At an internship interview, candidates are typically less experienced at the interview process and therefore less prepared to ask thoughtful and insightful questions. It is vital to ask questions at an internship interview that will provide you valuable insight into the role and make you stand out as a candidate.
Yet, most recommendations for questions to ask at an internship interview are very candidate-focused.
The majority of them are all about making sure to ask questions to understand what you can get out of the internship.
This is a mistake.
Just like it is a mistake to ask mostly questions focused on your needs at an interview for a full-time position, it is a mistake to ask these questions at an internship interview.
In this article, we will cover all the tips and strategies for how to ask questions in an internship interview, which questions to ask, and which questions to avoid.
Strategy Behind Questions to Ask at an Internship Interview
You should always try to keep the interview focused primarily on the organization and its needs.
First, lead with questions to probe how you can bring value to the company in the short time you will be there.
This will signal to the interviewer that your priority is their objectives, rather than yourself and what you can gain.
Second, follow up with questions that show your genuine interest and curiosity about the company and their work.
So many interns are consumed with just the goal of getting an internship and what that will do for their future prospects, they demonstrate no passion for the organizations they interview with.
Companies want to hire interns that they feel are invested in the organization's success.
Towards the end of the interview, it is perfectly acceptable (and expected) to ask several questions to understand potential benefits for you.
But this should be after lengthy discussion regarding the company’s objectives and goals for the position.
Make sure to also check out my tips on how to prepare for an interview.
How to Ask Questions at an Internship Interview
Before diving into the questions themselves, it is important to learn how to ask questions in an interview.
An interview should not be a list of questions the interviewer goes through and you provide answers on, saving your own questions will the end.
Do not feel like you need to wait until the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions for me?” before you ask your questions.
In fact, you SHOULDN’T do this.
An interview should be a conversation where the interviewer learns about your skills and personality, while you learn about the organization and role. It’s a two-way street.
Your questions should be a natural part of the conversation.
Ask follow up questions to commentary that your interviewer provides. If they are telling you about the company and what they do, show genuine interest and curiosity by asking questions.
Your goal is that by the end of the interview, when the interviewer asks whether you have any additional questions, you can honestly say that you’ve asked most if not all of them.
Do's and Don’ts of Asking Questions at an Internship Interview
Here is a simple chart to help you guide the type of questions you want to ask in an internship interview, based on what you are trying to demonstrate and portray in the interview.
The 10 Questions to Ask at an Internship Interview
Here are questions you want to make sure to ask at an internship interview and the information you should try to gather from each answer.
Remember, these are general questions that you should try to tailor to your specific internship and company.
Use the Do’s and Don’ts chart above and these example questions to come up with the most relevant questions for your position that will demonstrate the value you bring and your excitement for the role.
1. What are the important near-term objectives the company is working towards right now?
Internships are short-lived, you are only there for a few months. So, the long term objectives of the company, which are most important to them, are not necessarily relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
Instead, you want to focus on trying to understand what the company is trying to achieve in the time you will be there.
So, framing this question for the quarter (companies set quarterly goals in addition to annual goals) or months the internship will span is smart.
This question allows you to demonstrate your interest in the organization and role, while also gathering information for yourself on the type of work you will be supporting.
2. How do you see this role helping to contribute towards those objectives?
This is essentially a follow-up question to the first, allowing you to further drill down on the type of tasks expected to be part of this internship.
But it is one of the most important questions to ask.
To the interviewer, this question demonstrates your desire to bring value to the organization.
Rather than, like many interns, being focused on the value the internship will bring you.
If the interviewer lays out work and tasks that you have the skill sets to support, make sure to outline this and provide detailed examples of your previous experience.
For yourself, this question allows you to gauge the type of work you will be doing during the internship.
In general, you want an internship that will be substantive. Work that will be directly tied to supporting strategic objectives for a business.
You don’t want an internship that is simply busywork: cleaning up old documentation or organizing files. This won’t allow you to grow as a professional or develop technical skill sets valued in industry.
For this reason, it is a red flag if the interviewer is unable to explain how the role will support certain company objectives.
So this question is a win-win.
You are showing the interviewer than you are eager to provide value to the business, while also gauging the value the internship can provide you.
3. What are the biggest challenges project teams are facing in the organization that this role can help with?
Similar to the previous question, this question demonstrates to the interviewer that you are focused on providing value to the organization.
If you gathered enough information from the answer to the previous question, you can tailor this to ask about specific project teams and their current challenges.
The more you can individualize the question, the better. You don’t want to sound like you are reading questions off a list. Remember, the interview should be a natural back and forth conversation.
Listen to the answers carefully. Ask clarifying questions to further understand the details and depth of the challenges.
Then, try to link your experience and skill sets to the challenges the organization is facing.
Don’t try to solve the problem during your interview. Instead, focus on how your experience and skills will be valuable to finding the solution.
4. What are the important technical skill sets for this role?
Every internship will require some basic level of technical skill sets to do the work.
Interviewers have these in mind when they are asking a candidate specific questions, but you need to specifically ask what the required skills are in order for them to be laid out in the open.
The answer to this question will provide you an opportunity to highlight your expertise based on the technical requirements of the role.
Be prepared to honestly speak to your proficiency in the skills that the interviewer highlights. Provide specific examples and times you have implemented these skills outside of a classroom.
This question opens up the opportunity for the conversation.
It is not a question to be asked of the interviewer and answered, with no follow-up. That would signal to the interviewer that you may not meet the requirements of the role.
5. Which groups and individuals are most important for this internship to work closely with?
Collaboration is essential in every industry, and particularly for internships.
With this question, we are shifting away from specifically discussing the value you can bring to an organization and focusing on showing excitement for the role and opportunity.
So make sure you have asked at least several of the questions above and had a conversation about how you bring value before diving into these questions.
Demonstrating to the interviewer that you are eager to work with and learn from others is a stand out quality.
Too many interns are eager to prove themselves so much, that they end up trying to do everything themselves. But you need to be proactive while collaborating and learning from others.
As an individual with less experience, you will be guided and mentored by the individuals that you work closest with. They will shape your professional identity and work style.
So, make sure you want them to be the ones that guide you.
Ask about the team members, what their work styles are like, what their responsibilities are. Be curious about the team and show that you are eager to learn from them.
6. What do you love about this organization?
Continuing on the theme of showing genuine interest and curiosity, this question allows the interviewer to speak about their commitment to the company.
While this question will signal to the interviewer your excitement, it will allow you to gauge the engagement of the company’s employees.
Something I have learned over the years is that WHO you work with is more important than the company you work for.
Remember, the individuals interviewing you will be the individuals shaping your early professional experiences. You want to ensure these individuals are engaged in their work.
If the interviewer seems disinterested in this question or struggles to come up with an answer, that is a red flag for you.
There may be more under the surface regarding the workings of the company that is causing employees to be disengaged.
You want to make sure your internship is with people that are engaged.
7. What are the most important things an intern should learn in this role?
If you asked question #2 above, you should have a good idea of what the responsibilities for the internship will entail.
This question digs a bit deeper into the value of the internship by giving you an understanding of what skills you may develop and learn during the role.
The beauty of this question is that it demonstrates to the interviewer your eagerness to learn while providing you information on whether the skills you will develop in the role are aligned with your professional goals.
Good organizations make sure they are providing their interns with experiences that will allow them to develop professionally.
8. How do you evaluate performance for interns?
This is another question that will allow you to understand the value of the internship (for your professional growth) and whether the organization has a strong internship program.
Companies should have a clear method for evaluating the performance of an intern and provide them feedback during and at the end of the internship.
This can include goal setting at the start of the program, semester-end presentations, and other methods for team members to provide feedback on performance.
I have talked about the importance of feedback for improving work performance, and it is no different from interns.
Feedback is crucial, so take a bit of time to understand how you can expect to receive feedback in this role.
9. Could you tell me more about the on boarding process for interns?
I like to use a lead into this question, something along the lines of:
“I’m really excited to be able to apply my skill set to these projects quickly. Could you tell me about the on boarding process?”
This allows you to, again, frame the question to focus on you providing value and communicating your interest in the role, while gathering important information for your decision.
It’s important for the organization to provide you proper training upon starting an internship.
Although being proactive is incredibly important for high work performance, you should not just be thrown to understand processes by yourself.
A good internship program will provide some level of formal training (e.g. presentations, slide decks, e-courses, etc.) mixed with mentorship-style training from employees.
A good on boarding program benefits both the organization and the intern, as it allows for a high-value resource to provide value to the company faster.
10. Do you have full-time employees that started with the organization as interns?
This is the only truly self-oriented question on the list. It is included because it is the only 100% self-oriented question that is important for interns to understand.
Is there a path for obtaining full-time employment if you start as an intern?
This is what the majority of interns desire as an option. If this is your goal, then it is important to understand whether the organization has done this before.
Take note of how the question is framed though. It does not ask directly whether they hire interns full-time, but rather whether they have anyone on staff that started as an intern.
This phrasing opens up a conversation beyond a yes or no answer.
If they have employees on staff that started as interns it allows for a perfect networking opportunity.
You can proactively reach out to these individuals on LinkedIn after the interview and ask them about their experience as interns with the company.
Questions Not to Ask at an Internship Interview
Now that we have addressed questions to ask in an internship interview, let’s discuss questions you should avoid asking.
You want to avoid asking questions that may indicate your priorities are not aligned with providing value to the company or professional growth for you.
As we discussed above, the majority of your questions should focus on learning and explaining how you will help the company achieve its goals during the internship tenure.
You should also sprinkle in questions to learn more about how the role will help you grow professionally and to ensure that the company will provide valuable, growth-oriented work.
Here are some questions that I commonly see asked during internship interviews that you should avoid, and why.
Unlike permanent positions, salaries for interns are typically much more rigid and standardized.
It is more likely you will be told what the salary is for the internship rather than asked what your expectations are (which is the typical go-to question for permanent employees).
If you are not told what the salary is prior to or during the interview, it’s not worth asking. This is very different from a permanent employee, where salaries are much more fluid.
As long as you know if it is a paid internship (never do an internship for free), salary discussions occur only if the employer raises the topic.
You should know what the average internship salary is for your industry in case you are asked.
If you are offered the internship, you will be told what the salary is. So don’t risk raising the wrong questions in the interviewer’s mind or shifting the focus of the interview by bringing up salary.
Additionally, your goal for an internship should be one that sets you up best for professional growth rather than pay.
Internships are all about the ROI- return on your investment (your time).
2. Questions related to amenities (e.g. ping pong tables, cafeteria, what employees do for fun)
Aside from salary, this is another common mistake I see when I interview interns.
Everyone wants to work for a “cool” employer. One that has ping pong tables and provides free food in the cafeteria.
It’s fun to think about, or maybe even exciting to see when you’re in the building for an interview, but don’t spend your valuable time with the interviewer by asking about these things.
If the interviewer brings it up (as a way to increase your interest), you can certainly spend a couple of minutes with a friendly conversation about the unique amenities they mention.
But make sure that YOUR questions remain on topic: this is what I bring to the table and what I can do for the company.
At the end of the day, your decision on the internship should not be based on these amenities.
3. Personal Questions
Many intern candidates spend a lot of time asking questions regarding their interviewer’s professional background.
Sometimes this is done as a form of flattery, while other times candidates are truly interested in the career progression of certain individuals.
An interview is just not the right time for this conversation.
These questions should be saved for once you are in the internship, for a mentor, or during networking occasions.
Again, focus on communicating YOUR value. You only have a limited amount of time with each interviewer.
So those are all my tips for questions to ask at an internship interview, and questions to avoid asking.
Do you have an interview coming up? Good luck!
Do you have more internship interview tips? Let me know how it went below!