates usually lack professional work experience so you will find that more and more companies when interviewing interns will focus on the necessary competencies (also referred to as behaviors) for the internship position rather than on actual task experience.

Based on the premise that past performance is the best predictor of future performance, the candidate is asked competency-based (or behavioral) questions that require them to provide specific examples of when they have previously demonstrated the required competency. The intern will be expected to answer using the following structure:

-- Describe the specific situation or incident
-- Detail the actions and steps taken
-- Describe the outcome of these actions

The five most commonly explored competencies in the internship interview

Experience has shown that these are the most common competencies for an internship position. The competency (behavior) is listed, an explanation given of what that competency looks like, and a sample behavioral question given. Intern candidates can reflect on past experiences, select appropriate examples, and plan their answers. Examples of possible situations are listed to guide the candidate in the internship interview.

1. Learn and apply new information and skills: this competency involves assimilating and applying new data or tasks as quickly as possible. The motivation to learn and the resourcefulness used in acquiring new knowledge is explored.

-- "Give an example of when you were able to learn something complex in a relatively short period of time."

-- Examples of possible situations that can be referred to include undertaking a new project, a difficult assignment, and learning a new skill.

2. Initiative: involves the ability to be proactive, generate new ideas, come up with solutions and take on new opportunities.

-- "Describe a time you have had to meet a major challenge."

-- Possible situations include your course requirements, your extracurricular activities, and sports participation

3. Problem analysis and Problem-solving: involves the ability to gather, organize and analyze relevant data using different resources and use this to find an appropriate solution.

-- "Describe a situation where your initial approach failed and you had to try something different to meet your result."

-- Situations include undertaking projects and assignments, reaching goals and objectives in work, sport, and extracurricular activities.

4. Planning and Organizing: refers to the ability to plan ahead, set priorities and manage time and resources to achieve outcomes.

-- "What goals have you set for yourself, what steps have you taken to stay on track?"

5. Teamwork: be able to work effectively as part of a team or group to reach desired outcomes.

-- "Describe a group project you achieved successfully, what was your contribution?"

-- Possible situations include group assignments or projects, team sporting activities and community work.

The internship interview should be considered a regular employment interview and prepared for in the same way.

Julia Penny is an organizational psychologist with many years experience in recruitment and hiring. She offers her expertise to candidates who want to succeed in their job interviews. Her Web site includes a complete and free guide to preparing for and excelling in job interviews.

© 2008 Julia Penny

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